How to Prevent A Political Coup

Professor Josef Woldense, University of Minnesota

This week, in addition to Michael Nagler’s Nonviolence Report, Stephanie shares an interview with Josef Woldense, assistant professor in the Department of Africa Studies and African American Studies at the University of Minnesota, also affiliated with the Political Science Department. Professor Woldense analyzes the lack of trust that characterizes authoritarian regimes, and the way it makes a leader vulnerable to a coup: the authoritarian may hold the power, but in exchange he/she can trust no one, thus mutiny is a constant threat. A strategy used by authoritarian rulers to protect themselves from mutinous coups he calls “shuffling.” 

Shuffling, Professor Woldense explains, is best thought of as “a technology. What it does is it recognizes that the fuel for cliques to form is people being in close proximity to each other, having an opportunity to get to know each other. Shuffling disrupts that process: as people are getting to know each other, but before that relationship matures, what you do is you divorce people from one another by essentially having them move into different parts of the regime. They’re still part of the government, but they never get a chance to get too close to each other.”

While this may help to solve the clique/coup problem, it also seems inevitably to preclude the possibility of experts — no one has time to acquire the experience needed to be competent in any government role! Thus shuffling tends to undermine the aim of a well-run regime.

Professor Woldense explores these issues in their own right and also shares the way he explains this complex dynamic to his students through a role-playing game that places each one in a position where action must be taken despite the fact that information is limited. 

× Comments are closed.