Why would kidnapped children like Dominic continue to fight for the LRA? How do the teenagers in the film discuss the motives of the rebels? Do they say the rebels are motivated by greed? Grievance? Or is it hard altogether to discern the rebels


Type I (max: 1 page, double-spaced)

Answer the following questions:

1) Why would kidnapped children like Dominic continue to fight for the LRA?

2) How do the teenagers in the film discuss the motives of the rebels? Do they say the rebels are motivated by greed? Grievance? Or is it hard altogether to discern the rebels’ motives from the teenagers’ testimony?

Please NO MORE THAN 1 PAGE- Use proper grammar, punctuation, and cite source.

Who Fights? The Determinants of Participation in Civil War
Author(s): Macartan Humphreys and Jeremy M. Weinstein
Source: American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 52, No. 2 (Apr., 2008), pp. 436-455
Published by: Midwest Political Science Association
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/25193823
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Who Fights? The Determinants of Participation
in Civil War
Macar?an Humphreys Columbia University
Jeremy M. Weinstein Stanford university
A range of seemingly rival theories attempt to explain why some individuals take extraordinary risks by choosing to participate
in armed conflict. To date, however, competing accounts have typically not been grounded in systematic, empirical studies
of the determinants of participation. In this article, we begin to fill this gap through an examination of the determinants
of participation in insurgent and counterinsurgent factions in Sierra Leone’s civil war. We find some support for all of
the competing theories, suggesting that the rivalry between them is artificial and that theoretical work has insufficiently
explored the interaction of various recruitment strategies. At the same time, the empirical results challenge standard
interpretations of grievance-based accounts of participation, as poverty, a lack of access to education, and political alienation
predict participation in both rebellion and counterrebellion. Factors that are traditionally seen as indicators of grievance
or frustration may instead proxy for a more general susceptibility to engage in violent action or a greater vulnerability to
political manipulation by elites.
Why do some individuals take enormous risks
to participate as fighters in civil war? What
differentiates those who are mobilized from
evolution of these conflicts. But it can also help in the
evaluation of strategies of conflict resolution and postcon
flict reconstruction. If insurgent armies have been forged
those who remain on the sidelines? What distinguishes
through the promise of resource rents from the extraction
those who rebel from those who fight to defend the status
of minerals, peacemaking may depend on the ability of
quo? In spite of a large literature on the topic, scholars
continue to debate the conditions under which men and
external actors to purchase the support of potential spoil
women take up arms to participate in deadly combat.
In this article, we examine the evidence for prominent,
by mobilizing popular discontent with government poli
cies, postconflict arrangements may need to focus more
on the establishment of institutional arrangements that
competing arguments in the context of Sierra Leone’s civil
ers. If such armies have motivated participation instead
war, drawing on a unique dataset that records the attitudes
address discrimination, oppression, and inequality. Data
and behavior of 1,043 excombatants alongside a sample
of 184 noncombatants.
on individual participation in civil war offer insight into
Participation in violence is not simply a question of
academic concern. Since 1945, civil wars have engulfed
73 countries and caused the deaths of more than 16 mil
that cannot be assessed using country-level data.
In this article, we revisit the literature and make ex
lion people (Fearon and Laitin 2003). Understanding the
motivations of fighters can shed light on the origins and
survey data. In advancing a set of hypotheses, we focus at
the formation and cohesion of armed factions, something
isting theories operational and testable with microlevel
tention on rebellion against the state and the organization
Macartan Humphreys is assistant professor of political science, Columbia University, 420 West 118th St., New York, NY 10027
(mh2245@columbia.edu). Jeremy M. Weinstein is assistant professor of political science, Encina Hall West, Room 100, Stanford Uni
versity, Stanford, CA 94305 (jweinst@stanford.edu).
This research draws on a survey led by the authors together with the Post-conflict Reintegration Initiative for Development and Empower
ment (PRIDE) in Sierra Leone. Financial support was provided by the Earth Institute at Columbia University, and logistical support came
from the Demobilization and Reintegration Office of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL). We are particularly grateful
to Alison Giffen and Richard Haselwood for their extensive work on this project; to Allan Quee, Patrick Amara, and Lawrence Sessay, our
partners in the field at PRIDE; to Desmond Molloy at UNAMSIL; to students in our jointly taught graduate seminar on African Civil Wars
who, through theoretical debates and empirical exercises, shaped the analysis offered in this article; to Bernd Beber for excellent research
assistance; and to anonymous reviewers of this manuscript and participants in seminars at UCLA, Stanford, Columbia, McGill, and the
annual meeting of the American Political Science Association for thoughtful feedback.
American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 52, No. 2, April 2008, Pp. 436-455
?2008, Midwest Political Science Association ISSN 0092-5853
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of civilian resistance to insurgent movements. A rich the
conclude with a discussion of our results and their rel
oretical literature exists that focuses primarily on the deci
sion to rebel. Here we contend, however, that this work has
evance for theoretical debates about high-risk collective
insights to help us understand both why some choose to
challenge the government and why others rise in defense
of the status quo.
Our empirical analysis raises questions about critical,
The War in Sierra Leone
yet untested assumptions that shape existing theoretical
debates about mobilization. Prominent accounts of why
people join are not necessarily rival; indeed, our analysis
suggests that different logics of participation may coexist
in a single civil war. Moreover, previous theoretical work
on participation has too radically separated the decision
to rebel from the decision to participate in violence more
generally. The proxies for grievance that we (and other
scholars) employ do predict rebellion, but they also pre
dict participation in defense of the state. The most imme
diate interpretation of this finding is that marginalization
produces a greater disposition to participate in violence,
but not through the logic of protest underpinning classic
A Brief History
The war in Sierra Leone began on March 23,1991, with a
cross-border invasion by the Revolutionary United Front
(RUF) from Liberia into the border districts of Kailahun
and Pujehun. The group, formed originally by student
radicals opposed to the one-party regime of the All Peo
ple’s Congress (APC), had received training in Libya, and
subsequently, material support from the Liberian warlord
and later president, Charles Taylor.
The advance of the rebels in the countryside was as
much a product of the Sierra Leone Army’s (SLA) fail
ings as it was of RUF capacity. The APC government was
arguments of rebellion. Our evidence suggests also that
the widespread assumption that individuals have agency
deposed by a military coup in 1992 and replaced by the Na
in making choices about participation is empirically sus
to achieve an outright victory over the RUF by hiring a
pect. Theoretical accounts have too rarely conceptualized
abduction as a tool in a faction’s menu of recruitment
South African security firm, Executive Outcomes, to help
strategies, yet it appears essential in practice.
In undertaking this analysis, we hope to show how
tools of survey research pioneered for the study of politi
cal participation in advanced industrialized democracies
can be employed to analyze political behavior in situa
tions of violent conflict. For obvious reasons related to
tional Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC), which sought
it prosecute the war in the mid-1990s. Following pop
ular rallies and a palace coup, the country returned to
civilian rule in 1996. The new civilian government, led
by President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah and the Sierra Leone
People’s Party (SLPP), coordinated its actions with local
civil defense militias that had first appeared in 1993-94,
consolidating an offensive paramilitary force, the Civil
access, much work on civil war mobilization is ethno
Defense Forces (CDF).
graphic and involves small samples of interview subjects.
In 1997, Kabbah was driven into exile following a
military revolt. The coup brought a fourth group into
In addition, studies commonly select explicitly on the de
pendent variable?interviewing only participants in vio
lence. But to properly assess competing explanations, we
need a research design that permits a comparison of the
characteristics of participants and nonparticipants. This
the conflict, the military junta, or Armed Forces Revolu
concluding section, we provide thoughts on how to take
tionary Council (AFRC). The AFRC forged an unlikely
alliance with the RUF, inviting the insurgents to join a
power-sharing arrangement. Following a Nigerian-led in
tervention in 1998, the democratic government was re
stored, and the AFRC/RUF alliance was removed from
this agenda further.
the capital.
study represents one of the first attempts to do this; in the
We begin our analysis with a brief discussion of the
war in Sierra Leone and explain why it is a useful case in
which to conduct our analysis. We then turn to previous
work on mobilization for civil war and specify testable
hypotheses about the conditions under which individu
als join armed factions. The section that follows describes
our data and research design. We then analyze variation
in participation, using data on individual soldiers and
civilians to explore the correlates of rebellion, the deter
minants of insurgent and counterinsurgent recruitment,
and the interaction of various recruitment strategies. We
The AFRC/RUF regrouped in the bush, rebuilding its
military strength with resources garnered from interna
tional businessmen and arms suppliers that were willing
to provide resources up front in exchange for mineral
concessions. The combined forces launched a success
ful and devastating attack on the capital, Freetown, on
January 6,1999, although they were later repulsed by West
African peacekeeping forces. Under tremendous pressure
to consolidate control of its territory, Kabbah’s govern
ment signed a peace agreement with the RUF in Lom? in
July 1999.
