Current Students


These are the students for whom I serve as the principal academic advisor and as dissertation chair for those who have completed candidacy requirements. We share broad interests in the comparative politics of violence and conflict, the politics of the construction of authority (“state-building,” conflict and post-conflict, including on the part of rebels) and international responses to conflict.  Over the years, we have conducted joint field research in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Uganda, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan.  These collaborations involve often lead to coordinated applications for external funding and, depending on coincidence of interests, to joint publications.




Abdeta Beyene “Strong States and Bad Neighborhoods: Rule Infringement in the Pursuit of Stronger Rules”


Abdeta Beyene writes about the political strategies that strong states adapt to manage political instability in bordering states.  The problem that he tackles focuses on the growing disjuncture between the political logics of states like Ethiopia and Rwanda and their neighbors.  For example, Ethiopia’s bureaucracies and political establishment manage the rapid spread of infrastructure amidst sustained high growth rates. The neighboring states of Somalia and South Sudan exhibit a politics of a very different sort. Rwanda confronts a similar dilemma vis-à-vis Congo.  Focusing on the problems of buffer zones, proxy forces and direct intervention, Beyene delves into the more general condition of states that have to infringe on certain global norms of sovereignty as part of the pursuit of their own more intensive 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



Elise Dufief “The Politics of Election Monitoring in Ethiopia”


Elise Dufief is earning the dual degree (co-tutelle) at Northwestern University and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences.  She examines in depth the processes of foreign election monitoring in Ethiopia to investigate the meaning of foreign engagement in and critiques of domestic governance. In a critique of conventional approaches to explaining the spread of competitive elections in Africa, she finds that Ethiopian authorities use controversies arising from complaints of foreign monitors to normalize and legitimate their own explanations of the meaning of democratic politics.  These authorities use rhetorical means to isolate their critics and to demonstrate simultaneously their own version of democratic credentials and the certainty of their domination.  Whether foreigners become complicity in this strategy depends upon the depth of their engagement; critiques tend to refocus attention on their own deficiencies and provide material to discredit and controversialize monitoring in the eyes of observers inside and outside of Ethiopia.


Valerie Freeland


Valerie Freeland investigates the (mostly) domestic politics of truth commissions and international tribunals and ICC referrals in a range of countries. She is especially interested in why some governments invite these foreign actors to infringe on their sovereignty. While it is clear that invitations intervene may signal that governments or factions within governments are recruiting powerful foreign allies, this does not appear to be true in all cases. Valerie finds instead that some governments use these invitations to create the impression that they are interested in conforming to international norms. Once “in a relationship” with foreign diplomats and others, these governments use these relationships to selectively violate other norms. Governments will play off the conflicting interests of these foreigners, proving that the weak are not always so weak.  Her work also sheds light on the true nature of the international system, and the extent to which heterogeneity of units is concealed within the practices of regimes that cause other scholars to think that they see increasing homogenization. Valerie has won grant support for her research from the Kellogg School of Business’s Dispute Resolution Research Center.



Miklos Gosztonyi “The Resilience of Armed Conflict”


Miklos Gosztonyi is earning a dual degree (co-tutelle) at Northwestern University and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. He analyses the structural causes for the continuation of armed conflict through much of the recent history of larger countries in Africa, with a particular focus on Sudan. He investigates relationships between groups in peripheral areas of the country with the political center. What is the basis of the durability of this system of politics, and what are the conditions that bring about its (possible) collapse?  His research touches on questions of political control and authority in contexts where central governments cannot maintain formal administrations in distant and often socially diverse parts of their states. He conducts research in association with the Centre Français des Etudes Ethiopiennes in Addis Ababa.



Buddhika Jayamaha


Buddhika Jayamaha brings his interest in the micro-politics of conflict to our group. 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 descriptions of how groups adapt to urban conditions in warfare. This is an important question 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. For this and other reasons, B.J.’s work is especially important. He earned his master’s degree from Marquette University in Milwaukee. Since joining our program he and I have conducted collaborative field research in Mogadishu and elsewhere overseas.



