Armed rebellion in collapsed states

William S Reno*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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 state collapse, especially where rulers has used informal institutional networks to control populations. As formal bureaucratic institutions collapse, remnants of patronage networks coopt would-be ideological fighters. Strongmen use armed fighters to control fragments of the old patronage economy. This empowers enterprising fighters interested in personal wealth at the expense of ideologues. This dynamic is illustrated with reference to vigilante groups in Nigeria, especially the Bakassi Boys of Anambra State, which initially develop as anti-corruption and anti-regime fighters, then become incorporated into the strategies of the politicians whom they fight. The course of internal warfare in Sierra Leone and former Yugoslavia provide further illustration of this process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)584-603
Number of pages20
JournalSoutheast Asian Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Political Science and International Relations


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