The Reach of Radio: Ending Civil Conflict through Rebel Demobilization


Year: 2018 HiCN Working Paper No. 249

This paper examines the role of FM radio in mitigating and ending violent conflict. We collect original data on radio broadcasts encouraging defections during the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency in central Africa. We provide the first quantitative evaluation of an active counter-insurgency policy. Exploiting random topography-driven variation in ra- dio coverage along with panel variation at the grid-cell level we identify the causal effect of messaging on violence. Broadcasting defection messages reduce fatalities, violence against civilians and clashes with security forces. These reductions are propelled by an increase in defections. In response to manpower losses, the LRA resorts to increased looting for survival. Income shocks measured by exogenous movements in commodity prices have opposing ef- fects on both the conflict and the effectiveness of messaging. Conflict-enhancing (-reducing) commodity price shocks weaken (strengthen) the pacifying effects of defection messaging. This highlights the role of economic incentives in the success of counter-insurgency policies.

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