Beth Elise Whitaker, Ph.D.

University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Country: United States (North Carolina)

About Me:

Beth Elise Whitaker is an associate professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Her research focuses on migration and security issues, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. She has done extensive work on African migration, exploring how political dynamics influence attitudes toward immigration, comparative refugee policy, and diaspora engagement in homeland politics. As a Fulbright Scholar in Kenya in 2005-2006, she conducted research on U.S.-African counter-terrorism cooperation. More recently, with a grant from the Minerva Initiative of the U.S. Department of Defense, Whitaker and colleagues launched the Resources and Conflict Project to examine how rebel groups’ illicit funding strategies influence conflict dynamics. Whitaker has conducted field research in Tanzania (1996-1998, 2003), Kenya (2005-2006, 2015, 2016), and Botswana (2005). Whitaker is co-author with John F. Clark of Africa’s International Relations: Balancing Domestic and Global Interests (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2018) and her articles have appeared or are forthcoming in the Journal of Politics, Political Research Quarterly, Journal of Conflict Resolution, European Journal of International Relations, Journal of Peace Research, African Studies Review, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, International Migration Review, Third World Quarterly, and Journal of Refugee Studies, among others. From 2010 to 2012, Whitaker served as chair of the African Politics Conference Group, a network of political scientists who study Africa. She worked previously at the Brookings Institution and the American Council on Education and has consulted for the U.S. Departments of State and Defense, the Social Science Research Council, the United Nations Foundation, and Save the Children Fund. She received her Ph.D. in 1999 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Research Interests

African Politics

Immigration & Citizenship


Political Violence


Conflict Processes & War

Countries of Interest




Journal Articles:

(2019) Natural Resource Exploitation and Sexual Violence by Rebel Groups, Journal of Politics

Sexual violence in wartime is not inevitable, and its prevalence varies substantially among armed groups and over time. This study investigates how the financing of rebel organizations influences their incentives and capacities to restrain sexual violence. We argue that the degree to which rebels rely on outsiders to profit from natural resources influences the frequency with which they commit acts of sexual violence. Rebel movements that extort producers of natural resources are less reliant on the local population and more willing to risk alienating them by engaging in sexual violence. By contrast, smuggling of natural resources requires active cooperation with a broad network of criminals and civilians outside of the rebel organization’s control. The need to sustain such cooperation provides rebels with an incentive to curtail widespread sexual violence. Using a new data set that codes rebel groups’ natural resource exploitation strategies, we find empirical support for our expectations.

(2019) Rebel Funding and Child Soldiers: Exploring the Relationship between Natural Resources and Forcible Recruitment, European Journal of International Relations

Why do some rebel groups forcibly recruit children while others largely refrain from using this strategy? We argue that it depends, in part, on their ability to profit from natural resources. Rebel groups that earn funding from natural resources have less incentive to restrain abusive behavior such as the forced recruitment of children and more incentive to tolerate and even promote this recruitment strategy. To test our expectations, we collected new data on the level of forcible recruitment of children by rebel groups. This is distinct from the broader use of child soldiers, a significant portion of whom volunteer to join armed groups. We combined the information on forced recruitment with a recent data set on rebel groups’ exploitation of natural resources. Our analyses show that rebel groups that profit from natural resources are significantly more likely to forcibly recruit children than groups that do not exploit natural resources. Looking at specific characteristics, rebels that extract lootable resources are more likely to engage in the forced recruitment of children than groups that profit only from non-lootable resources or from no natural resources at all. The findings have important implications for our understanding of the relationship between rebels’ revenue streams and their engagement in human rights violations.

(2018) Funding rebellion: The Rebel Contraband Dataset, Journal of Peace Research

(Co-authored with James Igoe Walsh, Justin M. Conrad, and Katelin M. Hudak) We introduce a new dataset measuring if and how rebel groups earn income from the exploitation of natural resources or criminal activities. The Rebel Contraband Dataset makes three contributions to data in this area. First, it covers a wide range of natural resources and types of crime. Second, it measures rebel engagement in these activities over time. Third, it distinguishes among different strategies that rebel groups employ, such as extortion and smuggling. Theory suggests that reliance on natural resource wealth should lead rebels to mistreat civilians, but cross-group research using existing data does not find support for this relationship. We replicate an earlier study using data from the Rebel Contraband Dataset and conclude that there is a consistent relationship between natural resource exploitation and civilian victimization. Future research can use the dataset to explore questions about the onset, location, severity, and outcomes of civil conflicts.

