William Reno

William Reno
Northwestern University | NU · Department of Political Science

PhD, Political Science, University of Wisconsin

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108
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3,203
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Publications

Publications (108)
Article
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Security Force Assistance (SFA) – the training and equipping of a foreign security force – represent a common form of intervention into fragile states. This introduction assesses the state of the field of SFA research and focuses on dynamics specific to recipient states with fragmented security sectors. Based on insights from the contributions to t...
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This reflection article presents insights on conducting fieldwork during and after COVID-19 from a diverse collection of political scientists—from department heads to graduate students based at public and private universities in the United States and abroad. Many of them contributed to a newly published volume, Stories from the Field: A Guide to Na...
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The military is a central component of the state and society with implications for statehood and social stability. Since independence, Africa has grappled with contentious and contradictory roles of armed forces whether they be part of or against the state. Much of the early scholarship on the role of the military tended to paint a positive picture...
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Comparisons of civil wars based on attention to contextual categories do a better job of conceptualising key variables such as ethnic identity, resources, armed group membership, and concepts such as rebellion and negotiation than do studies based on large data sets and methodological individualism. This article shows how important variables and co...
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Tensions in the Middle East - and Sunni/Shia geopolitical competition - can be traced to the pivotal moments of 1979. In the case of Iran, the revolution installed an activist Shia regime that needed a proactive foreign policy of assisting Shia movements for performative domestic legitimacy. For Saudi Arabia, the Siege of Mecca caused a major rever...
Preprint
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Changing weather patterns directly shape civil war dynamics. In this article, we highlight a gap in the existing civil wars literature – and its subfields that studies micro-level dynamics of violence. Thus far, scholars tend to omit changing weather patterns into their analysis of conflict dynamics. We use our case study of the Lake Chad Basin to...
Preprint
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This article describes the 3 Security Force Assistance Traps the U.S. military has encountered in Iraq (Politicized), Afghanistan (Unaffordable), and Somalia (Threatening), and how the West can improve military assistance to weak states. These problems present real risks. But there are some pathways out of this dilemma, through limited engagements,...
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Reno shows that Somalia illustrates the difficulty of supporting and assisting the right people in stabilisation. In contrast to the official narrative of stabilisation, efforts in Somalia exposed the flawed assumptions of security sector reform and security force assistance, not least because of insurgent infiltration, corruption and collusion. Re...
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Warlords and Coalition Politics in Post-Soviet States. By Jesse Driscoll. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015. 264p. $103.00 cloth, $29.99 paper. - Volume 16 Issue 3 - William Reno
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This article probes ideas considered central to the study of how insurgencies are fought, centering on the way in which insurgencies recruit and how a new globalized environment has changed these dynamics. To establish our argument about insurgent recruitment being different in these ‘new’ wars, we survey the way in which political scientists and n...
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This examination of international security assistance to Somalia points to the deficiencies of conventional security assistance strategies to partners in failed states and considers elements of an ad hoc alternative security assistance strategy. The social relationships among that state failure creates undermine the political will and capacity of r...
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This essay explains why political order in some places gives way to especially persistent conflict and prolonged state institutional collapse. State failure is rooted in decades of personalist rule, as leaders have sought to fragment and disorganize institutions and social groups that they thought would be possible bases of opposition. This problem...
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Young people in African countries often can't afford marriage and other conventional hallmarks of adulthood. Yet they have developed valuable skills in the struggle to get by.
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Most African insurgencies from the 1960s through the 1980s featured strong leaders who articulated broad programs of political and social change. Mozambique’s Eduardo Mondlane, Guinea-Bissau’s Amilcar Cabral, and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni led highly organized insurgencies that presented visions of a future society to people in territories that they...
Chapter
Rebels focused on profit sometimes provide civilian governance, contrary to the expectations of political economy and “new war” analysts. But the governance that these rebellions supply differs considerably from that of insurgents trying to win the hearts and minds of non-combatants. Charles Taylor's NPFL controlled most of Liberia between 1990 and...
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This article explains why contemporary African regimes choose different counter-insurgency strategies and why they tend not to be population-centric. We argue that strategies correspond to the ways in which incumbent regimes in Africa deal with different segments of political society through patronage. Incumbents seek varying levels of accommodatio...
