Review – Mampilly, “Rebel Rulers”

Zachariah Cherian Mampilly, “Rebel Rulers: Insurgent Governance and Civilian Life During War” (2011) – Pretty good polisci material on insurgent groups and the ways they govern territory they control. Mampilly’s case studies are the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka; SPLA/M, the confederation of rebels that eventually broke South Sudan away from plain old Sudan; and the Rally for Congolese Democracy, one of the major factions behind the overthrow of Laurent Kabila.

Mampilly arranges them in strata according to their governance success. The Tamil Tigers had a very robust governance structure, complete with courts, banks, health service, etc- this was written before their leader, Prabhakaran, essentially took his whole group with him in a doomed last stand against the Lankan army. SPLA/M was considerably less capable, but in a way almost as impressive in keeping the many ethnic groups involved working more or less together (alas, this also collapsed soon after South Sudan gained independence). Finally, RDC was never capable of doing much governance beyond extorting merchants at border crossings.

The conclusions Mampilly draws from his comparisons are pretty interesting, and I learned some things. Among others, the Tamil Tigers allowed the Lankan government to act in its territories for the purposes of welfare distribution (Sri Lanka apparently has/had a generous welfare state) and education. This reminds me of the stories I heard from Syria about the annual SAT-equivalent went ahead all throughout the civil war, administered on all sides- war is war, but the exams, especially in a former French colony, are the exams. Mampilly argues that insurgents do better at governance where they could inherit or work with robust state structures. This seems tricky, given that those seem to make insurgency less likely, but also seems to make sense.

In general, Mampilly seems to have a sensible perspective, refusing to act shocked by the sheer presence of insurgents like a lot of liberal/conservative social scientists, or attributing different outcomes to ineffable factors like “leadership” or “spirit.” A lot of success or failure comes down to facts on the ground- previous level of development, ethnic/sectarian rivalry, length of insurgency (longer insurgencies allow a Maoist strategy, which is the most successful in terms of creating a shadow government). It’s polisci so it’s not scintillating writing, but there’s much worse out there. In general, pretty good. ****

Review – Mampilly, “Rebel Rulers”

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