10. Sierra Leone: Fighting over the spoils
Intense extraction breeds instability and failure because, consistent with the iron law of oligarchy, it creates incentives for others to depose the existing elites and take over.
This is exactly what happened in Sierra Leone. Siaka Stevens and his All People's Congress (APC) party ran the country from 1967 until 1985 as their personal fiefdom. Little changed when Stevens stepped aside, passing the baton to his protégé, Joseph Momoh, who just continued the plunder.
The trouble is that this sort of extraction creates deep-seated grievances and invites contests for power from would-be strongmen hoping to get their hands on the loot. In March 1991, Foday Sankoh's Revolutionary United Front, with the support and most likely the command of Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, crossed into Sierra Leone and plunged the country into a vicious, decade-long civil war. Sankoh and Taylor were interested in only one thing: power, which they could use, among other things, to steal diamonds, and they could do so because of the regime that Stevens and his APC had created. The country soon descended into chaos, with the civil war taking the lives of about 1 percent of the population and maiming countless others. Sierra Leone's state and institutions totally collapsed. Government revenues went from 15 percent of national income to practically zero by 1991. The state, in other words, didn't so much fail as disappear entirely.