In This Review

Voting in Fear: Electoral Violence in Sub-Saharan Africa
Voting in Fear: Electoral Violence in Sub-Saharan Africa
Edited by Dorina Bekoe
United States Institute of Peace, 2012, 300 pp

This exceptional collection of essays examines why roughly a fifth of the elections in sub-Saharan Africa since 1990 have led to violence. Some observers have rather hastily blamed the introduction of democracy for the political violence that has wracked the region in recent years, asserting that the zero-sum nature of electoral campaigns polarizes fledgling democracies and makes them particularly vulnerable to violence, especially when politics is organized along ethnic or regional lines. But using a new data set of recorded violent episodes, as well as careful case studies of Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe, the contributors show that in fact such violence has been mostly instigated by incumbent politicians seeking to intimidate the opposition in order to remain in power. Violence by the opposition is less common and typically results from relatively spontaneous discontent over egregiously unfair electoral outcomes. In sum, the essays in this book suggest that African electoral violence results not from an excess of democracy but from the fact that many of the elections in the region are hardly democratic at all.