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Insurgency and Credible Commitment in Autocracies and Democracies


  • Philip Keefer


The inability of political actors to make credible promises to broad segments of society--a previously unexplored determinant of civil war--causes both elected and unelected governments to pursue public policies that leave citizens worse off and more prone to revolt. Noncredible political actors are also less able to build counterinsurgency capacity. Popular dissatisfaction with rulers reduces the costs to counterinsurgents of overthrowing regimes, discouraging rulers from building counterinsurgency capacity in the first place; lack of credibility prevents rulers from writing contracts with counterinsurgents that maximize counterinsurgency effort. Empirical tests across numerous subsamples using various measures of political credibility support the conclusion that broad political credibility ranks at least as high as social fractionalization and natural resource rents as a cause of conflict. Copyright The Author 2008. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / the world bank . All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail:, Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Philip Keefer, 2008. "Insurgency and Credible Commitment in Autocracies and Democracies," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 22(1), pages 33-61, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:wbecrv:v:22:y:2008:i:1:p:33-61

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Bodea, Cristina & Higashijima, Masaaki & Singh, Raju Jan, 2016. "Oil and Civil Conflict: Can Public Spending Have a Mitigation Effect?," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 78(C), pages 1-12.
    2. Cervellati, Matteo & Sunde, Uwe, 2011. "Democratization, Violent Social Conflicts, and Growth," IZA Discussion Papers 5643, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. Thomas Flores & Irfan Nooruddin, 2009. "Financing the peace: Evaluating World Bank post-conflict assistance programs," The Review of International Organizations, Springer, vol. 4(1), pages 1-27, March.
    4. Colin O’Reilly, 2014. "Investment and Institutions in Post-Civil War Recovery," Comparative Economic Studies, Palgrave Macmillan;Association for Comparative Economic Studies, vol. 56(1), pages 1-24, March.
    5. Tim Wegenast, 2010. "Inclusive Institutions and the Onset of Internal Conflict in Resource-rich Countries," GIGA Working Paper Series 126, GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies.
    6. Elbadawi, Ibrahim & Milante, Gary & Pischedda, Costantino, 2008. "Referendum, response, and consequences for Sudan : the game between juba and khartoum," Policy Research Working Paper Series 4684, The World Bank.
    7. Bodea, Cristina, 2012. "Natural resources, weak states and civil war : can rents stabilize coup prone regimes ?," Policy Research Working Paper Series 6071, The World Bank.

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