in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics
Ethnic cleavages are present in many elections across the continent, and scholars frequently view ethnic mobilization as the default way in which politicians appeal to African voters. Ethnic electoral patterns already emerged in many countries during the first mass elections around the time of independence and they continue to be visible to this day. The prevalence of ethnic politics has been commonly seen as a result of limited ideological and programmatic debates in African elections and the centrality of ethnic networks in voters' access to scarce resources. Yet, early-21st-century scholarship increasingly reveals the varied degrees in which ethnicity plays a role in African political contests, raising the question of when do politicians engage in alternative forms of electoral mobilization? And when are voters inclined to vote for candidates outside their ethnic group? Emerging scholarship suggests that it is easier for politicians to pursue programmatic and populist campaigns that do not cater to specific ethnic groups in cities rather than in rural areas where politicians rarely avoid clientelist strategies. Other research also suggests that the nature of social organization and the composition of rural areas can determine whether clientelist strategies are organized along ethnic lines or not.