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The Contradictions of Pre-election Violence: The Effects of Violence on Voter Turnout in Sub-Saharan Africa


Politicians often foment violence before elections to reduce competitiveness and, hence, increase their chances of winning. Given that fear and intimidation may be used to prevent voters from casting their ballots, many case studies, as well as anecdotal evidence, suggest that electoral violence has a suppressive effect on voter turnout. However, until now there has been no large-scale, multi-year analysis on the effect of pre-election violence on one of its primary targets, voter turnout. Looking across sub-Saharan Africa, and more specifically at Kenya, this article examines the influence of pre-election violence on voter turnout and finds, in the aggregate, no significant effect. Nevertheless, electoral violence may be used to depress turnout, to mobilize supporters, or to punish victors. It is a persistent trend in sub-Saharan Africa and one that threatens to undermine democratic development.


De nombreuses études de cas sur les élections africaines, ainsi que des preuves anecdotiques, suggèrent que des incidents de violence avant les élections ont un effet oppresseur sur la participation des électeurs. Ces études suggèrent que les partis au pouvoir peuvent inciter à la violence délibérément afin de réduire la compétitivité et d’empêcher les électeurs—surtout ceux susceptibles de soutenir leurs opposants, d’exprimer leur voix. Basé sur une analyse à grande échelle et sur plusieurs années d’études sur les effets de la violence préélectorale sur la participation électorale dans toute l’Afrique subsaharienne et, plus particulièrement, au Kenya, les résultats ne trouvent aucun effet signifiant dans l’ensemble des violences préélectorales. Néanmoins, il s’agit d’une tendance persistante en Afrique subsaharienne et celle qui menace de compromettre le développement démocratique.

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African Studies Review
  • ISSN: 0002-0206
  • EISSN: 1555-2462
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