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  • Violence in African Elections: between democracy and big man politics ed. by Mimmi Söderberg Kovacs and Jesper Bjarnesen
  • Kathleen Klaus
Mimmi Söderberg Kovacs and Jesper Bjarnesen (eds), Violence in African Elections: between democracy and big man politics. London: Zed Books (hb £70 – 978 1 78699 229 1; pb £24.99 – 978 1 78699 228 4). 2018, 288 pp.

This edited volume situates itself within a rapidly growing research agenda that focuses on the causes, dynamics and consequences of election violence. The volume analyses the phenomenon of election violence in the context of patronage politics. Yet rather than contrast patronage politics with formal democratic politics, the authors demonstrate that they are constitutive of one another. Further, rather than continuing to concentrate on the incentives and capacity of high-level political patrons, the volume focuses on the agency of ‘clients’ in using local patronage systems to gain social or political status, material goods and economic well-being – be they ex-combatants in Sierra Leone, agberos in Nigeria, or ‘macho-men’ in Ghana. This ‘bottom-up’ approach is a key feature of the book and an important addition to studies on electoral violence. Specifically, by taking a micro-level approach that highlights the ‘everyday politics of election violence’, the volume distinguishes itself from many existing studies that focus on the macro-level institutional and structural factors. And while these broader, macro-level factors help explain cross-national or temporal patterns in electoral violence, the authors in this volume demonstrate that the occurrence of violence is often a function of much more local dynamics that enable or restrain escalation. Söderberg Kovacs is careful to highlight, however, that while the volume examines the micro-level logics of violence, it is equally attentive to the interplay between the local and the national. This approach encourages scholars not only to think about the occurrence of violence, but to theorize its organization, production and logics. It also enables scholars to account for subnational variation in the forms and intensity of violence, the timing and process of violence, the actors involved, and the incentives that motivate both elites and ordinary citizens.

One of the main strengths of this volume is the rich empirical material provided and the varying analytic lenses employed. Further, the primarily inductive approach of each chapter is key for developing new and empirically grounded theories of violence. As a way to explain the spatial and temporal variation, organization and mobilizing strategies of election violence, these chapters emphasize the importance of historical origins, the agency of ordinary actors, and the very local-level variation in party identification and competition. In Chapter 1, Hanne Fjelde and Kristine Höglund depart from narrowly institutionalist or materialist explanations by focusing on how the ‘historical patterns of elite inter-action and political mobilization’ under authoritarian rule (pre-1992) explain the enduring power of ethnicity as a tool to mobilize voters and organize violence. The emphasis turns to subnational and temporal variation in several of the subsequent chapters. In Chapter 2, Anders Sjögren examines temporal variation in the level of electoral violence over Uganda’s last five elections (1996–2016), arguing that the intensity of the electoral challenge and perceived rewards or sanctions help account for much of this variation. Willy Nindorera and Jesper Bjarnesen (Chapter 4) examine variation in violence across Bujumbura during Burundi’s 2015 election, suggesting that the degree of support for the ruling CNDD-FDD party helps explain the intensity of state suppression across neighbourhoods. In Chapter 5, Ibrahim Bangura and Mimmi Söderberg Kovacs analyse the spatial variation and organization of violence during Sierra Leone’s parliamentary election. They suggest that violence escalated in Kono District rather than the country’s fourteen other districts because leaders viewed it as a key swing district. The authors explain that this violence is largely the product of a wartime patronage system whereby elites have organized violence to ensure votes and territory, [End Page 424] while youth gangs carry out violence to elevate their status within the patronage hierarchy. In Chapter 6, Tarila Marclint Ebiede makes a similar argument with respect to electoral violence in Nigeria’s Niger Delta, showing that participation in violence provides...


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pp. 424-425
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