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.

“Political Order and Election Violence in Nigeria” (Forthcoming at International Security)

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 pre-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, electoral uncertainty is high, and they have strong incentives to recruit local social movement actors for pre-election violence. Conversely, when these elites are aligned, the election outcome is agreed to well in advance.  In this scenario, there is little incentive to enlist local social movement actors for pre-election violence. Case studies of the Ijaw Youth Council and Boko Haram 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 elite 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 Armed Groups Refuse to Carry Out Election Violence?” (Under review)

A rapidly expanding literature on election violence finds that political parties and elites often turn to a wide range of non-state armed actors to carry out election violence on their behalf, including ethnic militias, gangs, drug-trafficking organizations, and paramilitaries, among others.  Yet the motivations of these different groups, what they seek to gain from election violence, and importantly, when they turn down politicians’ overtures, are poorly understood.  This paper aims to address these questions with most-similar cases of militant wings of the Ijaw Youth Council and the O’odua People’s Congress in Nigeria’s 2003 election.  Drawing on in-country research, in-depth interviews, newspaper articles, election observer reports, NGO publications, and a rich academic literature, I show that the groups’ internal politics shape their leaders’ decisions to engage in election violence for incumbent governors.  Specifically, 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 engage in election violence for their backers. In contrast, groups with cohesive leadership are more likely to turn down incumbents’ overtures given the risk of cooptation and reputational damage.  In addition to advancing scholarship on the role of armed groups in election violence, the paper moves forward our understanding of the meso-level dynamics of election violence and develops policy interventions to disincentivize armed groups from perpetuating election violence.

“Government Responses to Potential Insurgency and Civil War Onset: Evidence from Nigeria (Under review)

Why do national-level incumbents tolerate some potential insurgencies but repress others?  Government responses to such groups early on in their organizational life have downstream implications for civil war onset.  I argue that when potential insurgencies are partnered with local elite allies, national-level incumbents are likely to tolerate these groups in the interest of keeping their local allies in power.  Where potential insurgencies are linked to local elite rivals, national-level incumbents prefer to repress them; however, they only do so where these groups lack legitimacy with local populations.  Where potential insurgencies have broad support and government legitimacy is low, repression carries significant costs and national-level incumbents will tolerate these actors instead.  I study the Bakassi Boys and the Ijaw Youth Council as most-similar potential insurgencies in Nigeria and leverage within-case variation in the Bakassi Boys case to support the argument.  The Bakassi Boys were eventually eliminated whereas the Ijaw Youth Council transformed into the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force and launched a civil war (2004-2009).  Whereas much of the civil war onset literature has focused on slow-moving structural variables or rebel group dynamics, the paper explains and shows the importance of center-local dynamics and national-level incumbent responses to potential insurgencies.

“Political Order and the Infrastructure of Election Violence in Southwestern Nigeria” (Writing 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 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.

“Who’s to Blame for Election Violence? Civil Society Narratives from Nigeria and Kenya” (Writing in progress)

“What Do Voters Think About Election Violence?” (Planning 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)