Vol. 65, No. 2
King Makers: Local Leaders and Ethic Politics in Africa
By Dominika Koter
Much of the literature on electoral politics in Africa has focused on one mechanism of electoral mobilization: reliance on shared ethnic identity between politicians and voters. On the contrary, the author argues that politicians pursue two distinct modes of nonprogrammatic electoral mobilization: (1) by directly relying on the support of voters from one’s own ethnic background, and (2) by indirectly working through electoral intermediaries—local leaders who command moral authority, control resources, and can influence the electoral behavior of their dependents. Yet the power of local leaders varies greatly; hence the option to use electoral intermediaries is not available in all settings. The choice of electoral mobilization affects national electoral outcomes: by severing the direct link between politicians and voters, intermediaries reduce a campaign’s reliance on shared identity and create cross-ethnic electorates. The evidence for this argument is based on original interviews with political leaders collected during fieldwork in Senegal and Benin during the 2006–7 electoral season, media coverage of elections, and a historical analysis of first mass elections in the 1950s.
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