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William Reno

Professor & Chair of the Department

B.A.: Haverford College, 1984; M.A.: University of Chicago, 1985; Ph.D.: University of Wisconsin, 1992
Curriculum Vitae
  • Website
  • 847-491-5794
  • Scott Hall 102, Scott Hall 243 (Chair’s office)
  • Office Hours: Monday 9:00 am - 10:00 am | Tuesday 11:00 am - 12:00 pm


Research Interest(s): Comparative politics of Africa, Politics of Violent Conflict, the Political Effects of Foreign Military Assistance, Asymmetrical Warfare

Program Area(s): International Relations; Comparative Politics

Regional Specialization(s): Middle East; Africa

Subfield Specialties: Comparative Historical Analysis; Conflict Studies

Joint Appointment

Program of African Studies


Professor Reno has conducted research on the politics of violence and state collapse in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. He is the author of three books. His first book, Corruption and State Politics in Sierra Leone (Cambridge, 1995) is based upon research in Sierra Leone in the early 1990s and traces the historical development of a system of personal rule constructed behind the facade of formal statehood. This system of rule dispenses with the conventional pursuit of legitimacy and undermines its own government institutions, resting as it does on the control of markets and a ruler's capacity to manipulate access to those resources in a manner to enhance his own power. Will's second book, Warlord Politics and African States (Lynne Rienner, 1999), identifies processes of state collapse. A key insight of this work, based on research in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria and Congo in the 1990s, is that some personalist regimes maintain semblances of order for lengthy periods through the use of patronage and violence in a manner that creates serious social divisions that undermine most attempts at collective action among opponents. But as these regimes are almost always dependent on international links, external disruptions undermine regime control as actors within these fragmented networks compete to appropriate segments of these networks for their own interests; they become the warlords that shape the violence that attends state collapse. Will's third book, Warfare in Independent Africa (Cambridge, 2011), explains why rebels who opposed state power in wars of de-colonization and struggles against apartheid appear to have been more cohesive and programmatically focused than many rebels closer to our own time. This approach to the question of whether we are seeing "new wars" identifies changes in the character of warfare as a reflection of changes in the characters of states in which these wars are fought. The book examines variations in how wars are fought closer to our time to draw lessons about where warfare is likely to be a critical element of large-scale mobilization for collective ends and where it is likely to be a long-term obstacle to mobilization for collective ends.

These and other works inform Reno's current research on the politics of foreign assistance to security forces in very weak states, how patronage-based regimes that are reluctant to rely on their own armed forces wage counterinsurgency campaigns, and supposedly a project on the impacts of surveillance technologies on the exercise of authority in states that have very weak institutional capacities.... when he is not called to his duties as Head of the Department! Prior to that destabilizing event in 2019, he was a non-resident Fellow at the Modern War INstitute of the US Military Academy (West Point), served as Director of the Program of African Studies research center (2012-2018) and has eight years of service as the department's graduate director over various terms since 2006.


  • Corruption and State Politics in Sierra Leone, Cambridge University Press, 1995
  • Warlord Politics and African States, Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998
  • Warfare in Independent Africa, Cambridge University Press, 2011

Select Publications

  • “The Importance of Context When Comparing Civil Wars,” Civil Wars 21:4 (2019): 448-467.
  • With Jahara Matisek, “Getting American Security Force Assistance Right: Political Context Matters,” Joint Force Quarterly 92 (2019): 65–73.
  • With Jahara Matisek, “A New Era of Insurgent Recruitment: Have ‘New’ Civil Wars changed the Dynamic?” Civil Wars 20:2 (2018), 1-21.
  • “The Politics of Security Assistance in the Horn of Africa,” Defence Studies 18: 3 (2018), 1-16.
  • “Lost in Transitions: Civil War Termination in Sub-Saharan Africa,” The American Historical Review, 120:5 (Dec 2015), 1798-1810.
  • With Chris Day, “In Harm’s Way: African Counterinsurgency and Patronage Politics,” Civil Wars 16:2 (2014), 125-46.

Courses taught

Undergraduate level

  • Poli Sci 250 Introduction to Comparative Politics
  • Poli Sci 259 African Politics
  • Poli Sci 359 Issues in African Politics
  • Poli Sci 376 Internal Wars and the State

Graduate level

  • Poli Sci 453 African Politics
  • Poli Sci 490 War and Political Development