Introducing ROLE: A database of rebel leader attributes in armed conflict Academic Article uri icon


  • Existing literature on civil wars relies predominantly on state- and organization-level variables to understand conflict dynamics and outcomes. In this article, we propose that rebel leaders personal backgrounds and experiences are also key to explaining the behavior of the organizations they lead. Just as scholars have long highlighted the importance of state leaders biographical characteristics in interstate war and diplomacy, we argue that the attributes of rebel leaders affect their organizations decisions and actions in civil war. To substantiate our claims, we introduce the Rebel Organization Leaders (ROLE) database, which contains a wide range of biographical information on all top rebel leaders in civil wars ongoing between 1980 and 2011. We first describe the contents of the database and present a number of novel descriptive findings about rebel leaders. To illustrate its utility, we then examine the influence of rebel leaders attributes on their organizations use of terrorism in civil war. Ultimately, our work encourages and enables a new research agenda that goes beyond rebel organizations and campaigns as units of analysis and brings individual leaders more fully into modern conflict and peace studies.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 16.25

author list (cited authors)

  • Acosta, B., Huang, R., & Silverman, D.

citation count

  • 4

complete list of authors

  • Acosta, Benjamin||Huang, Reyko||Silverman, Daniel

publication date

  • March 2023