Rebel Leaders in Civil War Project

 Intrastate war is forged by people and tempered by context. A country does not go to war with itself ex nihilo. Rather, intrastate war reflects a strategic sequence of decisions and actions made by individuals. Some individuals, inevitably, shape this process more than others. In particular, rebel leaders—the individuals who mobilize and manage insurgency campaigns—play a significant role in determining the viability and behavior of armed rebel groups. Ignoring rebel leaders, their unique characteristics, and individual agency withholds important sources of explanatory power from analyses of insurgent warfare.

The Rebel Leaders in Civil War Dataset (RLCW) offers the means to ``bring leaders back'' into analyses of intrastate conflict. While the conflict literature consistently gives anecdotal import to rebel leaders, it is only beginning to connect these actors to outcomes of interest through empirical analysis. By offering longitudinal measures of rebel leaders, RLCW is the first of its kind. Containing information on a rebel leader's experiences prior to conflict onset and during their conflict tenure, the RLCW data enable scholars to test their dynamic, micro-level theories of intrastate conflict. Still in development, RLCW currently features more that 200 rebel leaders from more than 150 rebel organizations across 65 intrastate conflicts from 1989 to 2014. Observations are recorded at the rebel leader level of analysis. Temporal variation is measured annually. 

Dissertation Project: "Rebel Leaders and the Management of Rebel Organizations in Armed Intrastate Conflict" 

How do rebel leaders influence the behavior of their organizations within the constraints of the conflict environment? In this project, Rebel Leaders and the Management of Rebel Organizations in Armed Intrastate Conflict, I speak directly to this theoretical and empirical puzzle. This project, which is supported by multiple research grants from the University of Georgia, highlights the prewar political and military experiences of rebel leaders as well as their motives for conflict to explain how they shape three important wartime dynamics: group mobilization, organizational structure, and the risk of fragmentation. In doing so,  I demonstrate that accounting for variation in rebel leadership provides important leverage over the microfoundations of insurgent decision-making.

Evidence for the dissertation comes from a mixed-methodological research design. In the first stage, I test the generalizability of my argument in a series of statistical models, all of which use an original cross-national dataset featuring over 200 rebel leaders from 1989 to 2014. In the second stage, I describe the organizational structures and norms of command that characterized the UNITA insurgency in the Angolan Civil War (1975-2002). To supplement existing accounts, I acquired data from a series of semi-structured interviews and focus groups with former UNITA subcommanders and fighters, state military leaders, and non-combatants. This fieldwork research was conducted in various research sites throughout Angola in Summer 2018.