PhD Student Research & Placement: Where Have All the Graduates Gone?


Those below are former graduate students for whom I served as dissertation committee chair. In their various positions they remain part of a professional network and a community. Their research methods range across a spectrum that includes ethnographic narrative, interviews and participant observation, formal modeling, field experiments, descriptive statistics, surveys, and more. All of them seek to better understand basic problems related to violent conflicts. Many came to academic research with prior engagement with conflicts. Some came from NGOs, policy positions, military service in various countries, in addition to those who come directly from other academic programs. These backgrounds contribute to their deep knowledge of what they study. They avoid excessive abstraction and elaborate demonstrations of the obvious or trivial. Their research centers on topics that are significant and often of interest to an audience that reaches far beyond the university.






Nathan Dial, “The Pivotal Nation, Critical Allies, Contributors, and Burden Sharing: An Analysis of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization post-Cold War”



Maj Nathan Dial has served as an officer in the United States Air Force since 2010. He is a graduate of the Uuro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Course and flew EC-130Hs at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona. He is a US Air Force Academy graduate and earned a Master’s in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School.  Nate’s research is particularly valuable for identifying multiple channels of formal and informal cooperation among NATO members that contribute to the cohesion of the alliance. One intriguing finding is that this socialization process leads to greater identification of compatible, if not congruent, interests that motivate NATO’s disparate group of members to cooperate in a selective, yet consistent fashion. These findings enable Nate to make practical suggestions for strengthening NATO cohesion based on a deeper understanding of this selective approach. His dissertation committee included Hendrik Spryt and Marina Henke


After graduation, Maj Dial, PhD, went on to his assignment as a RC-135 Pilot, Assistant Director of Operations 45th Reconnaissance Squadron, Offutt AFB, located in the 402 zone.



Jesse Humpal, “Global Insurgents and the Winning Paradox”


Maj Jesse Humpal serves in the United States Air Force.  He came to NU from Cannon AFB near Clovis, New Mexico. Jesse’s research focuses on issues related to contemporary modes of warfare, such as the tactical and operational implications of fighting in urban environments and the impacts of new communications technologies on their organizational structures and aims.  While most agree that social media is a powerful enabler of these groups, Maj Humpal finds that opportunities that these groups find to integrate into globalizing economic networks enables them to operate in a de-territorialized realm in which they are better able to weather military defeat.  Coupled with messaging through social media, these groups can be “defeated” on battlefields while continuing to survive among networks of supporters. He then uses these findings to identify specific operational pathways to countering the influence of these groups. His dissertation committee included Henrik Spruyt, Marina Henke, and David Blair (USAF).


Maj Humpal serves in a stimulating think-tank-like organization before his (eventual) assignment to the Department of Political Science at the US Air Force Academy. Meanwhile, he shows how Twitter should be used.



Rana Khoury “Aid and Activism across the Syrian Warscape” (co-Chaired with Wendy Pearlman)



Rana Khoury focuses on the politics of refugee mobilization in the context of wider conflict.  She is investigating patterns of mobilization

Among refugees of the Syrian conflict and has identified different patterns in their organization and relationships to home communities in the course of the current conflict. Her argument identifies drivers of major shifts in refugee mobilization in recent years in the weakening of state authorities in the states of origin and in host states. These changes have undermined international regimes concerning refugee populations. Like other actors associated with contemporary conflicts, refugees also have to adapt to new conditions.  Rana already is an accomplished researcher and is the author of As Ohio Goes: Life in the Post-Recession Nation (Kent State University Press, 2016). In this book, Rana tells the stories of average Americans living in a moment of record income inequality and declining standards of living.  Rana received an SSRC Predissertation Fellowship in 2015, and in 2016 she received an American Center for Oriental Research pre-doctoral fellowship and a ZEIT-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius field research grant to support her dissertation research in Jordan and Turkey.




David Peyton, “Property Security in the Midst of Insecurity: Wealth Defense, Violence and Institutional Stasis in the Democratic Republic of Congo”


David Peyton came to our program from Wheaton College by way of the National Defense University. He studies relationships between business groups and municipal authorities in eastern Congo to explain how varied social orders develop across municipalities in this region of persistent instability and very weak formal state authority. He found that mutual concerns to protect commercial operations and assets represent an alternative to classical ideas about how and why state authority becomes institutionalized. David finds that this urge to protect commercial resources can replace external threat as a mechanism that pushes actors to construct state-like institutions, including ones that protect and mobilize people outside of these narrower business interests. David won a Dissertation Proposal Development Fellowship from SSRC (2013), a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship (2015-16), Boren Fellowship (2016-17), and Foreign Language Area Studies Fellowships and his dissertation won the APSA’s 2021 Gabriel A. Almond Award for the best dissertation in comparative politics. 


After a post-doc at the Naval Postgraduate School in 2021, David moved to the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Controls.





Michael Povilus “Russian Grand Strategy: Cultivating National Will and Military Modernization”


Lt Col Mike Povilus (United States Air Force) came to us from the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, Alabama.  He served as Chief of the Arms Control Implementation Unit at the US Embassy in Moscow in the mid-2010s and earlier was a member of the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing Theater Security Cooperation group in Kyrgyzstan.  He holds a Master’s in East European Studies from Freie Universität Berlin. Mike’s dissertation research focuses on the politics of the development of 21st century Russian strategic thought. His interests focus on challenges that unconventional tactics in aggressive actions pose to global norms of warfare and the broader conduct of international relations. He identifies an underlying dynamic in which revisionist challenges build upon accepted norms with the intent of creating a free-rider situation in which systematic norms violations are accepted within existing practices. His interest extends to the ways that this “hybrid warfare” vision of action fits in Russian strategic thinking that, in many other ways, fits neatly in a historical pattern of Russian definitions of power. Hendrik Spruyt and Marina Henke also served on Mike’s dissertation committee.


