Academic journal article Journal of Third World Studies

Explaining Post-Election Violence in Kenya and Zimbabwe

Academic journal article Journal of Third World Studies

Explaining Post-Election Violence in Kenya and Zimbabwe

Article excerpt


What explains post-election violence? The widespread violence following relatively orderly balloting in elections in Kenya on December 27, 2007 and in Zimbabwe on March 29, 2008 underline the importance of understanding the phenomenon and represent carefully documented examples whose investigation may yield explanations. This article reports conclusions based on an empirical analysis of those events conducted at the constituency level.

The scholarly warrant for this research is threefold. First, post-election violence merits investigation because it has been too little studied. Where the extant published research about election violence--violence occurring immediately before and during balloting--comprises a small literature, published research about post-election violence hardly comprises a literature at all. That is probably attributable both to its relative infrequence and seeming lack of rational purpose. Violence committed before and during balloting is an obvious means by which perpetrators attempt to change an election outcome. (1) However, violence committed after balloting does not. For that reason it presents an interesting puzzle.

Second, post-election violence should be investigated to understand its causes, because it threatens the individual's right to vote, which is valued both as an opportunity to affect the outcome of specific elections and because of the enhanced sense of personal well being derived from the "feeling of being involved and having political influence" and "inclusion, identity, and self-determination." (2) Public opinion research suggests that the experience of attempted intimidation during elections deters some potential voters both in the near and long term. (3)

Third, post-election violence may undermine the legitimacy of governments that base their claims to constitutional authority on election outcomes. Election related violence perpetrated with the connivance or active participation of the security forces responsible for maintaining order removes it from the category of ordinary crime and makes irrelevant policy analysis based on the economics of crime: "the cost imposed on society by the criminal act; the benefit to the criminal of committing the act; the cost of resources used to maintain the expected punishment." (4) Members of the security forces were systematically or individually complicit in the violence following both of the elections in this study. (5)

The academic and normative interests in explaining post-election violence converge on the connection between its puzzling causes and its effects on political development. Where the fundamental contradiction between the moral goods of electoral contestation and political legitimacy is obvious with respect to election violence, it is less clear with respect to post-election violence. (6) Competition for elected offices is essential if elected officials are to be responsive and accountable. Popular consensus about the legitimate authority of elected officials to govern derived either from a particular election or from elections as a mechanism generally is undermined if the outcome of an election is decided by violence. Electoral competition so intense that it causes violence before and during balloting undermines the political legitimacy that elections are held to establish. Electoral competition so intense that it causes violence after balloting may similarly undermine political legitimacy. What is certain is that moral outrage about post-election violence may be so profound that some citizens are willing to endorse international rather than merely national investigation and prosecution to expose and punish the pathology. (7)


Violence before and during balloting rather than after balloting is the primary focus of investigation in the relevant scholarly literature perhaps because of the unexamined assumption that the former violence may be instrumentally rational while the latter is irrational retribution. …

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