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When Autocratic Regimes Are Cheap and Play Dirty: The Transaction Costs of Repression in South Africa, Kenya, and Egypt

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Why do autocratic regimes use paramilitary groups, death squads, vigilantes, gangs, and other types of irregular, non-state actors to suppress popular opposition movements? We argue that the use of this type of state repression is a way for political leaders to lower the transaction costs of repression. Contrary to the use of regular security forces, which may trigger a host of consequences ranging from international economic sanctions to strikes and boycotts, irregular non-state violence specialists constitute an alternative governance structure for repression that, potentially, is less costly to elites. To substantiate this argument, the article investigates the use of informal violence to suppress opposition movements in South Africa, Kenya, and Egypt. It demonstrates how repression was shaped by the transaction costs that political leaders were confronting.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2016

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  • Comparative Politics is an international journal that publishes scholarly articles devoted to the comparative analysis of political institutions and behavior. It was founded in 1968 to further the development of comparative political theory and the application of comparative theoretical analysis to the empirical investigation of political issues. Comparative Politics communicates new ideas and research findings to social scientists, scholars, and students, and is valued by experts in research organizations, foundations, and consulates throughout the world.
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