Research

Publications

When Militias Provide Welfare: Lessons from Pakistan and Nigeria.” With Yelena Biberman, Political Science Quarterly 133(4): 695-727.

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.

Works-in-Progress

“Political Order and Election Violence in Nigeria” (Revised and resubmitted)

Political elites regularly enlist a wide mix of non-state actors to carry out election violence, yet we know little about elite calculations of partnering with specific groups.  The paper addresses this by asking: under what conditions do political elites recruit social movement leaders and their followers to carry out election violence?  Studying gubernatorial elections in Nigeria, I argue that when governors and powerful party elites, commonly referred to as godfathers, are in conflict with one another, elections become highly competitive.  In this environment of electoral uncertainty, they have strong incentives to recruit local social movement actors for election violence and voter mobilization.  Conversely, when one of these elite actors dominates the electoral process so as to render it uncompetitive, there is little incentive to enlist local social movement actors for election violence.  Case studies of the Ijaw Youth Council (1999-2003) and Boko Haram (2003-2007) support the argument.  The findings make three contributions.  First, they advance scholarship on election violence by explaining subnational variation in this phenomenon.  Second, the paper shines a spotlight on intra-party competition whereas existing work on election violence has emphasized inter-party competition.  Finally, the paper reveals how the underlying political order generates both the supply for election violence – reformist social movements – and elite demand for election violence.

“When Do Ethnic Militias Refuse to Carry Out Electoral Violence?” (Under review)

Recent scholarship finds that election violence is commonly organized by politicians and armed groups.  Yet while many studies have examined the motivations of governments, political parties, and politicians, we know less about what armed groups seek to gain from election violence.  This paper aims to improve our understanding of armed group motivations by asking: under what conditions do ethnic militias agree or refuse to carry out election violence for incumbents?  I find that groups divided by leadership rivalries are more likely to carry out election violence for incumbents than those with cohesive leadership.  Leaders of rival factions accept money and arms from incumbents to try to eliminate their competitors, and in exchange, agree to carry out election violence for their backers.  As internal disputes are resolved through the victory of one faction over another or organizational splits, ethnic militia leaders break their alliances with incumbents in an effort to avoid the risks of these partnerships, specifically cooptation and reputational damage. Most-similar cases from Nigeria illustrate the argument.

“Nascent Insurgency and Civil War Onset: Evidence from Nigeria” (Preparing for submission in June 2020)

Knowledge of early rebel group formation and development is essential to understanding civil war onset, yet most studies of civil war only observe rebel groups after they have developed the capacity to carry out sustained violence.  This introduces a serious problem of selection bias for generating and testing theories about civil war onset.  The paper addresses this with comparative case studies of two candidates for rebellion in Nigeria: the Bakassi Boys and the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force.  While the federal government repressed the former early on, it tolerated the latter, allowing it to fester into a rebellion that dragged the country into a civil war from late 2004 until an amnesty program in 2009.  I argue that presidents’ decisions to tolerate or repress nascent insurgencies are short-term political calculations to maintain winning coalitions and remain in power.  Specifically, presidents tolerate nascent insurgencies partnered with local elite allies, and repress those connected to local elite rivals.  These decisions, in turn, carry downstream consequences for civil war.

“Political Order and the Infrastructure of Election Violence in Southwestern Nigeria” (Work in progress)

Governments, political parties, and politicians regularly outsource election violence to a diverse mix of non-state actors, yet rich and detailed description of these partnerships and the micro-level geography of election violence are limited.  I address this with a study of electoral politics in Ibadan, the capital city of Oyo State in southwestern Nigeria, over a 20 year period (1999-2019).  Political elites have repeatedly turned to the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), a powerful labor union, for violence during elections.  The paper documents the bargaining process between political elites and leaders of NURTW, what each sought to gain from these partnerships, their strategies, and the neighborhoods that were sites of reoccurring election violence.  I draw on data collected during in-country research in 2012 and 2019 as well as election observer reports, NGO publications, local news accounts, and a rich anthropological literature.  The paper reveals how political elites and NURTW leaders used election violence to advance their ends and consolidate power.  It also shows how the city’s underlying political order serves as the infrastructure for election violence.

“Protesting Election Violence: Evidence from Kenya” (Data-collection in progress)

“Can Americans Depolarize? Assessing the Effects of a Red/Blue Workshop Experiment,” with Hannah Baron, Robert A. Blair, Donghyun Danny Choi, Laura Gamboa, Jessica Gottlieb, Amanda Lea Robinson, Steven C. Rosenzweig, and Emily A. West (Data-collection in progress)