Data: Rebel records

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During 26 months' fieldwork, I negotiated access to the internal records of armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo. These files include financial ledgers, payment slips, budgets, security reports, and correspondences with foreign buyers that offer unprecedented insights into the real workings of rebel governance and wartime trade.


Data Access

I perform several verification checks to assess the credibility of the data. A first, internal validity, check pertains to data collection and content. I gained unrestricted access to the files and selected records unsupervised at rebel field sites, mitigating risks that collection would bias the content. Rebels kept records in confidential locations and produced them for internal purposes. Records contain evidence of transactions with sanctioned entities and include files labeled “confidential” or “secret.” Extensive field knowledge and fluent Swahili were necessary to gain privileged access to the data: I learned of the records through networks established during a year-long residence in Congo before doctoral research (2009-2010), accessed the records thereafter (2011-15), and returned for follow-up interviews (2016-17).


As an external validity check, I compare trafficking circuits in the rebel files against investigative reports. In 2000, the UNSC created the Panel of Experts on Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources to investigate Congo’s conflict economies. I created a roster of firms the UN Panel identified as “illegally” operating in RCD territory. 78% of firms are represented in the files I recovered. My files also reveal extensive information beyond the UN reports. This type of overlap would be expected of two independent studies of war economies that relied on original records as sources.


Research was conducted under IRB approval at Northwestern University, and terms of use on the records were approved by rebel gatekeepers. I anonymize all documents: my purpose is to evaluate patterns in rebel organization and governance, not present a whodunit case.

Rebel "organization": gaining access to the "archives"

Documents were kept in gunny sacks marked with the initials of rebels' internal ministries. I digitized the records produced by the Departments of Land, Mines, and Energy and the Department of Finance, Budget, and Public Purse.