Research

Publications

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.

Works-in-Progress

“Democracy, State-Building, and Armed Groups in Africa.” (Revised and resubmitted to 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 Africa.” (Under review)

Collusion between ruling parties and armed groups is an important driver of election related violence, yet existing explanations of where and when ruling parties try to use armed groups to win elections with fraud and violence is limited.  To push forward our understanding of this phenomenon, I examine a range of ruling party strategies toward armed groups, including covert and overt collusion, forbearance, and repression.  I find that a strong and united opposition coalition incentivizes ruling parties to collude with armed actors.  Whether they do so overtly or covertly depends on the armed group’s support base.  The argument is supported with comparative case studies from Nigeria and Kenya.  I study how a former governor of Rivers State in the Niger Delta region tolerated the militant leader Asari Dokubo and the Ijaw Youth Council beginning in 1999 before shifting to overt collusion in April 2001.  This alliance lasted until shortly after the April 2003 elections when Dokubo publicly broke with the governor.  In Kenya, I examine President Moi’s heavy repression of Mungiki for a decade before transitioning to covert collusion in 2002.  The findings add to a growing literature on the drivers and dynamics of electoral violence.

State-Building, Vigilantism, and Political Participation. (Working paper)

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.  To support this argument, I use 2011 Afrobarometer survey data and comparative case studies.  I compare Nairobi slums under Mungiki control to those outside of it, and those under control of the O’odua People’s Congress in Lagos to those which are not.  Together, the quantitative and qualitative data show that those living under armed group authority have higher rates of political participation.  The findings add to a growing literature on political participation in emerging democracies and raise important questions about the relationship between state capacity, state legitimacy, and political participation.

When Do Armed Groups Refuse to Carry Out Electoral Violence? (Working paper)

Recent studies find that collusion between politicians and armed groups is a common driver of election violence. While armed groups carry out electoral violence for politicians in some places, elsewhere they turn down their overtures. This paper adds to a growing literature on election violence by asking: when do armed groups refuse to carry out electoral violence for politicians? I find that armed groups divided by internal factions are more likely to collude with politicians. Leaders of internal factions accept money and arms from politicians to try to eliminate their competitors, signal their superior resources and rally group members to their side, and in exchange, carry out electoral violence for their backers. As internal disputes are resolved through elimination or organizational splits, armed groups break their alliances with politicians. The paper relies on comparative case studies from Nigeria: the Ijaw Youth Council in Rivers State, the National Union of Road Transport Workers in Oyo State, and the O’odua People’s Congress in Lagos State. Evidence includes local news media and NGO reports, election observation reports, a rich anthropological literature, and semi-structured interviews conducted during fieldwork.

“How and Why Governments Respond to Armed Groups: Government-Armed Group Relations as a Lens into State-Building.” (Working paper)

The existing literature on political violence overwhelmingly conceptualizes armed groups according to their relationship with the state.  Moreover, these alignments are largely thought of as fixed.  Yet government-armed group alignments are remarkably dynamic.  Today’s anti-government warlords can become tomorrow’s pro-government militias and vice versa.  This article seeks to re-orient current thinking on armed groups as pro- or anti-government by presenting a novel typology that includes a wide range of government-armed group relations.  Drawing on examples from Africa, Central and South Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America, I describe five distinct types: open alliances, covert alliances, mutual toleration, “frenemies,” and armed conflict.  I then show how these five types of alignment constitute distinct political (dis)orders that shape local political, economic, and social life.  The conclusion discusses the implications of this typology for research on state-building, political order, and armed politics.