Working Projects

“Protection and the Origins of Institutional Legitimacy: Evidence from State Collapse in Eastern DRCongo” Abstract

In contexts of acute state weakness or collapse, civilians often fall prey to local social and political orders in which they are routinely extorted and abused. But civilians are also not completely without agency: they are able to leverage their limited power of noncompliance in wartime illicit economies to negotiate for protection by and from armed groups, including unaccountable members of the state military. In this paper, I describe the negotiated process by which such protection rackets come about and their consequences in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Despite of the extortive relationship with state military officers, civilians who live under protection rackets run by state officers are actually more likely to trust government institutions due to the predictability and relative security that the stationary bandit provides. Using original survey data collected in three provinces in eastern DRCongo, which I combine with spatial data on the location and operators of roadblocks where the illicit taxes that sustain this system are collected, I show that those who participate in illicit taxation schemes and those who live near them are more trusting of government institutions and more likely to feel secure in their daily activities.

“Civilian Trust in UN Peacekeeping Operations: Survey Evidence from DRCongo” (with Patrick Vinck and Phuong Pham)  Abstract

A first order priority for any organization is to cultivate trust, which is crucial for organizations to make credible commitments. Generating trust among the civilians they are sent to protect is especially important for peacekeeping missions, but missions face a number of structural challenges to building trust. We argue that peacekeeping missions build trust through non-militarized interactions (“reconstruction activities”) with civilians, which reduce suspicion and build confidence in the mission’s ability to deliver promises. Conversely, missions do not build trust by fulfilling their core mandate — protecting civilians — through militarized peacekeeping (“security activities”). We find support for our theory leveraging over 16,000 responses to surveys across two waves and two sampling strategies in the three provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo that are the focus of the MONUSCO peacekeeping mission and the epicenter of ongoing violence. We show that civilians are more likely to express trust in the peacekeeping mission if they have direct contact with it, but this result is driven by those who come into contact with the reconstruction activities; in contrast, those who only come into contact with the security activities are not more likely to trust the mission.

“Make a Desert to Force the Peace” (with Benjamin Laughlin and Jessica Sun)  Abstract

Governments conducting counterinsurgency campaigns attempt to undermine rebellions’ access to resources that allow insurgents to continue their challenge against the state. Sustained rebellion requires significant infrastructure, capital, and supplies of resources. We argue that counterinsurgents target capital and infrastructure not just as byproduct of tactics that target insurgent fighters, but as a distinct strategy to undermine the future potential of the rebellion to produce violence. The effect of deliberate destruction of property and infrastructure is two-fold: targeting capital directly degrades an insurgent group’s resources, and affects civilians’ willingness and ability to provide material support for the insurgents, sometimes through forcible displacement. We find evidence that supports these dual motivations for government’s targeting capital by combining micro-level data on more than 5500 villages and fine-grained satellite data on the locations of violent incidents during the GAM III counterinsurgency campaign in Aceh, Indonesia. We demonstrate that in areas where the insurgents had access to capital, it was more likely a given village experienced violence that targeted infrastructure. We then explore when targeting rebel sources of capital complements or substitutes for a “draining the sea’’ strategy to compel migration.