(2018) Which Immigrants Should Be Naturalized? Which Should Be Deported? Evidence from a Survey Experiment in Côte d’Ivoire, Political Research Quarterly

(Co-authored with Nathaniel Terrence Cogley and John Andrew Doces) Experimental studies on immigration attitudes have been conducted overwhelmingly in Western countries and have focused on immigrant admission and naturalization, neglecting deportation as a possible outcome. In a survey experiment in Côte d’Ivoire, where immigrants represent more than one-tenth of the population, we randomized attributes of hypothetical immigrants to determine which factors influenced respondents’ support for naturalization or deportation compared with staying in the country without citizenship. Support for naturalization was shaped by several expected economic and social attributes, while deportation preferences were influenced primarily by the immigrant’s legal status and level of savings. Cultural proximity produced mixed results, with respondents less likely to support the naturalization of immigrants from neighboring African countries but also less likely to deport immigrants with whom they shared a religious faith. Finally, respondents were more likely to support the naturalization of immigrants who planned to vote if granted citizenship, especially when they were of the same religion as the respondent, indicating a degree of electoral calculation in a context where voting patterns are associated with religious identities. Together, these findings suggest that citizen preferences for naturalization and deportation are influenced by somewhat different factors, a possibility that warrants further testing in other contexts.

(2018) Rebel Natural Resource Exploitation and Conflict Duration, Journal of Conflict Resolution

(Co-authored with Justin M. Conrad, Kevin T. Greene, and James Igoe Walsh) How does natural resource wealth influence the duration of civil conflicts? We theorize that the exploitation of natural resources can strengthen rebels’ “power to resist” the government, but this depends on how rebels earn funding from those resources. Distinguishing between the extortion and smuggling of natural resources, we posit that smuggling in particular is more likely to give rebels the flexibility and mobility needed to effectively resist government repression. We then test this proposition empirically using new data that identify not only whether rebels profit from resources but also how they do so. We find that only when rebels smuggle natural resources do civil conflicts last significantly longer. In contrast, conflicts in which rebel groups earn money from extorting natural resource production are not significantly more likely to endure. This finding is of special interest because past work has largely ignored how rebels earn income from natural resources and the implication this distinction might have on conflict processes.

(2017) Migration within Africa and Beyond, African Studies Review

The recent furor about immigration in the United States is only the latest chapter in a lengthy global saga. Most accounts overlook the fact that the majority of African migration takes place within Africa itself. When Africans leave home, more often than not they move to nearby countries. Much as in other regions, refugees and migrants in Africa face a complicated and sometimes unpredictable combination of hospitality and hostility.

(2015) Political competition and attitudes toward immigration in Africa, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies

(Co-authored with Jason Giersch) This paper examines the political conditions under which individuals are more likely to oppose immigration. We focus on immigration attitudes in Africa, which has been overlooked in existing literature and where there is wide variation on political factors. Drawing on existing case study literature that links exclusionary politics in that region to on-going processes of political liberalisation, we hypothesise that political competition heightens opposition to immigration by raising the salience of the issue and legitimising hostile attitudes. Using multilevel mixed-effect ordered logistic regression analysis with survey data from African countries, we find that opposition to immigration is significantly higher among individuals in countries that are more democratic, that have dominant party systems, and when the survey is conducted shortly before or after a national election. Our analysis also shows that opposition to immigration is more likely in African countries with higher levels of ethnic diversity and higher levels of economic development. In addition to raising important questions for future cross-regional research, our findings from Africa suggest a need to re-think broader comparative theories about immigration attitudes and to give greater attention to the role of political competition in shaping public opinion.

