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Coups are more common, but civil wars more costly. As a leader, which would you rather risk facing? According to Philip Roessler, this is the crucial security choice rulers face if they want to maintain power in weak states. Yet, both ‘the strategic relationship between coups and civil wars’ (p. 296) and ‘competition for control of the central government’ (p. xv) have been marginal to recent civil war research. Ethnic Politics and State Power in Africa remedies this gap through a multi-method nested analysis of how bargaining failures result in conflict escalation. Using Sudan, Congo and, to a lesser extent, Liberia as cases, it offers a compelling example of fieldwork-driven comparative research that underscores the importance of domestic power politics for explaining conflict. Roessler draws on international relations theory to bring power politics back into civil war studies by assuming that ethnically divided weak states are anarchic systems, where power rests in the threat of force, while peace rests in credible commitments not to use that force. This approach offers an important meso-level corrective to prevailing civil war research that largely focuses on micro-level theories of violence and macro-structural causes of conflict.


Marks, Zoe. "Philip Roessler, Ethnic Politics and State Power in Africa: The Logic of the Coup–Civil War Trap." Review of Africa, 89.3, August 2019: 614-615.