Violence in African Elections

Between Democracy and Big Man Politics

Edited by Mimmi Söderberg Kovacs and Jesper Bjarnesen


A comprehensive examination of the causes of Africa’s violent electoral clashes, and the consequences for African democratization and peace-keeping.

Multiparty elections have become the bellwether by which all democracies are judged, and the spread of these systems across Africa has been widely hailed as a sign of the continent’s progress towards stability and prosperity. But such elections bring their own challenges, particularly the often intense internecine violence following disputed results.

While the consequences of such violence can be profound, undermining the legitimacy of the democratic process and in some cases plunging countries into civil war or renewed dictatorship, little is known about the causes. By mapping, analysing and comparing instances of election violence in different localities across Africa – including Kenya, Ivory Coast and Uganda – this collection of detailed case studies sheds light on the underlying dynamics and sub-national causes behind electoral conflicts, revealing them to be the result of a complex interplay between democratisation and the older, patronage-based system of ‘Big Man’ politics.

Essential for scholars and policymakers across the social sciences and humanities interested in democratization, peace-keeping and peace studies, Violence in African Elections provides important insights into why some communities prove more prone to electoral violence than others, offering practical suggestions for preventing violence through improved electoral monitoring, voter education, and international assistance.

Author Bio

Mimmi Söderberg Kovacs is head of research at the Folke Bernadotte Academy (FBA), a Swedish governmental agency working in the field of peace and security under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Jesper Bjarnesen is a senior researcher with the Nordic Africa Institute. He previously lectured in the department of cultural anthropology and ethnography at Uppsala University.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction: The Everyday Politics of Electoral Violence in Africa - Mimmi Söderberg Kovacs
  • 1. Ethnic Politics and Elite Competition: The Roots of Electoral Violence in Kenya - Hanne Fjelde and Kristine Höglund
  • 2. Wielding the Stick Again: The Rise and Fall and Rise of State Violence during Presidential Elections in Uganda - Anders Sjögren
  • 3. Land Conflict and Electoral Violence in Côte d’Ivoire: A Micro-Level Analysis - Matthew I. Mitchell
  • 4. The Geography of Violence in Burundi’s 2015 Elections - Willy Nindorera and Jesper Bjarnesen
  • 5. Competition, Uncertainty, and Violence in Sierra Leone’s Swing District - Ibrahim Bangura and Mimmi Söderberg Kovacs
  • 6. Ex-Militants and Electoral Violence in Nigeria’s Niger Delta - Tarila Marclint Ebiede
  • 7. The Winner Takes It All: Post-war Rebel Networks, Big Man Politics and the Threat of Violence in the 2011 Liberian Elections - Mariam Bjarnesen
  • 8. Parasitic Politics: Violence, Deception, and Change in Kenya's Electoral Politics - Jacob Rasmussen
  • 9. Eclectic Ties and Election Touts: Chipangano’s Cyclic Governance Agenda in Mbare, Zimbabwe - Tariro Mutongwizo
  • 10. Patronage Politics and Electoral Violence in Lagos, Nigeria: Understanding the Micro-Level Dynamics - Daniel E. Agbiboa
  • 11. 'Once They All Pick their Guns You Can Have Your Way': Campaigning and Talking about Violence in Northern Ghana - Afra Schmitz
  • Conclusions: Beyond Democracy and Big Men Politics - Jesper Bjarnesen and Mimmi Söderberg Kovacs


‘The insights provided by this important book have much to tell us about when and where electoral violence occurs, and deserve a large audience.’
Nic Cheeseman, author of Democracy in Africa

‘This book is the first comprehensive study of its kind, it should be required reading not only for political scientists and other social science scholars, but also people in the policy sphere.’ 
Mats Utas, co-editor of Private Security in Africa

‘Offers valuable insights into under-explored issues in electoral violence, in particular the “everyday” aspects of intimidation, and the interaction between “foot-soldiers” and “big men”.’
Andreas Mehler, Arnold-Bergstraesser-Institut, University of Freiburg

‘An excellent contribution to the growing literature on electoral violence. This is a major advance for a literature that tends to privilege national elite strategies. In short, there is much to learn in these pages.’
Scott Straus, University of Wisconsin-Madison

‘This collection broadens our understanding of electoral violence and opens up multiple new lines of research inquiry into the subject matter. A timely and welcome contribution.’
Marie-Joëlle Zahar, Université de Montréal

‘Deepens our insights into the causes of electoral violence and explains the intricate relationship between democratization, patronage and violence. It also provides directions for policy reforms to address electoral violence.’
Anna Jarstad, Umeå University

‘Finally, a book that seriously investigates and bridges the macro and micro dynamics of electoral violence in Africa.’
Anders Themnér, Uppsala University

‘Sounds a warning to tread carefully when interfering with the politics of other states.’
Bruce Baker, Coventry University


Publication Date: 15 April 2018
288 pages

Product ISBNs: Paperback: 9781786992284
Hardback: 9781786992291
eBook ePub: 9781786992314
eBook PDF: 9781786992307
eBook Kindle: 9781786992321

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