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However, this political solution to the Sierra Leone
conflict was short-lived. In early 2000, a United Nations
force (UNAMSIL) deployed to take the reins from the
West African troops, but it was weak and poorly orga
nized. Distrust was high, and the RUF reacted, taking
large numbers of UN troops as hostages. British inter
vention alongside robust action by Gui?ean troops sub
stantially weakened the RUF militarily. The government
arrested large numbers of RUF leaders in Freetown, and
with a more effective UN force in place, the warring fac
tions were largely broken down and demobilized. Presi
dent Kabbah, securely back in power, declared the war at
“At district level, as well as chiefdom level, we put
in place criteria for recruitment, and one of it was
the person to be recruited, to be initiated into that
society, should be a citizen of the chiefdom and
should be 18 years and above and should not have
any criminal record. He should be respectful to
elders and his colleagues. He was to be nominated
or screened by a special committee set?I mean,
put in place by the chiefdom community… That
the person willing to be initiated and recruited
should be willing to stay within the community
until the crisis was over.”3
an end in February 2002.
Recruitment in the Sierra Leone War
This description is representative of many CDF accounts
that emphasize a desire to defend the community. Such
accounts are, however, not uncontested; some treatments
Direct testimony offers some initial insight into patterns
point to the material benefits that accrue to fighters and
of recruitment. Accounts provided to the Truth and Rec
others to the limited agency facing many younger recruits
onciliation Commission (TRC) and the Special Court of
Sierra Leone emphasize the systematic, but indiscrimi
(Wille 2005). Similarly, although many RUF accounts em
phasize abduction, others describe being motivated by a
desire to rid Sierra Leone of injustice and corruption. In
nate use of abduction by the RUF and the voluntary, more
highly selective process employed by the CDF. According
to one account given in testimony to the Special Court,
onetime Liberian president Charles Taylor:
the testimony of the Rtd. Captain Kosia to the TRC, for
example, he argues that “when Foday came, he told us
that he had come to liberate us from the rotten system.
Since I was one of those victimized by the APC regime, I
“.. .told Sankoh that, ‘Look, whenever you are
fighting war, the strength of any revolutions, it
depends on the manpower, the manner in which
you carry out your recruitment… They have to
recruit whoever they meet: old people, young peo
ple, young girls, young boys. They have to join the
revolution and if they refuse to join, it means they
are classified to be enemies. So you have to com
pulsorily recruit these people.'”1
Taylor’s advice, according to the witness, went unques
tioned.2 Reportedly, initial RUF recruits were a mixture
of disaffected Sierra Leonean youths and intellectuals and
Sierra Leoneans arrested by Taylor in Liberia. Later re
cruits were captives from village raids or abductions in
refugee camps, including children, both boys and girls, in

large numbers.
By contrast, accounts of CDF recruitment describe a
more institutionalized and voluntary procedure. Accord
ing to one officer:
joined him.”
Our own data provide answers largely consistent with
these accounts. The most direct way to study why people
joined is to ask them. In response to a question about one’s
reasons for participation, 70% of CDF fighters reported
joining because they supported the group’s political goals,
while less than 10% of RUF recruits identified ideology
as a motivation. Nearly half of the recruits in each group
described joining because they were scared of what would
happen if they didn’t, and 88% of fighters in the RUF de
scribe being abducted (with only 2% in the CDF reporting
the same). The full distribution of responses for members
of the CDF and RUF is presented in Table 1.
These accounts provide a rich picture of the dynam
ics of recruitment in Sierra Leone. They reveal different
patterns both across and within combatant groups. What
they do not do is provide a handle on the social scientific
question of why some people join and others do not. Or
why some are abducted and others not? Or why some peo
ple fight against the status quo while others seek to defend
it? It is these questions which we seek to answer through
a systematic investigation of recruitment in Sierra Leone.
deposition in Sesay et al, 4 October 2004, p. 106, available at
2 For a description of actual practices implementing Taylor’s advice,
see Rtd. Captain Kosia: Testimony to the TRC [Appendix 3, p. 65].
For other accounts, see Maclure and Denov (2006).
3Deposition in Norman et al., 1 June 2006, p. 106, available at
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Motivating Participation
Table 1 Why Did You Join?
I supported the group’s political goals 9.6% 70.4%
I joined to defend my community 1.1% 15.8%
People inside the group lived better 2.4% 2.3%
than those outside
I was abducted 87.8% 2.0%
At least three major schools of thought aim to explain
patterns of participation (and nonparticipation) in civil
war.4 The first comes largely from scholars of revolution
and pinpoints a range of expressive motivations, empha
sizing the grievances that underlie participation. These
approaches do not depend on rationalist foundations;
I was put under social pressure instead,
to join
0.3% motivations
1.4% rooted in individual
they highlight
In order to retaliate 0.3% 5.0%
frustration or a desire to act in the broader interest of one’s
I was scared of what would happen
I 41.8%
social or
group. Such
arguments have been ad
didn’t choose to join
vanced largely to explain resistance to the state, yet they
I was offered money to generate
clear predictions
about who will decide
N 376 557
to defend the status quo.
Mancur Olson’s (1965) analysis of collective action
has given rise to two more approaches that accept, as a
The Significance of Sierra Leone’s Civilstarting
Warpoint, the idea that individuals weigh the costs
and benefits of participation. The first emphasizes the
A short history of the war and our description of recruit
importance of selective incentives?participation must
ment patterns suggest that it was not unlike many re
be beneficial not only to groups but also to individuals.
cent conflicts in the developing world. It was a conflict of
This in turn requires that private benefits be made avail
some duration, lasting 12 years?a quarter of civil wars
able in exchange for participation. Critics that claim this
since 1945 have lasted at least 12 years (Fearon 2004). It
reading of Olson is overly narrow or materialist focus in
was also characterized by widespread atrocities. Estimates
stead on the importance of social sanctions. Strong com
suggest that upwards of 50,000 were killed in the fight
munities can bring social pressures to bear that change
ing, while the median number of battle deaths in recent
how individuals evaluate the costs and benefits of join
civil wars is approximately 10,500 (Human Rights Watch
ing a movement. The logic of both these approaches
1998,2003; Lacina 2006). Multiple military factions were
applies equally to insurgent and counterinsurgent
formed, and more than 80,000 individuals (of approx
imately 4 million) took up arms to challenge the state,
Some have suggested that these arguments are rival
protect the government, or defend their communities.
or incompatible. Indeed, critiquing new approaches that
The frequency of abduction observed in Sierra Leone has
seek to synthesize structural and collective action argu
also been a common feature of contemporary conflicts,
ments that explain participation, Mark Lichbach (1998,
witnessed in Liberia, the DRC, Sudan, Angola, and North
421) advocates “Popperian-type crucial tests among
ern Uganda, among other places (McKay and Mazurana
paradigms” in which competing predictions are placed in
“creative confrontation” across a broad sample of move
What makes the war in Sierra Leone particularly in
teresting from the perspective of mobilization is that it
gradually became the poster child for theories that distin
guished “new” civil wars driven by greed and economic
motivations from “old” conflicts shaped by ideologies
and political demands (Berdal and Malone 2000; Kaldor
1999). Yet some scholars have cautioned against draw
ing such simplistic distinctions among conflicts (Kalyvas
2001). This ongoing debate suggests that the question of
why people participate in violence is as yet unresolved.
And given the extensive debates that exist about motiva
tions in the context of Sierra Leone, this is a good case
in which to put existing theories to the test. We now turn
to classic and more modern accounts of participation,
extracting hypotheses that can be tested against new, mi
crolevel data.
ments, in a carefully chosen set of comparisons, or within
a case study of a single movement. We are skeptical of
the claim that the different arguments that have been pre
sented are indeed rival. Theoretically, the case for a single
explanation of participation appears weak. Here, how
ever, we address this empirical question: can any one of
the arguments presented in the literature succeed on its
own in explaining participation?
4 Wood (2003) provides an example of a fourth approach not tested
in this article. She argues that participation in the insurgency in
El Salvador was motivated by a set of moral and emotional con
siderations; in particular, she argues that recruits took “pleasure in
agency” and that, in El Salvador, these process-oriented motivations
are superior to conventional explanations.
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Grievance and Participation
Scholars of social revolution argue that the depth of an
individual’s discontent with his or her economic position
in society is a major causal factor that differentiates par
ticipants in rebellion from nonparticipants. Discontent,
when aggregated across individuals in a particular social
class or ethnic group, provides the foundation for mobi
lization and the onset of violence against the state.5 There
are many variants of this basic argument, each emphasiz
ing different elements of individual motivation.
The first identifies social class as the critical variable
differentiating those who rebel from those who remain on
the sidelines or, indeed, choose to defend the status quo.6
Karl Marx, for example, proposed that the industrial pro
focus on land, suggesting that income inequality is the
prime source of discontent and motivator of participa
tion (M?ller and Seligson 1987).
