Factionalism, External Alignments, and Rebel Resiliency: The Horn of Africa’s Long Wars in Comparative Perspective

Saturday, January 5, 2013: 3:10 PM
Bayside Ballroom A (Sheraton New Orleans)
Michael Woldemariam, Boston University
It is a widely held view that successful military organizations place a high premium on unity and cohesion. This is particularly true for rebel organizations, which ordinarily face a significant power disparity in fighting official governments. Yet too often within the social scientific analyses of civil war, the effects of factional infighting on rebel organizations are assumed rather than demonstrated. Indeed, history suggests that a number of rebel organizations have successfully weathered traumatic internal upheavals, and in some cases, emerged reinvigorated. This paper asks why some rebel organizations, in certain contexts, have endured in the wake of seemingly devastating internal factional conflicts, while others have met a rapid demise. The argument posits that factional infighting can produce serious external realignments that alter the resource base of rebel organizations. How these realignments play out, ultimately determines whether rebel organizations recover from factional infighting, or spiral into permanent decline. The paper employs an original dataset that measures patterns of factional infighting across the full sample of post-colonial rebel organizations in the Horn of Africa (Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, and Djibouti), as well in depth case studies of three organizations based on 12 months of archival and interview based research in the Horn of Africa. The author concludes by calling for a serious reassessment of the conventional wisdom about the relationship between internal factionalism and the trajectory of revolutionary groups.
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