In fragile states, regimes must cultivate military forces strong enough to ward off external threats, but loyal enough to resist launching a coup. This requires that leaders distinguish the loyal from the untrustworthy, a particularly challenging exercise in post-conflict settings with weak institutions.
In this study, ConDev Transformative Solutions Grant winner Grant Gordon explores how Congolese soldiers operating in North Kivu—the largest operational theater in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the epicenter of one of the most violent conflicts in Africa—solve this crucial problem. He argues that leaders use non-payment as a screening strategy that reveals commitment by driving disloyal soldiers to defect and loyal soldiers to endure hard times. This fuels unpaid soldiers to engage in civilian abuse, a process managed by commanding officers that is used to cultivate internal cohesion. To develop and test this argument, Gordon couples thick description based on 100 open-ended qualitative interviews with a fine-grained quantitative analysis of 350 surveys of soldiers from the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This analysis provides a novel explanation for how leaders use financial constraints to overcome classic organizational dilemmas in ways that ultimately cause violence against civilians.