Lt Col Povilus commands Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps, Detachment 195, is Chair of the Department of Aerospace Studies, and Professor of Aerospace Studies at Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago IL.





Sean Lee, “Minority Communities in Times of Conflict: Civil War in Lebanon and Syria”


Sean Lee explores the development of the “minority” political category in the region from Lebanon to Iraq in a dissertation that is becoming a book. His committee included Wendy Pearlman and Hendrik Spruyt. This topic is important because (1) the “minority” category sheds light on the development of political ideas in that part of the world from the late Ottoman period to the present, and (2), provides a new lens for interpreting recent and current conflicts in the region that ostensibly stress grand narratives of sectarian and ethnic conflict. Through extensive interviews and consultation of a wide literature through his fluency in Arabic and French (among other languages), Sean provides a new framework for understanding the development of Pan-Arabism, nationalism, and community identity in this important region. He holds a BA is from Mercer University & MA from the Sorbonne & Ecole des hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales. While a graduate student he received a Keyman Modern Turkish Studies Research Grant and a US Department of State Critical Language Scholarship, US Department of Education Title VI – Foreign Language & Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships and a Fulbright-Hays Dissertation Research award to support field research in the Middle East. Previously he was a doctoral fellow at the Orient Institut-Beirut (2018-2019). Hendrik Spruyt and Wendy Pearlman were members of Sean’s dissertation committee. 


Sean is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the American University of Cairo and maintains his own web site. 



Sasha Klyachkina, “Reconfiguration of Sub-National Governance: Responses to Violence and State Collapse in the North Caucasus”


Sasha Klyachkina researches and writes about how the organization of violence in the late 1980s and early 1990s in the Caucasus region created new patterns of authority and shaped the subsequent institutionalization of order.  She identifies a post-conflict interaction between the mobilization of rebels, criminal gangs, and counterinsurgency and policing that leads to distinct patterns of local management of order. This involves the intercession of informal practices and institutions alongside the development of formal institutions. This tailor-made maintenance of order adapts practices and institutions from the political center, while simultaneously shaping them to deal with local challenges of monitoring the activities of diverse and often insular communities and regulating behavior and relationships that formal rules and institutions do not anticipate. Her research in the Caucasus received support from the ZEIT-Stiftung’s Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius fieldwork grant, as well as a Harriman Institute Research Grant to produce an original set of surveys in Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia. Ana Arjona and Rachel Riedl served as dissertation committee members.


Sasha was a Postdoctoral Fellow for 2019-2020 at the Center for Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a 2020-2021 Postdoctoral Research Associate at University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Governance and Markets.





Marco Bocchese, “Justice Cooperatives: Explaining State Attitudes toward the International Criminal Court”


Marco Bocchese proposes that context shapes whether targets of international prosecutorial bodies will see prosecution as a threat. This perception may be based upon prior ICC or ad hoc tribunal action, but the immediacy of other threats and the degree of menace from powerful external state actors loom larger. This explains why in some instances threats of prosecution just cause leaders to conclude that there is nothing to lose in defiance while others are deterred. This boils down to leadership perceptions about survivability and the likelihood of real punishment for proscribed behavior. He proposes that workable deterrence requires a credible threat, but that the target of the threats is harder to impress when really pressed against the wall. Amnesty plays a positive role in this kind of leader back into a context in which compliance is more thinkable as a viable alternative.  Rachel Riedl and Ana Arjona also served on his dissertation committee.


Marco Bocchese taught at the University of Illinois – Chicago as he darticles and revises his book manuscript, and now is an assistant professor in Webster College – Vienna’s international law program.



Buddhika Jayamaha “Combatants Inside and Out: Battlespaces in 21st Century Civil Wars”


Buddhika (Jay) Jayamaha, a veteran of the 82nd Airborne Division, US Army, pursues research interests in the micro-politics of conflict. He investigates the mainsprings of organizational strategies and the behaviors of rebel groups and militias in urban environments. His research investigates causes for variation in rebel, militia and state organization and tactics in urban warfare.  His work begins with important insights into how groups adapt to urban conditions in warfare, an important consideration as much of the world’s population urbanizes. He also recognizes that the great increase in state surveillance capacities effectively turns all of the battle-space into an urban environment. The rural “liberated zone” option of classic 20th century guerrillas is receding as an option. He earned his MA from Marquette University in Milwaukee. He and I conducted collaborative field research in Mogadishu, Baghdad and elsewhere.  We co-authored (with Kevin Petit), “Iraq’s Path to State Failure” in Small Wars Journal. His recent work on US strategy appears at USMA’s Modern War Institute, and co-authored “Climate Change and Civil War Dynamics: Institutions and Conflicts in the Sahel” in Journal of Diplomacy. Andrew Roberts and Jennifer Zemke also served on his dissertation committee. Jay was an Associate Research Scientist at the Department of Agriculture and Life Science, UW-Madison (2018-19), where he wrote about food security, big data, and the detection of network disruptions. Somehow he found time to write one of the best ground-level views of counterinsurgency in Iraq in his Nightcap at Dawn.


