H-Diplo/ISSF Roundtable 13-8 on How Insurgency Begins: Rebel Group Formation in Uganda and Beyond

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H-Diplo | ISSF Roundtable 13-8

Janet I. Lewis.  How Insurgency Begins: Rebel Group Formation in Uganda and Beyond.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020.  ISBN:  9781108479660 (hardcover, $99.90).

24 February 2022 | https://issforum.org/to/ir13-8
Editor: Diane Labrosse | Commissioning Editor: Joshua Rovner | Production Editor: George Fujii


Introduction by Joshua Rovner, American University

The fundamental problem for insurgent groups is military poverty: they are weaker and poorer than the states they seek to overthrow. Efforts to increase their strength in numbers means exposing themselves to the state’s security forces. This creates a paradox: insurgents cannot radically revise the political status quo without growing, but the act of growing makes it more likely that they will be discovered and destroyed. The thing they must do to succeed increases the risks of disaster.

How do nascent insurgent groups find a way around this paradox? Why do some flourish while others fail? Janet Lewis offers a provocative answer in How Insurgency Begins: Rebel Group Formation in Uganda and Beyond. Lewis argues that groups succeed when they spread rumors of their strength among favorably disposed kinship networks. Rumors of group strength help convince observers that the group stands a decent chance of winning, making them more likely to offer support. Groups in ethnically heterogeneous regions find it much more difficult to make such rumors stick.

In essence, Lewis’s book provides a theory of laying low. The goal for insurgent groups is not simply to hide and survive, but to hide while projecting an image of strength. The theory offers a fascinating window into the ways in which information can substitute for power. Over time, effective rumormongering can tilt the material balance as more supporters come on board. How Insurgency Begins is also important for reassessing the last two decades of U.S. military strategy, which has been dominated by efforts to understand the insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Although her focus is on Uganda, U.S. strategists and policy analysts would do well to explore her ideas with care.

The participants in this roundtable agree that Lewis has delivered a novel theory on an important issue. “This is valuable for re-thinking the role of ethnicity as a contributor to conflict as well as for broadening our understanding of processes of rebellion,” notes Asfandyar Mir, “which until now have centered on opportunity structures created by state weakness or resource endowments for rebels through external state support.” Mir also notes that scholars have overlooked “silence and rumors” as strategic tools for aspiring insurgents. Jacqueline Hazelton agrees that Lewis’s perspective is unusual and welcome. Most books “examine how flourishing insurgencies behave, and how states react,” Hazelton writes. “But Lewis points out that most fledgling rebellions do not survive, and her book explains why not.” The implications might also be a source of comfort to US policymakers concerned about domestic violence: “Among other things, it should temper concerns that hard-right white supremacists like the Proud Boys and Three Percenters are finding fertile ground to form a literal and dangerous insurgency in the United States. Lewis demonstrates that it is just not that easy.” And Jonathan Schroden applauds Lewis for examining the “seed crystals” of insurgent groups, at a time in which US analysts are mostly focused on ending them. The United States exited Afghanistan and has reduced its footprint in Iraq, but this does not mean that it is out of the counterinsurgency business altogether. Lewis’s book promises to be essential for analysts looking for signs of violent rebellion.

The reviewers are all enthusiastic about Lewis’s project, and they highlight a few areas calling for more discussion. One is conceptual. Lewis’s theory rests on the notion of group “viability,” but defining the term is not easy. Mir criticizes Lewis for offering a definition in absolute terms, when what really matters is the group’s capabilities relative to the state. More broadly, Mir argues that the interaction between states and insurgents is dynamic and nuanced. States do not always targets insurgents in the way that Lewis portrays; sometimes they attempt other more conciliatory strategies to defuse insurgent groups’ popularity and status. This concern begs the question of whether Lewis’s findings in Uganda are generalizable to other cases. Schroden and Hazelton both suggest that they are, or at least that the theory is ripe for testing elsewhere. The origins of insurgency are complex. Lewis’s book will be essential for scholars trying to make sense of it, and for policymakers trying to craft responses. 


Janet I. Lewis is an Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University. Previously, she was an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the U.S. Naval Academy. Her research focuses on political violence, state formation, and rural social networks’ influence on intergroup prejudice, primarily in Africa. Her book, How Insurgency Begins: Rebel Group Formation in Uganda and Beyond, was published in 2020 with the Cambridge University Press Series on Comparative Politics. It received the annual Best Book Award from both the Conflict Research Society and the African Politics Conference Group. Her articles have been published in American Journal of Political Science, American Political Science Review, British Journal of Political Science, Comparative Political Studies, International Organization, and others. She received her Ph.D. from Harvard University’s Department of Government and her B.A. in Political Science and M.A. in International Policy Studies from Stanford University.

Joshua Rovner is associate professor in the School of International Service at American University, and the managing editor of ISSF.

Jacqueline Hazelton is an assistant professor in the department of strategy and policy at the U.S. Naval War College. Her research interests include grand strategy, compellence, the uses of military power, insurgency and counterinsurgency, and US foreign and military policy. Her book, Bullets Not Ballots: Success in Counterinsurgency, published by the Cornell University Press Studies in Security Affairs series, appeared in May.

Asfandyar Ali Mir is a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University. His research is on political violence, US counterterrorism policy, Al-Qaida, and South Asian security issues. Some of his research has appeared in International Security, International Studies Quarterly, and Security Studies, and his commentary has appeared in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, H-Diplo, Lawfare, and The Washington Post. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Chicago.

Jonathan Schroden directs the Countering Threats and Challenges Program at the CNA Corporation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and analysis organization based in Arlington, Virginia. His work at CNA has focused on counterterrorism and counterinsurgency activities across much of the Middle East and South Asia, including numerous deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. The views expressed here are his and do not necessarily represent those of CNA, the Department of the Navy, or the Department of Defense.



Review by Jacqueline Hazelton, U.S. Naval War College

In How Insurgency Begins: Rebel Group Formation in Uganda and Beyond, Janet I. Lewis asks a big, important question and provides a persuasive, well supported answer. Typically scholars focus on insurgencies that have already survived their dangerous birth and fragile early existence.[1] These studies examine how flourishing insurgencies behave, and how states react. But Lewis points out that most fledgling rebellions do not survive, and her book explains why not. It also addresses in political terms how insurgency begins, why states sometimes fail to defeat rebels, and how states may become strong enough to do so.