A second approach focuses on ethnic and political
grievances rather than class differences as the factor shap
ing an individual’s decision to join a military faction.
For some, the logic of ethnic mobilization begins and
ends with long-standing cultural practices that distin
guish ethnic groups. Differences between groups, some
times reflected in a history of animosity between them,
are believed to make conflict more likely (Horowitz 1985).
The expectation this argument generates is of ethnically
homogenous factions where one’s identity is the key deter
minant of participation. For others, however, the interac
tion of ethnic difference and the process of modernization
letariat would be the main engine of revolution against
capitalist systems, owing to individuals’ shared experi
ences of exploitation ([1848] 1968). However, the locus
create the conditions for political violence (Horowitz
1985; Melson and Wolpe 1970). The upward social mobil
of participation in actual revolutions?poor, rural people
often rewards some groups over others, ultimately pro
ducing ethno-nationalist and separatist sentiments.
A third variant focuses on personal dislocation and
the frustrations that arise from an individual’s inabil
rather than the urban working class?shifted the debate in
the literature toward making distinctions among the mass
of undifferentiated rural dwellers. Jeffrey Paige (1975), in
an analysis of agrarian revolutions, concludes that wage
earning peasants drive rebellion in contexts where land
lords, dependent on income from the land, are less able
(or willing) to assent to peasant demands. James Scott’s
(1976) description of rebellion in Southeast Asia focuses
on the subsistence crisis among peasants, demonstrating
how population growth, capitalism, and the growing fis
cal claims of the state pushed rural residents to the edge
of survival. Intensive study of the Latin American revolu
tions suggests access to land, rather than poverty, as the
main indicator of one’s class position. Timothy Wickham
Crowley argues that peasants physically dislocated from
land by elites, or those without access to it in the first place
(squatters, sharecroppers, and migrant laborers), are the
most prone to revolt (1992). Others have challenged this
5 While this article focuses on individual-level determinants of par
ticipation, much of the literature emphasizing grievances seeks to
explain why some countries experience revolution while others do
not. Claims are made implicitly about what motivates individual
participation; it is those claims that we seek to test in this article.
6Although we do not have the data needed to test the argument, a
variant on standard class accounts suggests that what matters most
is a psychological mechanism?relative deprivation. Rather than
assessing one’s position as compared to others in society, individu
als may judge their situation relative to their own expectations and
past experiences. Individual frustration with a gap between expecta
tions and actual achievement, it is hypothesized, may be a sufficient
condition for participation. James Davies (1962) first identified this
mechanism in his study of revolutionary mobilization in the United
States, Russia, and Egypt. Ted Robert Gurr (1970) offered a more
general theory of deprivation, arguing that gaps between expecta
tions and capabilities determined the degree of relative deprivation
and the potential for violence.
ity made possible in an environment of economic change
ity to express her concerns through “normal” nonvio
lent channels. Robert Merton emphasizes “anomie” as a
source of deviant behavior as individuals use nonlegiti
mate means to attain goals such as wealth, power, or pres
tige that are valued in their societies but are unavailable
to them through other channels (Merton 1949). Most re
cently, describing conflicts in West Africa, Robert Kaplan
has emphasized how the weakening of social structures
can account for the rise of violence (Kaplan 1994). Paul
Richards, in a cogent critique of Kaplan’s thesis, also em
phasizes the frustration of individuals, but points to the
growing isolation of most citizens from the loci of political
decision making in Africa (Richards 1996).
Together, these three variants imply that an individ
ual’s social position determines his or her propensity to
participate in violence. Individuals are more likely to join
a rebellion if:
HI: They are economically deprived.
H2: They are marginalized from political decision
H3: They are alienated from mainstream political
Stories about the expressive motivations that drive
participation in revolutionary collective action also gen
erate clear predictions about the characteristics of those
who will mobilize in opposition to rebellion. Class-based
accounts imply that those in a relatively better economic
position will have a stake in defending the status quo.
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Theories constructed around the importance of ethnic
and political marginalization suggest that members of
ethnic groups that benefit from political power have
stronger incentives to prevent a successful rebellion. Ap
proaches that emphasize social or political alienation as a
driver of participation imply that individuals active and
plaining collective action, Mancur Olson (1965) observed
that common interests are not sufficient to motivate par
ticipation. When successful, revolutionary mobilization
produces public goods. If enjoyment of these benefits is
not contingent on participation, he argues, rational, self
interested individuals will not bear the costs of acting
engaged in mainstream political processes will mobilize
and will instead free ride on the willingness of others to
to defend the existing political system. In accounting for
participate. Olson’s formulation turned the literature on
participation in counterinsurgent mobilization, then, a
grievances approach generates predictions opposite to
those enumerated above.
participation on its head: instead of assessing the depth
These hypotheses are consistent with one set of argu
ments specific to the rebellion in Sierra Leone. Although
he ascribes the origins of its leadership to student activists
in Freetown, Richards (1996) describes ways in which the
of grievances held by particular classes and ethnic groups,
the question became why anyone chooses to rebel at all.
Recognizing that collective action is often observed
in practice, Olson offered an explanation for why some
individuals choose to participate and take on unneces
sary costs. He introduced the idea of selective incentives?
RUF exploited experiences of oppression, repression, and
inducements to participation that are private and can be
discontent among alienated rural youth. He points to po
litical conflict on the border between Sierra Leone and
made available on a selective basis. Samuel Popkin applied
Liberia, where supporters of the Sierra Leone People’s
Party (SLPP) found their political aspirations impeded
by the dominance and corruption of the ruling All Peo
guing that a crucial revolutionary strategy was to offer
ple’s Congress. Richards identifies also the collapse of state
infrastructure and the erosion of rural schooling oppor
this perspective to the study of rebellion in Vietnam, ar
incentives (in the form of material benefits) to peasants
contingent on their participation (Popkin 1979). More
recently, Mark Lichbach catalogued examples of how se
lective incentives operate in a wide variety of contexts,
tunities as critical to understanding the RUF’s expansion.
Rebels and civilians alike, he argues, saw the rebellion as a
from organized and unorganized rural protests to strikes,
chance to resume their education and to express their dis
content with the misuse of Sierra Leone’s diamond wealth
of possible private goods that might be offered to recruits,
for politicians’ personal gain.
Participation in armed resistance to the rebellion has
also been understood in terms of social class and political
position. As the weak national army melted away under
pressure from an emerging RUF, local defense militias
became a major bulwark against brutal insurgent attacks
in rural areas (Muana 1997). These militias reflected the
existing power structure at the local level: mobilized and
riots, and rebellion (Lichbach 1995). He identified a range
from money, loot, and land, to positions of authority. Ac
ceptance of the role of selective incentives in motivating
participation is now widespread, leading Jeffrey Goodwin
and Theda Skocpol to conclude that “it is the on-going
provision of such collective and selective goods, not ide
ological conversion in the abstract, that has played the
principal role in solidifying social support for guerrilla
armies” (1989, 494).
While much of this literature emphasizes the positive
financed by chiefs who controlled access to land and levied
incentives that can be given to individuals who participate
taxes on local populations, the CDF was an amalgamation
of local hunting groups and secret societies composed of
benefits of joining outweigh the private benefits of not
young men tied to (and recruited through) existing politi
cal structures. Moreover, many civil defense militias coop
not only the wages paid to fighters, but also the impact of
(“pull” factors), the theory only requires that the private
joining. Thus Azam’s study of recruitment emphasizes
erated closely with government troops (Keen 2005). Re
rebellion on the wages of those who choose to remain as
gent chief Hinga Norman, one of the chiefs most involved
farmers (Azam 2006). In an environment of conflict, a key
in setting up local defense militias, became Deputy Min
determinant of welfare for nonparticipants is the level of
ister of Defence after the SLPP came to power in 1996, co
violence they will have to endure. Thus protection from
ordinating an increasingly centralized (and well-armed)
violence (a “push” factor) maybe a key private benefit that
network of community-based defense organizations.
fighting groups offer. Indeed, joining a military faction
may be the most important strategy individuals use to
Selective Incentives
Critiquing decades of scholarship that highlighted the
centrality of grievance (or other shared interests) in ex
avoid the violence perpetrated by the opposing side(s)
(Goodwin 2001; Kalyvas and Kocher 2007; Mason and
Krane 1989).
Although a number of the determinants of the effi
cacy of selective incentives (for example, poverty which
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may indicate a relatively high marginal return to benefits)
are consistent with rival explanations for participation,
some distinct hypotheses can be identified. In particular,
individuals are more likely to participate in rebellion if:
H4: They expect to receive selective incentives from
the fighting group.
148). In some cases at least, these levies may have been
used to reward CDF fighters, although there were also
accusations that CDF militias, and chiefs in particular,
misappropriated these levies for personal gain. In areas
where diamond extraction was possible, there is evidence
too that CDF forces engaged in the minerals trade, provid
ing additional material resources for CDF fighters (Truth
H5: They believe they would be safer inside a fighting
faction than outside of it.
and Reconciliation Commission 2004, Vol. 3b).