Article
Les étrangers jouent un rôle clé dans les stratégies adoptées par les dirigeants et les créditeurs de Sierra Leone, pour consolider les pouvoirs de l'état. On les considère comme des sources sûres de revenu. En outre, les sociétés étrangères qui remplissent les fonctions autrefois confiées aux agences de l'état, aujourd'hui sérieusement détériorées...
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Le Président Ibrahim Babangida du Nigéria, annonçant la Troisième République à venir, a promis que la déréglementation économique, ajoutée à la retour au régime civil, décourgerait la concurrence de l'élite pour l'acquisition des ressources de l'état. Mais cette étude découvre que le programme de réforme même devient le thèatre où se livre le comba...
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Stig Jarle Hansen is to be lauded as an expert on Somalia who gets beyond the echo chambers of conferences and the agendas of websites, wading instead into the real world of Somali society and the critical role that Al-Shabaab plays in it. The product of his hard work provides the reader with a superb analysis of Al-Shabaab’s ideological and operat...
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POLITICS, INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, AND GLOBALIZATION - Zachariah Cherian Mampilly. Rebel Rulers: Insurgent Governance and Civilian Life during War.Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2011. xxi + 293pp. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $45.00. Cloth. - Volume 56 Issue 3 - William Reno
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This book is a must-read for anybody wishing to understand why some rebels assemble comprehensive administrations to rule civilians while others fail to do so or reject this task. In his analysis, Mampilly challenges claims of other scholars that economic incentives drive rebel organization and goals, arguing instead for a process-based approach. I...
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Africa: Unity, Sovereignty and Sorrow. By PierreEnglebert. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2009. 310p. $65.00 cloth, $26.50 paper. Negotiating Statehood: Dynamics of Power and Domination in Africa. Edited by TobiasHagmann and DidierPéclard. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011. 240p. $34.95. War and Conflict in Africa. By Paul D.Williams. Malden, MA: Poli...
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From the perspective of officials in Africa, participating in regional conflict management is now one of the best ways for governments … to get international resources to strengthen their own authority.
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This book surveys the history of armed conflict in Africa in the period since decolonization and independence. The number of post-independence conflicts in Africa has been considerable, and this book introduces to readers a comprehensive analysis of their causes and character. Tracing the evolution of warfare from anti-colonial and anti-apartheid c...
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Conventional analyses and policy prescriptions for postwar societies in West Africa typically conflate wartime networks with continued violence and criminal economic activities. However, while posing real problems, these networks also are potential vehicles for economic transformation. As evidence from Liberia and Sierra Leone shows, some of these...
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It is commonly assumed that wartime leaders of illicit commercial networks engage in exploitative behavior and lack popular support. Evidence from West Africa suggests otherwise. Some wartime leaders use their commercial activities in post-conflict situations to build political support among demobilized fighters. Wartime leaders may then use these...
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Analyses of predatory violence that stress individual fighters' pursuits of short-term opportunities for enrichment explain why insurgents seem to be so uninterested in taking time to propagandize, recruit, and organize local populations to fight. International efforts to resolve this kind of conflict often aim to sever this link between resources,...
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It is widely noted that armed conflict in Africa has evolved away from the prominence of insurgencies that are able to mobilize supporters around political programs in favor of more fragmented organizations in the service of their leaders' quests for power and wealth. The causes of this shift are found in changes in the domestic politics of African...
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Most standard analyses and policies aimed at peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction in West Africa understand members of armed groups, and especially their leaders who engaged in illicit commerce, as criminals. This analysis and the policies that follow from it miss the extent to which these transactions now contribute to the construction of...
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International agencies intervene to promote reform in Liberia with promises to remake the country. Yet elections produce victories for former wartime commanders and officials accused of corruption. Many of these people continue to play important roles in the economy and command vocal followings. International organizations face a choice between a m...
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Full-text available
It is widely noted that armed conflict in Africa has evolved away from the prominence of insurgencies that are able to mobilize supporters around political programs in favor of more fragmented organizations in the service of their leaders' quests for power and wealth. The causes of this shift are found in changes in the domestic politics of African...
