Dr. Kristen Harkness is a Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) in International Relations at the University of St. Andrews. She previously held a postdoctoral fellowship at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame after earning her PhD in Comparative Politics and International Relations from Princeton University.
Conflict Processes & War
Race, Ethnicity and Politics
Dr. Harkness' research interests lie at the intersection of ethnic politics and conflict studies, with a regional focus on Africa. Her book, When Soldiers Rebel, analyzes ethnic recruitment practices into African armies and how those practices have destabilized regimes, both historically and more recently during transitions to democracy. Other projects examine the causes and consequences of ethnic collective punishment during the Mau Mau rebellion in colonial Kenya, the challenges to civil war termination and peace building posed by ethnically recruited armies, and the political obstacles to successful military adaptation during counterinsurgency wars.
Subnational conflict research increasingly utilizes georeferenced event datasets to understand contentious politics and violence. Yet, how exactly locations are mapped to particular geographies, especially from unstructured text sources such as newspaper reports and archival records, remains opaque and few best practices exist for guiding researchers through the subtle but consequential decisions made during geolocation. We begin to address this gap by developing a systematic approach to georeferencing that articulates the strategies available, empirically diagnoses problems of bias created by both the data generating process and researcher-controlled tasks, and provides new generalizable tools for simultaneously optimizing both the recovery and accuracy of coordinates. We then empirically evaluate our process and tools against new micro-level data on the Mau Mau rebellion (colonial Kenya 1952–60), drawn from 20,000 pages of recently declassified British military intelligence reports. By leveraging a subset of these data that includes map codes alongside natural language location descriptions, we demonstrate how inappropriately georeferencing data can have important downstream consequences in terms of systematically biasing coefficients or altering statistical significance and how our tools can help alleviate these problems.
The military plays a crucial role in furthering or hindering democratization in Africa. Beyond direct intervention through coups, armies more subtly and perniciously condition the political trajectory of states through their loyalty. Leaders who can rely on unwavering military support for protection against internal unrest face fewer risks and greater chances of success in rolling back liberalization and entrenching authoritarian practices. Constructing ethnic armies, which tie the fate of soldiers to the regime, is a profoundly powerful way to affect such loyalty. Through a mixed methods analysis of presidential bids to challenge term limits, including a paired comparison of Senegal and Cameroon, I demonstrate that ethnic armies triple the chances of success and, in so doing, encourage defiance in the first place: 82% of presidents backed by ethnic armies attempt to defy their constitutions and extend their hold on power, as opposed to 31% of other leaders. Conversely, ethnically diverse armies are far more likely to defend constitutional politics and constrain leaders to abide by term limits. The ethnic composition of the military thus critically shapes the prospects for African liberalization.
Military coups have posed a persistent threat to political stability in Africa, undermining democratization efforts, igniting insurgencies, and leading to years of devastating military governance. Initial cross-national studies found little consistent evidence linking ethnicity to coups, leading recent formal and statistical work on coup risk and coup-proofing to largely ignore ethnic politics. This article, however, argues that in two important contexts of African political development—decolonization and democratization—ethnic politics are critical to understandingthe occurrence of coups. Both case study evidence and statistical analysis of original data on African military history and ethnic politics reveal that practices of ethnic manipulation within security institutions have driven coup attempts. When leaders attempt to build ethnic armies, or dismantle those created by their predecessors, they provoke violent resistance from military officers.
Tactical learning is critical to battlefield success, especially in a counterinsurgency. This article tests the existing model of military adaption against a ‘most-likely’ case: the British Army’s counterinsurgency in the Southern Cameroons (1960–61). Despite meeting all preconditions thought to enable adaptation – decentralization, leadership turnover, supportive leadership, poor organizational memory, feedback loops, and a clear threat – the British still failed to adapt. Archival evidence suggests politicians subverted bottom-up adaptation, because winning came at too high a price in terms of Britain’s broader strategic imperatives. Our finding identifies an important gap in the extant adaptation literature: it ignores politics.
Military coups are a constant threat in Africa and many former military leaders are now in control of 'civilian states', yet the military remains understudied, especially over the last decade. Drawing on extensive archival research, cross-national data, and four in-depth comparative case studies, When Soldiers Rebel examines the causes of military coups in post-independence Africa and looks at the relationship between ethnic armies and political instability in the region. Kristen A. Harkness argues that the processes of creating and dismantling ethnically exclusionary state institutions engenders organized and violent political resistance. Focusing on rebellions to protect rather than change the status quo, Harkness sheds light on a mechanism of ethnic violence that helps us understand both the motivations and timing of rebellion, and the rarity of group rebellion in the face of persistent political and economic inequalities along ethnic lines.