All of Lewis’s arguments revolve around the importance of information as a political tool, rather than military power or military control, in the birth, survival, and defeat of nascent insurgencies. Her work represents a step forward in scholars’ understanding of the destruction and creation of political stability. Lewis shows that a high percentage of insurgent groups disappear within three years of formation; they are intensely vulnerable to destruction when young. They are also only capable of low-level violence. The great likelihood that an insurgent group will die has important consequences for its strategic behavior. For example, because a nascent rebel group needs civilian secrecy above all to survive, only after a rebel group has survived its youth is it likely to begin to treat civilians badly. Lewis’s focus on insurgent vulnerability is also significant for larger discussions of armed challenges to the state, and for contemporary U.S. policy dilemmas.[2] Among other things, it should temper concerns that hard-right white supremacists like the Proud Boys and Three Percenters are finding fertile ground to form a literal and dangerous insurgency in the United States. Lewis demonstrates that it is just not that easy.

Lewis supports this claim with a comprehensive data set about rebel groups formed in eastern and central Africa since 1997. Her data show that of the 16 rebel groups formed in Uganda since 1986, 12 died and only four became viable. Lewis defines “viable” as a group’s ability to challenge the authority of the central government by maintaining an operational base on the target country’s soil with at least 200 individuals for at least three months (127). Data about rebel groups formed in central and eastern Africa from 1997-2015 reinforces this conclusion. Of 83 groups she identifies in this region, fewer than half survived to commit violence for more than three years. Without claiming generalizability for her argument, Lewis draws out similarities in her findings to research on such cases as Jammu and Kashmir, Nepal, Latin America in the 1960’s, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Cambodia, and Iraq and Afghanistan immediately after the U.S.-led invasions.

Lewis not only examines nascent rebel groups that fail, however. Instead, she includes a number of survivors in her survey of rural insurgencies in weak states in central and eastern Africa. She finds that nascent groups do not have the wherewithal for spectacular acts. Successful rebels conduct small and easy attacks on the government to build a positive reputation at relatively little cost. A group’s viability is based on its ability to “generate a widespread perception among villagers that they will be just, strong, and successful, at least relative to the government” (60).

Lewis argues that information is key to rebel survival, and to the state’s ability to wipe rebel groups out. Lewis identifies the process leading either to the growth or demise of rebel groups as beginning with a small number of individuals who join together because they believe they have “a reasonable chance of gaining political power or benefiting economically from doing so” (84). It is notable that these individuals are not the fanatics of the popular imagination but rather make political choices based on a realistic assessment of their situation.

A rebel group is likely to form in an area where it has strong ties to the local populace. These ties are necessary because the group will grow or die depending on its early ability to spread rumors about its its positive capabilities that will make civilians unlikely to alert the government to members’ identities and locations. Nascent insurgencies are small, poorly resourced, and easily destroyed even by a weak state. They are not public protest movements or mass movements of any kind, Lewis underlines, but small, precarious groups in desperate need of secrecy to survive.

Ethnicity matters in group formation not because civilians rally around rebels that champion their grievances, but because kinship groups share and receive information that they consider to be trustworthy, thus enabling rebel group survival and growth. Since kinship networks shape what information civilians receive and what they believe, ethnically homogenous areas are more useful for creating and spreading positive rumors about the rebels. Civilian secrecy and rebel survival are not about grievances. “Local ethnic demography can influence the initial stages of internal conflict, irrespective of the preferences of the local populace,” Lewis writes, echoing the revolutionary Che Guevara’s Foco theory of insurgency, which relies in part on the ability of a small group to create the conditions necessary for revolution (126, italics in original). Lewis shows that kinship networks and information sharing are fundamentally political organizations and choices in that they reflect who rules, how they rule, and what the ruled think and believe about that

Civilian secrecy is crucial to rebel survival. But a weak state, in the form of a government with little access to information and little presence outside the capital, is also crucial. Lewis recognizes the central interaction between rebel and government in her analysis. What James Scott calls “legibility” is a foundational element in Lewis’s argument. Scott argues that legibility is the key to state capabilities.[3] If the government can “read” its population, it can control it, it can tax it, it can raise armies, and it can destroy armed challengers.

Legibility, in turn, is how weak states enable themselves to defeat proto-insurgencies. Successful governments increase their ability to gain information outside the capital to destroy rising rebel groups and deter others. States that learn how to penetrate information networks in areas outside the capital suffer fewer rebellions. In Uganda, for instance, the state developed its ability to monitor its populace by forming local administrative bodies, political education programs, and reintegrating former rebels as informers. Lewis notes that other African states that have successfully expanded their writ to the countryside – Rwanda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Zimbabwe, for example – are also led by former rebels who understand the importance of information in disrupting, creating, and preserving political stability.

Lewis handles the data problems inherent in her project admirably. She underlines the difficulty of studying groups that have disappeared and the paucity of information on these groups when both sides have an interest in keeping the attacks quiet. Lewis is frank about the limitations of retrospective analyses, especially because participants and analysts tend to portray their choices as strategic calculations rather than lucky improvisations. She is also clear that she is studying initial rebel violence, not escalation, and that her focus is on groups with political goals and plans to violently challenge the state. At the end of each of her empirical chapters, Lewis considers the generalizability of her findings regarding pre-war conditions, rebels, civilians, and the state. Lewis also examines alternative explanations for the elements of her informational theory of armed conflict’s start. She makes no attempt to dazzle with her quantitative analysis and notes the benefits and costs of the large number of interviews conducted for the book. Lewis makes a good case for the value of her primary focus on Uganda both for data richness and as an important case in its own right, and for why central and eastern Africa are an important area of study for scholars of political violence and policymakers. Central and eastern Africa contain large populations, with numerous rebels fighting weak and formerly weak states.            

Lewis’s subject is important for theory and policy. As described above, Lewis examines why insurgencies die early, a significantly understudied area of interest for policymakers, practitioners, and scholars. She explains rebel group behavior before those groups gain the capacity for large-scale violence, demonstrating their great fragility. In addition, Lewis intervenes in the debate over whether greed or grievance is a more important cause of rebellion.[4] Similarly, her findings suggest that a political effort, not a military campaign, is the better approach for states that are facing a nascent insurgency, though, to be fair, the military aspect of counterinsurgency is not within her writ in this project. Her research should inform efforts to prevent internal conflict through political interventions and early-warning programs intended to alert the world to potential violence.

There is room for further exploration of the implications of Lewis’s argument. The combination of weak rebels in the periphery of a state causing low-intensity violence is not a phenomenon limited to Africa, meaning that attempts to further generalize her information-centric theory of rebel birth and survival would be interesting and useful. Another worthy project would examine her assertion that weak states are able to deter the formation of other rebel groups by crushing one of them. Empirically, while some governments succeed against insurgents, others tolerate relatively low violence and regional rebellion, suggesting that state deterrence may play an important role in counterinsurgency but also that government goals are likely to vary, with military defeat of rebellion not always the states’ choice even if it is within their capabilities.[5]

How Insurgency Begins is a standout example of the comparative politics focus on studying political violence in depth and in the field. Lewis is thorough and vigilant in identifying the limits of her findings from this vast project. How Insurgency Begins engages gracefully with the existing literature. It is a rich, scrupulously documented investigation, clearly presented, with a solid research design and transparent presentation of methodologies.



