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Reflections on Governance and Taxation by Armed Groups - 16 June 2021

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Speaker: Zachariah Mampilly, Marxe Endowed Chair of International Affairs, City University of New York

Chairs: Beth Heron, Research Manager, King's College London and Dr Christine Cheng, Senior Lecturer in International Relations, King's College London


Can a non-state armed group ever engage in taxation? Or, as a non-state actor, is it axiomatically engaged in extortion?

Among the more enduring tropes in literature on organised violence is that taxation by a rebel group is no different than a protection racket. Two core assumptions undergird this paradigm. First is the belief that rebels only engage in taxation to generate revenue. Second is that while such groups might offer protection in exchange for payment, the rebellion is the source of the threat. Hence rebel taxation is a form of racketeering in which an actor demands payment for protection from itself, in other words, a protection racket. But if so, why apply the term “tax” to non-state armed groups at all?

Zachariah argues that such economic instrumentalism is inadequate for understanding the logic of rebel taxation. Zachariah introduces several potential non-economic logics for rebel taxation. Some of these have no direct economic benefit while others are secondary to the economic rational. He illustrates these dynamics drawing on examples from recent conflicts and concludes that rebel taxation should be understood as a technology of governance, potentially even more so than its immediate economic purpose.


Zachariah Mampilly is the Marxe Endowed Chair of International Affairs at the Marxe School of Public and International Affairs, CUNY and a member of the doctoral faculty in the Department of Political Science at the Graduate Center, CUNY.

He is the Co-Founder of the Program on African Social Research. He is the author of Rebel Rulers: Insurgent Governance and Civilian Life during War  (Cornell U. Press 2011) and with Adam Branch, Africa Uprising: Popular Protest and Political Change (African Arguments, Zed Press 2015).

He is the co-editor of Rebel Governance in Civil Wars  (Cambridge U. Press 2015) with Ana Arjona and Nelson Kasfir; and Peacemaking: From Practice to Theory (Praeger 2011) with Andrea Bartoli and Susan Allen Nan.

His writing has also appeared in Foreign Affairs, Jacobin, The Hindu, Africa's a Country, N+1, Dissent, Al Jazeera, The Washington Post​ and elsewhere. 

Zachariah Mampilly

At this event

Christine  Cheng

Christine Cheng

Senior Lecturer in International Relations

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16 June 2021

Online event