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Political scientist discusses ‘How Rebels Rule’

Joanna Lagedrost | Friday, September 28, 2012

Jennifer Keister, who earned her Ph.D in political science at the University of California, San Diego in 2011, visited the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and delivered a lecture concerning Thursday rebels and their coercion techniques. She presented her dissertation, “States within States: How Rebels Rule,” which is now being turned into a book manuscript. 

The main purpose of the lecture, Keister said, was to answer why some rebels rule through fear while others generate popular support through providing services to the population.

“I argue that rebels use coercion and services to get what they need from the population.  Both of these are useful tools of government,” she said.

Keister’s hypothesis contends that all activists need a certain amount of resources to achieve their goals, adding that rebellion is a costly enterprise.

“You still need the population to do what you would like them to do in order to survive and operate effectively,” Kiester said.
“Rebels have three tools which they use to rule populations.  The first is coercion, which generates compliance through fear. The second is service provision, which generates compliance through a principle of exchange.  The final tool rebels use is ideological positioning.”

Keister used Mindanao, the southernmost island of the Philippines where she conducted her dissertation research, as an example in her lecture.

“Mindanao is home to between four-to-eight million predominantly Muslim Moros.  They have been actively seeking secession since 1968,” she said. “They are represented by three separate rebel organizations, each of which has a slightly different ideological flavor, and has made different choices.  We have the Moro National Liberation Front, or MNLF, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF, and the Abu Sayyaf Group, or ASG.”

The MILF is predominantly domestically-backed, the MNLF is currently backed by the Islamic Conference, and the ASG is backed by an Indonesian terrorist group and individuals in the Middle East and is historically more violent. Humanitarian concerns are not of high priority for these groups, she said. Keister surveyed Mindanao villagers and asked what group they would turn to for help in the event of a dispute or tragedy.  21 percent reported the MILF, five percent said the MNLF, and zero percent said the ASG.

Due to these results, Keister said rebels balance their own ideological positions and need for support with the interests of the domestic population and the influence of international ties.

Contact Joanna Lagedrost at [email protected]