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From Sticks to Carrots: Electoral Manipulation in Africa, 1986–2012

  • Carolien van Ham and Staffan I. Lindberg


Over 90 per cent of the world’s states currently select their national leaders through multiparty elections. However, in Africa the quality of elections still varies widely, ranging from elections plagued by violence and fraud to elections that are relatively ‘free and fair’. Yet, little is known about trade-offs between different strategies of electoral manipulation and the differences between incumbent and opposition actors’ strategies. We theorize that choices for specific types of manipulation are driven by available resources and cost considerations for both incumbents and opposition actors, and are mutually responsive. We also suggest that costs of manipulative strategies are shaped by the level of democratization. We test our hypotheses on a time series, cross-sectional data set with observations for 286 African elections from 1986 to 2012. We find that democratization makes ‘cheap’ forms of electoral manipulation available to incumbents such as intimidation and manipulating electoral administration less viable, thus leading to increases in vote buying. The future of democracy in Africa thus promises elections where the administration of elections becomes better and better but at the same time vote buying will increase. Not all things go together, at least not all the time. The future of democracy in Africa will mean more money in politics, more patronage and more clientelistic offers thrown around, at least in the short to medium term.



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Carolien van Ham is a Research Fellow at the V-Dem Institute, Department of Political Science, University of Gothenburg, and a Lecturer in Politics at the University of New South Wales. Contact email:

Staffan I. Lindberg is a Professor at the V-Dem Institute, Department of Political Science, University of Gothenburg. Contact email:



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