Review by Asfandyar Ali Mir, Stanford University

Janet Lewis has written an important book on why some rebel groups become viable in challenging state authorities while others wither away before they become a threat. The book is motivated by variation in the trajectories of around 16 armed groups in Uganda that emerged following the insurgent victory of Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Movement (NRM). To explain the prospects of rebel groups challenging weak states, Lewis offers a theory of rebel group formation – what I call a rumor-network theory.

The theory focuses on the conditions in which nascent rebels can seed positive rumors about their prospects of victory in order to convince civilians to provide material support and not inform state authorities against them. This, the theory argues, shields rebels when they are vulnerable and allows them to build military and political structures to meaningfully challenge state authority. The theory posits that rebels emerging in ethnically homogenous settings – with networked kinship ties – are best positioned to implement this strategy, whereas those emerging in ethnically heterogeneous regions with fractured social networks are likely to struggle.

In a deep and careful investigation of rebel groups across Uganda since 1986, the book employs a battery of tests to probe the implications of the rumor-network theory as well as some competing explanations. It draws on a wealth of quantitative and qualitative group-specific and subnational data, much of which was collected by the author through painstaking fieldwork over 14 months across 20 districts in Uganda. A highlight of the empirical work is an in-depth comparison of two pairs of armed groups: the Ugandan People’s Army (UPA) in Teso and Force Obote Back Again (FOBA) in Bukedi, and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Acholi and West Nile Bank Front (WNBF) in West Nile (chapter 5). This analysis is informed by nearly 68 semi-structured interviews and 14 focus groups with civilians. Finally, the analysis carefully generalizes lessons and limitations of the theoretical arguments advanced in the book for other conflicts.

The book contributes critical insights to the scholarship on civil war and insurgency in three ways.[6] For one, it highlights how ethnicity contributes to the dynamics of conflict onset. Much of the existing scholarship has focused on dimensions such as political exclusion and ethnic diversity as a source of conflict.[7] The rumor-network theory shifts the focus to a novel dimension of ethnicity: How homogeneity in ethnic kinship networks can be purposed as a source of strength. This is valuable for re-thinking the role of ethnicity as a contributor to conflict as well as for broadening our understanding of processes of rebellion, which until now have centered on opportunity structures created by state weakness or resource endowments for rebels through external state support. It also shows the promise of the move away from cross-national work and careful subnational analysis for understanding civil war onset.[8]

Second, the book sheds light on a novel tool rebels possess to improve their wartime prospects: silence and rumors. Existing work argues the importance of rebel forces’ targeted violence and pre-conflict skills of hiding and organizing in improving local rebel survival.[9] Theories on strategies of terrorist groups highlight the importance of high-impact violence, suggesting that new and splinter groups might use violence to gain political support.[10] In contrast, Lewis shows that rebels can be careful and strategically “silent” in order to build early strength. This has implications for how scholars and policymakers interpret periods of inaction and ostensible inactivity by rebels and terrorist groups. It also cautions against the straightforward use of violent events as an indicator of the political intent and strength of an armed group.

Finally, the book adds to the scholarship on the strategic importance of wartime civilian behavior. Recent civilian-centric frameworks focus on civilians offering information to government forces for explaining counterinsurgency efficacy.[11] The rumor-network theory affirms the fundamental insight that civilians can reward and punish states by withholding intelligence. But it goes further, showing that civilians also play a critical role in shaping the political perception of nascent rebels by disseminating rumors about their strength and prospects.

In this respect, Lewis’s argument improves population-centric counterinsurgency models by revealing the conditions in which governments might be effective. An influential strand of U.S. counterinsurgency strategy has emphasized dismounted patrols, secure tip-lines, and public service provision for collecting human intelligence.[12] In contrast, Lewis’s work suggests the importance of gaining collaboration from those within critical ethnic networks to detect nascent insurgent threats.[13] This might be challenging for counterinsurgency militaries, which tend to prefer quantifiable tactics and outcomes of information collection.[14]

Despite many merits of the Lewis’s argument, the book’s focus on Uganda raises questions about the generic insights it offers for understanding rebel viability. First, a major limitation of the analysis is its conception of viability, which Lewis defines as the ability of a rebel group to pose “threat to the authority of the incumbent government” (34). This definition leaves a lot of room for interpretation. The measurement criteria of viability do not clarify how much territory a rebel group must control to be viable, or its capacity for violence. Instead, the definition is rooted in a group’s absolute organizational strength, making it difficult to ascertain the relative threat a “viable” group poses to a state.

The conceptual and measurement issue is amplified in the coding of a key rebel group, the Uganda People’s Democratic Army (UPDA), which Lewis codes as having not attained viability (71). By some accounts, the UPDA mounted a pretty formidable challenge with thousands of fighters, which resulted in serious military exchanges. As Christopher R. Day argues, “On August 20, 1986, 3,000 UPDA fighters struck the northern Ugandan town of Pece, which was among a number of early victories where they captured and held territory.”[15] When the UPDA demobilized in 1988, the NRA government accommodated nearly 10,000 UPDA fighters.[16] It is not clear why the group was not viable, given its successful attacks on the state with a sizable fighting force. All of this is to say that this definition of viability raises questions about the Uganda case, as well as on how the concept explains rebellion viability and civil war onset in other contexts.

Second, the theory doesn’t provide much guidance on how varied state policies and state threat perception of armed groups affects the rebel strategy of using silence and rumors. The rumor-network theory assumes that weak states have one strategy towards armed challengers: militarily defeat rebels after detecting their presence. The theory doesn’t consider the possibility that states may distinguish armed groups by their political claims, the type of appeals they make, or the history of local resistance. Such distinctions may shape a state’s approach to counterinsurgency, which in turn affects rebel choices. Indeed, scholars have argued that state policy is a key variable for understanding rebel trajectory.[17] The strategies of states and insurgents are dynamic and interactive.

This omission is important for the theory and evidence in the book. Lewis considers the effects of only one state policy -- information-driven targeting of nascent rebels and buildup in associated capacity. She does not discuss other state policies towards armed groups and their effects, such as the fallout of demobilization, peace deals, and offers of amnesty. This is particularly relevant because the state may choose different approaches towards different groups. For example, what was the effect of Museveni’s peace deal with the UPDA on the LRA’s ability to instrumentalize grievances in Acholi? Did it make the LRA more viable? Nor does the analysis consider how aspiring rebels might adjust their political platforms to adjust to the political preferences of state authorities, especially during their nascence. In general, the book offers limited detail on the political platforms – grievances, ideology, strategy etc. -- of the groups that became viable and those that didn’t.

