Anders Themnér

Universitetslektor vid Institutionen för freds- och konfliktforskning

018-471 71 75
Gamla Torget 3, 1tr
753 20 Uppsala
Box 514
751 20 UPPSALA

Kort presentation

I'm an Associate Prof. at the Department of Peace and Conflict Research and a Research Fellow at the Centre for Gender and Africa Studies (South Africa). My research focus is on post-civil war democratization; disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants; informal military networks and transitional justice. My geographic expertise is Africa in general, and West Africa in particular. I have conducted extensive field research in Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Republic of Congo.


  • africa
  • conflict resolution
  • demobilization
  • democratization
  • disarmament
  • ex-combatants
  • liberia
  • mediation
  • peacebuilding
  • reintegration
  • social networks
  • student violence
  • transitional justice


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Universities at Risk: Explaining Organized Student Violence at African Universities

Improving access to higher education is heralded as a central component of promoting democracy and peace. For these reasons international donors are investing considerable resources in strengthening universities in the ‘Global South’. Despite this, universities are often fraught by organized violence in many developing countries. This constitutes a serious problem. Not only does the militarization of campuses risk degrading the quality of higher education, but also foster a new generation of leaders who use violence as a tool for political contestation. There is currently a lack of studies investigating universities as sites of violent mobilization. The purpose of this project is therefore to explain under what conditions university based organized violence is most likely to erupt. We propose that violence is particularly likely when there is competition between political elites to control the mobilization capacity of campuses. Under such circumstances, marginalized students have incentives to engage in violence in order to be integrated into elites’ patronage networks. To address the question at hand, we have collected data on the prevalence of organized student violence at all public universities in Sub-Saharan Africa (490 universities in 48 countries) during 2000-2022. Statistical analyses will be used to explain why student violence is clustered at some of these universities, while not at others. This will be complemented with an in-depth comparative study–using ethnographic field research–of two universities in one African country (country yet to be selected). The project will be based at Uppsala University during 2023-25 and has two participating researchers–Anders Themnér (principal investigator) and Hanne Fjelde.

Communities at Risk: Mediation as a Tool to Defuse Ethnic Tensions in Post-War Liberia and Beyond

In post-civil war societies, state institutions often lack the capacity to regulate interpersonal disputes. Such governance ‘vacuums’ constitute a problem in communities polarized along ethnic cleavages, where seemingly small quarrels easily escalate into large-scale ethnic violence. To address this challenge, peacemakers often collaborate with traditional leaders to increase their mediation capacity. Even if research has identified the key role mediation has in hindering violence, there is less knowledge about who community members actually choose to turn to, to settle their disputes. This is worrisome. If peacemakers work with mediators who lack local legitimacy, it may not only undermine efforts to prevent large-scale ethnic killings, but actually increase the risk of such violence. The purpose of this project is therefore to investigate why some mediators are more popular than others, when it comes to settling inter-ethnic personal disputes. We suggest that most residents prefer to take their inter-ethnic disputes to societal brokers–individuals who possess networks that transcend ethnic cleavages–for arbitration. To assess this proposition, we will conduct a study of a war-ravaged community (anonymized for ethical reasons) in Liberia using social network analysis and ethnographic fieldwork. The project will be based at Uppsala University during 2023-25 and has two participating researchers–Anders Themnér (principal investigator) and Emma Elfversson.

Arrested Development: The Dangerous Mix of Patronage and Justice in Post-Conflict Countries

How to deal with perpetrators of war crimes has been identified as a key component of peacebuilding. There is a growing literature analyzing the correlation between amnesties and civil war duration and investigating claims that war-crime tribunals have a positive long-term impact on security. A central shortcoming in this literature is that it does not take into account what happens to post-war societies at the moment leaders are arrested. In fact, arrests can be likened with systemic shocks that threaten the wellbeing of wartime leaders’ constituencies and can result in renewed violence. The purpose of this project is therefore to investigate why the detention of former wartime leaders generate organized violence in some instances, but not in others. The study employs a mixed-method approach; the findings from a quantitative study of post-armed conflict arrests in the world (1946 to 2015), will be contrasted with insights from a structured, focused comparison between the incarceration of Slobodan Milošević (ex-Yugoslavia) and Charles Taylor (Liberia). The project is funded by Swedish Research Council (Development Research Section) and done in collaboration with Joakim Kreutz.

Enhancing Development and Security on the Ground? Exploring the Effects of Top-Down and Bottom-Up Post-Conflict Justice and Reconciliation Processes

Recent research in the field of transitional justice has increasingly called attention to debates about whether top-down (e.g. criminal tribunals/truth commissions) or bottom up post-conflict justice and reconciliation strategies (e.g. customary/grassroots processes) are more advantageous to pursue in the wake of mass atrocity. While these processes are generally viewed as necessary to deal with past wrongdoings, it remains unclear how participation in top-down vs. bottom-up processes impacts upon perceptions of security and socioeconomic cooperation in the local settings. We will undertake a structured-focused comparison of three post-conflict settings that had varying approaches to transitional justice: Sierra Leone, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Mozambique. The first two implemented official, top-down strategies, while the latter relied on locally-derived, grassroots processes to overcome their violent pasts. Data will be collected through in-depth interviews and focus group discussions with victims and perpetrators who continue to live in the same communities. The project is funded by Swedish Research Council (Development Section) and done in collaboration with Holly Guthrey and Roland Kostic.

Warlord Democrats in Africa

Democratization has been identified as a crucial mechanism when building peace after war. A by-product of such processes is that ex-warlords often ‘reinvent’ themselves as democrats. Even if it may be necessary to embrace such ‘warlord democrats’ (WDs) to prevent them from returning to war, there are also considerable risks involved. In their quest for votes it is not uncommon that they use their electoral platforms to incite fear and cement wartime cleavages. They can either do this by using inflammatory rhetoric or engaging in confrontational electoral behavior. At worst, such actions can undermine democratic institutions and trigger new outbursts of violence. To improve efforts to build stable and accountable democracy in post-civil war societies, it is therefore crucial to understand when and why WDs seek to (re)securitize wartime identities – held as speech acts and electoral practices that aim to keep war-affected communities polarized and in fear of each other. This project seeks to address this puzzle by comparing WDs in Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and South Sudan. The project is funded by Swedish Research Council (Development Research Section) and Stiftelsen Marcus och Amalia Wallenbergs Minnesfond and done in collaboration with Henrik Angerbrandt, Johan Brosché, Roxanna Sjöstedt and Mimmi Söderberg Kovacs.

The Informal Realities of Peacebuilding - Military Networks and Former Mid-Level Commanders in Post-War Liberia

Contrary to popular belief the DDR-process in Liberia has largely failed to destroy the command structures of armed groups, as informal ties continue to thrive between former mid-level commanders (ex-MiLCs) and their old subordinates. The resilience of such networks constitutes a serious challenge to democratization and institution-building. Not only can warlords and politicians employ them to engage in warfare and crime, they can also be used to exploit natural resources and set up vigilante groups. The purpose of the project is therefore to develop strategies for how to prevent ex-MiLCs from using their old networks to engage in illicit activities. To this end, the study will conduct in-depth, semi-structured interviews with ex-MiLCs and fighters in Liberia. The hope is that this will generate new insights into how we can address the threat posed by informal military structures. This projected was funded by The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency done in collaboration with Mats Utas.


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Anders Themnér