(2015) Playing the immigration card: the politics of exclusion in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana, Commonwealth & Comparative Politics

Exclusionary rhetoric often emerges in the context of political competition in Africa, but why are anti-immigrant strategies used by politicians in some transitional democracies and not others? Drawing on broader comparative literature, this article proposes three conditions under which politicians are likely to ‘play the immigration card’: when the costs of immigration become concentrated for key interest groups; when embracing anti-immigration rhetoric will divide the support base of an opponent; and when the backing of anti-immigration groups is necessary to build a winning electoral coalition. A comparative case analysis of Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana provides preliminary support for these hypotheses.

(2015) Diaspora Voting and Ethnic Politics in Kenya, Afrique contemporaine

(Co-authored with Salma Inyanji) Many African governments have extended voting rights to nationals living abroad, but little is known about the political behavior of diaspora populations. In the context of Kenya, where the 2010 constitution authorized diaspora voting, we ask whether nationals living abroad are as likely to vote along ethnic lines as their counterparts at home. Using data from public opinion polls prior to the March 2013 presidential election, we compare levels of support for presumed ethnic candidates among Kenyans surveyed in the diaspora and those surveyed in the country. Overall, diaspora respondents were significantly less likely than in-country respondents to support the presumed ethnic candidate from their home province. The results provide preliminary support for our hypothesis that diaspora Africans are less likely to vote along ethnic lines than their in-country counterparts, and thus are less reliable for the construction of ethnic coalitions. More survey data are needed from Kenyans and other Africans living abroad to further examine the relationship between diaspora voting and ethnicity in African politics.

(2011) The Politics of Home: Dual Citizenship and the African Diaspora, International Migration Review

In recent decades, more countries have started to recognize dual citizenship. Although overlooked in the literature, Africa is part of this trend with more than half of its governments now permitting their nationals to naturalize elsewhere while retaining home country rights. Why have some African countries embraced dual citizenship for emigrants, while others have not? We examine demographic, political, and economic data broadly across the continent and identify few clear patterns. We then explore the cases of Senegal, Ghana, and Kenya, finding that dual citizenship policies are driven as much by politics as they are by economic or security concerns.

(2010) Soft balancing among weak states? Evidence from Africa, International Affairs

Recent literature on the use of soft balancing to counter the hegemony of the United States has focused primarily on middle powers in Europe and rising powers such as China. But what about weak states? Do they simply go along with the hegemon, or do they challenge its policies despite the odds? And to what extent does the soft balancing argument explain their behaviour? In recent years, several historically friendly African countries have used non-military means to undermine the unilateral policies of the United States. Leaders in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Mali, Namibia and Niger especially have resisted US demands in areas such as the ‘war on terror’, the International Criminal Court and the US Africa Command. This article seeks to explain the strategies of opposition that some African countries have pursued. It finds that the behaviour is driven both by regional power concerns and by domestic political considerations. Interestingly, public opinion in these relatively democratic countries is motivated by disagreements with US policy and by resentment of the predominance of American power. Thus, the evidence both confirms and challenges the notion of soft balancing. On one hand, the behaviour of African states is driven at least in part by the global balance of power—directly, as leaders respond to power concerns within the continent, and indirectly, as citizens pressure leaders to resist the hegemon. On the other hand, these findings challenge the underlying premise that state behaviour is determined solely by structural concerns. Instead, the oppositional behaviour of African states has both systemic and domestic explanations.

(2010) Compliance among weak states: Africa and the counter-terrorism regime, Review of International Studies

This article examines levels of compliance with the counter-terrorism regime in Africa, where weak states might have been expected to conform. Instead, even under American pressure, some governments have seized the anti-terrorism rhetoric while others have been more reluctant. A comparative analysis of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda demonstrates that domestic political factors largely explain this variation; compliance is highest in countries with the least democratic institutions and minimal mobilisation of domestic constituencies. Aid dependence and the perception of a terrorist threat also play a role. To the extent that popular pressures in transitional democracies reduce compliance, the article raises questions about the legitimacy and effectiveness of the counter-terrorism regime.

