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Philip Roessler awarded John Fell OUP Research Grant

Dr Philip Roessler has been awarded a John Fell OUP Research Grant for his project, `Darfur in Comparative Perspective: Regime Crises, Political Exclusion and Civil War Onset in Africa`.

In 2003 a full-scale civil war broke out in Sudan`s Darfur region causing widespread displacement and death. Five years later, the civil war and humanitarian crisis continue unabated. Philip`s project focuses on explaining the onset of the devastating civil war in Darfur. He contends popular notions that attribute the war to tribal conflict or drought and desertification fail to appreciate its political causes. Based on extensive field research started in Sudan in 2005 and ongoing through 2008, Philip argues that the onset of the civil war is a direct consequence of the political strategy the Sudanese central government chose after a major split in the Islamic movement in 1999. Fearful of the risk of a coup attempt or other internal threats from dissidents remaining inside the government after the split, the regime sought to restructure its ruling network and purge anyone deemed disloyal to the president. The problem for the government was distinguishing loyalists from traitors. To overcome this problem, the regime tended to use ethnicity as an informational shortcut. Non-Arab Darfurians, particularly members of the Zaghawa group, became targets of the regime`s exclusive policies. The consequence of ethnic exclusion was it compromised the government`s leverage over and information about these key Darfurian societal groups, opening the door for the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) in 2002 and facilitating its success in 2003.

This pathway to civil war is not unique to Sudan, but is found to apply across sub-Saharan Africa. In the wake of failed coup attempts and other regime crises, African rulers tend to choose political strategies aimed to strengthen internal regime control and insulate themselves from coup attempts, but which leave them vulnerable to civil war risk. Philip tests this argument on 43 African countries since independence and carries out additional qualitative analyses of cases (e.g., Somalia 1981; Zimbabwe 1983; Liberia 1990; Democratic Republic of Congo 1998) selected from the large-N dataset.

Philip Roessler is Andrew Mellon Post-doctoral Fellow in Comparative Government.