Jay is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Military & Strategic Studies at the US Air Force Academy (from 2019)



Jahara “FRANKY” Matisek, “Pathways to Military Effectiveness: Armies and Contemporary African States”


Prior to his graduate studies, Lt Col Jahara (Franky) Matisek was a C17A & T-6 Instructor Pilot, with over 200 combat sorties in Iraq and Afghanistan and deployed time as a planner at the CAOC/AMD in 2011. His research interests focus on the impacts of new war-fighting tactics on insurgent organizational and operational behavior, and the relationship of military effectiveness and state power in Africa. He has written extensively about mismatches between state and military effectiveness, and consequences for civil-military relations and foreign assistance programs. He participated in the University of Texas at Austin Clements Center for National Security’s 2016 Summer Seminar in History and Statecraft in Beaver Creek, Colorado. He participated in the 2017 Summer Workshop on Analysis of Military Operations and Strategies Workshop (SWAMOS). He also is the winner of the 2016 General Larry D. Welch Deterrence Writing Award for his paper, “Gray Deterrence.”  One can check out his ideas in Small Wars Journal and Cicero and more. Marina Henke and Paul Staniland (University of Chicago) also served on his dissertation committee.  He and I co-authored “A New Era of Insurgent Recruitment: Have ‘New’ Civil Wars changed the Dynamic?” Civil Wars, (2018) 1-21, and other articles. He is a contributing editor at Over the Horizon: Multi-Domain Operations & Strategies and has published in the Journal of Strategic StudiesDefense & Security AnalysisSmall Wars JournalCivil WarsThe Strategy BridgeThe National Interest, and other venues on the topic of military affairs. He is co-author (with Buddhike Jayamaha) of Old and New Battlespaces, a book forced on the growing prominence of sociopolitical-information warfare from a historical perspective. 


Lt Col Matisek is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Military & Strategic Studies at the US Air Force Academy (since 2018) and is Senior Fellow, Homeland Defense Institute and Director of Fellows at the Irregular Warfare Institute at West Point.






Abdeta Dribssa Beyene, “Sovereignty Preservation Attenuating It Elsewhere: The Political and Security Dimensions of Buffer Zones”


Abdeta Beyene writes about the political strategies that strong states adapt to manage political instability in bordering states.  He focuses on the growing disjuncture between the political logics of states like Ethiopia and Rwanda and their neighbors.  Thus, while Ethiopia’s bureaucracies and political establishment manage the rapid spread of infrastructure amidst sustained high growth rates, neighboring Somalia’s and South Sudan’s governments are unable to ensure their neighbors that they can exercise even minimal control over the activities of people in their territories, much less effectively govern them. Rwanda confronts a similar dilemma vis-à-vis Congo.  Focusing on the problems of buffer zones, proxy forces and direct intervention, Abdeta delves into general conditions of states that have to infringe on global norms of sovereignty in the pursuit of their own engagement as more capable actors in the global system of states. This ironic disjuncture of rule-violating behavior in the service of rule-reinforcing developments sheds new light on the roles of infringements on existing norms and centrality of national power in the rise of political stability and economic success in parts of the African continent.  Abdeta and I collaborated in an American Academy of Arts & Sciences and Stanford University Spogli Center project on state fragility. His contribution “The Practicalities of Living with Failed States,” appeared in Daedalus, 147:1 (2018), 128-140.


Abdeta Beyene recently served as Chief of Staff of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission pursuant to the Agreement to Resolve the Conflict in South Sudan. He currently serves as Associate Director of the Institute for Advanced Research in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.



Rachel Sweet, “State-Rebel Relations during Civil War: Institutional Change behind Frontlines”


Rachel Sweet came to Northwestern University after living in Beni in eastern Congo, where she was a teacher. She also conducted research in Kenya, where she observed the politics of urban gangs and vigilante groups in Kenya.  Her current research focuses on the politics of rebel governance in failed and weak state contexts. Her research in eastern Congo uncovers important categories of relationships between rebel leaders, local business groups, and most intriguingly, bureaucrats who have managed to establish significant social bases for their authority in spite of the recession of capital-based state authority. The establishment of wartime and postwar institutions of governance and the nature of institutions that are established hinge upon the configurations of these tripartite relations between these social groups. While Congo provides her principal research site (and a lot of variation on the dependent variable), she applies her insights to a wider set of recent and contemporary conflict cases.  Rachel won a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship (2014-15) and a Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation Dissertation Fellowship (2015-16).


Rachel Sweet holds a two year (2017-2019) post-doc appointment at Harvard University’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and will be an Assistant Professor at Notre Dame in the fall.






Moses Khisa, The Institutional Transformation of Africa’s Personalist Regimes: A Comparative Analysis of Ethiopia, Ghana, Rwanda, and Uganda”


Moses Khisa comes to our group from the Centre for Basic Research in Kampala. He holds a BA and an MA from Makerere University.  He spent a year at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences in Calcutta to study theoretical and philosophical issues in the social sciences. In his dissertation, Moses explains the causes of the divergent evolution of political institutions in contemporary Africa through longitudinal and comparative analyses of Ethiopia, Ghana, Rwanda, and Uganda.  Moses argues that there are two primary paths to institutionalizing power and authority. Moses finds that founding leaders who emerge with broad ruling-coalitions produce relatively stronger decision-making institutions, but the inclusiveness that is the basis of their legitimacy erodes regime capacities to execute decisions. Moses goes on to explain how and under what conditions regimes with narrower coalitions are able to consolidate capacities to execute decisions and institutionalize their authority on the basis of performance legitimacy. His findings shed light on the emergence of liberal and authoritarian “post-patrimonial” state-building models in Africa. His essays appear regularly in The Observer, a prominent Ugandan national newspaper.