Social Sanctions
A selective incentives story is equally plausible as an
explanation for participation in counterinsurgent mo
bilization. To the extent that rebel groups attack vil
lages or threaten the status quo, all villagers would
benefit from locally organized resistance that protects
against rebel attacks. But participation in such activities
is risky and costly. Selective incentives?whether positive
or negative?potentially play an important role in help
ing leaders to mobilize individuals for high-risk collective
action to fight against insurgent movements.
It is worth noting that Olson offered a second expla
nation for the extent of observed participation in collec
tive action?one that has received far less exploration in
the literature on mobilization for war. Coercion, he argued,
could resolve the free-rider problem that undermines the
capacity for collective action. This argument is especially
germane in the context of civil wars (Gates 2002), a point
we return to in the discussion of our results.
Debates about participation in Sierra Leone’s civil war
also speak to this Olsonian logic of participation. Arguing
against a focus on the mobilization of discontent, some
have proposed that insofar as the RUF was successful in
gaining recruits, this was due to its willingness to engage
the “wrong kind individuals.” Ibrahim Abdullah (1998)
argues that when the student movement disintegrated,
the locus of revolution shifted from the campus to the
streets and slums of Freetown. Unlettered, unemployed
migrants formed the basis for Sierra Leone’s insurgency
in part because they were “cheap.” The RUF’s position of
dominance in the eastern districts enabled it to extract
resources from the mining and trade of diamonds, the
monitoring and taxing of trade across the border, and the
looting of household property. These material rewards,
alongside coercive tactics, Abdullah suggests, generally ex
A third school of thought links an individual’s decision
to participate to the characteristics of the community in
which he or she is embedded. According to this approach
an analysis that focuses only on private gains from mem
bership without accounting for community-level features
is incomplete. Strong communities that can monitor in
dividual behavior and bring to bear a variety of social
sanctions are essential for overcoming the free-rider prob
lem that can limit participation in rebellion. For Michael
Taylor, a prominent proponent of this argument, a strong
community is defined by ( 1 ) a membership with shared
values and beliefs; (2) relations between members which
are direct and many sided; and (3) practices within the
community of generalized reciprocity (Taylor 1988). He
suggests that variation in these characteristics will help
one understand a community’s potential for collective
Taylor applies his argument in a reanalysis of
Skocpol’s cases of social revolution. He argues that the
speed with which widespread rebellion unfolded in France
and Russia, as compared to China, is directly attributable
to the strength of their peasant communities, their auton
omy from outside control, and their preexisting networks
which facilitated collective action. In France, for example,
Taylor identifies the rural economic system as the foun
dation of community strength. The situation of peasants
in China was much different. Embedded in a larger eco
nomic system of interlinked villages and towns, peasants
operated more independently and high degrees of mo
bility undermined the creation of dense ties and shared
norms. As a result, preexisting communities could not
provide the basis for revolution in China.
plain the decisions of those who joined the insurgency.
Selective incentives may have figured prominently in
the organization of the CDF as well. Chiefs mobilized
financial support for the local defense militias through
levies on the population. As one civilian commented, “vil
lagers were paying [contributions], the whole of Kono
District… it was compulsory?if you don’t pay you go
to court… they were raising a lot of money” (Keen 2005,
7Norms of reciprocity are not the only mechanism through which
“strong” communities might shape individual decisions about par
ticipation. Roger Petersen (2001), for example, shows how different
facets of community structure prove instrumental in motivating
and sustaining participation in civil war. In particular, he shows
that strong communities not only allow for social sanctions, but
also provide information about the preferences of one’s neighbors,
making it possible for individuals to coordinate on resistance.
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The importance of preexisting social networks and
shared collective identities was not lost on earlier scholars
of revolution. Indeed, Barrington Moore identified the
presence of strong horizontal networks within peasant
communities as a necessary condition for mobilization
nities and relied on social sanctions to promote partici
pation and maintain discipline.
Though commonly offered as a general explana
tion for successful revolutionary mobilization, arguments
(Moore 1966). James Scott argued that cohesive villages
with strong communal traditions were in a much better
about the power of community norms to motivate par
ticipation have rarely been used to describe the rise of
the RUF. We have encountered only one reference to a
position to act on their moral outrage over the subsis
role for preexisting community structures in the forma
tence crisis (Scott 1976). Even Theda Skocpol, whose work
tion of the RUF?this is the case of the “Joso Group,” a
drew attention to the impact of declining state strength
civil militia that was active in the Ndogboyosoi conflict
on revolution, pointed to the role of autonomous peasant
against the APC government years before the war began.
communities with considerable solidarity as the engine of
mobilization (Skocpol 1979). The community perspective
suggests a number of additional hypotheses. Individuals
are more likely to participate in rebellion if:
H6: Members of their community are active in the
H7: Their community is characterized by strong so
cial structures.
In 1991, members of this unit joined the RUF collectively
and added 17 men to the RUF’s Southern Front (TRC
2004). Beyond this instance, commentators have empha
sized the absence of ties that existed between the RUF and
the communities from which it mobilized recruits (Gberie
2005). Because of the powerful impact of social sanctions
on revolutionary mobilization observed in other contexts,
we nonetheless look for evidence that community char
acteristics predict participation in the RUF as well.
As with selective incentives, arguments about the effi
cacy of social sanctions for motivating high-risk collective
action apply as concretely to situations of counterinsur
gent mobilization as to rebellion itself. Leaders who wish
to mobilize individuals to take enormous risks to pre
vent the rebellion from succeeding benefit also from the
existence of dense communities with shared values and
Data and Research Design
Testing hypotheses about the determinants of partic
ipation in civil war requires systematic data on the
characteristics of combatants and noncombatants. Given
beliefs, as norms of generalized reciprocity are powerful
the difficulty of gathering data in war-torn coun
inducements to individual participation. Of course, the
ultimate impact of community cohesion likely depends
on whether participation is in some sense in the commu
nity’s interest?a point we return to below.
tries, previous approaches have employed ethnographic
data and qualitative information?gathered largely from
combatants?to draw inferences about the factors ex
Stories about the importance of social sanctions fig
dataset that allows for the assessment of competing hy
potheses using information gathered from both excom
batants and noncombatants in postwar Sierra Leone.
ure prominently in the literature on mobilization for the
war in Sierra Leone, although they have been advanced
principally to explain participation in the counterinsur
gent groups. Patrick Muana describes the characteristics
of the Kamajoi militia:
These fighters are conscripted with the approval
and consent of the traditional authority figures,
maintained and commanded by officers loyal to
those chiefs. This ensures a high level of commit
ment on their part and an insurance against atroc
ities on the civilian population on whom they rely
for sustenance, legitimacy, and support. (1997,
plaining mobilization. This article instead draws on a
The Survey
The survey was conducted between June and August 2003,
slightly more than a year after the war came to an end. The
main method for gathering information was through the
administration of a closed-ended questionnaire to 1,043
respondents by an enumerator in the respondent’s local
To ensure as representative a sample as possible, the
survey employed a number of levels of randomization.
First, teams enumerated surveys in geographic locations
and chiefdoms that were randomly selected. Estimates
Organized by chiefs who in some areas rose to greater
prominence with the disappearance of central authority,
of the population of excombatants presently residing in
the chiefdoms were made based on data from the Na
CDF militias emerged from within preexisting commu
tional Commission on Demobilization, Disarmament,
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and Reintegration (NCDDR) and the National Statistics
Office. These estimates were used to draw 63 clusters of
17 subjects throughout the country with the expected
number of clusters (and thus excombatants) proportional
Sampling Noncombatants
Because data on nonparticipants are essential for isolat
ing the causal factors explaining mobilization, the survey
team identified noncombatants in each selected cluster as
to the estimated excombatant population in each chief
dom. These clusters fell within 45 chiefdoms or urban
well. Noncombatants were sampled in proportion to the
localities which formed the basic enumeration units.
number of excombatants targeted in each cluster, yielding
At each site, enumerators worked through multiple
sources?town or village chiefs, village youth coordina
an overall sample of 184 from the same 45 chiefdoms and
tors, DDR and NCDDR skills training centers?to de
urban localities (just short of the 204 targeted). Enumera
tors identified a central location in each of the 45 selected
velop lists of excombatants. Compilers of the lists were
chiefdoms, selected a random direction, and sampled ev
encouraged to ensure as broad a group as possible and
urged not to exclude individuals based on faction, rank,
gender, age, rurality, or education. In every case, teams
aimed to identify two to three times the targeted num
veyed. This method, though very easy for our teams to
ber of potential respondents and then to randomly select
respondents from this pool.
