Uncivic Legacies: Wartime Rebel Control and Civil Society in Africa
Winner, Best Dissertation Award, Western Political Science Association, 2020
My book project examines how the wartime experiences of civic leaders affect post-conflict democratization. Although international donors funnel millions of dollars in aid to local civic organizations in conflict-affected countries with the goal of facilitating democracy and development, neither scholars nor policymakers fundamentally understand the leaders of those organizations. Relatively little is known about attitudes and behaviors held by civic leaders, who are critical actors in post-conflict democratization, towards political empowerment or resource distribution. I show that living under rebel control affects civic leader behavior, shaping who starts organizations, what kinds of work they do, and how they conduct democracy and development projects in the future.
My theoretical framework explains how exposure to wartime uncertainty produces egocentric and discriminatory effects among civic leaders. The egocentric effect emerges because the uncertainty around who is in charge experienced under rebel takeover leads civic leaders to become more inclined to keep resources for themselves as a form of insurance. The discriminatory effect emerges because the distrust fomented during rebel takeover exacerbates existing cleavages, inducing civic leaders to become more discriminatory in their relationships with outgroups.
To assess this theory and its implications, I leverage geographic variation in rebel control within Côte d’Ivoire, a country that experienced years of civil war in the 2000s. During the war period, rebels controlled at least half of the national territory, administering these regions with varying degrees of governance structures and rule of law. Utilizing data gathered over the course of 15 months of fieldwork through interview, participant observation, and an original survey of hundreds of civil society organizations, I first detail the ecosystem of local civil society across Côte d’Ivoire. I describe who creates and leads these types of organizations, the work they complete, and the challenges they faced during and after the war. I demonstrate that there are significant and consequential subnational differences in the make-up of civil society in post-conflict settings.
Additionally, I employ a multi-method research strategy to test the theory and its observable implications, using data collected from surveys and lab-in-the-field experiments. Employing pre-treatment matching, I selected most-similar geographic units for comparison. I then invited civic leaders from former rebel-controlled and former government-controlled regions to participate in a series of dictator games in a lab-in-the-field.
Through my lab-in-the-field experiments and surveys of civic leaders, I demonstrate that civic leaders who lived under rebel control are subsequently more egocentric and more discriminating than their counterparts who lived in areas continuously controlled by government. I further show that the war shaped who starts organizations and the work that civil society is able to conduct in former-rebel controlled zones. These findings have important implications for the prospect of democratization in post-conflict settings: civic leaders who have lived through rebel takeover and under conditions of intense uncertainty may not exhibit attitudes or behaviors conventionally expected to facilitate democratic culture in the near term.