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This chapter examines evidence about when and where rebels formed in Uganda, and why nascent rebels’ initial use of violence is distinctive in its minimal nature – against both state targets and civilians. Quantitative evidence shows that the initial location of rebel group formation is not strongly associated with most factors linked to civil conflict onset in prior work and that rebels often start with sporadic, small attacks against the government. Qualitative evidence from interviews with former insurgents, counterinsurgents, and civilians supports the argument that a lack of explosive, frequent violence in the initial stages was not a mere reflection of rebels’ low capabilities. Instead, rebels’ desire to control the information environment shapes their decision about where to launch and their early uses of violence. The rebels’ initial acts are ambiguous in that the rebels refrain from vociferously and publicly taking “credit” for them, due to their desire to remain clandestine – and they serve an important purpose in gaining information about the adversary’s capabilities.
This chapter concludes by discussing the scholarly and policy implications of the book’s findings. First, it discusses implications for data on conflict onset, arguing that the book has shown that omissions in existing data prevent current work from learning about the start of conflict, and suggests avenues for generating better data. Then, it argues that these omissions have created major inferential issues in prior work about the role of ethnicity in conflict onset. It uses evidence from Uganda presented in prior chapters to show how this problem plagues data used in prominent study that found a strong relationship between ethnic exclusion and rebellion onset. Third, it argues that this book has shown the importance of civil intelligence institutions to state building and notes the thorny ethical issues associated with this finding. Finally, the chapter considers how the early stages of rebel group formation would differ in stronger state contexts, arguing that in such contexts barriers to new rebel entry are higher and thus we should expect rebellion to be more rare and more explosive.
How and why do rebel groups initially form? Prevailing scholarship has attributed the emergence of armed rebellion to the explosion of pre-mobilized political or ethnic hostilities. However, this book finds both uncertainty and secrecy shrouding the start of insurgency in weak states. Examining why only some incipient armed rebellions succeed in becoming viable challengers to governments, How Insurgency Begins shows that rumors circulating in places where rebel groups form can influence civilians' perceptions of both rebels and the state. By revealing the connections between villagers' trusted network structures and local ethnic demography, Janet I. Lewis shows how ethnic networks facilitate the spread of pro-rebel rumors. This in-depth analysis of conflicts in Uganda and neighbouring states speaks to scholars and policymakers seeking to understand the motives and actions of those initiating armed rebellion, those witnessing the process in their community, and those trying to stop it.
Why do only some newly launched rebel groups go on to become viable? This chapter examines all sixteen groups I identified as forming in Uganda since 1986, showing that only those that formed in ethnically homogeneous areas became viable. It then turns to two paired comparisons of rebel groups to understand the mechanisms behind this correlation. Examining why only one group in each pair became viable provides support for several of this book’s key claims about rebels’ rumors better influencing civilian perceptions when kinship networks have certain structures and explains the relationship between those structures and local ethnic demography. In doing so, this chapter shows the inner workings of rebel–civilian interactions at the dawn of a new rebel group forming. It also describes evidence from a field experiment that offers useful support about the role of kinship networks in spreading rebels’ rumors and distinguishes these mechanisms linking ethnicity to rebellion via local networks from those that link ethnicity to rebellion via grievances.
This chapter examines evidence for the book’s arguments about the state’s behavior related to deterring and defeating new rebel groups. It shows that by developing institutions through which the central government learned fine-grained information about threats emanating from its territory, the post-1986 Ugandan state gradually gained an informational advantage relative to would-be insurgents. These institutions enabled the state to identify incipient insurrections and to “nip them in the bud” before they gained substantial military capacity. Extensive evidence from interviews with former rebel leaders, government intelligence officials, and civilians shows that the state’s ability to collect information about internal threats was an important component of prospective rebels’ calculations of whether or not to organize violence. This chapter’s focus on Uganda presents a rare opportunity to observe a transition from state fragility to relative stability. It also discusses the relevance of these arguments to other African countries.
This chapter introduces the puzzles at the core of the book: How does rebel group formation initially start, and why do many rebellions fail before becoming viable challengers to a government? Few prior studies have systematically answered this question because rebel groups typically form in remote areas of weak states and are clandestine. These features of nascent rebellion have thus limited knowledge about conflict onset; most recent conflict onset studies rely on datasets that do not capture the start of violence. This chapter presents the book’s core argument; describes its contributions to literatures on conflict, ethnicity, and state building; describes its methodological approach of retracing all incipient rebellions in Uganda since 1986, and probes the relevance of findings from Uganda in other Eastern and Central African states.
This chapter provides context and description about rebel group formation in Uganda since 1986. Doing so supports several theoretical assertions from Chapter 2 about the strategic approach of initial rebel leaders and the initial conditions they typically face in weak states. The chapter first sketches the key events that led to Uganda’s exceedingly low state capacity in 1986, the year in which this book’s analyses of rebel group formation begins. It then describes the nascent Ugandan rebel leaders’ initial stated goals, their initial lack of strong ideology or material and organizational endowments, and the clandestine nature of their early days. It shows that in Uganda, it was small, secretive groups of rebel entrepreneurs – not large groups of intensely aggrieved, protesting citizens – who initially formed groups that aimed to use violence to challenge the state. The chapter also checks the relevance of these initial conditions of rebel group formation beyond the borders of Uganda, in several other Eastern and Central African states.