Civil War and State Formation

What are the political orders put in place by rebel movements and how do they influence the post-war state formation?


Dominant narratives and theories developed at the turn of the 21st century in order to account for civil wars in Africa converged around two main ideas. First, that the increase in civil wars across Africa was the expression of the weakness and collapse of state institutions. Second, guerilla movements, once viewed as the ideological armed wings of Cold War contenders, were seen as roving bandits interested in plundering the spoils left by decaying states and primarily driven by economic or personal interests.

However, recent research has challenged such account by looking into the day-to-day politics of civil war beyond rebels’ motives to wage war against the established order. Indeed, civil wars, while being the cause of immense suffering, contribute to shaping and producing political orders. Thus, if we are to understand how stable political institutions can be built in the aftermath of civil war, it is essential to study the institutions that regulate political life during conflict. This project therefore looks at state formation through violent conflict. It focuses on political orders put in place by rebel movements, on their strategies to legitimise their existence and claim to power, and on the extent to which they manage to institutionalise their military power and transform it into political domination.

To this end, the research projects takes a broader perspective by looking at (dis)continuities between political orders established under rebel rule and post-war state formation. It investigates the social fabric of legitimacy in areas under rebel control during conflict and analyses how it relates to state formation in the post-conflict phase. Based on a political anthropology of governance and state practices in three different countries (South Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire and Angola), this project provides empirical and theoretical insights into state formation in Africa as well as into domination and legitimacy. It also links to current policy debates on statebuilding and peacebuilding in fragile contexts.


  • Civil war
  • Legitimacy
  • Peacebuilding
  • State formation


  • Anthropology
  • History
  • International relations
  • Political science
  • Sociology
  • Security


International organisations

  • United Nations Development Programme, Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery (UNDP/BCPR)

NGOs, state- or other institutions

  • Geneva Peace Platform
  • Centre for Peacebuilding (KOFF)

Relevant Countries

  • Developing Countries
  • Angola
  • Côte d’Ivoire
  • South Sudan


This is an ongoing project, which started in autumn 2016. The information here is updated regularly. If you have any inquiries please don’t hesitate to contact the project team via the form below.

Contact the project team

4 + 1 =

Research team

Didier Péclard
University of Geneva

Laurent Goetschel

Francis Akindès
Principal Member
Université de Bouaké

Leben Nelson Moro
Principal Member


Nelson Pestana
Principal Member
Universidade Católica de Angola

Martina Santschi
Principal Member

Seydina Ousmane Zina
Principal Member
Université de Bouaké

Albrecht Schnabel
Associated Member
DCAF – Center for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces