I study the Political Economy of Development as well as Conflict and Security, with a regional focus on Northeast Africa, pursuing a cohesive, two-pronged research program reflecting my interest in these two areas. To date, my research has resulted in three publications in the journals Third World Quarterly, African Security, and Africa Today.
My primary research agenda is at the intersection of institutions and political development; specifically, I study how governing elites use rents to manage contending elites who can threaten violence, and how these rents-based interactions give rise to a given political order. In my research, I consider how inter-elite institutional interactions effect varying levels of political development, and how institutional constraints determine policy choices during periods of transition. I also examine how violent capabilities of elite groups determine the contours of patronage-rents relations. I have published my initial findings on this research in Africa Today.
I am currently expanding this primary research agenda through my dissertation entitled, “Violence, Rents, and Elites: Institutional Determinants of Political Order in Ethiopia, Rwanda, and South Sudan.” This project applies the new institutionalism to comparatively assess the impact of institutional constraints and elite preferences on political development in three African states, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and South Sudan. I am conducting field research for my primary case, Ethiopia, through in-depth elite interviews with insiders and experts, as well as analysis of open-source archives. For my comparative cases, I analyze secondary sources through an analytic narratives methodology, identifying institutional constraints and incentives that drive elite choices and preferences, particularly during times of transition.
In my dissertation, I argue that transitions from a rents-based order towards greater standardization of elite privileges and specialization have resulted in a more mature political order in Rwanda, while ethnicization of political rents and lack of elite cohesion have impeded development in Ethiopia and South Sudan. After concluding my dissertation, I plan to expand this research agenda to account for the institutional effects of discourse. I plan to reuse the breadth of data gleaned through my structured elite interviews, coding them through Dedoose to identify institutional and discursive patterns, and triangulating this data through content analysis from media and government discourse. In doing so, I will apply an expanded new institutionalist framework that incorporates discursive institutionalism. Beyond accounting for elite interactions and political development, this more adaptive framework will provide insights into the drivers of conflict outcomes such as targeted mass violence. The culmination of this primary research agenda will be an article to be submitted to Comparative Political Studies, as well as book project, tentatively titled Violence and Development: Political Elites, Institutions, and Discourse in African States.
In tandem with my primary research agenda, I have developed a related, interdisciplinary secondary research agenda accounting for exogenous constraints on state agency and institutional outcomes such as foreign policy, statecraft, and development policy in African states. This theory-driven secondary research agenda primarily engages with two competing features of the international system, namely, anarchy and neoliberal globalization. Thus far, I have focused on domestic and ideational mediators of anarchy in the African context, publishing my initial findings in Third World Quarterly and African Security. Relying on contestations over the Nile River and the Red Sea in Northeast Africa, I have produced novel case-based accounts of interstate rivalry and resource competition; specifically, I identify domestic and ideational variables that mediate the effects of anarchy, producing unexpected foreign policy orientations in the international system. I have also illustrated how the mechanisms of state-building are intertwined with inter-state rivalry, beckoning a more adaptive theoretical paradigm within realism that can account for the peculiarities of third world states.
Moving forward, I plan to move this interdisciplinary research agenda forward by also accounting for exogenous constraints posed by the international economic system, particularly, neoliberal globalization, examining theoretical and practical implications on development in African states. Here, I plan to examine conceptual gaps between positive sovereignty, governance, and governmentality on the one hand, and contractualism, transactions based on free agency, on the other hand. More importantly, I plan to move beyond critical conceptions of governmentality to highlight its productive elements, while also illustrating how the potential positive effects of neoliberal governmentality are undermined by the structural realities of neoliberal globalization.
In the initial phase of this research, I will develop Mousseau’s economic theory of contractualism, or exchange based on free agency, and de Soto’s theory of dead capital to account for both political and economic transactions in relation to agency in the African context. Relying on case-based accounts of blockchain as a development technology, I will illustrate contractualism’s centrality to the achievement of positive sovereignty and governmentality in African states, as well as the practical limitations to achieving this model of contractualist governance. My initial findings will be published by a mainstream journal, in an article tentatively titled, “Contractualism and Blockchain: Re-conceptualizing Sovereignty and Governmentality in African States.” I have been named a Searle Fellow and received a $5,000 Publication Accelerator Grant from the Institute for Humane Studies for this project.
Long term, the objective of this secondary research agenda is to not only illustrate the gaps between achieving classical liberal ideals of contractualism in African states and the structural constraints of the neoliberal globalization, but also to identify responsive solutions for reorienting development policy. To this end, I plan to apply the framework that I develop through the initial phase of this research to empirical cases based on participatory action research. Specifically, through field research in Rwanda and Kenya, I plan to illustrate microeconomic outcomes of emerging development technology such as ICT (information and communication technology) and blockchain on impoverished communities. Rwanda and Kenya are ideal cases for this type of participatory action research due to the relatively more specialized economic climate in these two countries.
My primary objective with participatory action research will be to study how small-scale entrepreneurs and landowners in impoverished societies conceptualize, interact with, interpret, and utilize development technology, and how these micro-level decisions interact with broader institutional constraints. The culmination of this research will be a second book, tentatively titled, Dismantling the New Progressive Colonialism: Africa, Globalization, and the Liberal International Order. It is my hope that this project will not only orient my research toward more policy-relevant ends, but also bring my secondary research agenda on exogenous constraints together with my primary research agenda on endogenous institutional constraints in African states. After bringing together my two-pronged research program in this manner, I hope to be able to expand my broad interest in institutions, incentives, and constraints to consider policy-relevant problems in areas such as higher education and civil society, both in the United States and abroad. In pursuing this ambitious project, I plan to actively seek funding from a number of organizations that provide funding to research on classical liberal ideals and policy, including the Institute for Humane Studies and the Templeton Foundation.