My current research examines political conflict, development, and violence with an empirical focus in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Dissertation: State Responses to Armed Groups and Political (Dis)Order in Nigeria

My dissertation explores the effects of electoral competition on state-building.  As armed groups become an increasingly common presence in countries in Latin America, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa, governments have come to interact in diverse ways with these actors.  While elected officials actively cultivate alliances with armed groups in some places and times, they merely tolerate them in others.  Still elsewhere, elected officials violently repress armed groups.  My dissertation asks: what explains government responses to armed groups?  Under what conditions do elected officials seek to collaborate with, tolerate, or repress these actors?  I develop an electoral theory of state responses, arguing that elected officials’ behavior vis-a-vis armed groups is driven by their need to win elections.  Drawing on 10 months of field research in Nigeria, I examine temporal and spatial variation in local governors’ responses to armed groups.  I look at the Bakassi Boys in Anambra State, the Ijaw Youth Council in Rivers State in the Niger Delta region, and Boko Haram in Borno State.  The findings shed new light on the relationship between democracy and state-building and the trajectory of civil conflict.

Working Papers

“State Responses to Armed Groups and Political (Dis)Order in Developing Democracies.” (Revise and resubmit at International Security)

Armed groups have become a common actor in democracies in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.  Yet state responses to these groups vary across space and time.  While governments actively cultivate alliances with armed groups in some places, they violently repress them in others.  Still elsewhere, state actors merely tolerate armed groups.  What explains elected officials’ responses to armed groups?  I develop an electoral theory of government responses, arguing that elected officials’ behavior vis-à-vis these groups is driven by their need to win elections.  Two factors aid elected officials in determining which strategy is most likely to help them achieve this goal: popular support for the armed group and the competitiveness of elections.  The paper evaluates the argument with structured case studies from Nigeria: the Bakassi Boys in Anambra State and Boko Haram in Borno State.  The paper makes two contributions.  First, it expands the literature on political violence by offering a typology of state responses to armed groups that includes collaboration, toleration, and repression.  Second, the paper advances current understandings about the impact of electoral competition on the emergence and decay of political order.

Militia Welfare: Resource Endowment and Public Goods Provision by Armed Nonstate Groups in Pakistan and Nigeria.” With Yelena Biberman-Ocakli, Skidmore College. (Revised and resubmitted at 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.

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.