Moses Khisa


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 one year at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences in Calcutta to study theoretical and philosophical issues in the social sciences. He is a regular contributor of commentary to the Ugandan daily Monitor. His current research interests focus on the politics of authoritarian regimes. He asks why authoritarian leaders pursue either bureaucratic or non-bureaucratic strategies to assert their authority. This focus raises questions about the relationship between institutions and political behavior. Is authoritarian regime behavior ultimately subject to the routines and norms of institutions, particularly when powerful outsiders insist on adherence to certain practices?  How do authoritarian regimes manipulate relations with outsiders to craft their domestic exercise of authority in ways that stabilize (or undermine?) authoritarian rule?



Sasha Klyachkina


Aditi Malik


Khairunnisa Mohamedali “State-building, Solidarity Networks, Resource Extraction and the Communication of Authority


Khairunnisa Mohamedali comes to Northwestern from the University of Toronto and from Carleton University. She is interested in how state authorities govern “hard to reach communities”. The prototype “hard to reach community” would include ethnically defined groups that play major roles in commerce, and that use strong networks of trust to organize their transactions and insulate them from the state. These communities resent “hard cases” in which one would expect that state officials would encounter maximum difficulties in extending bureaucratic regulatory control and in securing the allegiances of these communities. Khairunnisa finds that officials adopt hybrid approaches that make use of informal relationships and networks alongside bureaucratic strategies to assert political authority. Her findings lead her to more general propositions about the nature of state building to explain how and under what conditions states compromise with and integrate networks of trust and the impact of these strategies on political regimes. Her field research takes her to Uganda and Kenya.



Ayuko Picot


Ayuko Nimura comes to our program from Georgetown, Emory and Columbia. She has conducted research in Senegal and Ghana for projects related to her interests in aspects of women’s participation in democratic processes in sub-Saharan Africa. She is interested in how institutional and cultural changes influence women’s decisions to become engaged in the public sphere. While she recognizes that institutional “rules of the game” count for a lot, she also finds that large shocks such as recent wars in West Africa, massive foreign intervention, the development of regional societal networks and so forth also influence women’s choices concerning their political engagement. Her work ultimately tests the limits of approaches that view political behavior largely as consequences of strategic choices on the basis of existing rules and looks further to how the dynamics of group behavior, changes in political cultures, and global norms affect women’s political behavior in West Africa.  Ayuko Nimura is a winner of an APSA Global Perspectives on Politics and Gender workshop award (2010).



Maavi Norman


Maavi Norman comes to our program from McDaniel’s College. His work focuses on the problems of leadership in crisis situations. He is interested in how leaders and coalitions of elite groups manage reform, particularly when this involves giving greater political voice to groups that may directly or indirectly threaten the security of these regimes. This is a particular problem in sub-Saharan Africa, where scholars such as Robert Bates (in his When Things Fell Apart) identify threats to regime security as causes of decisions to forego reforms. But Maavi Norman notes that the African continent is populated with more regimes inclined toward reform, whether successfully executed or not, than deductive models based on purely rational calculations would suggest. He is investigating a wide variety of reformers, and seeks to identify the internal group and individual mechanisms that drive leadership decisions as actors face these considerable challenges. The field research component of this work focuses on Liberia and Senegal and will be expanded to other cases, including non-African ones.


David Peyton


Daniel Szarke


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.


Rachel Vanderpoel


Rachel Vanderpoel came to our program after having spent a year in Beni in eastern Congo, where she was based for a year as a teacher. She also has experience in Kenya, where she observed the politics of urban gangs and vigilante groups in Kenya.  Since then her interests focus on the politics of rebel governance, and in particular, the ways that rebel groups attempt to render their authority as legitmate to local inhabitants and then go on to construct authority structures. Her dissertation research (through the award of a Fulbright-Hayes Dissertation Fellowship) takes her back to Congo where she investigates variation in the tendencies for armed groups to incorporate state-building agendas into their organizational strategies in the wake of peace agreements. 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.