Thaler, Kai: Strategic Pandering and Rebel Recruitment

(PDF) Rebel groups in civil wars sometimes gain the support of individuals or groups that should, by all appearances, logically be opposed to them. 

This counterintuitive result is explained through a model of rebel recruitment that describes how rebel leaders can pander to aggrieved populations, presenting themselves as in sympathy with and providing solutions to these grievances, gaining the population’s allegiance by taking advantage of an information asymmetry about the leaders’ true preferences. The grievances rebel leaders exploit are frequently of a symbolic or emotional, rather than an economic, nature. The model includes non-material incentives as goods and demonstrates the rationality of both rebel leaders and recruits. The empirical applicability of the model is demonstrated through a case study of Renamo, a violent, foreign-sponsored proxy rebel group in Mozambique that was able to pander to rural populations with grievances about state repression of traditional life in order to successfully gain a voluntary domestic constituency. The generalizability of the model is then tested through case studies, drawing on a mix of archival and secondary sources, of the Nicaraguan FDN, with similar origins to Renamo, and the NPFL in Liberia, which presents greater variation. The model and case studies explicate a previous under-theorized phenomenon in the study of rebel recruitment and offer new opportunities for academic and policy analysis of rebel organizations.