School of Politics and International Relations

Inspiring People

Dr Eloise Bertrand

Eloïse Bertrand

Investigating the intersections between politics, security and elite behaviour in the Sahel region of West Africa


Dr Eloïse Bertrand is an Assistant Professor at the School of Politics and International Relations with research interests in party politics, institutions, governance, and security in sub-Saharan Africa

Research something you’re really interested about, and surround yourself with kind, smart, and like-minded peers.



How would you explain your research?

Currently, my research looks at how politics, security, and elite behaviour intersect in the Sahel region. This area located in West Africa has faced an acute security crisis over the last decade, with the spreading of ‘jihadist’ insurgent armed groups across the region. In the meantime, the region has been shaped by attempts to foster democratic transitions and consolidation since the 1990s, and so-called democratic backsliding illustrated by a return of military coups, often partially motivated and justified by the civilian regime’s inability to address the security crisis. My current project aims at understanding better how these two dynamics influence each other, and identify better ways to promote both peace and inclusive governance in the region.

Previously, I have done research on opposition parties and electoral mobilisation in Burkina Faso and Uganda. I use mostly qualitative, comparative research to achieve these aims. This involves interviewing a range of stakeholders, from politicians to civil society activists to journalists, reading media coverage and reports, analysing legislation and government reports.

Most of my research is collaborative. I work with colleagues – many living and working in the countries I study – to undertake research together, in an ethical and equitable manner. 

What inspired you to pursue this area?

I grew up in Burkina Faso, which sparked an interest in African affairs. When I was an undergraduate student (in France), I spent a year at UC Berkeley as an exchange student, and had the chance to work as a research assistant for Leonardo Arriola, who taught and researched African politics. This planted the idea in my head that it was possible to do that for a living. I got frustrated by some of the tropes and preconceptions about African politics – which have been long reduced to simplistic narratives focused on ethnicity, corruption, or violence, and have been trying to unravel some of these through my research. 

How will your research affect the average person?

It depends who they are really, but I like to think my research has had a positive impact on some people. My op-eds and media appearances might have shed some light on complex events and made people in the UK and elsewhere more knowledgeable about what is happening in Burkina Faso.

My research has also been shared with policymakers, for example at the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO), contributing to the evidence-base shaping their decisions. I also regularly serve as a country expert in asylum-seekers’ applications, providing expertise to the Courts on the situation in Burkina Faso.

What advice would you give to someone starting out?

Research something you’re really interested about, and surround yourself with kind, smart, and like-minded peers. Friends with complementary interests will nurture your ideas, be your sounding boards, give you feedback and advice, and just make the academic journey much more worthwhile. 

What’s the biggest challenge in your field?

The study of African politics is still characterised by a huge imbalance, with most resources available to scholars in the Global North rather than on the continent, and that’s why ensuring our work is built upon real partnerships, opens doors as much as possible, and challenges this inequality, is crucial. 

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