Prisoner’s Dilemma: Hedging Loyalties in (Un)Governed Space of the Lake Chad Basin
This article examines the dynamics of interactions between civilians, armed groups, and the state in frontline states. Drawing on a 6-year ethnographic study of armed conflicts in the Lake Chad Basin region, the article argues that civilian loyalty becomes multiple and overlapping when the roles of the state and armed groups become indistinguishable in insecure spaces. A range of actions and outcomes can be observed from civilians’ navigating strategies: individual and collective bargaining, false compliance and co-optation with Boko Haram, Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) and other militias to mitigate the risks of multiple competing authorities. The coupling of emerging individual and collective actions exemplifies self-organization that shapes the state response, armed groups’ behaviors, and their legitimacy at the local scale. Thus, civilians result in hedging loyalty between the state and armed groups to reduce the potential harm that the non-zero-sum control of conflict-torn spaces would otherwise cause.