This sampling strategy ensures that the national geo
graphic spread is representative (conditional on the qual
ity of our frame) and that those selected are representative
of local lists, but it does not guarantee that local lists are
themselves representative of local populations. This is one
of the key challenges to the representativeness of our sam
ple.8 Biases that may be introduced from the process of
local list generation are difficult to assess, but it is plausible
that excombatants who were relatively poorly politically
connected and those from the most remote areas (within
chiefdoms) are underrepresented, biasing us against find
ing poverty or remoteness as predictors of participation.
It is also possible that our sample is more likely to include
individuals who remain tightly connected to the factions,
biasing us toward finding support for proxies of social
8 Other possible sources of nonrepresentativeness are worth noting.
Perhaps most obviously, we were unable to sample excombatants
who died during the war. We were also unable to survey combat
ants who elected to join insurgent groups in neighboring Liberia, a
number estimated to be one thousand or more. Finally, it is likely
that combatants who participated at the earliest stages of the war
and then dropped out, choosing not to participate in the DDR
process, were undersampled. The directions of bias introduced by
these imperfections in our sampling strategy are difficult to assess.
Those who died may have been the most aggressive fighters, moti
vated by a commitment to the cause or a desire for wealth, or the
weakest, brought on board by coercion. There is some evidence in
the data that fighters who were injured most often were also more
likely to have been recruited via offers of material gains, suggesting
that those who passed away may not have been the weakest soldiers
(on most correlates there is no difference between those who got in
jured and those who did not). Those who fled to Liberia are likely to
have been more motivated by personal and political factors. Many
who dropped out could have been abductees, but dropouts may
also include early joiners who cared most about the cause initially.
These are, at best, guesses about the direction of the bias; as such,
our results should be assessed with the limitations of our sampling
strategy in mind.
ery third household or business, randomly selecting an
individual within this household or business to be sur
implement, is imperfect. Most evidently, by using a short
fixed interval rather than an interval based on the popula
tion of the enumeration site, the method is likely to over
represent individuals in relatively central locations and
underrepresent individuals working in fields or in tran
sit.9 As is clear from our summary statistics, for example,
the noncombatant group overrepresents men (65% male
representation) relative to the general population.
There are other advantages and disadvantages to the
sampling strategy employed for noncombatants. Enumer
ating nonparticipants only in chiefdoms where clusters of
excombatants were drawn makes a great deal of sense on
efficiency grounds, as the combination of poor road trans
port and Sierra Leone’s heavy rainy season would have
rendered infeasible an entirely separate sampling strategy
for the noncombatant population. At the same time, to the
extent that excombatants returned to their home commu
nities after the war (our estimates suggest that more than
half did), our sampling strategy yields a set of noncombat
ants in the same set of communities from which the com
batants joined, allowing us to better identify individual
level determinants of mobilization. The disadvantage is
that, while our excombatant survey provides a nation
ally representative sample, our noncombatant survey does
not. Therefore, appropriate weighting is required to cor
rect the biases in our sample frame. This weighting plays
two roles, accounting first for the fact that while our sam
ple includes disproportionately more excombatants than
noncombatants, but also for the fact that the weights for
noncombatants are not uniform across chiefdoms and
instead reflect the distribution of excombatants.10
9We say “relatively central” locations because our chiefdom-level
randomization ensured that survey teams went to extremely remote
areas, including sites inaccessible by car. In some instances, accessing
“central” areas within chiefdoms meant building bridges and, in one
case, constructing a raft to cross a flooding river.
10We calculated the probability with which a civilian subject was
chosen as follows. Outside of Freetown, we randomly selected
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As with combatants, the main method for gathering
we explore the power of the hypotheses to explain partic
information was through the administration of a closed
ended questionnaire by an enumerator in the respondent’s
ipation in counterinsurgent mobilization. In each model,
local language. The questionnaire mirrored that given to
combatants, although sections covering an individual’s
war experience (as a combatant) were excluded and ques
tions regarding contacts with the group that combatants
joined were asked of noncombatants with respect to those
groups with which they had most frequent contact.
we enter measures intended to capture each of the core
hypotheses alongside a set of control variables which in
clude demographic measures (age, age-squared, gender),
occupation (student, farmer), and regional information
(a dummy for Freetown and a district-level measure of
infant mortality). In all analyses, we enter weights for our
observations as described above and cluster disturbance
terms by chiefdom (our primary sampling unit).
Empirical Strategy
To test our hypotheses, we present a model to predict the
likelihood that individuals joined a fighting group during
Determinants of Participation
in Rebellion
the war in Sierra Leone. Our comparison group is the full
set of noncombatants, many of whom (about 40%) were
approached directly by combatant groups and elected not
to participate. We begin our analysis by focusing on the
main rebel group, the RUF, and later return to examine
the main civil defense group, the CDF. Together, fighters
in these groups account for nearly 90% of the sample.11
We begin with the question of what distinguishes those
who participate in rebellion from those who remain on
the sidelines of civil war. Our dependent variable, Join the
RUF, takes a value of 2 if an individual voluntarily joined
the RUF and a value of 1 if he or she was abducted into
the movement. It takes a value of 0 if he or she did not
Using a logistic model, we focus first on overall deter
join any faction.
minants of participation in rebellion by examining the
In evaluating the results that follow, it is critical to
factors that distinguish those who joined the RUF from
keep in mind that voluntary joiners constituted only 12%
the pool of noncombatants. Then, recognizing that ab
of total RUF recruits in our sample. Because abduction
duction was a common part of the recruitment experi
ence into the RUF, we use a multinomial probit model to
explore separately the characteristics of those who joined
voluntarily and those who were forcibly recruited. Finally,
m clusters of s combatants each; each cluster had probability w-}
of lying in chiefdom j where w} is the share of all combatants in
chiefdorn j according to our sampling frame. Hence, for each chief
dom there is a given probability that 0, 1, 2,… m clusters would
be selected. Civilians were sampled in the same areas as excom
batants at a ratio of 1:5. Letting n) denote the number of civil
ians at a site we have that if q clusters were selected in a given
site, then a civilian at this site would have a ^ | probability of
being selected. The probability that a civilian is selected then de
pends directly on the number of excombatants in his chiefdom
and is given by pf = ? =0 -??^w)( – Wj)m~* ^f |; the cor
is self-reported, it is possible that this is an overestimate
of the actual rate of abduction. But qualitative evidence
suggests that the vast majority of RUF combatants were
abducted, with grievances, selective incentives, and social
sanctions rendered less important in the individual deci
sion about whether to join (Gberie 2005; Keen 2005). In
cluding abductees in the analysis, however, does allow for a
more complete treatment of RUF recruitment. To explore
the power of different explanations for understanding
who joined voluntarily and who was conscripted, Table 2
reports results both for a pooled (treating abductees and
volunteers as a single category) and a disaggregated anal
ysis of RUF membership.
responding weight is l/pjclv. For Freetown, the probability is given
simply by s^reetown I. Conditional upon the reliability of our frame,
the sampling probability for excombatants is given by 1,043/80,000.
Because the probability of selecting a civilian respondent in chief
doms in which there were no reported excombatants is 0, the control
group reflects the set of individuals living in chiefdoms in which
excombatants are present. It is also worth noting that the weights
have not been adjusted to reflect observations that fall out due to
missing data in each specification.
Grievances and Participation
Our first hypothesis is that individuals are more likely
to join a rebellion if they suffer from economic depri
vation.12 The United Nations Development Program, in
constructing its human development index, emphasizes
11 We exclude participants in the other three factions for two reasons.
First, recruits into the SLA and AFRC were generally conscripted
through traditional channels?they were paid members of a na
tional army. Second, because these factions were so small relative
to the other two, we have very small sample sizes for these fac
tions, making us more cautious in drawing conclusions about the
characteristics of their recruits.
12We focus here on objective measures of economic deprivation.
Gurr (1970), however, focuses on subjective deprivation (the gap
between expectations and experience), which may or may not cor
relate with actual deprivation. Without data on participants’ per
ceptions of their own well-being, we are not in a position to precisely
evaluate Gurr’s hypothesis.
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Table 2 Determinants of Participation in Rebellion
H! Mud Walls
Hi Lack of Access to Education: (More than
primary 0, Primary 1, No primary 2)
H2 Supports the SLPP
H3 Does Not Support Any Party
H5 Felt Safer Inside Group
H6 Friends as Members of Group
H7 Villages Accessible by Foot or Boat Only
Infant Mortality
H4 Offered Money to Join
Multinomial Probit
H2 Mende
Notes: Standard errors in brackets. *Significant at 10%; **significant at 5%; ***significant at 1%.
