Conference paper

Preventing election violence through diplomacy

Summary prepared for IPSA conference July 2018
Elections Democracy Diplomacy Election campaigns


Election violence unfortunately affects a significant number of elections worldwide, posing a challenge to democratic consolidation and the free and fair expression of popular political will. Several policy instruments are generally applied, with mixed results, to mitigate the risks of election violence. Preventive diplomacy is one such tool that is commonly used. However, it remains abstract in nature and largely understudied. Against this backdrop, the United States Institute of Peace has initiated an 8-month fellowship to examine the use of preventive diplomacy.

Research Question

This research seeks to address two primary questions. First - what does the practice of preventive diplomacy in the prevention of election violence currently look like? This research will attempt to add analytical rigor to this abstract tool by mapping its various dimensions in practice, contributing towards an eventual typology. Tentatively, dimensions identified are the timing, message, provider, delivery, mandate and audience of preventive diplomacy. Second - how can preventive diplomacy be applied most effectively? This tool is particularly contextual and dependent on personalities and environment. However, by evaluating past applications of preventive diplomacy, the research aims to identify conditions common to success and failure, as well as risk factors in using this instrument.


This research is largely qualitative and draws from available literature, expert interviews, roundtable consultations with academicians and practitioners, personal experience of the researcher and two workshop sessions. The research also utilizes a comparative analysis conducted on presidential elections from 2006 to the present in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Kenya, and Nigeria – three sub-Saharan African nations with histories of election violence and use of preventive diplomacy. By analyzing political/electoral context, the aforementioned dimensions of preventive diplomatic engagement, and election outcomes (both in-country and cross-country), the research will highlight a number of generalizable “best practices” in the use of preventive diplomacy.

Anticipated challenges include the limited availability of information, particularly regarding private diplomacy; limited definitional clarity of election violence and election success; and difficulty of establishing causality of preventive diplomacy as a tool amongst many.

Publication Details
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