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 the- ory 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.


with Leonardo R. Arriola
 The Journal of Politics, Volume 83, Issue 3, July 2021
Read the paper here

Health crises can reveal the inability of governments to induce compliance with policy interventions. While lack of compliance is conventionally attributed to individual mistrust in government, resistance to such interventions is often found clustered among entire communities, particularly in ethnically divided societies. We account for such patterns by explaining how citizens adjust their responses to state authority according to their shared ethnicity with those in power. We assess the effect of ethnicity on citizen compliance with a public health advisory on HIV/AIDs issued by different authority types through a survey-based field experiment in the West African country of Guinea. Members of a politically marginalized ethnic group, the Peul, are significantly less likely to comply with a public health advisory from a national government representative, the president, when compared to local or religious leaders. We show that perceived ethnic discrimination conditions both trust in and compliance with different authority types.

with Biz Herman, Amma Panin, Elizabeth Wellman, Graeme Blair, Lindsey Pruett, Ken O. Opalo, Hannah Alarian, Yvonne Tan, Alex Dyzenhaus, and Nicholas Owsley
Forthcoming in PS: Political Science & Politics

Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have emerged as a leading methodological tool to strengthen causal inference in the social sciences. Yet RCTs carry significant risks for everyone involved, from participants to researchers themselves, especially in the Global South. In this article, we explore how researchers’ identities and power influence the conduct of research and their positionality within the research contexts—especially when conducting RCTs in the Global South. Our goal is to center local contexts and demands at each stage of the research process. Overall, we argue that centering local contexts, stakeholders, and demands at each stage of the research process is key to ensuring that RCTs in the Global South are ethically sound and generate insights that can serve the communities they investigate.


Can Appeals For Peace Promote Tolerance and Mitigate Support for Extremism? Evidence from an Experiment with Adolescents in Burkina Faso

with William Nomikos and Niloufer Siddiqui

Read the latest draft here

Recent efforts to improve attitudes toward outgroups and reduce support for extremists in violent settings report mixed results. Donors and aid organizations have spent millions of dollars to amplify the voices of moderate religious figures to counter violent extremism in West Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. Despite this investment, we know little about whether such messaging persuades the primary recruits of violent extremist organizations: at-risk youth in fragile settings. In this paper, we consider whether pro-peace religious messaging can promote social cohesion among school-age respondents in Burkina Faso. Using a survey experiment, we find little evidence that such messages affect reported attitudes or behaviors towards religious extremism and find instead that it can have the unintended effect of increasing intolerance towards ethnic others. Our findings carry lessons about the inadvertent priming of ethnic identities that can result in a backlash effect among certain societal segments.


Local Solutions to Local Problems? Evaluating the Effectiveness of Educational Programs to Reduce Inter-ethnic Tensions and Local Violence

with William Nomikos and Niloufer Siddiqui

Funded by Innovation for Poverty Action's Peace and Recovery Program.

We assess the effectiveness of a new EU-funded project to strengthen  social trust and rebuild communal norms of tolerance in  Burkina Faso. Burkina Faso has a strong history of peaceful coexistence among ethnic and religious groups, but in recent years has seen a rise of organized violence by Islamic extremists and a fracturing of old forms of social solidarity. Through a randomized  curricular intervention administered in schools and youth clubs, this study assesses the effectiveness of individual-level (building self-esteem and self-confidence)  and community-level (encouraging social cohesion through emphasizing shared identities) factors on inter-communal trust and the willingness of individuals to rely on non-violent solutions to local disputes. The proposed intervention seeks to educate  adolescents to reinforce identities that are tolerant of others and resilient to radicalization.  In cooperation with a local implementing partner, we randomly assign an  education module to teachers and non-school educators in six communes and two cities (Bobo-Dioulasso and Ouagadougou) in Burkina Faso. These educators will deliver the module to 2,400 youth from the ages of 12-25.

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

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

Funded by the Carnegie Corporation

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.