The Nordic Africa Institute


Multi-Party Politics and Election Violence: Structural and Proximate Challenges Found outside the Electoral Cycle

Started • 01 January 2012
Ended • 01 January 2013

Researcher: Eldridge Adolfo, Conflict cluster

Since the (re-)introduction of multiparty politics in Africa in the early 1990s, electoral competition for state power has become the norm and most African states have since held more than three successive elections. While the frequency of elections has generated a sense of optimism for multiparty politics, a worrying trend of increasing election-related violent conflict that threatens democracy, peace and stability has emerged.

The factors that propel such violence are multifaceted and diverse ranging from flawed or failed elections to structural issues such as poor governance, exclusionary political practices, the socio-economic uncertainties of losing political power and the challenges associated with partial democracies, to name but a few. However, it is the structural challenges that are often found outside the electoral cycle that create the potential for electoral violence, with elections either precipitating political disputes or escalating simmering tensions and acting as a trigger to violent conflict.

In Zimbabwe, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) brokered Global Political Agreement (GPA), signed in 2009 by the three main political parties in Zimbabwe, expired in February 2011, and has since been extended without fulfilling any of its benchmarks. This has coincided with the continued polarisation of the political parties (both intra and inter), and the intensified struggle among ZANU-PF barons and security sector chiefs to take over from President Mugabe. As a consequence, the constitutional referendum and general elections to take place before June 2013 are expected to provide serious challenges to Zimbabwe's security and future development.

The tendency for last minute or ex post facto attention to conflict prevention is not strategic and insufficient for managing the complex dynamics and causes of electoral conflict. Thus, the research aims to clearly identify and define the various structural challenges - political, security and socio-economic - their nuances, their interlinkages and the proximate risks they present within the Zimbabwean crisis. Strategies to engage such challenges will be developed. The research will be carried out through a combination of desk research, surveys and interviews, and will to contribute to the literature on the challenges faced by countries going through the transition to multiparty democracy.