Moses Khisa is an Assistant Professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at North Carolina State University.



Miklos Gosztonyi Post-Conflict State-building in South Sudan (2005-2013): Institutional Layering, SPLM/A Organizational Structure, and the Historicity of the South Sudanese State”


Miklos Gosztonyi analyses the structural causes for the continuation of armed conflict through much of the recent and more distant history of Sudan and South Sudan. He traces how the distinctive politics geared toward the construction of elite coalitions and the disorganization of potential challenges interacts with international efforts to manage the exit from conflict and the construction of a viable state. He explains how intervention that is focused at the national level fails to account for the politics at the local level and in the back rooms, largely beyond the official gaze of the international organizations, foreign diplomats, and NGOs. Based in part from his experience as an employee of the Carter Center, Miklos details how this mix of local politics and international intervention in the post-conflict” context exacerbates political tensions and its attendant impact on South Sudan’s citizens. Miklos demonstrates why the deep contextual knowledge of politics in conflict situations is so important as a precondition for theorizing about contemporary conflict and state collapse. He has conducted his research in association with the Centre Français des Etudes Ethiopiennes in Addis Ababa and Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales. He taught at DePaul University in Chicago was program director for the Norwegian Refugee Council’s operations in South Sudan and now is at l’Institut de Relations Internationales et Stratégiques in Paris.






Valerie Freeland, “Unconventional Power: Less Powerful States’ Strategic Use of International Norms”


Valerie Freeland asks why leaders in some politically unstable and administratively feeble states invite foreign scrutiny of their domestic affairs when they know that doing so risks drawing international attention to their own unsavory practices. She focuses on why governments that engage in human rights abuses and that tolerate corruption would invite foreigners to investigate such practices. Through field research in Uganda, Sierra Leone and Georgia, Valerie finds that some governments use these invitations to create the false impression that they are interested in conforming to international norms. Governments that engage these foreign actors manipulate these relationships to selectively violate other norms. This shows how selective invitations to infringe on a state’s sovereignty can be used as tools in the hands of governments that are conventionally viewed as weak in global terms.  This work sheds light on the true nature of the international system, particularly the extent to which heterogeneity concealed within the practices of regimes that cause external observers to think that they see increasing homogenization. Valerie received support for her research from the Kellogg School of Business’s Dispute Resolution Research Center.


Valerie Freeland was a Simons Research Fellow in Dialogue on International Law and Human Security at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC. Details can be found at her website.


She is now works for the Province of Manitoba’s Ministry of Education.




Aditi Malik, “Playing the Communal Card: Elites, Parties, and Inter-Ethnic Electoral Violence in Kenya and India”


Aditi Malik provides a nuanced political explanation for variations in the occurrence of communal conflict around elections. Through extensive field research in Kenya and India, Aditi identifies the ethnic composition of elite coalitions and the use of patronage networks to drive inter-ethnic wedges as key variables that determine the probability of election-related violence and its intensity. She finds that the nature of political patronage in Kenya differs in significant ways from that in India, with consequences for degrees of party system institutionalization. These factors help to explain why elites choose either to build coalitions that unite rival communities or to divide these communities. In considering institutional issues—such as the ways in which political parties are organized—Aditi’s research also considers how and when these actors exercise agency to exacerbate or mitigate the influences of the wider political environment. This approach enables her to show how political fractionalization is a consequence rather than a cause of electoral violence, and identifies the conditions under which politicians rapidly shift from factional to unitary coalition strategies or do the reverse. Communal cleavages do a lot less of the work in explaining violence in Aditi’s account. Party systems play a larger role, and in this regard Aditi finds that elites in India are far more constrained than their counterparts in Kenya in being able to change their alliances from election to election.


Aditi Malik was a Post-Doctoral Fellow at Pennsylvania State University’s Africana Research Center in 2015-2016 before moving to Cal State San Marcos in 2016, where she was an Assistant Professor.

Assistant Professor, College of the Holy Cross (since 2017)




Maavi Norman, “The Leadership Factor and the Quest to Reform the African State”


Maavi Norman’s research focuses on the choices of leadership in crisis situations. Maavi begins with the observation that some African leaders promote extensive reforms that they know will challenge powerful entrenched interest groups and unleash a flood of rapidly rising expectations among the wider populace. Why do these leaders prioritize the long-term rewards of reform, even though their actions generate these serious short-term threats to their regimes and even their own lives?  Most leaders do not take this risk, but those that do provide clues as to how and why reforms can happen in hostile political environments.  Maavi’s field research took him to archives, private papers and interviews in Ghana, Liberia and Senegal, where he investigated multiple sets of successful and failed reform efforts, as well as decisions to forego reform. In the course of his research, Maavi systematically identified specific elite cultural practices and outlooks that shaped how leaders evaluated the risks and the rewards of reform. These findings provide important clues as to better craft incentive structures that will encourage potential reformers to prioritize long-term gains and to better manage associated short-term risks. While a graduate student, Maavi was a Fellow at the Center for Leadership at Northwestern University and a Gwendolyn Carter scholar at the Program of African Studies


Maavi Norman is the President of IRIS International Consulting ( His firm works with businesses and non-profit organizations looking to expand their operations into international markets.



