File Name: ethnic politics and state power in africa roessler.zip
S ince the periods of decolonization and the Cold War, Africa has been the site of numerous protracted conflicts. Some countries have experienced repeated cycles of violence and civil war, while other countries have headed off major conflict and maintained relative peace.
- Philip Roessler, Ethnic Politics and State Power in Africa: The Logic of the Coup–Civil War Trap
- Why Comrades Go to War
- Africa: The Journal of the International African Institute
- Ethnic politics and state power in Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa has been prone to ethnic exclusion, military coups, and civil wars Cederman, Wimmer, and Min ; Goldstone et al. Yet, African politics and security studies scholars rarely investigate the three phenomena in conjunction with one another. Philip Roessler's book compellingly fills this gap. It sheds new light on the determinants and the sociopolitical consequences of ethnopolitical exclusion in Africa.
Philip Roessler, Ethnic Politics and State Power in Africa: The Logic of the Coup–Civil War Trap
S ince the periods of decolonization and the Cold War, Africa has been the site of numerous protracted conflicts. Some countries have experienced repeated cycles of violence and civil war, while other countries have headed off major conflict and maintained relative peace. What factors account for these differences? In a clear, compelling, theoretically innovative study, Philip Roessler argues that civil wars often emerge from power struggles among political elites.
As a result, powerholders in weak states are likely to incorporate potential rivals at the center in a system of ethnic power sharing and to exclude regional and ethnic minorities on the margins. While such tactics may work in the short term, ongoing rivalry at the center, compounded by political exclusion elsewhere, may eventually lead to the coup—civil war trap.
In such cases, rival power aspirants may mobilize marginalized groups, with civil war as an outcome. Until now, most scholars of coups and civil wars in Africa have analyzed them separately. Roessler, in contrast, offers a theory that considers both phenomena as part of a whole, which he tests by analyzing qualitative case studies and quantitative datasets. The two primary case studies Darfur in western Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo , which involved intensive fieldwork, are supplemented by several subsidiary cases notably, Burundi, Chad, Liberia, Nigeria, Uganda.
They have broad implications for our understanding of multiple conflicts in Africa and in the Global South more generally. Three scholars with expertise in African security, conflict, and governance issues contribute to this discussion of Ethnic Politics and State Power in Africa. They also suggest areas that might be strengthened as well as topics for further research. Matfess also points to areas that might be strengthened or extended. When leaders are faced with challenges to their authority, what options do they have besides the co-optation of rivals or civil war?
Lyall also suggests topic for further investigation. For instance, how do power seekers from the same ethnic group bargain amongst themselves? International factors are also neglected, although they have important consequences for conflict outcomes, especially when neighboring states are interested parties.
In contrast to Matfess, however, Lyall considers foreign involvement to be a double-edged sword—as likely to be detrimental as it is helpful to the cause of regional peace. Kai M. Do such cases signal prospects for overcoming the coup—civil war trap?
However, Roessler notes, intra-ethnic civil war is far less common than intra-ethnic coups, perhaps as a result of self-regulation. While the reviewers raise other important issues, Roessler concludes, those are topics for future book-length studies. He completes his response by highlighting some of the new scholarship that addresses these critical topics. His research focuses on conflict, state-building, and development in Africa. He received his B. She received her Ph.
Hilary Matfess is a Ph. Her current work focuses on gender, security, and governance in sub-Saharan Africa. His work on civil wars, violence, regime stability and change, and methods for studying violent conflict has been published in journals including Afrique Contemporaine , Civil Wars , Genocide Studies and Prevention , Journal of Democracy , and Journal of Mixed Methods Research.
His current book project examines how rebel organizational ideas, goals, and institutions established while fighting the state persist to shape statebuilding and service provision efforts after rebel victory in civil wars.
Drawing inductively on hard-won insights from fieldwork in Sudan, Roessler devises a strategic exclusion theory that he subsequently tests using cross-national quantitative data and within-case qualitative evidence.
The result is a compelling mix of theoretical rigor, methodological pluralism, and new empirical results that deserves a wide audience among scholars of political violence.
Power-sharing, however, has its own risks. Incorporating non-coethnics raises the prospect that they, in turn, will use their positions to challenge, or exclude completely, the ruler and his ethnic group. Thus the commitment problem has a second side: mistrustful rulers cannot be sure that these ethnic groups are supporting them in a bid to better position themselves for a future challenge. Doing so, however, substitutes the immediate risk of a coup for that of potential future civil war, for two reasons.
