I had the opportunity to ask Zachariah a few questions about his book and its relevance for today's questions about Libya:
TiA: What was the most surprising thing you learned in researching Rebel Rulers ?
Mampilly: As an undergraduate in the late 90's, I was regularly confronted by works on the "collapse" or "failure" of the African state. By the time I arrived at UCLA for graduate school, Paul Collier's work had initiated a boom in scholarship on the criminality of insurgent organizations. The problem with both literatures was that they didn't conform to the reality of what I was witnessing on the ground but were more a fantasy of how the West perceives post-colonial countries, i.e. weak and corrupt governments overtaken by violent criminal warlords.
But on my first trips to to Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, and Sri Lanka in the early 2000s, I was struck by the relative normalcy of towns under insurgent control. Despite the difficult conditions which ebbed and flowed with the rhythm of the conflict, civilians continually tried to return to something resembling their normal lives. Instead of looking to the state to provide support, they turned to a variety of non-state actors and networks to meet their basic needs, sometimes effectively. What I came to realize is that the Hobbesian assumption that only the state can stave off anarchy continues to underlie academic understandings of social and political order. But in many other societies, there are various sources of social – religious groups, traditional authorities, NGOs, corporations, armed groups, etc. – that become especially relevant in times of war. Arguably, these should be the focus of our analysis (versus simply documenting the many ways in which post-colonial states fail to live up to their Western counterparts).