Third, there are empirical gaps that make it difficult to adjudicate key claims and weigh alternative explanations for rebel viability. Although the book casts plenty of doubt on the importance of ethnic exclusion, it remains unpersuasive in ruling out variation in local grievances prior to the emergence of a rebel group. The analysis rushes the discussion of pre-war politics in regions where groups emerged and their relationship with the NRM-led state authority. Separately, the sourcing on the nature and timing of external support to various rebel groups is thin, especially as some of the groups that became viable reportedly received substantial and observable support (72-73, and chapter 5). I realize the difficulty in researching this question, as it probably requires details from sources in Sudan, but a discussion of the limits of the evidence on external support should have been included.

These criticisms notwithstanding, How Insurgency Begins is undoubtedly an important book with crucial insights for scholars and policymakers. It will shape future inquiry on how civil wars start, as well as how rebel groups advance their political goals in the face of major state power.



Review by Jonathan Schroden, CNA Corporation

How do rebel groups form? Why do some cohere and go on to become larger, more violent insurgencies while others peter out? What can governments do to prevent the former and foster the latter? And what is the role of bystander civilians in all of this?

These are the major questions that Janet Lewis poses and ably answers—at least, in the context of Uganda—in How Insurgency Begins. In the book, she seeks “to describe and explain what people who initiate rebellion do when they first come together with the aim of violently challenging a state and how nearby citizens and the state respond” (4). As Lewis argues, there have been numerous works that examine how insurgencies end—indeed, the RAND Corporation issued a sizeable study with exactly that title.[18] But there have been fewer examinations of how insurgencies get their start, and even within this body of work, there have been almost no detailed explorations of the dynamics surrounding how the seed crystals of insurgencies—namely, individual rebel groups—form and expand or contract.[19]

Into this void, Lewis admirably steps with this book, which is predominantly an adaptation of her doctoral thesis,[20] with some additions drawn from subsequent work by her and several collaborators.[21] To enable her analysis, Lewis painstakingly compiled a detailed rendering of rebel groups that existed in Uganda in the late 1980s and 1990s, fewer than half of which have been previously captured in prominent conflict datasets. She supplements these data with her own extensive field work in the country, which included over 250 interviews with individuals who were directly involved in the formation of rebel groups or the government’s quest to quell them, as well as civilians in rural areas of Uganda where rebel groups had formed. In both data collection efforts, Lewis was helped greatly by Uganda’s decision to grant amnesty to former rebels and to keep detailed records via its Amnesty Commission. Lewis leverages this data using a mix of analytic methods, including causal tracing of events, comparative analysis across the dataset of rebel groups, and social network analysis, among others.

Using this data and these techniques, Lewis tests—and ultimately provides compelling evidence for—an information-centric set of answers to the questions posed above. In her words, “information—especially what nascent rebels, the civilians that surround them, and states that they challenge do and do not learn and believe about one another—strongly influences the behavior of these parties during the initial stages of insurgency, and therefore whether or not aspiring rebels become viable threats” (7).

For rebels, information is a double-edged sword. At their earliest stages, secrecy about rebel groups’ intentions and actions is paramount, since being discovered typically means being targeted and destroyed by the state. But in order for rebel groups to eventually expand, they need to come to the attention of civilians, and ideally, to draw some of them to join or support their cause. Lewis posits that rebel groups try to walk this line through the use of rumors and tacit support from civilians in the form of secrecy. In this, her description of the civilian-rebel relationship differs from other scholarship, which tends to focus on the tangible, material support that civilians provide to insurgencies or insurgencies’ use of violence to coerce civilian populations once they’ve crystallized beyond the formative stage.[22] The critical role of information thus influences where and how successful rebel groups form: they tend to coalesce in areas where they have an “informational advantage—near their home area or where they have other strong connections to the local population” (8). Successful incipient rebel groups also tend to avoid coercion or other activities that would alienate the civilian population and risk the latter giving the group up to the government. Similarly, nascent rebel groups often get their violent start on a very small scale, by initiating limited attacks with high probabilities of success against government targets. This not only limits their exposure to government forces, it helps reinforce and advertise the capabilities that would have only circulated via rumors previously. As Lewis argues, “the initial stages of an insurgency often involve an incubation period that is shrouded in secrecy and rumor, and during which the violence in sporadic and ambiguous” (123).

Thus, while the nature of rebel group activities early on—especially their attention to operational secrecy—is important to their success, the most critical variable is the behavior of local civilians in response to the rumors that circulate about the group. As Lewis argues, civilians are more likely to eschew reporting a rebel group to the government if the rumors they hear about it are positive and if they come from a trusted source—most notably, from a kinship network. Lewis compellingly shows that for the Ugandan rebel groups in her dataset, those that formed in ethnically homogenous areas found the civilian environment more conducive to effective rumor spreading and secrecy than those that formed in ethnically heterogeneous regions. In this argument, Lewis presses back against the body of conflict initiation literature that posits ethnic grievances as a cause of internal conflict (and by extension, of insurgency formation).[23] Rather, Lewis suggests that rebel groups form most effectively in ethnically homogenous areas. Once the state takes action against them, local populations may perceive the state’s actions as ethnically-tinged. This, in turn, may serve to exacerbate the situation and lead to greater violence. Ethnic grievances serve as a fuel for insurgency, as opposed to the spark.

Given all of this, what role does the state play in rebel group formation? Lewis’s work highlights the importance of the state’s access to civilian information networks, and in particular, the role of domestic intelligence agencies. While this part of Lewis’s book is not new—the critical role of intelligence for efforts to counter rebel groups and insurgencies is well articulated in classic counterinsurgency texts by the likes of David Galula and Sir Robert Thompson—her work nonetheless highlights the paramount importance of domestic intelligence for countering rebel group formation.[24] Other state capabilities (e.g., the military) become more important as rebel groups expand.

In all, Lewis provides a well-reasoned, well-researched, and well-written set of arguments for how rebel groups initially form and what factors lead to the success of some and demise of others. Her analysis is straightforward and readable, with detailed statistical analyses and other complicated academic considerations relegated to appendices for those with abiding interest in the gory analytic details. And she provides a thoughtful discussion of alternative explanations for many of her results, rather than offering simple strawman arguments that are easily swept aside.

