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Michael Woldemariam ─ From Rebelling to Ruling: Insurgent Victory and State Capture in Africa

Monday, March 8, 2021

12 p.m. – 1 p.m.

Email WatsonEvents@brown.edu to register for the seminar.

The nature of political order following rebel victory in civil wars has seen remarkable variation. While some rebellions transform their victories into durable regimes, others do not. This article investigates the ability, and inability, of victorious rebellions to capture the state after overthrowing incumbents, with a focus on Africa. We argue that these outcomes – state capture, failed state capture, or mixed – depends on two key dimensions of political and military centralization before victory: 1) the distribution of power between rebel organizations participating in the civil war and 2) the communal structure within them. The article shows that centralization is a consequence of how rebels weigh the trade-off between centralization and the wartime costs associated with such efforts. The article develops a typological framework to compare three victorious armed groups – the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), Uganda’s National Resistance Army (NRA), and the Séléka rebellion of Central African Republic (CAR).  

Africa Initiative
Security Studies Seminar

Michael Woldemariam is an associate professor of International Relations at Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies. Beginning in September 2021, he will also serve as the Director of BU's African Studies Center. He previously worked as a research specialist with Princeton University’s Innovations for Successful Societies program, and held fellowships at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, DC and Penn State’s Africana Research Center. During 2020-21, Woldemariam is an International Affairs Fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations. Woldemariam’s teaching and research interests are in African security studies, with a particular focus on armed conflict in the Horn of Africa. Woldemariam’s scholarly work has been published in the journals Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, Terrorism and Political Violence, Journal of Strategic Studies, and the Journal of Eastern African Studies. His popular essays have appeared in outlets such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, and Current History. His first book, Insurgent Fragmentation in the Horn of Africa: Rebellion and Its Discontents, was published with Cambridge University Press in 2018. In addition to his scholarly work, Woldemariam has consulted with a wide variety of international organizations, primarily on issues related to politics, governance, and security in the Greater Horn of Africa region.


The format of the seminar is a brief (5-minute) introduction by the author, some initial comments by a lead discussant (5-10 minutes), and then open comments from attendees (remainder of time). All attendees are expected to read the paper ahead of time, as the author will not present their research. This is a working session. The paper will be distributed about a week in advance of the seminar.