Selected ongoing research projects


Managing Humanitarian Emergencies: How recipient governments constrain international intervention

My book project examines how governments enable or obstruct the delivery of goods and services to people in need in the aftermath of humanitarian emergencies. Every year, donors give hundreds of millions of dollars to United Nations’ agencies and international NGOs to deliver humanitarian aid to people in need. These humanitarian organizations must gain the permission of the host government to reach their intended beneficiaries, but neither practitioners nor scholars account for the role host governments play in enabling or obstructing humanitarian organizations’ operations. While agents of the state are sometimes quick to collaborate with international actors, in other circumstances they deny emergencies exist and impose restrictions that prevent humanitarians from delivering aid. By tracing the process through which governments decide to acknowledge an emergency exists, allow international organizations to provide aid, and impose restrictions on aid after it arrives within their borders, I show that host governments shape whether and how humanitarian aid is distributed, the time it takes organizations to provide aid, and who is able to access the benefits of aid.

My theory explains that states’ decisions are driven by leaders’ need to maintain a reputation for competence among both domestic constituents and international donors. States collaborate with humanitarian organizations when doing so will improve their reputation for competence and deny the existence of humanitarian emergencies when leaders fear donors or constituents will blame them for the existence of the emergency. Collaborating with humanitarian organizations strengthens governments’ reputation for competence in response to fast-onset disasters but undermines governments’ reputation for competence in response to slow-onset disasters. To avoid damage to their reputation for competence, host governments impose restrictions on humanitarian organizations that prevent these organizations from revealing novel, credible information that would damage the government’s reputation for competence if revealed.

I leverage cross-national data, original surveys, and in-depth interviews to assess the theory and its implications.  I first analyze cross-national data to test whether governments   are more likely to obstruct the delivery of humanitarian assistance in response to slow-onset emergencies compared to fast-onset emergencies. I then use interviews with representatives of donor countries and an original survey of 530 humanitarian professionals to describe the various strategies governments use to restrict humanitarian organizations and illustrate the consequences of these restrictions for humanitarian organizations’ operations. Drawing nine months of fieldwork, I use the case of Niger to illustrate the logic underpinning government decisions to restrict or collaborate with humanitarian organizations. I use a survey of over 400 Nigerien government officials to test my expectations regarding host-government officials’ attitudes and behaviors toward humanitarian aid.


Documenting Violence and Promoting Peace in Africa: A Pilot Study for Data Collection in a Conflict-Affected Country

with Leonardo R. Arriola, Arsene Brice Bado, Justine Davis and Aila M. Matanock

Funded by the Carnegie Corporation
Pre-analysis plan
Follow up pre-analysis plan

The lack of accurate locally sourced data is an obstacle to improving knowledge of electoral violence in African countries. Research on this form of violence is often based on secondary sources that limit the level of detail and even the accuracy of associated data. In this context, we propose to implement four data-collection methodologies — civil society monitors, party monitors, crowd-seeding, and random calling — to compare their effectiveness in generating data on various forms of electoral coercion and violence. We will assess the methodologies based on metrics related to event type (e.g., frequency, location, timing) as well as in relation to publicly available violence datasets. For this assessment, the methodologies will be implemented over an eight-month period in the same selected locations in the run-up to the October 2020 presidential elections in Côte d’Ivoire, a country where elections have been routinely marred by violence since the reestablishment of multiparty politics. Data will be collected for six months before the election and two months afterward. The project’s resulting assessment will identify trade-offs associated with each data collection methodology in terms of validity, accuracy, scalability, and cost.

Planning for Productive Migration: A pilot study to facilitate safe and legal migration in ECOWAS

with Darin Christensen, Guy Grossman, Beza Tesfaye, Jeremy Weinstein, and Jessica Wolfe

Development programming typically seeks to promote “development-in-place” and minimize migration – bringing investment and jobs to people, rather than facilitating mobility. This approach overlooks pull factors that draw individuals out of rural areas and push factors that can make it difficult to stay. In partnership with Mercy Corps, we pilot a novel program designed to provide comprehensive job search support and facilitate safe, productive migration as a livelihoods strategy. Taking advantage of freedom of movement provisions within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), we will pilot a training program helping young men in Niger plan and execute cross-border moves in Fall 2021 ahead of the Jan. – April 2022 migration season. Pilot results will inform a randomized control trial which we expect to launch in Fall 2023.