Uncivic Legacies: Wartime Rebel Control and Civil Society in Africa
Winner, Best Dissertation Award, Western Political Science Association, 2020
My book project addresses a question of global significance: How do societies build democracy after war? In the past two decades, international donors have allocated approximately 25 billion USD to civil society organizations (CSOs) in African countries affected by civil war. I focus on the phenomenon of civil society-led democratization in post-conflict settings by analyzing the understudied role of CSO leaders. These leaders – critical actors in democratization and development – are tasked with reconstituting pro-social norms and practices after war. Yet, both the policy and academic communities overlook a fundamental fact when investing in CSOs in post-conflict settings: CSO leaders themselves are shaped by their wartime experiences. In this book, I demonstrate that the democratic potential of CSO leaders is conditioned by whether they experienced wartime uncertainty. These findings have implications for post-conflict democratization by raising questions about relying on war-traumatized CSO leaders to facilitate democratic culture.
My argument unfolds in three stages. First, I explain how exposure to wartime uncertainty under rebel control induces leaders to become more egocentric and discriminatory in their behavior towards their constituents and others in society. Second, I underscore the fact that citizens want leaders who will include them in their networks — networks that can provide access to scarce resources and opportunities. Citizens thus reject and punish egocentric leaders, and only appreciate discriminatory leaders when they discriminate in citizens’ favor. Third, I show that CSO leader behavior and citizen reactions combine to influence the ability of leaders to promote democracy in war-torn societies. Once exposed to negative leadership qualities, citizens are likely to have less desire to participate in CSO-sponsored activities ostensibly aimed at inculcating democratic norms and values.
I employ a multi-method research strategy, using original data gathered over years of fieldwork in Côte d’Ivoire collected through interviews and participant observation with CSO leaders, government officials, and international donors; a survey of CSOs; an experiment with citizens; and lab-in-the-field games with CSO leaders. I specifically leverage geographic variation in rebel control to rigorously compare how war differentially affected post-conflict behaviors.