Strong critiques of Lewis’s book are difficult to levy given the quality of her work, and I will only offer three. First, as an adaptation of a thesis, the book’s layout deviates little from that format, which renders it more dogmatic and repetitive than a book focused on telling the narrative of the results would have been. Second, the book’s title suggests more than the book itself offers. It does not offer a generalizable theory of how insurgencies form. Rather, Lewis provides a compelling explanation for how sixteen rebel groups in Uganda formed in the mid-1980s, and she offers reasonable arguments as to how similar dynamics might be at work in other weak states in Africa. She does not, however, offer much in the way of arguments for broader applicability of her results. Third, and relatedly, the book’s last chapter on the implications of her arguments ends with an academic whimper. Lewis provides interesting commentary on the need for better data on incipient rebel groups, the importance of domestic intelligence, and reasons why it is harder for rebel groups to form in strong states. Unfortunately, the opportunity to discuss the global and policy implications of her work is missed. One wishes that the last chapter was as comprehensive as the preceding ones.

Those critiques notwithstanding, Lewis’s book will provide unique and compelling insights to anyone interested in insurgency and counterinsurgency, the role of information and ethnicity in conflict initiation, the dynamics of governance in weak states, and the history of conflict in Uganda. As well, it should be of strong interest to anyone in a position of governance—or those providing advice to such individuals—in weak states. By providing a novel examination of how they form, How Insurgencies Begin also illuminates how to bring about rebel groups’ end.



Response by Janet Lewis, George Washington University

I am gratified to see How Insurgency Begins reviewed by three leading experts on insurgency and counterinsurgency: Jacqueline Hazelton, Asfandyar Ali Mir, and Jonathan Schroden. Their thoughtful engagement with the book reflects a generous investment of time and intellectual energy.

Their reviews skillfully capture the book’s primary arguments and contributions. I am glad that all three conclude that the book presents important insights about civil war and insurgency. Most of their critiques note areas where the theory or empirics could have gone further, indicating areas ripe for new advances. In what follows, I aim to clarify some of the book’s arguments and evidence that are relevant to the critiques, highlight recent scholarship that has already taken steps forward, and note promising areas for future research. I focus on three issues: external validity; the role of state and rebel strategies; and conceptualizing and measuring rebel viability.

All three reviewers wonder whether and how far the book’s central arguments travel. I agree wholeheartedly that more comparative research is needed on the initial phases of armed group formation in a broad range of contexts. This will doubtless reveal a wider array of pathways to armed conflict than what How Insurgency Begins describes. The book lays out clear scope conditions, which necessarily limit its reach: the theory seeks to explain rebel group formation and viability where a state has minimal presence in its periphery – rural areas of low-capacity states (17-20). I argue in the book that the tradeoff of this scoping is worthwhile. We know least about these rural, weak state contexts because this is where news coverage is most limited,[25] and yet they are where anti-state rebel groups most commonly form (17-20, 82).[26]

In How Insurgency Begins, the empirical focus is Uganda since 1986. My approach to probing external validity is to collect systematic new data about rebel group formation throughout eastern and central Africa, and to draw on numerous examples from other continents. This exercise demonstrates the broader empirical relevance of key assumptions of the book’s theory. The data show that, like the groups in Uganda at the heart of the book, the preponderance of rebel groups in 12 countries surrounding Uganda start small – both in resource endowments and in magnitude of violence produced (80-83). It also shows that roughly two-thirds of rebel groups that formed in this region from 1997-2015 are omitted in standard datasets, so the selection problems I identify in the existing quantitative literature on conflict onset are clearly not limited to Uganda. Still, more fine-grained evidence – while challenging to collect with a reasonable degree of accuracy and completeness – are indeed needed to put many of the book’s key arguments about the causes of rebel group formation and viability to the test beyond Uganda.

Fortunately, future research will benefit from new initiatives that are underway to improve the breadth and quality of data on armed group formation. For example, the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP) recently released new data of candidate events of violence by armed groups[27] and the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) recently released a suite of resources on the early warning signs of armed conflict, including data on newly-emerging violent non-state actors.[28] Additionally, Iris Malone has compiled a new dataset of over 1,500 instances of armed group formation in the 72 countries that experienced civil war from 1970-2012, as well as data from non-civil war countries.[29] Malone’s impressive data lend support to my claim that armed group formation is much more common than is usually captured in conflict analyses, because most groups fail before crossing thresholds of violence required for standard datasets. This dataset corrects for many selection issues of prior datasets, and promises to be a source of exciting new insights about armed conflicts’ start and escalation.

How Insurgency Begins also briefly takes up how processes of rebel group formation may differ in stronger states (55-59; 216-217). The theory stresses that in weak states, low barriers to entry allow rebel groups to start small in size, in material endowments, and in capacity for violence. Because barriers to entry for new rebel groups are higher in stronger states, this implies selection effects: rebel group formation in stronger states will not only be less common, but those that do dare to form will be more likely to draw on sturdier foundations, such as pre-existing material, organizational, or even social endowments. That is, they may have a greater need for social mobilization, or mobilized grievances prior to violent confrontation in order to get off the ground.

Still, even in stronger states I would expect several of the book’s key arguments to hold – especially those about the importance of trusted information networks shaping civilian perceptions of aspiring rebels, the state, and how others in the community will respond to nascent rebellion. In any context, even people with strong anti-state sentiments do not typically want to back rebels they suspect will be incompetent or worse. Yet assessing the would-be competence and capacity of an embryonic group necessarily involves some guesswork and judgment, and of course the incentives for rebels to misrepresent reality are strong. This inherent uncertainty for civilians in the early phases of any internal armed conflict – and the well-established importance of civilians to insurgents’ survival – makes social processes of judging what will unfold especially influential. Indeed, recent and classic works on the start of armed conflict stress that uncertainty about what will transpire appears to be a (if not the) defining characteristic – not clearly-delineated, prior allegiances or firmly established expectations. For example, Anastasia Shesterinina argues that uncertainty was the defining feature of the initial weeks of the 1992 Georgian-Abkhaz war, and thus social processes of threat assessment determined whether and on what side individuals mobilized.[30] Limited information about nascent rebels is also central to government miscalculations leading to war in Malone’s theory, and plays a central role in generating bargaining failures leading to civil war in prior influential works.[31]

Beyond issues of state capacity, Hazelton and Mir point to the possibility that states may have a range of possible strategies towards, and threat perceptions of, nascent rebels – including those that lead states to allow rebels to operate on their territory. In contrast, How Insurgency Begins assumes that states simply seek to end any nascent rebellion they detect. This assumption is key to my contention that the informational capacity of the state is a primary determinant of whether or not incipient rebels become viable – and to whether or not would-be rebel groups dare to form in the first place. If states allowed new rebel groups to form on their territory, and if this forbearance was common knowledge, then processes of rebel group formation and viability would have little to do with the state’s detection capacity.

