doctoral dissertation

My doctoral research probes how states and rebels compete and collude to govern resources during armed conflict.  It provides an empirical and theoretical foundation to analyze these varied sets of interactions and to demonstrate how state institutions remain influential even in rebel military strongholds.  

Access to the state provides political incumbents international recognition, resource transfers, and guarantees of political survival under conditions of uncertainty.  My dissertation demonstrates that the subnational state apparatus can retain these functions during war. I ask what mechanisms of institutional endurance and adaptation preserve roles of state administrations in the face of coercive takeover, and what bargaining processes local bureaucrats and rebels strike to share resources and rule-making authority over resource governance behind frontlines. My argument places central explanatory importance on the nature of how state institutions are weak.  The two-step model builds from the premise that elite regime strategies for building—or destroying—state administrations often differ from the actual uses of the state apparatus for day-to-day governance and distributional outcomes.  

The first step links variation in the effects of the state apparatus on causal logics of rebel governance to the trajectory of institutional decline that unfolds as central power fades.  When rulers disinvest from bureaucratic rule, officeholders can exploit political fragmentation and diffuse claims to sovereignty to adapt institutions to changing circumstances.  Ironically, fractured institutions provide bureaucrats tools to preserve a semblance of state control in ways that make it difficult for rebels to install their own brands of order.  Higher-quality institutions with closer linkages to the political center lack this transformative capacity and fare less well against rebel power.  

The second step traces patterns of strategic engagement between rebels and bureaucrats in these conflicts that vary according the degree to which these actors share or contest revenue and the extent to which prior institutional practices remain durable. These dimensions produce four institutional settlement outcomes—collusion, cooptation, displacement, and administrative resistance—that shape rebels’ ability to shift to political bases of control.  More generally, my research provides a new understanding of institutional development in the growing number of conflicts that occur in very weak and failing states. It sheds light on a distinctive set of underlying rules shaping the strategies of actors in these conflicts; a prerequisite to build a theory of political order amidst civil war violence. 

Empirically, I test my alternative theory of state endurance through a two-level analysis of checks on rebel governance in a prototypical failed state—Democratic Republic of Congo.  Given that Congo is one of the weakest states in the international system with notorious war economies, one would expect rebel groups to successfully displace state institutions.  And yet, my new data show that local bureaucrats interposed themselves into armed systems of taxation, siphoned money from rebel coffers, and compelled rebels to negotiate and share authority. I pair within-group and cross-group analysis of thirteen cases of rebel governance to demonstrate that armed groups systematically confronted these challenges in ways across vast territories and varied resource chains. This medium-N case selection couples with four detailed case studies of the bargains bureaucrats and rebels strike to manage parallel markets.