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Reintegrating rebels into civilian life: Quasi-experimental evidence from Burundi

- August 3, 2010

Michael Gilligan, Eric Mvukiyehe, and Cyrus Samii write:

We [Gilligan, Mvukiyehe, and Samii] use original survey data, collected in Burundi in the summer of 2007, to show that a World Bank ex-combatant reintegration program implemented after Burundi’s civil war caused significant economic reintegration for its beneficiaries but that this economic reintegration did not translate into greater political and social reintegration.

Previous studies of reintegration programs have found them to be ineffective, but these studies have suffered from selection bias: only ex-combatants who self selected into those programs were studied. We avoid such bias with a quasi-experimental research design made possible by an exogenous bureaucratic failure in the implementation of program. One of the World Bank’s implementing partners delayed implementation by almost a year due to an unforeseen contract dispute. As a result, roughly a third of ex-combatants had their program benefits withheld for reasons unrelated to their reintegration prospects. We conducted our survey during this period, constructing a control group from those unfortunate ex-combatants whose benefits were withheld.

We find that the program provided a significant income boost, resulting in a 20 to 35 percentage point reduction in poverty incidence among ex-combatants. We also find moderate improvement in ex-combatants’ livelihood prospects.

However, these economic effects do not seem to have caused greater political integration. While we find a modest increase in the propensity to report that civilian life is preferable to combatant life, we find no evidence that the program contributed to more satisfaction with the peace process or a more positive disposition toward current government institutions.

Reintegration programs are central in current peace processes and considerable resources are devoted to them. Thus, our evidence has important policy implications. While we find strong evidence for the effectiveness in terms of economic reintegration, our results challenge theories stating that short-run economic conditions are a major determinant of one’s disposition toward society and the state.

Social and political integration of ex-combatants likely requires much more than individually-targeted economic assistance.

This seems important for policy and I hope will get some attention. Form a statistical perspective, they use a cool identification strategy: As noted in the abstract above, they take advantage of a bureaucratic failure. The paper uses matching to handle “incidental” imbalances, inverse propensity adjustment for “exposure heterogeneity”, and graphs estimates in terms of population level effects (rather than in terms of individual level effects, which current causal inference literature never take to be identified).

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