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The structures of pre-conflict patronage politics in West Africa play a major role in shaping the organization and behavior of armed groups that have appeared in that region since the 1990s. Patronage networks provide the social context in which armed group leaders arise and influences how they obtain and use resources. It weighs heavily in influen...
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An old saw among overseas oil field workers goes: "What is such a nice resource like oil doing in such nasty countries?" In a similar vein, Adam Roberts asks why such a nice resource like oil attracts so many rogues. In this thoroughly readable, fast-paced investigative report, Roberts introduces a constellation of colorful characters. One of these...
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Conflict & Collusion in Sierra Leone by David Keen Oxford: James Currey, 2005. Pp. 340. £16.50 (pbk.). - - Volume 45 Issue 2 - WILLIAM RENO
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West African militias and other nonstate armed groups often appear as agents of disorder. “Bolstered by cane spirit, marijuana and cheap amphetamines, youths and boy soldiers evolved into psychopathic killers, adorning themselves with women’s wigs, dresses, fright masks and enemy bones,” wrote an observer of Liberia’s 1989–2003 war (Meredith 2005:...
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The present-day Democratic Republic of Congo is regarded as a paradigmatic case of state failure. This was not always so. During the 1960s and 1970s arch-dictator Mobutu Sese Seko was regarded as a fairly successful state builder. From the time that he seized power outright in 1965 he welded together a huge and diverse territory that had been Afric...
Chapter
Somalia was one of Africa’s few real nation-states, with a shared language and single ethnic culture. The five points of the star on its flag were meant as a call to ‘lost’ Somalis in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti left out in 1960 when independence led to the union of British Somaliland and the UN trust territory under Italian administration, a cau...
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The International Monetary Fund imposes policy conditions upon Sierra Leone in exchange for loans. The country's president, however, shapes these policies into tools for his domestic struggle to control strongmen-politicians active in the informal (black) market. The president seeks political gain by manipulating creditor demands that he promote fo...
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In violent conflicts in places like Congo, Liberia and Sierra Leone, economic interests have crowded out ideologically articulate mass-based social movements for reform or revolutionary change to a degree that was not apparent during earlier anti-colonial struggles. Some scholars offer a ‘looting model’ of rebellion that explains the predations of...
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When States Fail: Causes and Consequences. Edited by Robert I. Rotberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003. 336p. $65.00 cloth, $19.95 paper. Failed states have proliferated in the last 15 years. For much of this time Robert Rotberg has played a major role in defining debates about this development. His latest edited volume is a collection...
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The recent collapse of some states, the proliferation of internal wars and of localized political authorities, so‐called ‘warlords’, challenges the homogeneity of the international system of states at its margins. These new fragmented authorities often rely upon commercial deals with outsiders to consolidate their power. This threatens officials in...
Chapter
AUN report links competition to control alluvial diamonds, Sierra Leone’s main source of foreign exchange earnings since the start of the Second World War, with a brutal civil war that started in March 1991 and ended only in early 2002.This and later reports also link Charles Taylor, president of neighboring Liberia, to this violence and to the com...
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Guy Martin. Africa in World Politics: A Pan-African Perspective. Trenton, N.J./ Asmara, Eritrea: Africa World Press, Inc., 2002. xxvi + 311 pp. Bibliography. Index. $29.95. Paper. Guy Martin has written the most thorough evaluation of official panAfrican cooperation to date. he provides a serious critique based upon the positions and expectations o...
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The Underneath of Things: violence, history, and the everyday in Sierra Leone by MARIANE FERME Berkeley, Los Angeles, CA and London: University of California Press, 2001. Pp. 299. £40.00/US$60.00; £17.95/US$24.95 (pbk.). - - Volume 41 Issue 1 - WILLIAM RENO
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Accounts of war in Africa feature scenes of looting and banditry; greedy, self-interested warlords; and shadowy foreign business agents who profit from disorder. World attention to “conflict diamonds” — gems that warring groups mine and then trade for arms — has brought economic motives of warfare to a broader audience (UN 2000a). Yet mass-based pr...
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This study examines the capabilities of self-determination movements in Somalia after the collapse of a central state to explain the variable capacities of groups to provide stable orders and understand why leaders of these movements choose particular strategies. The primary factors shaping these strategies and capabilities include (1) the nature a...