The coup-civil war trap is thus born of interethnic bargaining failure. Roessler employs a nested research design to build and then test his proposed strategic exclusion argument. Purging his onetime allies from his regime, Bashir succumbed to the logic of the coup-civil war trap, replacing the risk of a coup with that of a civil war.
At the heart of these efforts is the Ethnic Power Relations EPR dataset, which measures the ethnic distribution of access to executive political power across a subset of countries in which ethnicity was politically salient during As predicted, ethnic groups included in the government via power-sharing arrangement are more likely to be involved in coups and less likely to initiate civil wars.
Excluded groups, by contrast, are less likely to launch coups but are more likely to become embroiled in civil wars, though the differences here are less stark than for included groups The balance of threat capabilities between the government and the opposition which is treated as a unitary actor in these tests is thought to drive these results. If the government and opposition are both strong, then power-sharing occurs; if both are weak, however, then regimes are unstable and exclusionary.
Power imbalances between the government and the opposition in either direction torpedo power-sharing arrangements as credible commitment problems reemerge. Some stability can arise, then, but only under a narrow set of circumstances. All ambitious books invite further debate, and Ethnic Politics is no exception. I offer four comments here, each centering around the issue of how dynamics are treated in the coup-civil war trap.
Despite their centrality, however, we catch only glimpses of the nature of these capabilities and how they are mobilized. These measures appear best suited for would-be coup plotters seeking political power via capital capture rather than a secessionist-seeking ethnic group, where distance from the capital increases the likelihood of insurgent success.
More generally, much of the mobilization process itself occurs off-stage. Ethnic leaders appear to have little difficulty in raising new armies when necessary 94 , for example, while followers are implicitly assumed to rally to their leaders in times of trouble. Many insurgent groups also simply die out without ever posing a credible threat. At other times, most notably in the theory-building case, leaders are jumping at shadows, forced to make quick decisions under a high degree of uncertainty.
Whether the trap is born of rational decision or miscalculation in turn shapes our expectations about sequencing of events. While the theory implies that the opposition takes up arms first, in practice many of these civil wars and rebellions appear to be initiated, and sustained, by government decisions to strike first, before threat has actually materialized.
Bashir, in other words, was not responding to the risk of civil war; he was creating it , , There is also some ambiguity about whether absolute or relative power capabilities are most important for determining bargaining outcomes. Why absolute power matters in some situations, while relative power concerns predominant in others, is left unclear.
Second, the dynamics of intra-ethnic bargaining are mostly absent from the theoretical framework. This raises the question of what role ethnicity is actually playing in the theory. Co-ethnics share dense network ties that facilitate information-sharing and reinforce shared preferences over strategies and outcomes. Co-ethnic coups are thus puzzling since they suggest heterogeneous preferences among group members.
Ironically, such coup attempts should be especially likely to be detected early and snuffed out since the government would have extensive ties among its co-ethnics. In short, credible commitment problems should be far less severe due to co-ethnic in-group policing that is absent in interethnic bargaining. Given the frequent purging of co-conspirators, however, it appears that co-ethnicity is an imperfect tool for assessing threats, especially if lust for power trumps co-ethnic bonds.
Rulers, in other words, likely use other criteria than ethnicity for crafting and implementing their strategies. Third, the military as an institution is curiously neglected in both the theory and case studies.
The military itself, however, is pushed to the margins of the strategic exclusion theory, an odd position given that nearly every coup originated from the military or ex-military officers. Problems below the coup horizon may plague militaries, including poor relations between officers and rank-and-file that in turn complicate specific counterinsurgency operations or raise broader questions of political reliability.
It is telling, for example, that one of the most important developments in West and Central African militaries is the rise of mutinies over unequal pay and poor treatment.
Similarly, militaries may rely on militia such as the Janjaweed in Sudan to prosecute these wars, creating another set of potential principal-agent problems.
The efficacy of certain branches within the military may also help explain why some incumbents are able to safeguard against coup attempts or defeat them when they arise.
