Bettina Engels situated her presentation within the research field of armed group studies. Influential for her own research has been research on “rebel governance” especially from political science and peace and conflict studies, as well as research on the social anthropology of the state. She combined the two strands of research to study rebel rule in Northern Côte d’Ivoire after the coup in 2002. Engels emphasises that the way how rebel governance works cannot be understood without considering how the pre-conflict state worked.
The title “Rebels at Work” is inspired by a German-African research project called “States at Work”. In the same vein as this project took an interest in actual practices which (re-)produce the state, she takes an interest in the actual practices of armed groups in their attempts to gain power and administrate population.
Engels discussed everyday life in the “rebel state” with regard to education, healthcare, taxation and security. In conclusion, she identified two main difference between the “normal” and the “rebel state”. First, the militarisation the of all public functions (all positions are filled by military personnel) as well as of the everyday sphere in general (ubiquity of armed actors and a potential for violence). The second difference is, what she calls the “shadow of the short run”, which was a result of the people (including the fighters) not knowing how long rebel rule would last. The consequences are an informalisation and privatisation of violence and welfare (especially of education and healthcare), an increase in inequality as well as a decrease in service quality.
Related book: Bettina ENGELS, 2012, Warum sie Rebellen sind. Motive nichtstaatlicher Gewaltakteure in der Côte d’Ivoire, Frankfurt/Main: Bandes & Apsel