The Impact Initiative has closed. This website has now been archived and will no longer be updated.
The Impact Initiative has closed. This website has now been archived and will no longer be updated.

A comparative analysis of combatants' economic and social-political power during and after war

Research Partners:

: Soldiers deployed in Kibumba. Photo credit: MONUSCO/Sylvain Liechti/Flickr licensed under CY BY-SA 2.0
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Principal Investigator: Paul Christopher Nugent. Lead Organistion: University of Edinburgh

Co-investigators: Jan Eichhorn (University of Edinburgh and Zoe Elizabeth Marks (Harvard University)

The linkages between poverty and violence are multiple and complex. A wealth of global and regional studies of armed conflict show that while war causes poverty, at both the structural (macro-) and individual (micro-) levels, poverty itself is also a risk factor for violence and civil war. Research, particularly from Africa's LDCs, highlights the corollary to this war-poverty nexus: the importance of natural resources and war economies in sustaining violence. These theories must now be systematically tested at the individual and group levels in order to be fully integrated into development interventions.

This project aims to bridge the gap between causal theories of conflict participation and the growing empirical research on post-conflict development, by measuring subjective and objective empowerment and disempowerment in context. It will answer the overarching question: How do discrepancies between individuals' wartime and peacetime opportunities and experiences affect their socio-economic reintegration, incentives to revert to violence, and pathways out of poverty? Particular attention will be given to gender relations, military organizational structures, and social networks.

The latest research on conflict finds young men caught in cycles of economic and political marginalization, the desperation and frustration of which allegedly spurs participation in violence. Eventual de-escalation of fighting lands them back in further marginalized spaces, without the skills, schooling, or family structures necessary to sustain peacetime livelihoods. This project seeks to explore and test the theoretical assumptions of this cycle through a mixed methods comparative analysis of armed groups and their fighters, followers, and commanders, in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It will elucidate the organizational and survival strategies of armed groups, and identify post-war patterns and risk factors for poverty and violence. Support networks and survival strategies will be investigated for enhancing poverty alleviation and peacebuilding initiatives.

The project will consist of a three-country ex-combatant survey, social network analysis, in-depth elite interviews, and historical analysis. Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of Congo have had similar protracted, regionalized conflict profiles - though, crucially, the DRC conflict remains sporadic and intractable - but different post-conflict reintegration policies, particularly vis-à-vis ex-combatant incorporation into armed forces and police, that allow for a rich cross-case comparison. Within-case comparisons across state and non-state armed groups will generate rigorous and effective policy recommendations based on variations in wartime experiences.

A key outcome of the project will be a highly integrative research process bringing together international, regional, and local stakeholders in the design, analysis, and dissemination phases. This integration will be echoed in the empirical investigation, which will range from the lowest levels of armed group support (foot soldiers, 'bush wives', and personal body guards), to commanders and civilian chiefs in individual interviews, surveys, and network analysis; and in qualitative interviews, to the highest levels of regional and international governance. Social network analysis will be used to systematically analyse these multi-layered relationships and power structures, how they change over time, and the economic and social survival opportunities embedded within them. All levels of the project will be parsed out by gender to examine differences between men's and women's survival strategies and opportunities for social and economic empowerment - or exclusion. This marks a key innovation in the analysis of structural inequality and the role of gender in conflict and post-conflict experiences.



This research targets a number of key constituencies and stakeholders throughout its design, implementation, analysis, and dissemination phases. The most important beneficiary group as end-users will be national and international practitioners and policy-makers, including research and advocacy officials from international NGOs, UN organizations, and various ministries in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and DR Congo. These beneficiaries will be within the immediate sphere of influence of the project and will be key stakeholders for translating research findings into sustainable policy improvements for poverty alleviation. The second key beneficiary group will be the conflict-affected individuals and households whose economic challenges and structural inequality the project seeks to understand and transform, and the community organizations and local leaders accountable to them. The third beneficiary group will be the interdisciplinary academic audience of scholars studying conflict dynamics and post-war reconstruction (described in the 'Academic beneficiaries' section), including local researchers, research respondents/participants, and community-level development practitioners. Bringing all three stakeholder groups together is integral to the research design, and will take place throughout the project to maximize the relevance and uptake of the findings.


At the country level, key stakeholder workshops will generate local impact in two stages. During the stage one survey design and planning, a dialectic format will generate joint knowledge production and new information from the outset. Second stage stakeholder workshops will disseminate preliminary findings and discuss policy implications with research design and implementation partners, as well as government and INGO stakeholders. These stakeholders will both inform the development of, and benefit from, policy briefs and guidance outputs.

The full report will be presented in public forums to representatives from a range of national and international organizations working on conflict intervention and post-conflict development. Several community-level pilot meetings will be held following high-level stakeholder workshops to return results and build local knowledge and agency for development. A project advisory board, consisting of academics and practitioners, will provide guidance for the project's duration. Academic impact will by generated by peer-reviewed articles, presentations at leading academic conferences, and a comparative monograph to be published after project completion. An international academic workshop in the final year will present and re-examine the empirical findings and theoretical implications, and develop priorities for future research, emphasizing the importance of mixed methods and practitioner-academic synergies.

Open access platforms, including a project website, will ensure these outputs are widely available to practitioners and country-level research teams beyond the lifetime of the project. All data, codebooks, survey instruments, and methodology descriptions will be made publicly available to extend the legacy and impact of the project and encourage further analysis and comparative research. Finally, to maximize impacts at the local level, the project website will feature local researchers and assistants, providing a professional platform for their skills, improving North-South networking opportunities, and maximizing the potential for domestic and regional ownership of knowledge and engagement. A strong research assistant consortium already exists in DRC; Co-I Zoe Marks will work with local enumerators, assistants, and training institutions in Liberia and Sierra Leone to replicate this model for sustainable employment opportunities and professional development strategies for project staff. This will contribute directly to poverty alleviation, while also ensuring skills, knowledge, and capacity are retained.

Primary theme: 
Grant Reference: 
Project Status: 
Grant Category: 
Research Grant
Lead Organisation Department: 
Sch of Social and Political Science
Fund Start Date: 
July 13th, 2015
Fund End Date: 
July 12th, 2018
Fund Currency Code: 
Fund Value: