Abstract: In fragile states, regimes must cultivate military forces strong enough to ward off external threats, but loyal enough to resist launching a coup. This requires that leader distinguish the loyal from the untrustworthy, a particularly challenging exercise in post-conflict settings with weak institutions. In this study, I explore how Congolese soldiers operating in North Kivu, the largest operational theater in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the epicenter of one of the most violent conflicts in Africa, solve this crucial task. I argue that leaders use non-payment as a form of trial and tribulation that reveals commitment by driving non-loyal soldiers to defect and loyal soldiers to weather challenging times. Non-payments creates a dual-pronged screening process because unpaid soldiers engage in unit-managed extortion and violence against civilians, which is used to both test and generate loyalty. To detail and assess this argument, I couple thick description based on 100 open-ended qualitative interviews with a fine-grained quantitative analysis of 350 members of the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo. This analysis provides a novel explanation for how leaders overcome classic screening dilemmas in ways that ultimately drives violence against civilians.
About the Speaker: Grant Gordon is a PhD Candidate in international relations and comparative politics at Columbia University. His research examines the political economy of conflict, humanitarian intervention and institutions, and combines field experiments, original survey data, ethnography and unique administrative data.
His dissertation seeks to understand the logic of state violence during conflict. In a complementary set of empirical papers, he analyzes why simple strategies used to solve principal agent problems in states afflicted by war cause civilian abuse.