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Chapter
Vorab möchte ich der Auffassung Nachdruck verleihen, dass Konflikte rückgängig gemacht werden können und dass Konflikte selbst dann nicht unbedingt unausweichlich sind, wenn objektive Voraussetzungen dafür gegeben sind. Um ein Beispiel aus meiner persönlichen Erfahrung zu nehmen: Allen kleinen Kinder in der Stadt, in der ich aufgewachsen bin, wird...
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The phenomenon of failed states might be expected to lead to the development of mass–based social movements to address the typically ensuing social problems. This article explores the general failure of reformist insurgencies to develop in failed states, using analyses of Nigeria’s Bakassi Boys and Oodua People’s Congress, and references to other a...
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The return of interstate war in Africa after the end of the cold war and global awareness of predatory economic motivations for war raises the question of whether African states are reviving early modern European methods of building states. This study of Uganda's intervention in Congo reveals that this is not so. Uganda's peripheral position in the...
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Liberia’s nasty little war After more than three years of fighting the military opposition to Charles Taylor has little to show in terms of results. These failures are even more remarkable given significant logistical and material help from the government of Guinea and contacts with British advisors stationed in neighboring Sierra Leone. This ineff...
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This article analyses the politics behind Uganda's relations with its multilateral creditors, particularly the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, in the context of the country's military intervention in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Ugandan officials exploit the anxieties of creditors, which want the country to be conside...
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"RUF commanders have fought the government with guns bought with diamonds, brought from Liberia, or captured from their enemies. They do not have to rely on the goodwill of local inhabitants . . . and they do not have to engage in the arduous political and organizational task of building a mass movement to fight their way to power. The RUF bases it...
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Standard theories of insurgency hold that marginalization from centers of power provide insurgents with social space to develop coherent organizational and ideological challenges to authority. Insurgents in recent cases of state collapse, however, do not develop ideological or organizational alternatives. This is due to the particular nature of sta...
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Diamonds feature in many recent analyses of the financial underpinnings of Angola's long-running civil war. Both lawful and illicit exports of diamonds gain attention for their significant roles in bolstering the finances of the Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA) regime and their União Nacional para a Indepêndencia Total de Angola (UN...
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Post Cold War insurgents in administratively weak states prove increasingly likely to abjure ideological motives, or to organize themselves as reformist alternatives to a regime in exchange for superpower patronage. Insurgents continue to enjoy access to weapons, and benefit from the growing reluctance of officials in strong states to intervene aga...
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Regime transition programs have played contradictory roles in Nigerian politics, from the end of the colonial era to the present. The latest transition program is scheduled to culminate in the installation of a civilian regime in mid-1999. An analysis of this process, through reviewing recent academic writing on this subject, reveals that transitio...
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“They call it a country. In fact it is just a Zaire-shaped hole in the middle of Africa,” wrote The Economist in 1995. Well before then, Erwin Blumenthal, who visited Zaire on behalf of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to assess prospects for reform, warned that, despite promises from President Mobutu (1965-97) that loans would be repaid, “the...
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"Warlord" politics have come to dominate states like Liberia. Leaders exploited local, regional, and global opportunities to consolidate their power, based on control over commercial networks and local populations. They produced political units without fixed territorial boundaries and few conventional credentials of international sovereignty. Weak...
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Conventional analyses of Africa's `failed states'conclude that patronage networks fragment as state resources decline. As payoffs from rulers decline, once-loyal strongmen become warlords, attacking centralized authority. This article examines how rulers of weak states actually manage increasingly threatening patronage networks. The cases of Angola...
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This paper explains correlations between humanitarians emergencies and political economies of 'failing states' in Liberia and Sierra Leone. In both, Cold War era rulers acquired personal power through their influence over economic exchange, irrespective of conventional public/private distinctions. The political shock of the end of the Cold War, cou...

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Project
The SFAssist project aims to advance the understanding of how security force assistance (SFA) affects the coercive capacity of developing states, as well as its impact on peace, human rights, gender, development and democracy. The project team intends to help create better informed policy-making and public debate, and improved practice by training institutions, on the effects of SFA in regions affected by state fragility. It will contribute to improved decisions on where and when to provide SFA, and how to design programmes with minimal risk of negative consequences.