Rebel Predation: Remotely Sensed Evidence from Liberia

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This paper uses satellite imagery to measure local food production as a proxy for civilian security during Liberia’s civil war, 1989-2003. I show that the rebel National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) provided enough security for civilians to maintain farming at pre-war levels, while other rebel groups triggered significant declines in food production due to their predation. These patterns of civilian security pose a challenge to existing theories of rebel behavior that focus on access to resources, ethnic composition, or territorial competition. I propose a simple explanation for rebel group behavior that focuses on the leader’s ability to incentivize group members in the absence of enforceable contracts or credit markets. The theory predicts food production should follow a spatial pattern based on distance to rebel bases and the presence of lootable resources and finds support in the data.