Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Political Science


Political Science

First Advisor

Susan Allen

Second Advisor

Todd A. Smitherman

Third Advisor

Gregory Love

Relational Format



Civil conflict is a complex and ambiguous phenomenon that requires a multi-dimensional investigation. A concentration on rebel leaders in the study of conflict promises a good amount of potential for obtaining interesting findings. This dissertation examines rebel leader survival and rebel leaders’ influence on various conflict processes. It demonstrates that relative rebel strength, external support favoring the government, and oil production of the state have a significant impact on rebel leader tenure. To explain why we observe some considerable increases in the number of civilian killings in the course of conflict, the dissertation develops a theoretical model, putting the emphasis on rebel leader tenure and its potential in-group influences on the strategic decision of targeting civilians. Empirically, the analysis reveals a statistically significant relationship between civilian victimization and rebel leader tenure in Africa. The dissertation also contributes to the literature on state leaders, and interstate conflict more generally, by linking prior rebel leadership experience and militarized internationalized dispute initiation, showing that such experience is likely to increase the likelihood for state leaders to initiate armed conflicts. Introducing new data on rebel leaders in each substantive chapter, the dissertation offers a comprehensive, comparative and contextual treatment of rebel leaders and conflict.



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