(2009) Voting on a constitution: Implications for democracy in Kenya, Journal of Contemporary African Studies

(Co-authored with Jason Giersch) In November 2005, Kenya held its first-ever national referendum on a proposed constitution. After a contentious review process, 58% of voters rejected the final document. It is common in the analysis of Kenyan politics to rely on ethnic explanations; indeed, the referendum results cannot be understood without exploring ethnic cleavages in Kenyan society. However, an exclusive focus on ethnicity obscures other factors that influenced voters, including the controversial process of drafting the constitution, the mobilisation efforts of the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigns, and the perceived performance of the government. In the end, the referendum was seen as a positive step toward democratic consolidation in Kenya and raised hopes for the future. For the second time in three years, voters rejected the preference of the sitting government, which respected the results. Hopes were dashed, though, when irregularities marred the 2007 election and the announcement of contested results sparked a wave of violence. Under intense domestic and international pressure, the opposing sides reached a power-sharing agreement, as the need for a new constitutional order in Kenya became even more apparent.

(2008) Reluctant Partners: Fighting terrorism and promoting democracy in Kenya, International Studies Perspectives

Do fighting terrorism and promoting democracy go together, as policy makers suggest, or do they conflict in practice? This paper explores these dynamics in the case of Kenya, a transitional democracy that has been the victim of several terrorist attacks. Based on an examination of recent areas of cooperation and contention between the United States and Kenya, the paper argues that democratic pressures can make it difficult for newly elected governments to cooperate publicly in the “war on terror,” though private cooperation often continues behind the scenes. This suggests the need for an approach among American policy makers that recognizes the domestic political constraints faced by foreign partners and seeks common ground between internal and external priorities. While the goals of promoting democracy and fighting terrorism may conflict in the short term, the development of shared democratic values could pave the way for closer partnerships in the future.

(2008) Funding the international refugee regime: Implications for protection, Global Governance

Despite the abundance of literature on international regimes, little attention has been given to how they are funded and the impact of funding on regime performance. This article examines how donor funding has affected the underlying principle of protection in the international refugee regime. It focuses on the case of Tanzania, where refugee protection standards have declined consistently over the past twelve years, and argues that a shortage of funding within the regime has contributed to the shift in government policy in several ways. To the extent that funding cuts have had an influence on declining protection standards, this case suggests that resource shortages may cause practice within an international regime to become inconsistent with its underlying principles, thus weakening the overall regime.

(2007) Exporting the Patriot Act? democracy and the ‘war on terror’ in the Third World, Third World Quarterly

Since 2001 many countries have adopted anti-terrorism laws that limit civil liberties and expand law enforcement powers in the name of national security. Counter-terrorism legislation is promoted through several international channels, most notably the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee, but the USA is clearly seen as the driving force. This article examines the politics surrounding the recent development and implementation of anti-terrorism laws in the Third World and the implications for ongoing processes of democratisation. In some countries the adoption of anti-terrorism laws has provided leaders with the tools they need to silence critics and punish political opponents. In others the introduction of such bills has actually encouraged debate and fostered civil society activism, much of it anti-American in tone. In either setting the Bush administration's twin foreign policy goals of strengthening international security and promoting democracy may be creating more cynics than friends.

(2005) Citizens and Foreigners: Democratization and the Politics of Exclusion in Africa, African Studies Review

In the ongoing context of political liberalization, many African leaders have adopted the rhetoric of democracy while at the same time devising ways to limit political competition. This article focuses on one such strategy: the effort to disqualify or discredit political opponents based on challenges to their citizenship. In recent years, several African leaders have initiated court cases and produced evidence to question the right of opposition candidates and other critics to participate in the political process. By examining specific examples in Côte d'Ivoire, Zambia, and elsewhere, the article explores the implications of this strategy. While citizenship rights are clearly important in any democracy, their explicit manipulation for the ruling party's political purposes is a risky approach that threatens to slow or even reverse the process of democratization. In the end, a tactic initially designed to exclude specific individuals from the political process has the potential of fueling broader xenophobic sentiments and legitimizing exclusionary nation-building strategies. At best, the resulting widening of social cleavages reduces the likelihood of democratic consolidation. At worst, it plants the seeds for future political conflict and possibly even war.

