How Strategic Violence Distorts African Elections

Issue Date April 2024
Volume 35
Issue 2
Page Numbers 108–121
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While violence is a common occurrence in African elections, most attention has been focused only on a handful of cases with extreme levels of fatal election violence. Not only are these cases unrepresentative of the African continent as a whole, but focusing narrowly on these cases is also misleading when trying to understand the broader role that electoral violence plays in contemporary African democracies. Far more pervasive is the non-fatal type of low-scale election violence, which has become a common form of electoral manipulation in African elections. While low-scale violence does not threaten national security, it is an effective form of manipulation with less severe consequences for perpetrating parties. The insidious effects of low-scale violence on political participation and the quality of elections are demonstrated in Zambia, where fear of violence has come to seriously erode the quality of democracy.

About the Author

Michael Wahman is associate professor of comparative politics at Michigan State University and the author of Controlling Territory, Controlling Voters: The Electoral Geography of African Campaign Violence (2023).

View all work by Michael Wahman