Drawing on extensive field research in Kenya and Liberia around the 2017 elections in those countries, this report uses local survey data to evaluate the effectiveness of seven prevention measures thought to reduce the risk of election violence. Its recommendations, directed primarily to the international community but offering utility for regional and national agencies, offer ways to strengthen existing practices or address shortcomings and gaps in programming and enhance their ability to shape environments conducive to peaceful elections.

Summary

  • A growing number of peacebuilding and conflict prevention strategies are being used to mitigate the risk of election violence. Youth programs, election observation, police training, and civic education are just some of the approaches. Little is known, however, about which programs work and which do not for preventing election violence.
  • A strong performance by police and election commissioners is key to reducing election violence. At the same time, poorly performing election and security institutions are often responsible for much of the violence. 
  • The Liberia National Police, the Supreme Court, and the National Election Commission in Liberia advanced trust and confidence in the election process and helped mitigate tension at critical moments during the 2017 elections. Liberian security personnel played a positive role during the campaign period, and their presence was mostly discrete, nonintrusive, and professional.
  • In Kenya, police units were generally well prepared for the 2017 elections, but responded to demonstrations violently, repressively, and abusively. The irregularities that occurred with the transmission of the votes and other technical processes triggered incendiary statements by opposition leaders and provoked demonstrations that were poorly handled by security forces.
  • We find no systematic evidence that peace messaging and voter consultation made a difference in the 2017 elections in Kenya or Liberia. Peace messaging often struggles to reach the members of society most likely to perpetrate violence, while political parties fail to connect meaningfully with voters.
  • Youth programming and civic and voter education seemed to make a difference in Liberia but not in Kenya. Election monitoring seemed capable of realizing some of its promise in changing certain attitudes, but was not associated with less election violence in either Liberia or Kenya.
  • More effective prevention is possible with timely and integrated risk assessments and inclusive, targeted, and locally led programming.

About the Report

Based on extensive field research around the 2017 elections in Kenya and Liberia, this report uses original survey data from more than two thousand local respondents to evaluate the effectiveness of prevention measures and to help the peacebuilding community in shaping environments conducive to peaceful elections. It is supported by the United States Institute of Peace.

About the Authors

Jonas Claes is a senior program officer at USIP, where he conducts research and analysis on the prevention of election violence and mass atrocities. He is the editor of Electing Peace (USIP Press, 2016) and has engaged in election observation, research, and training in Kenya, Liberia, Mexico, Bangladesh, Suriname, and Honduras. Inken von Borzyskowski is an assistant professor of political science at Florida State University. Her book The Credibility Challenge: How Democracy Aid Influences Election Violence will be published by Cornell University Press in 2019. The authors are grateful to the Center for Democratic Governance in Liberia and the Constitution and Reform Education Consortium in Kenya for their collaboration and professional field research. They also thank Emmanuel Davalillo Hidalgo and Richard Saunders for exceptional research assistance.

Related Publications

Conflict Prevention in Kenya: Combating Corruption through Nonviolent Action

Conflict Prevention in Kenya: Combating Corruption through Nonviolent Action

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

By: Tabatha Thompson; Hussein Khalid

The relationship between corruption and violent conflict is complex and significant. Corruption affects access to basic services, contributes to resource scarcity, and fuels organized crime. It was included on a European Commission checklist for the root causes of conflict, and it was cited as a potential driver of extremism in the 2019 report of the Task Force on Extremism in Fragile States. Focusing on several social movements in Kenya, this report reviews the efforts of collective civic action to combat corruption and advance transparency, accountability, and good governance.

Type: Special Report

Nonviolent Action; Democracy & Governance

Can Election Violence Really be Prevented?

Can Election Violence Really be Prevented?

Friday, November 16, 2018

By: Adam Gallagher

Kenya and Liberia held elections in 2017 that were closely watched by the international community, as both countries’ history of violence led to fears over election security. Although Liberia’s election was largely peaceful, Kenya’s was marred by intense violence. What worked in preventing election violence in Liberia that didn’t work in Kenya?

Type: Blog

Electoral Violence

Participatory Action Research for Advancing Youth-Led Peacebuilding in Kenya

Participatory Action Research for Advancing Youth-Led Peacebuilding in Kenya

Thursday, October 11, 2018

By: Illana M. Lancaster; Sahlim Charles Amambia, Felix Bivens, Munira Hamisi, Olivia Ogada, Gregory Ochieng Okumu, Nicholas Songora, Rehema Zaid

One-third of today’s generation of youth—those ages ten to twenty-four—live in fragile or conflicted countries and are susceptible to the sway of ideological narratives of violent extremism. Evidence suggests, however, that they also play active and valuable roles as agents of positive and constructive change.

Type: Peaceworks

Youth; Education & Training; Democracy & Governance; Violent Extremism

Secretary Tillerson Goes to Africa

Secretary Tillerson Goes to Africa

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

By: USIP Staff; Susan Stigant; Aly Verjee

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is on the most extensive visit to Africa by a senior official in the Trump administration. Tillerson will visit the continent’s two most populous countries, Nigeria and Ethiopia, both crucial to U.S. regional security interests but which face increasing fragility at home. He will also travel to U.S. allies Chad, Djibouti and Kenya, countries struggling with domestic political stability, and will meet leadership of the continent’s principal regional organization, the African Union. USIP’s Africa experts preview the landscape and key issues for the East Africa leg of Tillerson’s trip to Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya, and note that broader U.S security and trade interests can only be served if the national challenges for peace and stability in each country are also addressed.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

View All Publications