Daniel Szarke, “Political Reform and Challenges to Order in Weak States: Center-Periphery Relations in the Sahel”


Lt Col Daniel Szarke’s work is built around the puzzle of why Mali’s regime collapsed in 2012 while Niger’s regime has succeeded in managing political challenges similar to those that beset Mali.  At the outset, he finds that competitive elections and administrative decentralization destabilize existing patronage-based political networks in both countries. Cross-border migrations and flows of weapons from Libya affected both countries too.  He suspects that a possible cause for this difference lies in the configuration and management of elite political networks in each country. Niger’s leadership managed to control the rising costs of building political coalitions that accompany the introduction of competitive elections in some other African countries. He suspects that this political strategy includes a more careful attention to the centralization of coercive capabilities and different uses of foreign observation and training of security forces.


Lt Col Szarke is a member of the Department of Foreign Languages & International Programs at the United States Air Force Academy where he is Director of International Programs.






Elise Dufief “The Politics of Election Monitoring in Ethiopia”

          [Dual degree, Gilles Bataillon, Directeur d’Etudes, EHESS, co-directeur]


Elise Dufief earned a dual doctoral degree (co-tutelle) at Northwestern University and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales.  She examines in depth the processes of foreign election monitoring in Ethiopia to investigate the impact of foreign engagement in and critiques of domestic governance on the project of exporting democratic norms and practices. In a critique of conventional approaches to explaining the spread of competitive elections in Africa, she finds that Ethiopian authorities used controversies arising from complaints of foreign monitors to normalize and legitimate their own explanations of the meaning of democratic politics.  These authorities used rhetorical means to isolate their critics and to demonstrate simultaneously their own version of democratic credentials and to signal the certainty of their domination.  Whether foreigners become complicity in this strategy depends upon the depth of their engagement and how audiences interpret critiques of election processes.  Through her extensive interviews of Ethiopian officials and European Union and other election monitors, Elise provides detailed accounts of how Ethiopian government critiques and internally generated evaluations of monitoring performance tended to refocus attention to observers’ deficiencies and provide material to discredit and controversialize monitoring in the eyes of observers inside and outside of Ethiopia.


Elise Dufief was Research Manager at Publish What You Fund in London, UK.  Post-Brexit, she is now based in the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs, where she evaluates and advises on overseas development strategies.



Khairunnisa Mohamedali, “Negotiating the State: Informal and Formal State Institutions in Contemporary Uganda and Kenya”


This dissertation shows how relationships between state elite coalitions and business groups develop in the contexts where the credibility of commitment generally is suspect. Through extensive field research in Kenya and Uganda, Khairunnisa found that state – business relations reflected the priority and strategies of risk management. Businesses engaging with centralized and hierarchical patronage-based elite networks solved their risk management problems through privileging the benefits of political protection; in essence, the creation of oligopolies in the business realm and the servicing of patronage networks in the political realm. Businesses facing fragmented elite coalitions have to resort to the precarious use of formal state institutions, and insist instead on the rule of law (including more scrupulous business pursuit of formal licensing and payment of taxes) and delivery of state promises to provide services.  The implication of these findings is that external efforts to promote commercial interests may strengthen patronage-based political systems and entrench suboptimal investment patterns. More durable business interest in the rule of law and capable formal institutions of the state may require fragmented state elite networks, which the Kenya case shows may be prone to greater risks of violent competition.


Khairunnisa Mohammedali is Head of Insights, Europe at Ideas Couture, Inc. in their London office.






Romain Malejacq, “Neo-Chiefs in the International State System—Power Strategies and Authority in Afghanistan (1992 to the Present)”

[Dual Degree, co-directeur, Bertrand Badie, professeur des Universités à l’Institut d’études politiques de Paris et enseignant-chercheur associé au Centre d’études et de recherches internationales (CERI).]


This dissertation research focuses on the strategies that Afghan “warlords” use to consolidate and legitimate their authority. Romain begins by testing the assumption that post-2011 state-building in Afghanistan diminishes the authority of these actors. Through careful field research in Afghanistan over several years, Romain discovered the mechanisms through which these actors engage in “power conversion,” or the redeployment of their influence in political, commercial, religious and other social networks to maintain their authority. He finds that key elements of state-building strategies, including a variety of counterinsurgency efforts and numerous administrative reforms, unintentionally assisted in these “power conversion” strategies.  In sum, he shows how pressures on actors in the global periphery to construct their authority in conformity to a set of international standards and norms results instead in the construction of hybrid authorities that include sub-state actors that exercise substantial autonomous capacities to engage in their own brand of “international” relations in their searches for resources and support.


