Restrained or Constrained? Elections, Communal Conflicts, and Variation in Sexual Violence

Citation:

Krause, Jana. 2020. “Restrained or Constrained? Elections, Communal Conflicts, and Variation in Sexual Violence.” Journal of Peace Research 57 (1): 185–98.

Author: Jana Krause

Abstract:

Anecdotal evidence suggests that sexual violence varies significantly across cases of election violence and communal conflicts but systematic research is scarce. Post-election violence is particularly likely if electoral mobilization further polarizes longstanding communal conflicts and political elites do not instruct security forces to intervene decisively. I comparatively analyse two prominent cases of post-election violence in Kenya (2007/8) and Nigeria (2008) that exhibit stark variation in sexual violence. Patrimonial networks and norms of violent masculinity that increase the probability of (gang) rape were present in both cases and do not explain variation. Civil war research has identified three explanations for the variation in sexual violence: situational constraints; ordered sexual violence or restraint; and bottom-up dynamics of sexual violence or restraint. I examine these for the context of post-election violence. I argue that the type of communal conflict triggered by electoral mobilization explains variation in sexual violence. In Kenya, pogroms of a majority group against a minority allowed for the time and space to perpetrate widespread sexual violence while in Nigeria, dyadic clashes between similarly strong groups offered less opportunity but produced a significantly higher death toll. These findings have important implications for preventing election violence. They demonstrate that civilian vulnerability is gendered and that high levels of sexual violence do not necessarily correspond to high levels of lethal violence. Ignoring sexual violence means underestimating the real intensity of conflict and its impact on the political process.

Keywords: communal conflict, election violence, Kenya, Nigeria, rape, sexual violence

Topics: Armed Conflict, Ethnic/Communal Wars, Conflict, Gender, Masculinity/ies, Governance, Elections, Sexual Violence, Rape, Violence Regions: Africa, East Africa, West Africa Countries: Kenya, Nigeria

Year: 2020

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