Title: The Dynamics of Transnational Alliances in Africa, 1990-2010
Name: Henning Tamm

School of International Relations

University of St Andrews

Arts Building, The Scores

St Andrews, KY16 9AX

ht37 (at) st-andrews.ac.uk

Year: 2012
Type: Dissertation Fellowship

The Second Congo War (1998-2003) is widely considered the deadliest conflict since World War II, yet it has received little attention by International Relations theorists. A closer look reveals that both this war and its precursor, the First Congo War (1996-7), were neither simply conflicts within a state nor merely conflicts between states; their central feature were transnational alliances between neighboring governments and Congolese rebel groups. In fact, with one exception, every episode of internal war in sub-Saharan Africa from 1990 to 2010 has involved external support to the rebel side from at least one African government.

In order to explain both the origins and the dynamics of transnational alliances, this dissertation develops a three-step theory. It explains why rulers of weak states support foreign rebel groups, why they choose some groups from a specific country as alliance partners but not others, and why some of these allies subsequently disobey their foreign patrons, leading to the breakdown of alliances and the formation of new ones. The theory draws on both the rational choice literature and the realist school of thought. It also adapts insights from principal-agent theory.

In its first step, the theory argues that most rulers of Africa's weak states use transnational alliances either to weaken their domestic enemies indirectly by undermining those enemies' foreign sponsors or to ensure the continued allegiance of key domestic supporters by providing them with opportunities for enrichment. The second step's closely related argument is that the choice of specific foreign rebel clients depends primarily on their geopolitical relevance and to a lesser extent on the level of trust that a ruler has in a particular group. The theory's third step contends that rebel clients are likely to disobey a foreign patron either if they gain sufficient autonomy and have negative learning experiences during their cooperation or if they are offered a power-sharing deal by the target government and have learned from fighting that they are unlikely to win on the battlefield. Overall, the theory therefore presents transnational alliances as the continuation of domestic politics by other means: both governments and rebel groups use them as an instrument in their own domestic struggle for power.


Henning Tamm, "The Origins of Transnational Alliances: Rulers, Rebels, and Political Survival in the Congo Wars,"International Security (Summer 2016), pp. 147-181.