And, perhaps most importantly, militaries still often retain large numbers of ethnic groups that have been excluded politically, creating opportunities for coup attempts as well as trained recruits for a potential civil war. This makes sense as an initial starting point, but results in the omission of international factors, especially neighboring states, that can shape the severity of credible commitment problems and the dynamics of escalation. As Roessler himself acknowledges , the internal dynamics of the coup-civil war trap in both Sudan and the DRC were heavily influenced by the clandestine, and then overt, intervention of neighboring states.
Chad, for example, provided material assistance and a safe rear area for rebels, contributing to their decision to attack Sudanese forces in April The United States, too, is increasingly active, with military-to-military partner arrangements throughout Africa, including Niger, Djibouti, and Cameroon. While coups and civil wars have actually been in decline since the mids,  Roessler is skeptical that the coup-civil war trap can be transcended entirely, whether in sub-Saharan Africa or elsewhere.
As a result, further investigating these dynamics, and possible policy responses that might mitigate them, will remain an important task for scholars and policy-makers in the future. The book is a tour de force that brings together extensive qualitative fieldwork, theory-building and theory-testing case studies, and quantitative analysis to bring forth a novel description of governance and conflict in Africa.
From the five broad claims Roessler sets out to test, a variety of additional observations and sub-theories emerge. Regarding coups, Roessler delineates the logic of mounting a coup in the face of potential exclusion from a power-sharing arrangement. Roessler notes that a pre-emptive coup is a logical response for those fearful of exclusion from political power, as they recognize that the collective mobilization costs of a coup are much lower than the strain of organizing and sustaining the sort of force necessary to mount a civil war.
After describing the puzzle and addressing the extant literature on ethno-political exclusion and civil war in Africa, he then uses a Darfur case study to build his theory.
The Darfur case study itself could well be regarded as two case studies, as Roessler leverages temporal differences to analyze an instance in which the threat of civil war was successfully mitigated, as well as the conditions under which the Darfur Civil War emerged roughly a decade later, after Omar al-Bashir, the President of Sudan, dismantled the political network of the National Islamic Front NIF as part of a coup-proofing strategy. Given the vast ground already covered by this book, many of the following criticisms are perhaps better considered avenues for future research than shortcomings of the contribution at hand.
I identify four areas where the argument could have been furthered or strengthened: through the discussion of alternatives versions of coup-proofing, an unpacking of the role of consociationalism in reducing uncertainty in multi-ethnic governments, an examination of the role of cross-cutting cleavages in reducing ethnic salience and the existence of non-ethnically motivated coups, and more attention to the organizational hurdles facing would-be coup plotters or insurgent leaders.
Such behavior would reduce both the risk of a successfully organized coup and make it more difficult for the would-be-coup plotters to organize themselves into a force capable of exerting a military challenge to the state. Additionally, Roessler is conspicuously quiet about consociationalism, despite an analytical emphasis on the role of power-sharing.
It is possible that with enough information, there are incentives that produce durable power-sharing arrangements that are not predicated on the threat of civil war or undermined by the potential for a coup. Recent decades have seen a number of multi-laterally supported constitutional reform processes and peace settlements resulting in the adoption of consociational constitutional designs.
It is possible, for example, for there to be equitable ethnic power-sharing in a toothless legislature, or for an executive to have an ethnically balanced cabinet in which ethnic rivals are given inconsequential portfolios or scant budgets. Relatedly, it would have been interesting for Roessler to speak to the ways in which multiple or cross-cutting cleavages can contribute to the likelihood of violence.
Despite the recognition that ethnicity is one of many potential identities, the book does not unpack the consequences of cross-cutting cleavages on the process of power-sharing or, in the face of a failed power-sharing endeavor, the implications that such cleavages have on the collective action required for mobilization into war. In his discussion of the Islamic Movement in Darfur Roessler discusses how the cross-cutting cleavage of ethnicity contributed to the decline of a religiously mobilized organization Discussing the prospects of this emerging pattern, particularly in light of the increasing relevance of armed mobilization into multi-ethnic terrorist organizations, could have contributed to a more nuanced understanding of the future of violence and governance in Africa.
Finally, on a point that is unrelated to a greater nuancing of the ubiquity of the coup-civil war trap, I would have appreciated a discussion by Roessler of the organizational challenges of waging a civil conflict or organizing a coup.