(2003) Refugees and the spread of conflict: Contrasting cases in Central Africa, Journal of Asian and African Studies

Do refugee movements cause the spread of conflict from one country to another and if so, under what conditions? This artice explores these questions by examining the contrasting cases of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania. The 1994 influx of Rwandan refugees into eastern Congo was a contributing factor in the outbreak of war there in 1996 and again in 1998. The 1994 refugee migration into western Tanzania, however, was relatively peaceful and did not generate further conflict. By exploring similarities and differences between the two cases, this artice develops several hypotheses about the conditions under which a massive refugee influx may result in the spread of conflict. In the end, the paper argues that refugees enter into an existing political context, creating new alignments and transforming old ones. In some cases, conflicts may result, each with its own dynamics, but in others they do not.

(2002) Refugees in Western Tanzania: The Burdens and Benefits Among Local Hosts, Journal of Refugee Studies

This paper examines the impact of more than one million refugees from Rwanda, Burundi, and Congo on host communities in western Tanzania. It argues that the burdens and benefits associated with the refugee presence were not distributed evenly among local hosts. Some Tanzanians benefited substantially from the presence of refugees and international relief agencies, while others struggled to maintain access to even the most basic resources. The impact varied within host communities based on factors such as gender, age, and class. Host experiences were also different from one area to another depending on settlement patterns, existing socio‐economic conditions, and the nature of host–refugee relations. In the end, hosts who already had access to resources, education, or power were better poised to benefit from the refugee presence, while those who were already disadvantaged in the local context became even further marginalized.

(2002) Changing priorities in refugee protection: the Rwandan repatriation from Tanzania, Refugee Survey Quarterly

In December 1996, the Tanzanian government forcibly repatriated more than 500,000 Rwandan refugees. Despite its mandate for refugee protection, UNHCR was closely involved in planning and implementing the operation. This paper argues that the decision to repatriate the refugees was based primarily on the threat of attack from Rwanda, the widespread perception of stability in that country, and the related decline in funding for the relief operation. At the same time, Tanzania’s lingering concern about the possibility that returning refugees would be killed led to a disturbing situation in which those who feared punishment in Rwanda for their involvement in the 1994 genocide continued to receive protection in Tanzania. The forced nature of the repatriation was therefore regrettable, but the underlying reasons were understandable. In the long run, policy priorities will inevitably come into conflict and refugee protection dilemmas will require careful analysis of the likely consequences of various policy alternatives. The contextualization of policy decisions will allow for the emergence of approaches that are tailored to address the needs and priorities of the situation at hand.

Books Written:

(2018) Africa’s International Relations: Balancing Domestic and Global Interests, Lynne Rienner Publishers

(Co-authored with John F. Clark) This timely introduction to Africa's international relations explores how power, interests, and ideas influence interactions both among the continent's states and between African states and other actors in the global arena. How has history shaped the international relations of African states and peoples? What role does identity play? How are foreign policies linked to domestic political dynamics, and especially to the pursuit of regime security? How are states grappling with the tensions between sovereignty and external pressures? These are among the questions answered as the authors address a wide range of ongoing and emerging challenges, all in historical and theoretical context. In addition, a case study at the end of each chapter illustrates key concepts and reflects an ongoing debate. The result is an ideal text for students, as well as an invaluable resource for researchers and policymakers.

(2000) Critical Choices: The United Nations, Networks, and the Future of Global Governance, International Development Research Centre

(Co-authored with Wolfgang H. Reinicke, Francis Deng, Jan Martin Witte, Thorsten Benner, and John Gershman) The world that we live in today is changing dramatically. Economic and political liberalization, together with accelerating technological change, are driving the extraordinary process we know as "globalization." This new global environment requires new approaches, new ideas, and innovative tools to address new challenges in areas as different as weapons control, climate change, genetic engineering, and labour standards. Critical Choices looks at one such tool: global public policy networks. In these networks, governments, international organizations, the corporate sector, and civil society join together to achieve what none can accomplish on its own. The authors explore both the promises and the limitations of this new form of global cooperation. They discuss how such networks might contribute to better manage the risks and make use of the opportunities that globalization presents. Finally, they offer provocative advice and solid recommendations on how the United Nations can foster such networks in the years ahead. The United Nations faces a set of critical choices. It must not only be a haven for its member states but also needs to find ways to collaborate with civil society and the global business community in tackling the challenges that lie ahead. By promoting global public policy networks, the UN will more effectively serve its member states and fulfill its mission to address the problems of humanity.