Yet, if one accepts my claim that rebel groups in weak state contexts typically start small and are thus easily ended – even by militarily weak states, if they have good information about rebel identities and location – then why wouldn’t a state prefer to end nascent rebellions before they become a viable threat? Allowing rebels groups to become viable would create incentives for more armed groups to form. And while states do at times allow anti-state armed group to operate on their periphery, or even engage in forms of collusion or even alliance with such groups,[32] I argue this typically occurs only when it’s too late to destroy rebel groups easily – after the state has failed to prevent them from becoming viable (41). That is, due to state miscalculation or misapplication of force – typically due to poor intelligence – rebels may first become viable in a peripheral territory and then some states decide that the cost of militarily confronting rebels is too high, relative to containment. Shivaji Mukherjee argues that this may be particularly likely in medium-capacity states that already face multiple insurgents.[33] This is another research area ripe for further study.

In a related concern, Mir wishes the book had more discussion of “political platforms – grievances, ideology, strategy etc. – of the groups that became viable and those that didn’t.” While I can appreciate this interest, it is difficult to have an extended discussion of something that was ambiguous or absent. As I note in the book, while all of the rebel groups were anti-state, most lacked – in their initial phases, before viability – a well-formed, public ideology or political platform (76-80). This is true of those that became viable and those that did not. I argue that rebels often avoid public, political statements in the very early stages of their campaign because of an incentive to conceal their intentions from the government until their coercive capacity is somewhat developed. Doing so contributes to an advantageous (for rebels) sense of confusion and ambiguity among those in the central government and in news media, who often confuse rebels’ early acts of violence with “banditry” (107). It also allows incipient rebels flexibility when formulating a narrative in communities where they aim to quietly, carefully build support. This piece of the book has intriguing connections with newer work that stresses the practical, contingent, and relational features of armed group ideologies.[34]

A final and important critique in Mir’s review involves one of the book’s core dependent variables: rebel viability. Mir states, “The measurement criteria of viability do not clarify how much territory a rebel group must control to be viable, or its capacity for violence. Instead, the definition is rooted in a group’s absolute organizational strength, making it difficult to ascertain the relative threat a `viable’ group poses to a state.” He goes on to argue that this conceptual problem creates issues for my coding of one Ugandan group, the Uganda Peoples Democratic Army (UPDA).

I sought to propose a concept that meaningfully captured what rebels need to cross a basic threshold of challenging the authority of the state, and to offer measurement criteria that were both clear and practical – in that one could plausibly measure them in a broad array of cases. I define viability as “a threshold after which a rebel group can pose at least a minimal threat to the authority of the incumbent government,” (34) which is characterized by “a relatively minimal level of territorial control – sufficient to operate an initial base…” I tie this form of minimal territorial control to building coercive capacity, noting that, “Without a base, rebels cannot recruit and train even a small army…” (34). I operationalize viability as occurring after rebel groups – those with a discernable command and control structure and plans to commit at least one act of physical violence against a state target – had grown to at least 100 troops with a base on the target country’s territory for at least three months.[35]

This key criterion of maintaining a base on the target country’s territory for at least three months joins with the common conceptualization of anti-state armed rebellion as a struggle for territorial control. Rebel bases allow for military training, a critical step in producing a viable fighting force that can hold territory – and one that involves a minimal form of territorial control around the base. Other potential measures of a rebellion’s trajectory – especially the quantity of violence it produces or the duration of a group’s armed campaign – often do not indicate capacity to challenge the territorial integrity of the target state. Quantity of violence produced is often a function of factors that are not directly related to the threat posed by a rebellion, like rebel strategy and the size of the force that the state brings to confront rebels. Similarly, duration can simply be a function of accessible sanctuaries across borders, where rebels can hide indefinitely without posing a substantial threat to the target state (34-35). My conceptualization of viability – and especially the requirement for a group to have a base for at least three months – also has the appealing characteristic of allowing for measurement via interviews, since whether or not rebels had a base in a country for any substantial period is usually recalled by nearby residents, counterinsurgents, and the rebels themselves. It is also often (but admittedly not always) captured in newspaper reporting. I do not specify the size of territory needed for a base, as Mir suggests, because in most cases this would be unrealistic to measure. In sum, while my conceptualization and operationalization are not flawless, I believe that they are the most useful and practical formulation among available options for this substantively important threshold in a rebel group’s trajectory.

As part of his critique about the book’s conceptualization and measurement of viability, Mir probes why UPDA was not coded as viable, since he found evidence noting that the UPDA held territory and became quite violent and sizeable. A closer look at the UPDA, however, reaffirms the value of the concept and measurement criteria. It also indicates the need to scrutinize several sources when examining rebel viability – with an eye towards carefully pinpointing dates and sequences.

The UPDA was the first Ugandan rebel group to form after the National Resistance Movement (NRM) seized control of the state in early 1986, and – unlike the other rebel groups that followed – it represented a direct reincarnation of the former regime’s military (the Ugandan National Liberation Army, UNLA).[36] This made the UPDA much larger, and more organized and immediately capable of violence at the outset than the other Ugandan rebel groups that formed during this period (74). And yet, despite this head start in developing a violent organization, the UPDA quickly flamed out. The UPDA’s control of rural territory in parts of northern Ugandan was strikingly short-lived, and as I describe below, the best available sources on the UPDA indicate that it did not meet my threshold definition for viability. In contrast, other Ugandan groups that surpassed the book’s viability threshold went on to pose a much more substantial threat.

For those interested in the nitty gritty about the UPDA: The assertion that the UNLA became a formidable fighting force that controlled territory – including the source that Mir cites to support this point – can be traced back to a 1997 USAID-commissioned report by Robert Gersony.[37] That report notes that the UPDA “controlled extensive portions of the countryside [in the Acholi region] and regularly attacked NRA positions” (23). However, this ascendance was quite brief: UPDA’s first attack is usually dated to August 22, 1986,[38] and the first news report of UPDA territorial control or a UPDA base I could identify is from September 12, 1986.[39] Gersony goes on to note how short the UPDA’s dominance was, stating that, “In the process of a rather unsuccessful military operation, however, the UPDA's arms and ammunition dwindled, and by late 1986 its forces were increasingly demoralized” (23). He dates this “demoralization” to November 1986 (25). This is consistent with Ugandan newspapers reporting UPDA’s precipitous military decline by mid-November.[40] Interviews of former UPDA fighters and local officials in northern Uganda corroborated the brevity of the UPDA’s dominance; recollections of any UPDA base on Ugandan territory indicated that it lasted roughly one month before the group fled to Sudan. After November 1986, the UPDA never regained its strength or maintained another base in Uganda. The threat to the Ugandan state posed by the UPDA was therefore quite brief, and it did not meet the book’s criterion for viability of holding a base on the target country’s territory for at least three months. While UPDA did become more powerful than other non-viable groups, the four Ugandan groups that did surpass the viability threshold presented a much more substantial threat, which indicates the usefulness of the measure.

