James Barnett

BA Texas, MA KCL

Research Topic:

Democratization and conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa
Somerville College
DPhil Politics

I am researching regime transitions and sub-state conflict in the post-colonial world as part of my DPhil at DPIR, my principal geographic focus being Africa. My project interrogates the conditions under which democratisation may cause or exacerbate conflict through a set of in-depth case studies of Nigeria’s contemporary, overlapping insurgencies. My research utilises qualitative methods and builds on several years of prior fieldwork in Nigeria as a Fulbright researcher at the University of Lagos, a fellow with the Centre for Democracy and Development, and an independent consultant. I have also served as an international election observer and conducted fieldwork and/or long-form reporting on conflict in Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Ukraine.

I hold an MA with distinction in War Studies from King’s College London (2022) and a BA with highest honours in History and Plan II from the University of Texas (2017). I have previously received Fulbright and Boren grants for my research and studies.

Research Interests

  • Insurgents, warlords, and organised crime in comparative perspective

  • Conflict in Africa since the Cold War

  • Political economy of military rule and modes of regime transition

  • The politics of land use and natural resource management

  • Nigerian political and military history


Barnett, J. and Rufa'i, M. (2023). 'A “Sahelian” or a “Littoral” Crisis? Examining the Widening of Nigeria’s Boko Haram Conflict', Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, 32, pp. 5–46.

Barnett, J. (2023). 'When the Garrison State Deploys: Reassessing Nigeria’s ECOMOG Interventions, 1990-1999', African & Diaspora Discourse, 4, pp. 79–123.

Barnett, J., Rufa'i, M. and Abdulaziz, A. (2022). 'Northwestern Nigeria: A Jihadization of Banditry, or a Banditization of Jihad?', CTC Sentinel, 15(1), pp. 46–67.