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two measures of deprivation that are readily operational –
ized at the individual level: income and education.13 We
historically associated with the Mende, there are many
non-Mende SLPP supporters and many Mende who do
proxy for income with a measure, Mud Walls, that cap
not support the SLPP. In order to capture the indepen
tures material well-being, recording the material used in
dent effects of political and ethnic exclusion, we include a
the construction of walls for an individual’s house. If they
dummy variable for Mende in our analysis. The results in
are constructed from mud, among the cheapest but least
Table 2 provide no evidence that politically excluded SLPP
durable form of wall design used in Sierra Leone, this vari
members were likely to join the rebellion; indeed, there is
able takes a value of 1. Alternatives include burnt brick
support for the opposite claim that SLPP members were
and cement constructions. Our second measure, Lack of
Education, records the level of schooling completed by
the progression of the war in which ultimately the SLPP
less likely to volunteer for the RUF. This is consistent with
an individual. This variable takes the value of 0 if postpri
became more closely associated with the CDF. The weight
mary education was achieved, 1 if only primary education
of the evidence suggests that, even though SLPP support
was completed, and 2 if the individual received no formal
ers were politically excluded until 1996, they were no more
education at all.
likely to join the RUF than backers of other parties.16 Simi
We find that both wealth and education predict mem
bership in the RUF. The estimated effect of poverty is sta
larly we find that although the Mende, the more politically
excluded of Sierra Leone’s major groups, were well repre
tistically significant and sizeable, with an increase from sented in the RUF, this was uniquely through the abducted
0 to 1 associated with an increase in participation risks membership rather than the cohort of volunteers.17
of a factor of 1.7 (95% ci.: [0.13 – 4.60]).14 The effect
Turning to the third hypothesis, it may not matter
associated with a lack of access to education is stronger,
that individuals are on the losing side politically, but that
with a change from 0 to 2 on our score associated with
an approximately ninefold increase in the probability of
they may not feel represented by any party on the po
participation in the RUF (95% ci.: [1.7 – 26.5]). When
party they supported before the war.18 One-third of non
we disaggregate, we find that these effects are qualitatively
combatants claimed to have supported no party at all;
among RUF combatants, just over 60% did not back a
particular political party. Consistent with qualitative ac
similar (and significant) across voluntary and involuntary
recruits though quantitatively stronger for abductees.15
litical stage. In our survey, we asked respondents which
These disaggregated effects are illustrated in Figure 1,
counts emphasizing the disenfranchised youth who made
which provides a graphical representation of first differ
up the ranks of the RUF, we find evidence of a relation
ences from the multinomial probit model.
To proxy for political exclusion experienced by indi
ship between alienation from the political system, Does
Not Support Any Party, and recruitment into the RUF,
viduals in the prewar period, we use a measure of support
even after controlling for age. Individuals who did not
for the major excluded political party, the SLPP. Since the
support any party were two to three times more likely to
beginning of the postcolonial period, many accounts of
political dynamics in Sierra Leone emphasize the shifts
in power from control by SLPP supporters to APC sup
porters and back again (Kandeh 1992). One common, if
join both through abduction and voluntary induction.
unsubstantiated, view of the origins of the war suggests
that the violence was an attempt to regain power by sup
porters of the SLPP. Closely related to SLPP support in
the political history of Sierra Leone is membership of the
Selective Incentives
Our first measure of selective incentives, Offered Money to
Join, records whether individuals were offered material re
wards (money or diamonds) in exchange for their partici
Mende ethnic group. Though SLPP membership has been
16This effect remains negative and significant even when the sample
13Without measures of access to land, income, and patterns of
wealth over time, we are not in a position to test precisely some
of the theories advanced earlier. We are confident, however, that
education and home construction variables offer fairly good prox
ies for household economic status. Both have been used consistently
in analyses of poverty in Africa.
14 This, and other marginal effects, are reported for the case in which
all other variables are held at their means.
15The fact that voluntary recruits to the RUF exhibit higher edu
cational attainment than abductees is consistent with qualitative
accounts that emphasize the urban and peri-urban roots of the
RUF’s initial membership.
is restricted to those who joined the RUF before 1996, when the
SLPP gained political power again in Sierra Leone.
17 This likely reflects the fact that RUF operations were largely con
centrated, especially in early stages, close to diamond resources and
in Mende strongholds.
18 Political alienation is only one of many reasons why individuals
may not join a political party. Alternative measures of alienation
might include attitudes toward the government or patterns of vot
ing and participation, but questions allowing us to measure these
attitudes and behaviors were not included in the survey. Given ar
guments in the literature on Sierra Leone about the disenchantment
of youth with the parties before the war began, we believe that the
lack of support for a party is an appropriate indicator.
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Figure 1 Marginal Effects for RUF Recruitment
No Education
Mud Wails
?2 o
O o
-0.5 0.0
Change in probability of abduction
to Joinas
-0.5 0.0 0.5 1.0
of in
probability of abduction
Notes: Each figure shows 10,000 simulated first differences (in percentage points) in t
of abduction and the probability of voluntary recruitment. For the case of “Mud Wal
and “Friends,” the differences correspond to a shift in the independent variable from 0
other variables held constant at their means; for the case of “Education,” the difference
to a shift from 0 (secondary or more) to 2 (no formal education). The dotted lines show
zero effect) for each outcome and the solid lines show the average estimated effect. 95%
intervals for each dimension are marked on the axes with thick black lines.
pation. The variable employs data from aers
who had
most frequent contact with non-R
that asked respondents what they were told
or they
who would
were not
approached by the RUF a
ceive upon joining a fighting group. For combatants,
this were not offered material incen
here as if they
RUF. Our
results suggest that material offe
question referred to the group they eventually
In the case of noncombatants, the questionticipation
focuses onin
rebellion more likely; but surp
groups with which individuals had most frequent
effect is just as strong (indeed, stron
In this analysis, our measure records answers
compared to voluntary recruits (F
to offers made to civilians by the RUF, both
and volunteers, approximate
the RUF having attempted to recruit them.
All nonjoin
claimed that they were offered m
RUF, compared to 1 in 10 civilians. This fea
19 It is possible, therefore, that individuals were
the ambiguity of the notion of
incentives to join the CDF, for example, but subsequently joined
personal testimonies (Beah 20
the RUF without an offer of material incentives.
In this
individual would be classified here as a joiner of
RUF but
notbe used simultaneously. Qua
as one who was offered material incentives to join.
these results suggest that individuals offere
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diamonds were six times more likely to participate in the
still captures social connectedness to the fighting group.
Across our full sample of noncombatants, 21% reported
A more asymmetric effect of incentives on volun friends joining as the first connection they had to a group.
teers and abductees is in evidence for “push” factors. ToFor RUF combatants, however, this number is just 5%; for
study the extent to which protection offered by fighting abductees, it is 0%; while for voluntary combatants, it is
factions might serve to motivate participation, we usedclose to 28%. Abductees almost universally first encoun
a proxy, Felt Safer Inside, that draws on a survey ques tered the RUF when their village was attacked or they fell
tion that elicited the respondents’ assessment (during the prey to an ambush. For those who joined voluntarily but
war) of whether they felt that “life would be safer” inside did not have friends already in the group, the first con
or outside of the group.20 For those who joined, the re tact was generally made when they actively sought out
sponse was given with respect to the time at which they the group and asked to join (nearly 20% of the time).
joined. Those who did not join answered the question Strikingly, we find that while social ties do appear to have
with respect to the moment in which they had the mostfacilitated voluntary participation in the RUF, they are as
frequent contact with the RUE21 Table 2 suggests that the sociated with a lower likelihood of being abducted (see
relationship between personal security and the decisionFigure 1). Possibly such ties serve to shield individuals or
to join a rebellion is strongly significant at conventional
communities from recruitment drives or possibly in such
levels, even after controlling for a range of other factors, cases persuasion is substituted for coercion.
and is substantively large. The possibility of improving
one’s personal security, it appears, provides an important
As a test of the final hypothesis, we employ a measure
intended to capture the degree to which communities have
motivation for joining a faction in times of war. As maystrong social structures. We lack a direct measure of this
be expected (but contrary to the finding on material in characteristic, however, and rely on a proxy that focuses
centives), the effect works in just the opposite directionon the isolation of communities. The measure, Accessi
for abductees.
ble by Foot or Boat Only, records features of settlements
within the chiefdom in which an individual was based.23
Social Sanctions
Hypothesis 6 suggests that when individuals have commu
nity ties that link them to members of a fighting group,
they are more likely to join. To create a measure of so
cial ties, we asked both joiners and nonjoiners how they
first encountered an armed group. In the case of combat
Derived from data made available by the UN Food and
Agriculture Organization (FAO), it measures the share of
villages in a given chiefdom that can be approached only
by foot or by boat. In such villages, we expect to find a
low level of social anonymity, a large share of exchange
oriented inwards, and a high level of repeated interaction
among community members. Such features are likely to
ants, we asked them how they first encountered the group
be predictive of social cohesion although they by no means
that they ultimately joined; for noncombatants, we asked
guarantee it.24 Such villages are in fact quite common in
Sierra Leone; in more than 50% of chiefdoms, at least
them how they first came into contact with the group. Our
measure takes a value of one if an individual responded
one-third of villages are inaccessible by means other than
that her first contact came when a friend or relative joined
foot or boat. A disadvantage of the fact that this measure
is recorded at the chiefdom level is that it cannot be used
the group and zero otherwise.22 Other possible avenues
for making first contact included being approached by
the group either peaceably or through an attack on a set
tlement or an ambush. The measure involves some slip
page from the notion of community ties that we seek, but
20We cannot exclude the possibility that answers to this question
reflect a post hoc rationalization on the part of both combatants
to exploit the variation within chiefdoms that we observe
in our data; the corresponding benefit, however, is that it
is immune to biases introduced by imperfections in the
within-chiefdom noncombatant sampling. Returning to
Table 2, we find no relationship between this measure of
isolation and abduction or voluntary recruitment to the
and noncombatants.
