Militia Welfare: Resource Endowment and Public Goods Provision by Armed Nonstate Groups in Pakistan and Nigeria.” With Yelena Biberman-Ocakli, Forthcoming with Political Science Quarterly.

Militias are often noted and studied for their violent behavior towards civilians.  Still underexplored and poorly understood is their provision of welfare to local communities. Why do some militias provide welfare while others do not?  We argue that the timing of access to material resources plays an important role in the militia’s willingness and capacity to provide welfare.  While wealthy militias lack the incentives and poor militias lack the capacity to provide public goods, “nouveau riche” militias – which begin poor and acquire wealth later on – are most likely to provide welfare.  The empirical implications of the argument are explored with a structured comparison of six militias in Pakistan and Nigeria.  Our findings help to illuminate the broad range of militia behavior and bridge three burgeoning literatures – on militias, non-state welfare, and insurgent behavior in civil war.


How Democratization Shapes State-Building: Governments and Armed Groups in Africa (Book project)

My book manuscript sheds light on the impact of democracy on the consolidation of state authority through its examination of government responses to armed groups.  Scholars have long argued that elections create strong incentives for governments to cultivate alliances with armed groups in order to secure victory at the polls with violence, fraud, and intimidation.  In exchange, governments actively give away their monopoly over the means of violence.  The fact that elected governments also try to increase their control over the use of force by repressing armed groups complicates this perspective however. From Africa, to South Asia, to Latin America, governments that are subject to regular elections exhibit remarkable variation in their relationships with armed actors. What explains differences in government-armed group relations across democratic regimes? Why might an elected government pursue an alliance with one group, while repressing another? Under what conditions do democratic governments shift strategies toward an armed group? Moreover, what is the range of strategies that elected governments might pursue?

The book project begins to tackle these questions by examining four distinct strategies pursued by elected governments toward armed actors: covert collaboration, open collaboration, forbearance, and repression.  Specifically, I study evolving government strategies toward the Bakassi Boys, the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force, and Boko Haram in Nigeria and Mungiki in Kenya.  These in-depth case studies and fine-grained evidence gathered during fieldwork reveal how governments’ institutional control and the popularity of armed groups shape government strategies toward these actors.

The book makes three key contributions.  First, it advances our understanding of the relationship between democracy and state-building by uncovering the causal conditions under which elections incentivize governments to give away its monopoly over violence or seek to consolidate it.  Second, it pushes forward our understanding of the onset of civil war by showing how once local groups can feed off government resources and transform themselves into a regional security challenge, such as Boko Haram.  Finally, the findings add to a burgeoning literature on election-related violence by explaining the conditions under which elected officials will leverage armed groups to carry out targeted pre-election attacks on political opposition and districts.

Working Papers

“Democracy, State-Building, and Armed Groups in Africa.” (Revised and resubmitted with International Security)

A long line of scholarship suggests that multi-party elections create strong incentives for governments to collude with armed groups in order to win elections with violence and intimidation, weakening the state’s grip on violence in the process. Yet while elected governments collude with armed actors in some places and times, elsewhere they repress them and strengthen the state’s control over violence. What explains government strategies toward armed actors in democratic regimes? I argue that elected executives’ institutional control and the popularity of armed groups shed light on when governments (covertly) collude with, tolerate, or repress these actors. Evidence for the argument is drawn from case studies from Nigeria and Kenya. The paper makes two contributions. First, it offers a typology of government strategies toward armed actors. Second, it explains these strategies in two African democracies, advancing our understanding of the impact of democracy on the consolidation of state authority.

“Armed Groups and Electoral Violence in Nigeria.”

Collusion between the ruling party and armed groups is an important driver of electoral violence, yet the conditions under which governments build alliances with such actors is understudied. I argue that two factors are important for understanding government strategies toward armed groups: popular support for the group and the ruling party’s control over key institutions, specifically the party machinery, state bureaucracies, and the legislature. The paper explores the argument by tracing shifts in government strategies toward Asari Dokubo’s Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force in the Niger Delta region in Nigeria. The findings make two key contributions. First, they add to a growing literature on election-related violence by explaining when the ruling party colludes with armed groups to try to win elections. Second, they challenge the conventional perspective that multi-party elections undermine state-building processes by incentivizing the ruling party to collude with armed groups by documenting and explaining a range of government strategies toward these actors.

State-Building, Vigilantism, and Political Participation.”

Vigilante groups are often pointed to as evidence of weak and ineffective states, yet they can also be important sites of collective action and citizen mobilization.  This paper studies the effects of vigilantism on political participation.  I argue that relying on a vigilante group for security increases the likelihood of individual participation in community demonstrations and contacting local government officials, but only where vigilante groups are autonomous from the government.  As local governments incorporate vigilantes into the state apparatus and consolidate their control over the use of violence, political participation declines.  The paper uses a nested analysis approach to evaluate the argument.  First, I conduct a statistical analysis with Afrobarometer survey data and an original dataset of government-armed group relations in Nigeria.  Using the statistical analysis to guide case selection, I then look more closely at the effects of vigilantism on political participation in three Nigerian cities: Lagos, Jos, and Awka.  Fine-grained qualitative evidence, including government documents, NGO reports, newspaper media, and interviews with local government officials, vigilantes, and civilians, allows for a careful evaluation of the argument’s causal mechanisms.  The findings make two contributions.  First, they contribute to a burgeoning literature on the political and socioeconomic consequences of non-state welfare.  Second, they advance our understanding of the relationship between the consolidation of state authority and political participation, raising important questions about state legitimacy.