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United We Command: Examining the Link Between Rebel Governance and Cohesion

The literature on rebel governance has made large advancements in explaining variation in rebel governance practices, but has paid much less attention to its effect on other civil war phenomena. This paper investigates the link between rebel governance and cohesion, hypothesizing that these two phenomena mutually influence one another. While some authors have already suggested that cohesive rebel groups are more likely to develop (elaborate) governance structures—unaffected by infighting, cohesive groups can dedicate more time and resources to service provision—the argument that rebel governance can also encourage cohesion is new. I explore two potential mechanisms for this link. First, the provision of services by a rebel group is likely to generate a degree of popular support and legitimacy that makes the emergence of challengers less likely. Second, the creation of structures of popular participation, if built on principles of inclusion and equality, is likely to allow the rebel group to overcome pre-existing societal divisions. I will test these potential explanations for cohesion in a case study of the Polisario Front in Western Sahara. After its creation in 1973, the Polisario Front was quickly recognized as the legitimate representative of the Saharawi people—a status it has maintained ever since, despite the lack of progress in bringing the occupation of its territory to an end. I argue that Polisario’s governance practices have played a key role in its ability to maintain cohesion.

Keywords: civil war, cohesion, rebel governance, secessionism

Rightful Rebels: On Rebel Governance and Legitimate Authority

Rebel organizations purposefully challenge and undermine the existing order—usually in an attempt to gain control over all or part of an existing state’s territory—and typically engage in protracted violence to achieve their goals. As a result, they are often discarded in political discourse as illegitimate actors that do not hold any rightful authority over the groups they claim to represent. Yet rebels’ practices are not limited to the violent or ‘insubordinate’ behavior by which they are defined. Many rebel groups  also make positive contributions in the territory they control, for example by providing security, education, health care, or justice. In doing so, they often fill an institutional vacuum  left behind by the government, which endows them with considerable popular support. In such cases, who should be referred to as the legitimate authority: the rebels or the state? This paper challenges the common assumption that only ‘official’ authorities can be considered legitimate, and argues that the concept of legitimate authority needs to be taken more seriously in contexts of rebel rule.

Keywords: legitimacy, rebel governance, statebuilding

(Un)divided Rebels: Rethinking Organizational Interaction in Insurgent Movements

In recent years, there has been an upsurge in scholarship on fragmentation in civil wars. In addition to identifying its causes and consequences, this literature shows that insurgent fragmentation can take different forms – but it fails to recognize the diversity that exists on the cohesive end of the spectrum. In order to fill this gap, this article proposes a typology of insurgent movement structures that distinguishes between five different kinds of organizational interaction: (1) unity, in which the movement consists of only one organization (and interaction is therefore absent); (2) synergy, in which different organizations cooperate and coordinate their actions; (3) hegemony, in which the concentration of power in a single organization allows it to dominate all others; (4) disunity, in which different organizations of roughly equal power avoid interaction; and (5) rivalry, in which insurgent organizations are engaged in active competition with one another. While the first three kinds of interaction are considered cohesive movement structures, the latter two are instead regarded as fragmentation. Based on an analysis of fifty secessionist movements, this article further demonstrates where and when these movement structures can be empirically observed.

Key words: civil war, cohesion, fragmentation, insurgency, rivalry