A post-rebel party’s organisational experience can provide it with the raw material that will shape its initial participation in politics. The key to a successful transformation from rebel to party seems to lie in the interaction between an organisation and its environment.

Since the end of the Cold War in 1989, the overwhelming majority of negotiated peace agreements have based their political settlements on electoral politics. In more than half of these cases, rebel groups formed parties to participate in post-war politics.1 Thus, rebel-to-party conversions have been a key feature of post-conflict peacebuilding for more than two decades. What challenges do rebel groups face in attempting to make this change? What conditions affect the success of these attempts? And to what extent do post-rebel parties affect outcomes such as peace and democratisation?

Political parties are defined here as organisations that are dynamic, non-unitary actors in which the bases of organisational power can respond to changing incentives. Parties comprise sub-groups whose membership and interests may shift over time. These sub-groups might be based on deeply rooted ideological differences or disagreements over tactics or strategy arising from sub-groups’ functional roles.2 In this essay, the term ‘transition’ refers to a rebel group’s registration as a legal party eligible to compete in elections.3 For such a group to successfully transform itself into a political party, it must adapt organisational routines, internal authority patterns and an identity forged in war to an environment in which competition occurs in the election booth, the legislature and the policy arena. Therefore, this essay defines ‘transformation’ as the process by which a rebel group becomes a party in practice, recruiting and running candidates for elected office, participating in institutions of governance and encountering the risks and opportunities that this work entails.

Carrie Manning is Professor and Chair, Department of Political Science, Georgia State University. She is the author of three books and dozens of journal articles on post-conflict politics.

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Armed Conflict Survey 2017