Between Big Man Politics and Democratisation: Local Perceptions and Individual Agency in Processes of Electoral Violence

Researchers: Mimmi Söderberg Kovacs, Jesper Bjarnesen , Mats Utas , Jonathan Hall, Angela Muvumba Sellström  and Henrik Angerbrandt.

The number of democratic elections on the African continent grow steadily ever year, suggesting a long-term trend towards greater political democratisation. However, at the same time, some of these elections have been accompanied with widespread coercive intimidation of voters and violent incidents ranging from riots, arson, clashes between party supporters and security elements and attacks on both candidates and voters. Such events are representative of a larger trend that we have witnessed across the globe – but particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa – in new democracies. The threats associated with this development are several. Beyond the immediate human, material and societal costs that such violence imposes on developing states, it also risks undermining the legitimacy of the electoral process and the democratic political system, and may even risk the outbreak of armed conflict.

How can we explain this trend? What are the causes of election-related violence? The purpose of this project is to address this research question. Although there appear to a near consensus among scholars regarding the relevance of paying closer attention to the logic of the political system in many new democracies – pointing particularly to the pervasiveness of patronage politics – in order to better understand why elections in these countries oftentimes become marred in violence, so far there has been only limited studies on exactly how such processes effect the outcome under scrutiny. In this project, we suggest that in order to understand the causal mechanisms at work in these processes, we need to closely examine the local political dynamics at the level of the concerned citizenry of these countries. More specifically, we pose the following question: How does the logic of patronage politics in new democracies affect the citizens’ perceptions of, and attitudes towards, the electoral process, and in extension, their inclination to participate in and support acts of electoral violence?

This is a multi-disciplinary project, which will carry out in-depth comparative sub-regional and sub-national empirical studies of a few selected West African countries, starting with Sierra Leone at the time of its general elections in 2012. The project if funded by the Swedish Research Council.

Big Man politics
Jesper Bjarnesen
Mats Utas
Mimmi Söderberg Kovacs
democratic elections
developing states
violent incidents
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