Party Youth Activists and Low-­Intensity Electoral Violence in Ghana: A Qualitative Study of Party Foot Soldiers’ Activism

by George Bob-Milliar

Abstract

Within the literature, there is growing concern about how competitive politics are contributing to electoral violence in Africa. The focus of scholars has been on large‑scale organized political violence, referred to here as high‑intensity electoral violence. This article fills a gap in the literature and introduces a “new” concept I call low-­intensity electoral violence by youth activists affiliated with political parties. The article is based on youth activists affiliated to political parties in Ghana. Ghanaian parties mobilize these rank and file party members, who are commonly known as party foot soldiers. I argue that politics in Ghana functions within a clientelism environment where the party in government uses state authority to dispense patronage. Political parties recruit and use foot soldiers to commit electoral fraud in order to win elections or to maintain their control over state resources. On the basis of an original dataset built using event catalogs and in-­depth interviews, the key argument of this article is that the normative logic of the winner-­take‑all electoral politics is that the winner of a presidential election monopolizes all state power. It further argues that this logic contributes to what I call low-intensity electoral violence. The aggressive behavior of the party foot soldiers is also linked to structural and partisan factors such as youth unemployment, unfulfilled electoral promises, and the survival strategies of elite groups within parties. The article concludes that as party foot soldiers begin to play an important role in the capture of power by political elites, they view a change of regime as the right time to claim political opportunities. On the whole, however, acts of aggression committed by youth party foot soldiers are the low intensity kind.

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George M. Bob-­Milliar lectures in the Department of History and Political Studies, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana. He holds a Ph.D. in African Studies, with specialization in politics and development. His research has appeared in leading journals including African Affairs, the Journal of Modern African Studies, and Democratization.