Assistant Professor, Radboud University & Nijmegen School of Management’s Centre for International Conflict Analysis and Management (Netherlands) from 2013. (Romain blogs at



Sean Burns, “One Hand? Military Structure and Middle East Revolts”


This research explores how regime strategies of control over militaries prior to revolts in the Middle East shape how these revolts evolve. In a nutshell, Sean finds that all of these pre-conflict regimes engaged in patronage-based strategies of control. But those that used the hierarchical structures of military commands as vehicles for patronage left these militaries with enough institutional cohesion such that they could act as conservative stabilizing successors to old authoritarian regimes. This in turn left this kind of military with capacities to manage and limit political violence and to support the cohesion of other state institutions. Pre-conflict authoritarian regimes that sought to undermine military cohesion through close personal ties between political leaders and officers often sponsored non-official militias, processes that fragmented the exercise of coercion in these societies. These revolts have experienced prolonged political instability that has undermined other state institutions and led to conditions that resemble so called “collapsed states” in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere.  His dissertation led to his first book, Revolts and the Military in the Arab Spring: Popular Uprisings and the Politics of Repressions (IB Tauris, 2017). Sean also explores how these sobering conclusions have provided incentives to foreign actors to support authoritarian rulers who are known to foster conditions that in the long-term lead to a devastating fragmentation of institutions that are essential to the maintenance of order.


            Lecturer in Residence, Northwestern University – Qatar (2011 – 2016)

            Visiting Assistant Professor, William & Mary (since 2016)



Ariel Zellman, “Security or Identity? Narratives of State & Nation in International Territorial Disputes”


Ariel studies the politicization of identity in the context of irredentist claims. Despite seemingly overwhelming incentives to avoid such claims, Ariel finds that territorial claims on the basis of an ethnic group’s connection to that territory at the level of national politics are surprisingly common. Ariel’s critical observation is that territorial claims do not spring from the instrumental designs of nationalist politicians or ethnic extremists who outbid each other to adopt progressively more hard-line postures. Ariel grapples directly with the idea of the “political entrepreneur” in the works of economists (such as Paul Collier) and political scientists (such as Robert Bates, David Laitin and Jim Fearon) who focus on elite-level incentives to explain the appearance and evolution of ethnic conflict. Ariel finds that grassroots social movements drive persisting territorial claims, despite substantial costs in terms of economic well-being and international standing. Through societal interpretations of what he terms ethno-historical evidence—archeological and other evidence of ancestral occupation of territory—mass political movements coalesce. The instrumental politicians from standard rational choice explanations are consequences rather than causes of this development. These broad-based movements interpret politics in ways that are internally consistent and are resistant to carrots and sticks that outsiders wield. Ariel’s approach suggests that irredentist politics at a popular level is more prevalent than one generally imagines (i.e. expansionist Bulgarians, Bolivians who have axes to grind with Chile and so forth). Thus Ariel views the post-1945 world’s prohibition of conquest to only temporarily put the genie of irredentism back in the bottle, much as the Congress of Vienna was supposed to banish nationalism back in 1815.


            Assistant Professor at Bar Ilan University, Department of Political Studies from 2015 (Ariel blogs at






Kendra Koivu, “Organized Crime and the State: State-Building, Illicit Markets and Governance Structures”


Most people assume that states and organized crime groups (OCGs) commonly exist in opposition to one another; i.e., that strong states and repress OCGs, and that weak sates are overrun by them. Kendra finds instead that some strong states have strong OCGs (such as contemporary Japan) and that some weak states coexist with weak OCGs (such as interwar Finland). Kendra develops a transactional model to explain these and other surprising outcomes. Kendra’s model specifies a range of relationships, from collusion to collision between states and OCGs that arise out of state agents’ efforts to solve problems related to market regulation. Kendra discovers that it is not unusual for some state officials to attempt to recruit OCGs to carry out tasks commonly associated with states, particularly where this involves efforts to restrict competition and bolster market penetration beyond a state’s borders.  More generally, Kendra explores how a variety of strategies for state management of violent actors contributes to state-building efforts, and shapes the long-term relationship between state power and coercion.


Assistant Professor, University of New Mexico from 2012



Erin Kimball Damman, “Peacekeeping for Approval: The Rise of African-Led Interventions”


Erin Kimball’s dissertation tackles a basic question: What accounts for cooperation among a disparate group of African countries to undertake armed peacekeeping operations? One would think that widely varied capabilities, long-term fears of military involvement in domestic politics, and regional norms against overt infringement on the sovereignty of other African states would discourage such cooperation.  Erin tests a range of explanations for this cooperation such as the influence of new norms that encourage intervention to prevent atrocities, shifts in regional geo-strategic balances, and hegemonic management of cooperation under the label of US-led security strategies in Africa. Erin finds instead that domestic political considerations drive decisions about whether or not to participate in peacekeeping operations. Decisions to cooperate tend to emerge out of efforts on the part of leaders to extract more resources from powerful external patrons that they can then use to manage members of their own coalitions. Peacekeeping also serves as an instrument to recruit foreigners to help limit the domestic political roles of armed forces. Erin finds that these relationships underlying mobilization for warfare reinforce patron-client logics of domestic politics rather than increasing the bureaucratic capacities and efficacy of governments that participate in peacekeeping. She uses the case of Ethiopia’s intervention in African conflicts as a counterfactual to illustrate this divergence in the logics of decisions to use force and the divergent outcomes in these decisions’ effects.


