Elections and the Risk of Instability in Africa: Supporting Legitimate Electoral Processes

Image: Flickr, UNAMID/Albert Gonzalez Farran
Image: Flickr, UNAMID/Albert Gonzalez Farran

Whereas elections have become commonplace in Africa over the past 20 years, several recent examples have shown that they can also crystallise tensions and cause violence (as happened in Kenya, Côte d’Ivoire and Zimbabwe), and can fail to legitimise power.

In Africa, the stakes are high, with access to resources through electoral victory a major aspect of elections. This explains why elections are often the object of fraught competition. Elections thus constitute a critical moment for fragile political regimes.

An understanding of the issue of power and the associated resource sharing is fundamental to limiting the risk of elections triggering instability. This issue requires political dialogue at all levels that should be extended to civil society actors. Elections should not be seen only as a technical exercise; it is also vital to understand their power dynamics and the stakes at play.

In addition to making sure that all the actors taking part in elections have ownership of the electoral process, an electoral administration that is credible and recognised by all is essential for lessening risks and tensions. However, in many African countries election management bodies do not have sufficient capacity to fulfil their functions and assert their independence. In this context, the credibility of elections requires legitimate observation systems, which are generally promoted locally by civil society organisations.

Lastly, priority must be given to preventing electoral violence through inclusive early warning mechanisms and mediation systems. Multi-stakeholder conflict management, which brings together various types of actors and supports social diversity, is fundamental to promoting peaceful electoral processes.

This paper is also available in French.

30 Jul 2014