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.

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Ivan Crouzel is Deputy Director of the Institute for Research and Debate on Governance (IRG).

This paper is published jointly with the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) and part of SAIIA’s Governance and African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) programme.

It is based on a study that was completed for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs by a team from the Institute for Research and Debate on Governance (IRG) and the ‘Africas in the world‘ Laboratory (LAM) of the Bordeaux Political Studies Institute (Sciences Po): Séverine Bellina, Ivan Crouzel, Dominique Darbon, Salvatore Pappalardo and Céline Thiriot.

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.


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