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Ethnic Politics and State Power in Africa
The Logic of the Coup-Civil War Trap

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  • Date Published: December 2016
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781316628218
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About the Authors
  • Why are some African countries trapped in vicious cycles of ethnic exclusion and civil war, while others experience relative peace? In this groundbreaking book, Philip Roessler addresses this question. Roessler models Africa's weak, ethnically-divided states as confronting rulers with a coup-civil war trap - sharing power with ethnic rivals is necessary to underwrite societal peace and prevent civil war, but increases rivals' capabilities to seize sovereign power in a coup d'état. How rulers respond to this strategic trade-off is shown to be a function of their country's ethnic geography and the distribution of threat capabilities it produces. Moving between in-depth case studies of Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo based on years of field work and statistical analyses of powersharing, coups and civil war across sub-Saharan Africa, the book serves as an exemplar of the benefits of mixed methods research for theory-building and testing in comparative politics.

    • Fills the gap in civil war literature on the strategic logic of why rulers choose policies that lead to large-scale political violence
    • Serves as an exemplar of how to combine qualitative and quantitative research methods for theory building and testing in comparative politics
    • Provides new insights into the origins of two of Africa's deadliest conflicts - the civil war in Darfur, Sudan and Africa's Great War in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
    Read more


    • Winner, 2017 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

    Reviews & endorsements

    'This is the best book on civil war I have read in quite a while. Drawing on first-rate, relatively traditional ‘shoe leather’ fieldwork, Roessler makes a genuine theoretical breakthrough in how to understand civil war onset in many developing countries.' James D. Fearon, Theodore and Frances Geballe Professor, School of Humanities and Sciences, Stanford University

    'Roessler has written a path-breaking contribution to political science in Africa, ably combining study of the nature of the post-colonial state and of political agency by contending elites. This book is a rich account, based on multiple methods, that superbly fuses the analysis of civil wars and coups d’état into a single cogent account, that places struggles for state power where they belong - right at the center of the explanation for armed conflict and contentious politics.' Alex de Waal, Executive Director of the World Peace Foundation, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts

    'Scholars have long wondered why leaders of fragile states would exclude representatives of minority groups from the centers of power if they could mobilize their co-ethnics in rebellion. Philip Roessler’s remarkable book is the first to provide a convincing answer. It is deeply engaged in field observations from Sudan, compelling in theoretical simplicity, and committed to generality through statistical tests. In a trade-off between a coup d’état from within the palace and a civil war coming from a far periphery, presidents prefer the latter and thereby risk the rebellion initiated by violence entrepreneurs mobilizing the excluded minority. Africanists, comparativists, international relations experts, and the policy community will all profit from this extraordinary treatise.' David D. Laitin, James T. Watkins IV and Elise V. Watkins Professor of Political Science, Stanford University

    'War, coups, and ethnicity form a deadly triangle, and in this study, Philip Roessler probes their origins and interrelations. In so doing he teaches us not only about Africa but about politics throughout much of the developing world. A significant contribution.' Robert H. Bates, Eaton Professor of the Science of Government, Harvard University

    'Roessler’s superb analysis of civil wars and coups stresses ‘meso-level’ connections between regimes and society. … This book includes detailed case studies of the two Darfur uprisings in Sudan and the continent’s ‘Great War’ in the Congo. … Civil war, he argues, resulted from strategic choices made by rulers, backed by their co-ethnics, to coup-proof their regimes. Rulers can be caught in traps that risk civil wars or coups. However, should the capital city be threatened and the rival be strong, power sharing can result. Roessler buttresses this fascinating conclusion with statistically tested data from the Ethnic Power Relations data set. His research is exceptionally thorough: 18 months’ fieldwork in Darfur; scores of footnotes per chapter; wide-ranging references. Even better, Roessler’s theory can be utilized by scholars analyzing threats to political regimes in multiethnic societies outside Africa. [This] ranks as one of the best recent publications.' CHOICE

    'Roessler’s work makes important contributions to scholarship in comparative politics and security studies. By placing ethnic politics and the shadow of coups at the core of rulers’ strategies for political survival in Africa, the book adds significant depth to our understanding of African politics. Its focus on the importance of rulers’ bargaining over state power as a source of conflict also complements existing explanations of civil war that disproportionately emphasize the role of rebel behaviour.' Juste Codjo, International Studies Review

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    Customer reviews

    24th Nov 2018 by EKHLASAZZAIN

    Very nice book I would like to read more about this book

    Review was not posted due to profanity


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    Product details

    • Date Published: December 2016
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781316628218
    • length: 414 pages
    • dimensions: 228 x 152 x 23 mm
    • weight: 0.62kg
    • contains: 13 b/w illus. 6 maps 18 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Part I. Motivation and Central Argument:
    1. Introduction
    Part II. Puzzle and Theory:
    2. A meso-level approach to the study of civil war
    3. Theories of ethno-political exclusion
    4. The strategic logic of war in Africa
    Part III. Theory-Building Case Study:
    5. Political networks, brokerage and cooperative counterinsurgency: civil war averted in Darfur
    6. The strategic logic of ethno-political exclusion: the breakdown of Sudan's Islamic movement
    7. Political exclusion and civil war: the outbreak of the Darfur civil war
    Part IV. Testing the Argument:
    8. Empirical analysis of the coup-civil war trap
    9. A model-testing case: explaining Africa's Great War
    Part V. Extensions:
    10: The strategic logic of peace in Africa
    11. Conclusion.

  • Author

    Philip Roessler, College of William and Mary, Virginia
    Philip Roessler is an Assistant Professor of Government and Director of the Center for African Development at the College of William and Mary, Virginia. He is an expert on conflict, state building, and development in sub-Saharan Africa with extensive field experience across the region. His book builds on his 2011 World Politics article, 'The Enemy Within', which won the Gregory Luebbert Award from the American Political Science Association for the best article in comparative politics. He is also author of Why Comrades Go to War: Liberation Politics and the Outbreak of Africa's Deadliest Conflict (with Harry Verhoeven, forthcoming).


    • Winner, 2017 Choice Outstanding Academic Title
    • Winner, 2017 Best Book Award, African Politics Conference Group, American Political Science Association
    • Winner, 2018 Best Book Award, International Security Studies Section, International Studies Association

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