Abstract

Despite their catastrophic proportions, the Congo Wars have received little attention from international relations scholars. At the heart of these conflicts were alliances between rebel groups and neighboring rulers. What are the origins of such transnational alliances, which have been a major feature of nearly all civil wars in post–Cold War Africa? Recent scholarship on external support for rebel groups does not offer a clear answer, either providing long lists of the goals that state sponsors may have or avoiding the question of motives altogether. A focus on political survival reveals that African rulers form alliances with rebels in nearby states to reduce the threats of rebellions and military coups that the rulers themselves face at home. Transnational alliances serve either to weaken a ruler's domestic enemies by undermining their foreign sponsors or to ensure the continued allegiance of key domestic supporters by providing them with opportunities for enrichment. Case studies of the alliance decisions made in the two Congo Wars by the rulers of Angola, Rwanda, Sudan, Uganda, and Zimbabwe show that their struggles for political survival account for why they sided either with their Congolese counterparts or with Congolese rebels.

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