21 Nonjoiners who had most frequent contact with non-RUF groups
are classified here as if they felt neither more nor less safe in their
present situation compared with being inside the RUE These results
are, however, robust to the exclusion of this category.
22 Individuals may have had friends in a given group but not in
the one that they eventually joined. In this case, we code these
individuals as having joined a group but as not having friends in a
group. Again, nonjoiners who didn’t encounter the RUF are coded
as not having friends in the RUE
23 We use chiefdom measures for excombatants and noncombatants
at the onset of the war. This measure thus captures background so
cial conditions before violence began. Though some individuals
moved during the war before joining, qualitative accounts suggest
that prewar community ties often played a role in motivating par
ticipation, particularly in the CDF.
24 We note that the absence of road infrastructure may also be a
measure of poor public goods provision and thus, arguably, capture
elements of social grievances.
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RUE This nonfinding is consistent with the more qualita
should be as effective in motivating counterinsurgent ac
tive accounts described earlier. Perhaps more surprisingly,
tivity as they are believed to be in motivating rebellion.
isolation did not protect against abduction either: RUF
Understood in terms of expressive motivations, however,
fighters penetrated villages that government services had
the predictions are turned on their head: we expect that
failed to access throughout the postindependence period.
those who fight to defend the status quo are better off
The results suggest mixed evidence for prevailing the
ories offered to explain participation in rebellion. All three
accounts hold some explanatory power, but not on all
measures. Most importantly, however, the vast majority
of RUF recruits were abductees. For these individuals,
common arguments about expressive motivations, selec
tive incentives, and social sanctions are rendered irrele
vant. A grievance account predicts the observed correla
tion between welfare and membership, but for abductees
economically and more fully integrated into the existing
political regime.
Does participation in civil war follow a single logic
or do strategies of mobilization differ across groups? We
answer this question by looking at the determinants of
participation in the CDF. We construct a dependent vari
able that takes a value of 1 if an individual joined the CDF
voluntarily and 0 if he joined no group (we exclude 11
cases in which individuals claimed to have been abducted
the interpretation is the wrong one: poverty and alien
into the CDF). By examining CDF recruitment, we can
ation cannot reasonably be seen as a source of frustration
explore the extent to which the patterns of participation
that motivates political action. In this context, traditional
we observe in the RUF extend to counterinsurgent mobi
lization as well. The results of our analysis are presented
indicators of grievance must represent something other
than marginalization; for example, poverty or a lack of
access to education might make individuals more vulner
in the final column of Table 2.
able to manipulation by political or military elites.
does not follow a single logic; differences obtain across the
For those who elected to join voluntarily, however, the
The evidence suggests that participation in civil war
major categories of participation, and in those cases where
evidence is striking. We find some evidence that social ties
similar patterns emerge, they challenge our interpretation
were a determining factor for voluntary participation in
of previous findings. Strikingly, a number of the patterns
the RUE Grievances?as measured by poverty and polit
ical alienation, but not by political exclusion or lack of
education?also predict participation. But to understand
the dynamics of the RUF, one must also focus on the ways
in which selective incentives are used to motivate partici
observed with respect to volunteers in the RUF hold for
CDF recruits as well. The two welfare measures, mud walls
and a lack of access to education, both predict member
ship in the CDF, as does political alienation. Changes in
each of these measures, from 0 to 1 in the case of mud
pants. Individuals who claim to have been abducted also
walls and alienation and 0 to 2 in the case of education,
claim to have been offered material rewards for participa
are associated with an approximately fivefold increase in
tion; for volunteers, these offers are also important as is a
rates of participation. While consistent with the patterns
belief on the part of combatants that they would be pro
evident in the RUF, these relationships are not consistent
tected from violence if they served the organization rather
with grievance-based accounts of participation. Individ
ual CDF combatants, defending the status quo, appear
than fought against it or attempted to remain neutral.
not to be those most benefiting from the current political
Comparing Rebellion and
Counterinsurgent Mobilization
regime. In fact, the evidence suggests that individuals of
the same social class were mobilized to fight on both sides
of Sierra Leone’s civil war. While it would be difficult to
map these economic proxies onto a story of grievances
Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war fought not on the side
motivating mobilization, the results support arguments
that hold that an individual’s relative economic position
of the rebels, but instead for a counterinsurgent force of
shapes the likelihood with which he or she is mobilized
coordinated local defense militias. Like the RUF, leaders
(or conscripted) to fight in a civil war.
So far, we have only told half of the story. Most fighters in
of the CDF faced a challenge in motivating individuals to
take enormous risks by picking up guns to defend their
communities. While much of the literature on participa
tion in civil war focuses expressly on those who join insur
gent movements, we have suggested that the three major
arguments advanced to explain recruitment also gener
ate predictions about who will take up arms to defend
the status quo. Framed as a collective action problem, of
fers of selective incentives or the threat of social sanctions
The comparison of recruits to the RUF and the CDF
reveals some differences as well. Material motivations ap
pear stronger for CDF than for RUF volunteers. For both
groups, however, safety appears prominently as an in
ducement to voluntary participation. Turning to com
munity structures, whereas our proxy for community
strength did not correlate with RUF participation, it does
relate strongly with CDF membership. This finding is con
sistent with the argument that CDF recruitment, designed
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to defend rather than oppose the status quo, succeeded in
In light of these considerations, we explore interac
drawing on community structures to foster recruits.
tive effects in an effort to parse these stories. We focus
The Interaction of Grievances,
Selective Incentives, and Community
of grievances and selective incentives (a similar analy
specifically on the interaction between welfare measures
sis can be undertaken with each of these interacted with
measures of community cohesion). A strong grievances
story suggests that grievances predict participation even
in the absence of selective incentives. A strong selective
The evidence suggests that, in marked contrast to theoret
ical debates that advance expressive motivations, selective
incentives, and social sanctions as rival theories of mo
bilization, distinct proxies for each emerge as significant
in models predicting who fought in Sierra Leone’s civil
war. Thus, a natural question to ask is this: to what extent
do the different facets emphasized by these scholars really
constitute rival models? From a theoretical point of view,
it is clearly possible to construct a single comprehensive
model that captures all three elements (for an example,
see Gates 2002). We can then construct three rival mod
incentives story suggests that grievances cannot explain
participation in the absence of selective incentives, and
that selective incentives predict participation even in the
absence of grievances.
The results of our analysis, presented in Table 3, sug
gest a nuanced relationship between these different ac
counts of participation. Poorer people and less educated
individuals are more likely to join all groups in cases in
which they are not offered money to join (Panels I and
II). Although poverty does continue to predict partici
pation in the CDF after offers are made (as can be seen
els that incorporate just one of these three elements, and
from the positive coefficient on the interaction term), it
another three models that incorporate two of the three.
does not explain RUF participation in this situation (note
Standard approaches for hypothesis testing with
nested models allow us to examine empirically whether
one such model outperforms another. Using Wald and
Likelihood ratio tests, we find that in all cases the mod
the large negative coefficients on the interaction terms
for the RUF). In this interactive model, material gains ap
pear to facilitate recruitment even if prospective recruits
are less poor; while for the CDF, the impact of monetary
els based on only one or two of the three arguments
(grievances, selective incentives, or social sanctions) can
be rejected in favor of the comprehensive model (we can
offers appears to work independent of wealth levels, the
coefficient on the interaction term for the RUF outcomes
reject the null that the coefficients on the supplementary
tutes and not as complements. A similar story holds for
education (Panel II), where we see that less educated in
variables of the comprehensive model are all 0). Partici
pation in Sierra Leone’s civil war can best be understood
suggests that poverty and monetary offers work as substi
dividuals are more likely to join all groups when funding
in the context of this diversity of motivations for partici
is not on offer, but this effect is weakened (in the case
of abductees) or disappears outright (in the case of RUF
However, a deeper analysis is possible. Although we
have described these three approaches as rival, there are
voluntary recruits) once offers of material gains are made.
reasons to expect that these pathways to participation do
not operate independently. For example, it may be the
Turning to “push” factors, the results suggest that
safety concerns motivate voluntary participation in the
absence of grievances and are no more (or less) motivat
case that incentives can be applied with greater efficiency
ing in the presence of grievances (Panel III). In this respect,
to some people than they can to others. Most obviously,
safety concerns “matter” independent of grievances. The
with decreasing marginal returns to income, one might
impact of poverty remains positive in the absence of safety
expect that offers of material rewards will be a more ef
motivations, but significance is lost on this measure in this
fective force for poorer people, ceteris paribus. If so, then
model. More consistent results appear for the education
the grievance and selective incentives stories offer similar
measure (Panel IV). This model confirms that less ed
predictions regarding who is likely to join. In a similar way,
ucated individuals are more likely to participate but that
the social sanctions story can help to explain why an in
this effect is somewhat attenuated in the presence of safety
dividual may take actions that appear privately costly but
concerns, suggesting again a substitution effect.
publicly beneficial. But which actions he should take?
whether to fight for or against the status quo or to stay
Overall, the interactive effects suggest that grievance
motivations operate independently of motivations driven
on the sidelines?depends not on the strength of those
by selective incentives. Thus, the analysis suggests that
ties but on the preferences of communities, a feature that
proxies for grievances do not simply capture the ease with
may be better explained by grievances or the benefits that
a community expects to achieve.
which selective incentives can be applied, nor are selective
incentives effective only for the aggrieved.
