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Violent Institutions: Rebellion, Bureaucracy and Wartime State Capture (Book manuscript)

My book manuscript examines varied patterns of rebel-state engagement during armed conflict and the processes of institutional change that they entail. Conventional wisdom portrays conflict zones as lacking institutions or pitting armed groups and states as competitors. Yet, my dissertation shows that rebels and state agents often negotiate to realize interests on both sides. Drawing on new data the Democratic Republic of Congo, my dissertation examines how state agents maintain institutions that collect revenue and monitor resource flows in rebel-held territories. Through subnational case comparison, it identifies four sets of accommodations—collusion, cooptation, entrenchment, and displacement—that differ according to rebels’ use of the state apparatus and where authority resides. I trace these interactions in the political economy of war as rebels and states co-administer taxation and cross-border trade.

During fieldwork, I negotiated unprecedented access to the internal records of four armed groups', including rebels’ financial transactions, correspondences with business partners and government agencies, as well as budgets, payrolls, and tax ledgers. These unusually comprehensive records provide data to trace the social relationships that governed resources during civil war and offer unprecedented insights into the inner workings of rebel organization.


"Militarizing the Peace: United Nations Intervention against Congo's 'Terrorist' Rebels" Lawfare Institute and the Brookings Institute, Lawfare blog, June 2019

"Peace-building as State-building? Lessons from the Democratic Republic of the Congo" in The State of Peacebuilding in Africa: Lessons Learned for Policymakers and Practitioners. Edited volume organized by the Wilson Center, forthcoming.


What are the effects of insecurity on containing public health crises? What governance changes occur locally?


"Clichés Can Kill in Congo" Foreign Policy, April 2019

Listening to voices from residents in the outbreak area to understand resistance to the response teams:

Media appearances:


"Bureaucrats at War: The Resilient State in the Congo," African Affairs, forthcoming.

Abstract: Rebels often use a state-like image to legitimize their rule, but little is known about their on-the-ground relations with the administrators of state power—official bureaucrats. This article fills this gap by examining bureaucratic practices in conflict zones. Drawing on fieldwork in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it argues that bureaucrats actively sustain state institutions and recruit rebel support during war. The article develops a theoretical framework to trace how bureaucrats use a strategic resource—their recognized authority to confer state legitimization and legality—to negotiate with rebels. This entails struggles on two fronts. On a first, bureaucrats use official certificates, codes, and paperwork to produce state legitimacy in conflict zones and exchange it with rebels to purchase protection. On a second, bureaucrats aim to preserve their brokerage role over this legitimacy resource. Quotidian practices of noncompliance such as evasions, parallel taxes, and sabotaged information, can prevent rebels from appropriating administrations outright. Original records from four Congolese rebel groups illustrate how bureaucrats maneuver between compliance and resistance. Real-time records demonstrate the continuity of bureaucratic practice during war, and offer glimpses into everyday governance practices. It contributes to literature on rebel governance, public authority, and failed states.

"In Search of Order: State Systems of Property Rights Enforcement and their Failings" in Sandra Joireman, Where there is No Government, Oxford University Press, 2011.

How do informal squatters enforce property rights in urban areas with seemingly weak state institutions? My interest in non-state coercive governance began while observing informal procedures for enforcing property rights in Kibera, an urban informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya. As an undergraduate, I conducted six months' independent fieldwork focused on how local vigilantes administer informal housing rights in Kibera. My research formed part of a broader academic research team funded by an NSF grant to compare property disputes and dispute resolution mechanisms across urban and rural field sites in Kenya, Ghana, and Uganda. This work resulted in a book chapter.


Particular interest in the methodology and data sources of studying contemporary armed conflict

"Field Research in Dangerous Environments" In Chris Barrett, Jeffrey Cason, Erin Lentz, Overseas Research: A Practical Guide, 3rd ed. Routeledge, 2020.

Working Papers:

"Rebel Records: The Pen, Not Just the Sword, of Violent Organization "

"Knowing What we Don't: The Problem of (Mis)Attributing Civil War Violence"