Over the past few years, large-scale violence has been reported during elections in Africa. A recent study using data from more than 50 African elections from 2011 to 2017, showed that almost all these elections had cases of electoral
violence at some stage of the poll (Kewir et Gabriel 2018). The risk of violence is especially evident when incumbents propose referenda or parliamentary votes to change the constitution in a bid to extend their presidential terms, as was the case in Burkina Faso 2014 and Burundi 2015. Beyond the relatively few cases that make it to the international
headlines, many countries experience an ‘everyday’ kind of electoral violence: low-scale but pervasive and typically occurring long before election day, between electoral cycles, and in local elections far away from the international
Electoral violence is not limited to general and national elections. In Sierra Leone and Nigeria, for example, several parliamentary by-elections at constituency level have generated high levels of violence, intimidation and insecurity, as the main political parties compete to hold ground and make territorial in-roads in preparation for the next round of national elections.
Another arena for electoral violence, not usually depicted in scholarly literature, is intra-party politics. Party members are involved in a constant struggle to create and maintain the connections that will ensure their progress up the party ladder. This struggle often intensifies around transition times. In the absence of clear succession plans, this can result in vicious intimidation and violent attacks. For instance, in Burundi, violence that broke out in connection to elections in 2015 was preceded by a longer period of intra-party tensions and attacks on individuals within the ruling party.
Beyond physical violence, violent discourse can be effective in mobilising political campaigns, especially in political environments coloured by ethnic and regional stereotypes and a previous history of conflict. In the 2012 general
election campaign in Sierra Leone, supporters of the opposition presidential candidate, Julius Maada Bio, called him ‘the Tormentora reference to his past as member of the military junta that overthrew the government. Sometimes, words are unnecessary to evoke memories of a violent past. During protests
in 2015 in Burundi, members of the ruling party’s youth militia were heard outside public radio station Radio Publique Africaine (RPA), widely known for its critical opinions of the government, popping balloons to resemble the sounds of gunshots.
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