Governing After War

About the book


Serial war or extended peace? What are the best indicators for peace after rebel victory? To better understand the potential stability and likely political legacies of rebel governments, we need to evaluate not why rebels are fighting (they are often fighting for legitimate ends) but how they organize during conflict.

In Governing After War, Shelley Liu argues that rebel groups that build strong, well-organized wartime relationships with civilians are best positioned to achieve stability, even if not full peace. Having won over a sufficient base to enable them to win the initial, these governments can now shift resources to help them conquer the rest of the state. Compared to rebel groups with weaker ties to civilians, rebels with a diverse base of well-organized ties can spend more resources on other parts of the state, preferably through cooption but through violence if they deem it to be necessary.

Methods and Results

The book uses qualitative and quantitative evidence from two cases in sub-Saharan Africa: Zimbabwe in the 1970s and '80s, and Liberia under the leadership of Charles Taylor in the late ‘80s and ‘90s. To add cross-country variation, Liu also examines Burundi, Rwanda, Côte d'Ivoire, and Angola.

Zimbabwe Liberation War (1972-1979)

During its war with the ruling white minority government, the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) established strong and deeply embedded ties across the eastern half of rural Zimbabwe. Before it formally came to power, ZANU had already exerted social control through its ties with local leaders, youth supporters, and other partisans. As a result, the new rebel government was able to sustain support on the ground with relatively little effort and set up the state along the lines of its wartime institutions. Within a few years, it had spread these institutions throughout the rest of the country, leveraging centralized development funding to co-opt political support. In regions that resisted the imposition of its institutions and bureaucrats, the government had the resources to deploy massive and indiscriminate violence. Within seven years, it had thoroughly eliminated its rivals as a viable political opposition.

First Liberia Civil War (1989-1996)

Liberia followed a very different path. While Charles Taylor and the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) formed ties with civilians to establish order and exert control over the group's strongholds early in the war, subsequent military losses left the rebel group with few of its original institutions and derailed its organizational capacity. These losses forced armed groups and civilians to focus on self-preservation through temporary and transactional interactions, and this inability to maintain wartime relationships hindered Taylor’s post-war consolidation of power. When faced with the prospect of all-out conflict recurrence, the rebel government diverted increasing amounts of money from development to security. Undecided civilians chose to join the counter-rebellion, and, eventually, even the NPFL strongholds succumbed to the second civil war. Taylor was forced out of power six years after the first civil war.

Policy Implications

In neither case did the rebel government lead to anything we might call “positive peace.” While the rise of a seemingly programmatic victor may give hope for a new era of democracy and development, the international community should not expect post-war politics to be a blank slate and for the victor to engage in technocratic development. While rebel victories built on strong ties with civilians often lead to stability, they do not often lead to political development.

One solution to the problem of strong top-down control from an illiberal rebel regime is to implement local community programs with careful attention to where these efforts are targeted. In some cases, it may be best to invest in building civil society in contested areas with low capacity. As the capacity of political participation increases in these areas, they may be able to sustain calls for democracy. In other cases, it may be best to work in rebel strongholds, if possible, from the very beginning, as a way to prevent state consolidation over local politics. In either case, energy will need to be concentrated on peaceful participation as an alternative to supporting rival rebels.  



Shelley Liu (Duke University)

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Economic Governance, Human Development, Governance, Conflict, Africa, Global