Why Comrades Go to War
He is an expert on conflict, state building, and development in sub-Saharan Africa with extensive field experience across the region. Ethnic Politics and State Power in Africa. Philip Roessler. Why are some African countries trapped in vicious cycles of ethnic exclusion and civil war, while others experience relative peace? In this groundbreaking book, Philip Roessler addresses this question. How rulers respond to this strategic trade-off is shown to be a function of their country's ethnic geography and the distribution of threat capabilities it produces. Moving between in-depth case studies of Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo based on years of field work and statistical analyses of powersharing, coups and civil war across sub-Saharan Africa, the book serves as an exemplar of the benefits of mixed methods research for theory-building and testing in comparative politics.
Coups are more common, but civil wars more costly. As a leader, which would you rather risk facing? According to Philip Roessler, this is the crucial security choice rulers face if they want to maintain power in weak states. Ethnic Politics and State Power in Africa remedies this gap through a multi-method nested analysis of how bargaining failures result in conflict escalation. Using Sudan, Congo and, to a lesser extent, Liberia as cases, it offers a compelling example of fieldwork-driven comparative research that underscores the importance of domestic power politics for explaining conflict. Roessler draws on international relations theory to bring power politics back into civil war studies by assuming that ethnically divided weak states are anarchic systems, where power rests in the threat of force, while peace rests in credible commitments not to use that force.
Backed by a Rwanda-led regional coalition that drew support from Asmara to Luanda, the rebels of the AFDL marched over kilometres in seven months to crush the dictatorship. As important for political scientists as it is for historians and congophiles. Based on an astoundingly comprehensive array of interviews with the key actors in this war. Based on a wealth of hitherto unknown information, including many interviews with crucial stakeholders, it offers new and refreshing insights into very complex and dramatic events that continue to impact Central Africa up to the present day. The authors range widely over Central Africa but provide a detailed account of the often sordid and always tragic events that ruined the lives of millions of people. An important book. Roessler and Verhoeven demonstrate that a focus on elite actors above all, Kabila and his Rwandan Tutsi backers, Generals Kagame and Kabarebe is essential to understanding why the first war led inexorably to the second.
Africa: The Journal of the International African Institute
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Why do rulers exclude certain ethnic groups if exclusion increases the risk of civil war? In this masterful book, Roessler solves this puzzle by putting forward a strategic, competing-risks model of ruler behavior. Roessler argues rulers face a coup d'etat -civil war trap: ethnic inclusion in the government may reduce the risk of civil war, but it does so by watering down the benefits to the members of the ruling coalition, increasing the risk of a coup d'etat by their co-conspirators.
Ethnic politics and state power in Africa
Why are some weak states trapped in vicious cycles of ethnic exclusion and civil war, while others experience relative peace? Drawing on years of field research on the causes of civil war in Sudan and Democratic Republic of the Congo combined with statistical analyses of power sharing, coups and civil war across the region, Roessler models weak states as caught in a coup-civil war trap and explains how this framework helps to account for war and peace across countries in Africa as well as to Syria, Iraq and other ethnically divided states. He is an expert on conflict, state building, and development in sub-Saharan Africa with extensive field experience across the region. A philosophical and critical account of mechanisms of racism and othering in Western Christian identity — part of the Protestant Political Thought Spring Conference. Exploring Christianity and democratic citizenship in plural societies — part of the Protestant Political Thought Spring Conference. Ethnic politics and state power in Africa. Wednesday 08 November ,
Why are some African countries trapped in vicious cycles of ethnic exclusion and civil war, while others experience relative peace? In this groundbreaking book, Philip Roessler addresses this question. Roessler models Africa's weak, ethnically-divided states as confronting rulers with a coup-civil war trap - sharing power with ethnic rivals is necessary to underwrite societal peace and prevent civil war, but increases rivals' capabilities to seize sovereign power in a coup d'etat. How rulers respond to this strategic trade-off is shown to be a function of their country's ethnic geography and the distribution of threat capabilities it produces. Moving between in-depth case studies of Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo based on years of field work and statistical analyses of powersharing, coups and civil war across sub-Saharan Africa, the book serves as an exemplar of the benefits of mixed methods research for theory-building and testing in comparative politics.
Philip Roessler, College of William and Mary, Virginia. Publisher: Cambridge University Press; Online publication date: January ; Print publication year.
Skip to search form Skip to main content You are currently offline. Some features of the site may not work correctly. DOI: Roessler Published Political Science. Why are some African countries trapped in vicious cycles of ethnic exclusion and civil war, while others experience relative peace?