In conclusion, one of my motivations for writing How Insurgency Begins was a hope that it could help stimulate more, better research on the start of organized, internal armed conflict. My sincere thanks go to H-Diplo/ISSF and Josh Rovner for organizing this roundtable, which clearly advances that goal. The reviewers’ careful observations and critiques have helpfully pointed to several important open questions.



[1] Leading recent work on insurgency includes Jeremy Weinstein, Inside Rebellion: The Politics of Insurgent Violence (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), Elisabeth Jean Wood, Insurgent Collective Action and Civil War in El Salvador (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), Fotini Christia, Alliance Formation in Civil Wars (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), Ana Arjona, Rebelocracy: Social Order in the Colombian Civil War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016), and Zachariah Mampilly, Rebel Rulers: Insurgent Governance and Civilian Life During War (Ithaca: University Press, 2011).

[2] Examples include Jacqueline L. Hazelton, Bullets Not Ballots: Success in Counterinsurgency Warfare (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2021), Austin Long, The Soul of Armies: Counterinsurgency Doctrine and Military Culture in the U.S. and UK (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2016), Christian Tripodi, The Unknown Enemy: Counterinsurgency and the Illusion of Control (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2020), Francis Fukuyama, State Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994), and Kimberly Marten, Warlords: Strong-Arm Brokers in Weak States (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2012).

[3] James Scott, Seeing Like A State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999).

[4] One leading argument that greed, or opportunity, rather than grievance drives internal conflict is Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler, “Greed and Grievance in Civil War,” Oxford Economic Papers 56:4 (2004): 563–595. Another famous example is James D. Fearon and David D. Laitin, “Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War,” The American Political Science Review 97:1 (February 2003): 75-90, which argues that opportunities such as rough terrain enable insurgency. Arguments that grievance is a likelier cause of insurgency include Edward N. Muller and Mitchell A. Seligson, “Inequality and Insurgency,” The American Political Science Review 81:2 (June 1987): 425-452, and Samuel Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies (New Haven: Yale University, 1968).

[5] On the varying relationships between governments and insurgents, see Paul Staniland, “States, Insurgents, and Wartime Political Orders, Perspectives on Politics 10:2 (June 2012): 243-64.

[6] On post-9/11 civil war patterns and civil war theories literature, see Barbara F Walter, “The New New Civil Wars,” Annual Review of Political Science (2017): 469-486. On insurgency, see: Paul Staniland, Networks of Rebellion: Explaining Insurgent Cohesion and Collapse (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2014). 

[7] Lars-Erik Cederman, Andreas Wimmer, and Brian Min, “Why Do Ethnic Groups Rebel? New Data and Analysis,” World Politics 62:1 (2010): 87-119.

[8] Philip Roessler, Ethnic Politics and State Power in Africa: The Logic of the Coup-Civil War Trap (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016).

[9] Stathis N. Kalyvas, The Logic of Violence in Civil War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006); and Evgeny Finkel, “The Phoenix Effect of State Repression: Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust,” The American Political Science Review 109:2 (2015): 339.

[10] Mia Bloom, Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005); and Andrew H. Kydd, and Barbara F. Walter, “The Strategies of Terrorism” International Security 31:1 (2006): 49-80.

[11] Eli Berman, Joseph H. Felter, and Jacob N. Shapiro, Small Wars, Big Data: The Information Revolution in Modern Conflict (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020).

[12] Stephen Biddle, Jeffrey A. Friedman, and Jacob N. Shapiro, “Testing the Surge: Why Did Violence Decline in Iraq in 2007?,” International Security 37:1 (2012): 7-40.

[13] On social networks and counterinsurgency, see work on Philippines: Dotan Aharon Haim, Networks and Insurgency: How Social Relationships Shape Conflict, PhD dissertation, University of California San Diego, 2018.

[14] Colin Francis Jackson, Defeat in Victory: Organizational Learning Dysfunction in Counterinsurgency, PhD dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2008.

[15] Christopher R. Day, “The Fates of Rebels: Insurgencies in Uganda,” Comparative Politics 43:4 (2011): 448.

[16] Heike Behrend, Alice Lakwena and the Holy Spirits: War in Northern Uganda, 1985–97 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2000): 173.

[17] Day and William S. Reno, “In Harm's Way: African Counter-Insurgency and Patronage Politics,” Civil Wars 16:2 (2014): 105-126.

[18] Ben Connable and Martin C. Libicki, How Insurgencies End (Santa Monica: RAND, 2010). See also, for example: John J. McCuen, The Art of Counter-Revolutionary War: The Strategy of Counterinsurgency (Harrisburg: Stackpole Books, 1966); Richard Clutterbuck, The Long, Long War: Counterinsurgency and Malaya and Vietnam (Westport: Praeger Publishers, 1966); Clutterbuck, Guerrillas and Terrorists (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1980); Bard E. O’Neill, Insurgency and Terrorism: Inside Modern Revolutionary Warfare (Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2001); and Monica Duffy Toft, Securing the Peace: The Durable Settlements of Civil Wars (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010);

[19] See, for example: Monica Duffy Toft, “Indivisible Territory, Geographic Concentration, and Ethnic War,” Security Studies 12:2 (2002): 82-119; Monica Duffy Toft, The Geography of Ethnic Violence: Identity, Interests, and the Indivisibility of Territory (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003); Stathis N. Kalyvas, The Logic of Violence in Civil War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006); Gudrun Ostby, “Polarization, Horizontal Inequalities and Violent Civil Conflict, Journal of Peace Research, 45:2 (2008): 143-162; David Kilcullen, The Accidental Guerilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009); Lars-Erik Cederman, Andreas Wimmer, and Brian Min, “Why Do Ethnic Groups Rebel? New Data and Analysis,” World Politics 62:1 (2010): 87-119; and Lars-Erik Cederman, Nils Weidmann, and Nils Petter Gleditsch, “Horizontal Inequalities and the Ethno-Nationalist War: A Global Comparison,” American Political Science Review 105:3 (2011): 478-495.

[20] Janet I. Lewis, How Rebellion Begins: Insurgent Group Formation and Viability in Uganda (Cambridge: Harvard University, 2012).

