Ethnic Wedge Issues in Electoral Campaigns in Africa's Presidential Regimes

  • Citation: Gadjanova, Elena. “Ethnic Wedge Issues in Electoral Campaigns in Africa's Presidential Regimes.” African Affairs 116, no. 464 (2017): 484–507.
    • Topics:
    • Country and Regional Studies
    • Keywords:
    • Africa
    • presidential regimes
    • ethnic wedge issues
    • electoral campaign
    • Kenya
    • Zambia

Formulating ethnic wedge issues is an important, yet overlooked, strategy for cross-ethnic mobilization in Africa’s presidential regimes where coalitions are needed to win elections. Ethnic wedge issues are rhetorical tools intended to splinter the support of a key opponent by employing narratives of ethnically motivated discrimination, victimization, or exclusion, and promising remedial action. They are often put forward by challengers and target minorities within incumbents’ coalitions for whom ethnicity is salient, who vote as a bloc, and who are a regional majority. Ethnic wedge issues can inflame ethnic resentments, entrench existing conflicts, and limit the space for compromise on contentious issues. Drawing on an analysis of recent presidential campaigns in Kenya and Zambia, this article illustrates the logic of the use of ethnic wedge issue appeals, as the salience of ethnicity varies within countries. It contributes to the growing literature on parties’ voter outreach strategies in sub-Saharan Africa. The research has implications for the continued salience of ethnicity in plural societies and for the structure of political cleavages in Africa’s democratizing states.

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