Assistant Professor, Florida International University from 2013



Christopher Day, “The Fates of Rebels: The Politics of Insurgency Survival and Demise”


Before joining our program Chris Day earned his MA in International Affairs from SAIS. Chris also worked for about nine years with humanitarian aid organizations. This work took him to conflict zones and put him in positions in which he had to negotiate with armed actors on the ground in places that included Nigeria’s delta region, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Uganda and Kashmir.  Chris’s dissertation builds on observations from those experiences and on extensive fielded research in Sierra Leone, Uganda and South Sudan to address the question: What happens to the great majority of rebel groups that fail to consolidate and seize state power, and what do their fates reveal about the nature of past and contemporary rebel warfare?  Chris explains how patron-client networks dominate the conduct of warfare in some countries. In many instances, rebellion becomes an instrument of negotiation within an intra-elite coalition. Political actors in neighboring states discover that they can use patronage of rebel groups to pursue their own agendas, illustrating further the intersections of established political networks and violent action. Chris won an NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant to support his dissertation research. He and I coauthored “In harm's way: African counter-insurgency and patronage politics,” Civil Wars, 16:2 (2014), 105-126.


Associate Professor, College of Charleston (from 2012)






Natacha Lemasle, “Political Strategies of Local Actors in the Shadow of International Projects of Post-conflict Reconstruction”


Natacha Lemasle earned her degree in the joint Northwestern University – Sciences Po PhD program, with Prof. Samy Cohen at Sciences Po serving as a co-chair of her dissertation committee. She is concerned with how local actors in Sierra Leone and Liberia engage with the international “post-conflict reconstruction and democratization industry.”  She finds that local actors often hold ideas about legitimate authority that are at odds with global liberal notions of citizenship and individual rights.  They also may hold contrary ideas about post-conflict justice.  Nonetheless, post-conflict international engagement often requires acceptance and application of the imported models of politics. Her research in Sierra Leone indicates that local actors devise strategies “from below” to modify and on occasion undermine the plans of outsiders. Understanding this process is critical for mapping the true configuration of post-conflict political authority in these places and identifying potential flash-points for future conflict.


Natacha is Social Development Specialist, AFTCS (Africa Conflict, Fragile States and Social Development) Unit, World Bank, (since 2010), where her work focuses on post-conflict countries in Africa, where she manages projects supporting demobilization and reintegration of former combatants, supports local integration of forcibly displaced populations, and the prevention and mitigation of sexual and gender-based violence. She is the coordinator of the World Bank Global Platform on Addressing Sexual and Gender-Based Violence.






Patrick Johnston, “Humanitarian Intervention and the Logic of Genocide in Civil War.” 


Patrick Johnston asks whether and under what conditions state targeting of civilians is and effective strategy for defeating rebels. He considers this question in the context of the cases of the US in the Philippine War (1900-02), in Vietnam (the 1960s to 1973) and Sudan in Darfur (2000s). Patrick also has constructed his own data set of significant instances of state rebel campaigns since 1800. Combining his analysis of these cases and his larger data set, Patrick finds that the application of force in areas where rebels operate among non-combatants is a successful device for separating rebels from non-combatants. Non-combatants conclude that it is in their interests to move to safer areas under government control, or provide information to government forces to expand such areas. Patrick’s research shows that non-combatants do not remain static and behave according to bounded calculations concerning which force asserts the most control at a given moment. Governments can use this behavior to expand its areas of control in ways that do not rely critically on “hearts and minds” campaigns to out-govern rebel forces in contested areas. Patrick was a Peace Scholar Dissertation Fellow at the US Institute of Peace, 2009-10.


Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) Stanford University post-doctoral fellow (2010-11).

Harvard University Belfer Center—Post-doc (2009-11)

Political Scientist, RAND Corporation since 2011,

He is at, and here is his great 2015 article in Foreign Affairs.






Lee Seymour, “Pathways to Secession: Mapping the Institutional Effect of Secessionist Violence”


Lee Seymour’s dissertation explores the “international relations” of separatist insurgencies. He shows how some separatists successfully utilize appeals to global norms to extract resources and diplomatic protection from more powerful international actors. They become adept at focusing appeals to the interests and anxieties of different constituencies to create political opportunities for themselves. Regional configurations of power, however, exercise considerable influence over the utility of these strategies. These strategies, coupled with shifts in global politics, give separatists new openings to achieve their goals in recent years. But these “gains” are contingent upon occupying a geo-strategic position that allows separatists to exploit these opportunities, a condition that not all share. Seymour conducted field research for this project in Somalia (Somaliland), Sudan (southern parts), Armenia (Nagorno-Karabakh), and in Kosovo. Seymour won a Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada Fellowship (2003-06) United States Institute of Peace, Peace Scholar Dissertation Fellowship (2006-07), and a Presidential Fellowship (2006-08) and was a Guest Researcher at Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (Berlin).  Nice article, “Why Factions Switch Sides in Civil Wars” in International Security.


Harvard University Belfer Center – Post-doc (2008-09)

Assistant Professor, University of Leiden (2009-13)

Assistant Professor, University of Amsterdam (2014-15)

Professeur agrégé, Université de Montréal depuis 2015






Claire Metelits, “Coercion and Collusion: Change in Rebel Group Treatment of Civilians” 


This dissertation explores why some rebel groups undertake radical shifts in their behavior toward civilians, seemingly without regard to the resource endowments or external diplomatic norms that they find in their external environments.  Metelits explains rebel group behavior in terms of degrees of control over local people and resources. If rebels exercise something close to a monopoly of control, they are more willing to engage in “democratic openings” to local people and involve these people in their day to day decision-making processes. Where this control is challenged, they are more likely to become more coercive toward local people. Ironically, this means that rebels who face states that engage in their own democratic openings are most likely to become more violent toward local people. In short, global norms of democratic rule seem to gain the most traction among rebels secure in their control and are most actively defied by those who are most challenged. Rebel “state-building” is very much about control and much less about attracting popular support in this analysis. Metelits conducted field research in Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan, Colombia, and southern Sudan and received support from the Dispute Resolution Research Center of the Kellogg School of Business, Northwestern University and other sources.  Her dissertation led to her first book, Inside Insurgency: Violence, Civilians and Revolutionary Group Behavior (NYU Press, 2009).