[21] Lewis and Guy Grossman, “Administrative Unit Proliferation,” American Political Science Review 108:1 (2014): 196-207; Lewis, “How Does Ethnic Rebellion Start?” Comparative Political Studies 50:10 (2017), 1420-1450; Lewis and Larson, “Rumors, Kinship Networks, and Rebel Group Formation,” International Organization 72 (Fall 2018): 871-903; and Larson and Lewis, “Ethnic Networks,” American Journal of Political Science 61:2 (2017): 350-364.

[22] See, for example: Reed M. Wood, “Opportunities to Kill or Incentives for Restraint? Rebel Capabilities, the Origins of Support, and Civilian Victimization in Civil War,” Conflict Management and Peace Science 31:5 (2014): 461-480.

[23] See, for example: Jonah Emong Orwal, The War in Teso, 1987-1992: How, Where, and Why It Started (Soroti: Uganda: Ateso Language Association, 2001), Robert Gersony and Ogenga Otunnu, “Causes and Consequences of the War in Acholiland,” in “Protracted Conflict, Elusive Peace: Initiatives to End the War in Northern Uganda,” Accord (available at www.c-r.org/our-work/accord/northern-uganda/causes-dynamics.php), and Adam Branch, Displacing Human Rights: War and Intervention in Northern Uganda (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

[24] On intelligence and counterinsurgency, see David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice (Westport: Praeger Security International, 2006 [1964]); and Robert Thompson, Defeating Communist Insurgency: Experiences in Malaya and Vietnam (London: Chatto & Windus, 1966)

[25] The codebook (version 18.1, page 3, https://ucdp.uu.se/downloads/replication_data/2018_c_666956-l_1-k_ucdp-prio-acd-181-codebook.pdf) of the Uppsala Conflict Data Program/Peach Research Institute of Oslo (UCDP/PRIO), Armed Conflict Dataset supports this point. See also Nils Petter Gleditsch, Peter Wallensteen, Mikael Eriksson, Margareta Sollenberg & Håvard Strand, “Armed Conflict 1946–2001: A New Dataset,” Journal of Peace Research 39:5 (2002): 615-637; and Therese Pettersson, Shawn Davis, Amber Deniz, Garoun Engström, Nanar Hawach, Stina Högbladh, Margareta Sollenberg, and Magnus Öberg, “Organized Violence 1989-2020, with a Special Emphasis on Syria,” Journal of Peace Research 58:4 (2021). For evidence that news coverage of conflict is especially poor in Africa, see especially Nick Dietrich and Kristine Eck. “Known Unknowns: Media Bias in the Reporting of Political Violence,” International Interactions 46:6 (2020): 1043-1060. On urban biases in conflict reporting, see especially Stathis N. Kalyvas, The Logic of Violence in Civil War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006): 38-43; and Sophia Dawkins, “The Problem of the Missing Dead,” Journal of Peace Research 58:5 (2020): 1098-1116.

[26] See also Bahar Leventoğlu and Nils W. Metternich, “Born Weak, Growing Strong: Anti-Government Protests as a Signal of Rebel Strength in the Context of Civil Wars,” American Journal of Political Science 62:3 (2018): 581-596.

[27] Håvard Hegre, Mihai Croicu, Kristine Eck, Stina Högbladh, “Introducing the UCDP Candidate Events Dataset” Research & Politics 7:3 (2020).

[28] See especially ACLED’s Local Observatories (https://acleddata.com/local-observatories/) and Early Warning Research Hub (https://acleddata.com/early-warning-research-hub/).

[29] Iris Malone, “Insurgency Formation and Civil War Onset,” (Ph.D. diss., Stanford University 2019).

[30] Anastasia Shesterinina, Mobilizing in Uncertainty (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2021).

[31] Malone, “Insurgency Formation and Civil War Onset”: and see especially Barbara Walter, “Bargaining Failures and Civil War,” Annual Review of Political Science 12 (2009): 243-261.

[32] See especially Paul Staniland, “Armed Politics and the Study of Intrastate Conflict,” Journal of Peace Research 54:4 (2017): 459-467; and Paul Staniland, Asfandyar Mir, and Sameer Lalwani, “Politics and Threat Perception: Explaining Pakistani Military Strategy on the North West Frontier,” Security Studies 27:4 (2018): 535-574.

[33] Shivaji Mukherjee, “Why Are the Longest Insurgencies Low Violence? Politician Motivations, Sons of the Soil, and Civil War Duration,” Civil Wars 16:2 (2014): 172-207.

[34] See especially Sarah Parkinson, “Practical Ideology in Militant Organizations,” World Politics 73:1 (2021): 52-81.

[35] There is an unfortunate typo on page 127 of the book, which states that the threshold measure for viability is 200 troops for 3 months. The 100-troop threshold (as is stated on page 34) for 3 months is correct one I use for all analyses. I caution others to avoid copy editing their book in the middle of the night during the initial month of a pandemic. As noted in the book, the analyses presented are not sensitive to these precise thresholds.

[36] In Africa, about 12% of rebel groups’ parent organizations are former regime’s militaries, according to Jessica Maves Braithwaite and Kathleen Cunningham, “When Organizations Rebel: Introducing the Foundations of Rebel

Group Emergence (FORGE) Dataset,” International Studies Quarterly 64 (2020):187. Similarly, Theodore McLauchlin estimates that 11% of armed groups in UCDP/PRIO Armed Conflict dataset were “army-splinter” rebellions, and argues that their causes are quite different from peripheral insurgent groups. See McLauchlin, “State Breakdown and Army-Splinter Rebellions,” unpublished working paper (2021).

[37] Robert Gersony, The Anguish of Northern Uganda: Result of a Field-based Assessment of the Civil Conflicts in Northern Uganda, Report submitted to the United States Embassy, USAID Mission, Kampala (1997). In registering his concern about how UPDA is coded, Mir cites Christopher R. Day, “The Fates of Rebels: Insurgencies in Uganda,” Comparative Politics 43:4 (2011): 448. However, for his statements about UPDA territorial control, Day cites Ruddy Doom and Koen Vlassenroot, “Kony’s Message: A New Koine? The Lord’s Resistance Army in Northern Uganda,” African Affairs 98:390 (1999): 14-15. For their claims about UPDA’s territorial control, Doom and Vlassenroot cite the Gersony report.

[38] Doom and Vlassenroot date the first UPDA attack to August 22, 1986. Newspaper articles also point to this date for the UPDA’s first attack, or to August 20. See, for example, “NRA to Comb Gulu-Kitgum Area” The Weekly Topic, September 24, 1986.

[39] “Rebels Cut Off Parts of N. Uganda,” The Citizen, September 12, 1986.

[40] “Rebels Surrounded: Okeny, Rebels in Peace Talks.” The Citizen, November 12, 1986; “Rebels Suffer Heavy Casualties.” New Vision, November 23, 1986.