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Table 3 Interactive Effects
Lack of
Lack of
Notes: Standard errors in brackets. * significant at 10%; ** significant at 5%; *** significant at 1%. Abductee and RUF volunteer coefficients
derive from a single multinomial probit model; CDF volunteer results derive from a logit model. Except for interaction terms, all controls
and specifications are identical to those shown in Table 2.
Discussion and Conclusion
Statistical evidence from Sierra Leone’s civil war offers
support to three major literatures that seek to account for
revolutionary mobilization. While political motivations,
as proxied by support for opposition parties and member
ship of the Mende ethnic group, do not appear as promi
nent motivations, participation in a military faction does
depend on an individual’s relative social and economic
position, the costs and benefits of joining, and the so
cial pressures that emanate from friends and community
members. While these arguments are often presented as
rival, multiple logics of participation do coexist within the
same conflict.
At the same time, our empirical results challenge
conventional accounts of participation that emphasize
grievances. While proxies for standard grievance explana
tions receive support in our study of those who rebel, we
find that the same indicators?poverty, a lack of access to
education, and political alienation?also predict the deci
sion to defend the status quo. Moreover, these factors also
distinguish those who are abducted into a fighting force
from those who remain on the sidelines. Conventional
interpretations of welfare measures which emphasize the
individual and group frustrations that drive participation
in violence are thus called into question. Individual char
acteristics that observers may readily take to be indicators
of frustration with the state may instead proxy for features
such as a greater vulnerability to political manipulation
by political and military elites, a greater frustration with
more peaceful forms of protest, or most simply, a lack of
other options.
Our work suggests as well that involuntary partic
ipation is a fundamental part of revolutionary mobi
lization and political violence. Although this fact is al
ready well appreciated by scholars of the Sierra Leone
conflict, traditional theories of mobilization within po
litical science make little mention of coerced participa
tion. Understanding why groups abduct recruits and the
implications of such a strategy for the dynamics of the
war is an open research question, but one that can no
longer be ignored in traditional debates about why people
Admittedly, these empirical observations emerge
from an analysis of a single case. Yet in terms of its dura
tion, the scale of its combatant organizations, and the
scope of violence, the war in Sierra Leone is not un
like other recent conflicts that have engulfed countries in
the developing world. Whether the specific membership
patterns we highlight here are evident in other cases is an
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empirical question; nonetheless, the distinct mobilization
ories can be colored, and sampling frames are imperfect.
processes we describe, and attempt to parse, are general.
Others can more readily be improved upon in future em
Given the powerful evidence for multiple paths to
participation in Sierra Leone, we believe that the debate
pirical work. There is, for example, considerable scope
for the refinement of measures and the precision of our
now needs to shift from battles over the supremacy of par
estimates would have been greater with a larger noncom
ticular theories to a concerted analysis of the conditions
batant sample drawn using a civilian rather than an ex
combatant frame. But there are two other, less obvious
under which distinct strategies of recruitment are pur
sued by different groups at different times. Gates (2002)
weaknesses which, if addressed in subsequent research,
provides an example of the way forward, incorporating a
will markedly improve our ability to understand processes
diversity of recruitment strategies into a single model of
of revolutionary and counterrevolutionary mobilization.
While we collected data for each individual with re
mobilization. Our empirical results suggest that both the
fighters depend on strategic concerns. Needed is a the
spect to only one group, the process of mobilization
should be conceptualized (for individuals) as a choice
ory not just of when collective action succeeds but a more
from a menu. Because many military factions participate
complete model of the market for the supply and demand
in a single conflict, it makes sense to think about the col
of fighters in a context where employers have both wages
lection of data in terms of dyads: individual i and group
A, B, and C. Data are needed to capture individual assess
supply side and the demand side of the labor market for
and violence at their disposal.
Our results also offer lessons about the methodolog
ments of the relative benefits and costs of joining (or not
ical challenges involved in gathering and analyzing data
from excombatants. Despite the emergence of a rich re
joining) each possible group. In our data, this concern
is most evident in the proxies we use to capture offers
search agenda on civil wars in the last decade, there have
of material gains, perceptions of safety, and social ties to
been few attempts to bring quantitative empirical infer
ence directly to bear on the study of participation in civil
combatant groups. Without data on dyadic interactions,
we were forced to impute missing values and assume that
war (Arjona and Kalyvas 2006 and Verwimp 2005 are im
portant exceptions). The greatest challenge is undoubt
those who did not encounter a group did not have friends
edly the difficulty of obtaining reliable data. Our strategy
troducing bias in our estimates, increasing the likelihood
has been to go directly to participants in violence. Ex
combatant surveys put scholars in a better position to
subject their theories to rigorous empirical analysis and
in some cases that we reject the null.26 Perceptions of the
to explore their underlying assumptions. But they bring
in it, receive offers, or perceive it as safer. This risks in
relative benefits and costs of participation in each group
could in principle be collected in future surveys of this
unique methodological challenges as well.
Some of these relate to modeling decisions. We are
conscious that our conclusions derive from statistical
the determinants of mobilization vary over time. Moti
models that depend on many assumptions?assumptions
vating people to participate when the returns are uncer
regarding the right set of control variables, the appropriate
In addition, although the models we test here are static
in nature, a growing theoretical literature recognizes that
tain and the risks high is a particularly difficult challenge
weighting of cases, and the relevant set of cases to include
for armed groups. Kuran (1989, 1991), Lohmann (1993),
in the noncombatant population. We have subjected our
empirical analysis to a series of robustness checks that
alter the specifications and the weightings used.25 The
findings are encouraging. Our measures of material well
being, political alienation, and perceptions of safety con
tinue to correlate with recruitment into both factions,
and Van Belle (1996) suggest that temporal dynamics are
while social ties predict RUF participation and our proxy
for community cohesion predicts CDF recruitment across
all specifications.
There are also challenges inherent in data of this form.
crucial for understanding recruitment: the conditions for
joining late in a revolution may be considerably less oner
ous than those for joining early on. In principle, data
such as that examined here can be turned into a “quasi
panel” to partly address questions about how recruitment
strategies evolve over time, but a systematic test of these
approaches requires rich historical information about in
dividuals’ contacts with and attitudes towards different
factions at multiple points in time. If collected retrospec
Some of these are difficult to avoid and have already been
tively, data of this sort may place considerable strain on the
highlighted above?there may be reporting biases, mem
memory of respondents, but temporal dynamics cannot
be reasonably assessed without it.
25 These include examining a rare events logit model, sensitivity
to the choice of controls, sensitivity to weights, and sensitivity
to the civilian subsample used. A memo providing these results
is available on the web at http://www.columbia.edu/~mh2245/
papers 1/HW_AJPS_07/.
26 We note, however, that our results survive restricting our analysis
only to those combatants who were approached by each group.
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Appendix Summary Statistics
Mud Walls
SD Min Max
Dummy = 1 if individual lived in house with mud
0 = More than primary, 1 = Primary, 2 = None
0.17 0.03
walls before war
Supports the SLPP
Does Not Support
Any Party
Offered Money
Felt Safer in Group
Dummy = 1 if individual supported the SLPP
before the war
Dummy = 1 if Mende
Dummy = 1 if individual supported no party
before the war
Individual was offered money to join the group
Individual felt that it was safer inside than outside
the group
Individual’s first contact with group was through
friends or relatives
Share of localities in chiefdom accessible only by
Dummy = 1 if male
Age in 2003 (in decades)
Age in 2003
28.47 2.10
foot or boat
Dummy = 1 if individual lived in Freetown before
0.07 0.03
0.37 0.07
0.67 0.03
3.3 0.11
0.23 0.08
Infant Mortality
1985 Census 0.18 0.004 0
Infant Mortality
Note: Means and standard deviations reported here are adjusted for differential weights between combatant and noncombatant respo
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