            Washington State University – Assistant Professor (2007-09)

Regional Scholar for Africa at the Cultural Knowledge Consortium from 2012-2013 (US Army TRADOC/ CGI Federal). Prior to this, she worked as an advisor and researcher for the U.S. Africa Command in Stuttgart and the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa in Djibouti.

Visiting Assistant Professor, Davidson College (2013-2014)

Professorial Lecturer, School of International Service, American University (2014-2018)

Associate Professor of Strategic Studies, Marine Corps Command & Staff College (since 2018)







Ato Kwamena Onoma, Rethinking the Causes of Property Rights Regimes: Botswana, Kenya and Ghana in Comparative Perspective”


Onoma’s dissertation asks why people who own real estate in some African countries sometimes resist reform efforts that would give them greater legal capabilities to defend their title to this property. One would think that all owners of real estate would prefer such reforms, since such reforms should increase the value of properties as collateral for loans when rights become more clearly defined and exclusive.  Instead, Onoma finds that owners of real estate in patronage-based political systems find more value in legal uncertainty. They use their political positions to exploit others’ uncertainties, and reap short-term gains through their control over real estate. Onoma finds that this kind of behavior rooted in the configurations of elite accommodations in their higher levels of state power. He shows where legal reform of land tenure is likely to be defied by ostensible beneficiaries and where it will be exploited in a manner that will support the growth of predictable markets for land and bolster credit markets.  Onoma conducted about a year and a half of field research for this project in Ghana, Botswana and Kenya and received support from the Social Science Research Council and other sources.


            Princeton University – Postdoc at Center for Globalization and Governance

            Yale University – Assistant Professor (2007 - 2012)

            Head, African Centre for Peace and Security Training (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 2012-13)

            Program Officer, Research at Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (Dakar, Senegal, since 2013)



Birol Baskan, “Religious Institutions and the Diverging Processes of State-Building in Turkey and Iran”


Birol Baskan’s dissertation explores diverging historical evolutions of relations between state institutions and religious organizations in Iran and Ottoman Turkey.  Baskan traces the merger of religious institutions with state institutions as state rulers attempted to expand the scope of their authority from the 17th and 18th centuries to the 20th century. Baskan identifies differences in the organizational structure of Sunni and Shia religious organizations as key factors shaping these diverging paths of evolution. In the case of the latter in Iran, state building projects were more easily absorbed into the decentralized structures of Shia organizations (which were initiated as a state project in a massive conversion of the country’s religious establishment). Ironically, what appeared to be an easy target for state builders from an institutional perspective in one case turned out to be the more easily managed (from the state-builder’s perspective) while the more centrally organized one was more easily controlled. This dissertation sheds new light on the role of religious organizations in the state-building process, and provides a basis for a revised look at the role of these organizations in European state building too.  Fluent in Turkish and Persian, Baskan was able to conduct on-site research for this project.


            Qatar University – Assistant Professor (2007-10)

            Georgetown University, School of Foreign Service (Qatar Campus) – Assistant Professor (since 2010)



Roshen Hendrickson


Roshen Hendrikson wrote her dissertation on US foreign policy in Africa. Her work contextualized the evolution of US foreign policy from the Cold War to the 21st century, with a focus on the political roles of specific US government institutions in overall policy. This dissertation informed her work as she wrote Promoting U.S. Investment in Sub-Saharan Africa (Palgrave, 2014). This book focuses specifically on US policies designed to promote private foreign investment in Africa.


CUNY – Staten Island – Associate Professor






Christina Nyström, “The Patrimonial Straightjacket: A Study of Namibian Liberation and Path Dependency”


Christina Nyström’s dissertation investigates the politics of institution-building and foreign assistance in post-conflict Namibia. Christina conducted field research in that country to determine the impact of efforts among domestic and foreign actors to integrate the organizational structures and practices of the liberation movement into day-to-day governance. Her main finding is that what seemed to be incentives to adopt practices to strengthen formal institutions of the state instead bolstered the personalist networks of the liberation movement. What had been affective instruments of recruitment and control during the struggle for independence became instruments of clientelist politics after the struggle. This occurred in spite of the lessons that domestic and international actors thought that they had learned from earlier post-conflict transitions.


Head of school at Viktor Rydberg gymnasium Odenplan (Sweden), then Chief Learning Officer Handelshögskolan i Stockholm / Stockholm School of Economics.






Krista Johnson, “From Consensual Decision-making to Conventional Politics: Popular Participation in Contemporary South Africa”


This dissertation examines the institutionalization of post-apartheid governance in South Africa through the lens of the evolution of GEAR (Growth, Employment and Redistribution) plan.  Early optimism was replaced with the growing influence of insider networks and waning commitment to the plan’s initial objectives in the face of global pressures to maintain fiscal discipline. Krista’s research was supported with an NSF Pre-Dissertation Fellowship.


DePaul University – Assistant Professor (2002-05)

            Agnes Scott College – Assistant Professor (from 2005)

            Howard University – Department of African Studies Associate Professor (since 2013)