Rebel Rule

While armed confrontation between rebels and elements of the incumbent regime are often the most visible face of rebellion, rebels also have a complicated relationship with the civilian population. The nature of this relationship varies wildly—from extremely coercive, to one characterized by service provision—in ways that have a profound impact on the human experience in these areas.

Ongoing research focuses on how rebel groups build domestic power while balancing their own internal ideological preferences, and the preferences of both international and domestic supporters. I study these phenomena in the context of the three faces of the Moro liberation movement in Mindanao (in the south of the Philippines): the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). I have undertaken extensive archival, interview, and survey work during approximately twenty-one months of field research in conflict-affected Mindanao.


Book Manuscript

States Within States: How Rebels Rule

Rebellion is more than a military contest. While armed confrontation between fighters and soldiers is often the most visible aspect of rebellion, rebels also have an ongoing relationship with the civilian population they purport to represent. This relationship varies—some rebels provide services and pursue policies civilians find attractive, while others extort resources from the populace and adopt unpopular positions.  In short, rebels govern civilians.  The question becomes how and why rebels govern the way in which they do.

The book outlines a general theory of rebel governance, tested using a series of natural quasi-experiments in Mindanao.  The text explores the governance practices of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Moro National Liberation Front, and the Abu Sayyaf Group and their evolution over time.  These data describe the groups’ efforts to balance their own internal preferences with the interests of civilians and a variety of international sponsors. Analysis draws on extensive fieldwork and unique access to the communities in which these groups operate.

This project contributes not only to our understanding of the nature and drivers of non-state armed groups’ behavior that directly affect civilians’ wartime experience, but also has implications for the impact of interdiction and humanitarian efforts on these populations, and possibilities for post-conflict stabilization.


Related Articles

Shadow States: The Structure of Rebel Rule (under review)

This paper argues that rebels rule with more services and less coercion the closer their ideological position (and that of any foreign sponsors) is to civilians’, and the more their donors provide them with humanitarian rather than military aid.  The paper compares the governance behavior of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Moro National Liberation Front, and the Abu Sayyaf Group, leveraging key points of variance among these groups that otherwise have much in common.  The paper draws extensively on an original survey of 1,430 civilians in conflict-affected areas of Mindanao.

Statebreakers to Statemakers: A Model of Rebel Rule (with Branislav L. Slantchev, under review)

This paper develops a formal model of how and why rebels govern using a mix of three tools: coercion, service provision, and ideological positioning.  This governance mix is shaped by how far rebels’ ideological preferences are from civilians’ (and rebels’ willingness to compromise on this position).  The formal model highlights the mechanics of rebels’ efforts to exert authority over civilians, and identifies the tradeoffs and choices rebel rulers face in doing so.

The Role of Foreign Sponsors in Rebel Rule: The Abu Sayyaf Group (working paper)

This paper takes an in-depth look at the role of foreign support in shaping rebel rule, leveraging exogenous variation in Abu Sayyaf’s foreign support package in a longitudinal study.  Theoretically, the paper shows how foreign sponsors shape rebel rule and the tradeoffs they face in doing so, even if they have only indirect influence over rebel partners. Substantively, the paper provides a new perspective on one of Southeast Asia’s most notorious rebel groups.


New Work

Ungoverned Spaces and Hybrid Governance

Conflict is not devoid of collaboration, nor are ungoverned spaces as un-ordered as colloquially assumed.  These spaces are populated with a range of actors who exert authority.  Moreover, even rival actors (e.g. states and rebels) can share authority in varied and sometimes seemingly counter-intuitive ways—in some areas, this relationship is hostile, but others are characterized by tacit or even explicit arrangements to share or divide authority—apportioned geographically and substantively.

This work focuses on two questions.  First, what drives shared sovereignty—that is, why are rebels and incumbents sometimes parallel or rival authorities and other times form hybrid regimes? Second, how is shared rule actually structured—in other words, who does what, and under what circumstances?

Conflict and Development

In conflict and post-conflict areas, civilians’ experience with governance, human rights, and development are affected by the behavior of non-state armed groups in addition to the formally recognized state.  Furthermore, authority dynamics in contested spaces are inextricably entwined with aid efficacy.  Such dynamics simultaneously define areas that most need development assistance and in which such aid is most challenging to provide.  These dynamics shape the forms and extent of services that reach the ground: rebels, warlords, and criminals (in addition to the state) successfully exercise authority by extending economic benefits to the populace.  Moreover, the fact that such actors exercise authority, and realize services as a tool in doing so means they are sensitive to outside efforts to provide aid—efforts which may perversely fuel conflict, by providing greater and more contestable resources, or by threatening to shift the status quo.

In pursuing these issues, I am also bringing my understanding of conflict dynamics to bear in mapping and analyzing challenges such as corruption that complicate international development aid programming in these areas.