Civil Wars and State Formation
Research Question:

What are the political orders put in place by rebel movements and how do they influence the post-war state formation? 

Dominant narratives and theories developed at the turn of the 21st century in order to account for civil wars in Africa converged around two main ideas. First, that the increase in civil wars across Africa was the expression of the weakness and collapse of state institutions. Second, guerilla movements, once viewed as the ideological armed wings of Cold War contenders, were seen as roving bandits interested in plundering the spoils left by decaying states and primarily driven by economic or personal interests.

However, recent research has challenged such account by looking into the day-to-day politics of civil war beyond rebels’ motives to wage war against the established order. Indeed, civil wars, while being the cause of immense suffering, contribute to shaping and producing political orders. Thus, if we are to understand how stable political institutions can be built in the aftermath of civil war, it is essential to study the institutions that regulate political life during conflict.

This project therefore looks at state formation through violent conflict. It focuses on political orders put in place by rebel movements, on their strategies to legitimise their existence and claim to power, and on the extent to which they manage to institutionalise their military power and transform it into political domination. To this end, the research projects takes a broader perspective by looking at (dis)continuities between political orders established under rebel rule and post-war state formation. It investigates the social fabric of legitimacy in areas under rebel control during conflict and analyses how it relates to state formation in the post-conflict phase.

Based on a political anthropology of governance and state practices in three different countries (South Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire and Angola), this project provides empirical and theoretical insights into state formation in Africa as well as into domination and legitimacy. It also links to current policy debates on statebuilding and peacebuilding in fragile contexts.


Project Members

Name Role Department/Institute Institution
Didier Péclard Coordinator Department of Political Science and International Relations / Global Studies Institute Université de Genève
Laurent Goetschel Co-Coordinator swisspeace
Francis Akindès Principal Member Université de Bouaké
Leben Nelson Moro Principal Member Other
Nelson Pestana Principal Member Departamento de Estudos Sociais, Centro de Estudos e Investigação Científica Universidade Católica de Angola
Martina Santschi Principal Member swisspeace
Seydina Ousmane Zina Principal Member Université de Bouaké
Albrecht Schnabel Associated Member DCAF - Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces