Image of neighborhood in Bouké, Côte d’Ivoire, the former headquarters of the Forces Nouvelles rebel group. Photo taken by Philip Martin.

In the aftermath of Côte d’Ivoire’s civil war (2002-2011), former rebel fighters and commanders belonging to the Forces Nouvelles (FN) have played mixed roles in local governance. In certain zones formerly controlled by the insurgent group, FN commanders have remained influential: they control networks of armed loyalists outside the regular military system, remain involved in private economic and taxation activities, and sometimes hold public offices. In other areas, the influence of these actors has been greatly diminished: commanders have lost power relative to other local authorities, and their fighters have been integrated into the national military or else have been demobilized and reintegrated into civilian life. These divergent patterns of post-war political influence are important both for understanding local-level governance and accountability concerns in contemporary Côte d’Ivoire, but also for understanding broader challenges of peacebuilding, development, and civil-military cohesion in fragile post-conflict states.

Why have some victorious insurgent commanders in post-war Côte d’Ivoire maintained or expanded their local influence in some areas, but not in others? To explain this variation, this project focuses on the nature of rebel groups’ wartime governance institutions. Specifically, it explores how the emergence of collaborative wartime relationships between armed movements and local community elites – ties that are desirable for armed groups during the period of armed contestation – can enable local commanders to maintain access to recruits, resources, and influence within communities in the post-conflict period. By contrast, where armed groups do not provide public goods effectively during armed conflict, the costs of sustaining private access to recruits and resources in the post-war period will be higher.

Although anecdotal evidence suggests broad variation in former rebels’ involvement in local communities in northern Côte d’Ivoire, little systematic data exists concerning the scope and magnitude of this phenomenon. To address this gap, MIT GOV/LAB is providing seed funding to MIT PhD Candidate Philip Martin to construct an original dataset at the sub-prefecture level of localities in Côte d’Ivoire formerly controlled by the FN. The project aims to benefit future interventions by practitioner groups in Côte d’Ivoire by providing contextual knowledge about where and why former combatants remain linked to irregular armed networks, and where accountability and civic engagement programs must account for the influence of these types of actors in local governance institutions. The research will be carried out in collaboration with the Center for Research and Training for Integrated Development (CREFDI) in Abidjan.

Philip Martin is a doctoral candidate in the MIT Political Science Department and Security Studies Program. His work in Côte d’Ivoire is funded in part by MIT GOV/LAB’s seed grant program. Philip can be reached at martinp@mit.edu.