Research about the process of democratisation in sub-Saharan Africa improved strategies to reduce violence and promote greater transparency during elections, and led to innovation in UN monitoring practices.


  • Supported by four reports and monthly meetings with officials, research by Dr Nic Cheeseman shaped the UK government’s approach to Kenya's 2013 elections by identifying potential locations of conflict and malpractice. The UK government was better placed to anticipate electoral manipulation and violence, and provide appropriate funding and technical assistance for election processes.
  • The research in Kenya pioneered the innovative use of cross-national teams of academics (five UK and five Kenyan academics) to provide in-depth long-term monitoring of election practices and results.
  • The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) subsequently adopted the monitoring model as part of preparations for the 2015 Nigerian elections.
  • In Zambia, a number of initiatives recommended by Dr Cheeseman were subsequently adopted by the UK's Department for International Development (DFID). These included scorecards to record MP’s performance, and funding for community radio stations to increase the potential for political accountability.

About the research

Government transitions are susceptible to political upheaval and civil conflict, especially in the developing world. Through initiatives such as the Building Stability Overseas Strategy the UK government aims to enhance the conduct and monitoring of democratic practices in countries with under-developed electoral systems. This includes research to encourage fair and representative election practices, and to identify factors that could lead to electoral crises.

Dr Nic Cheeseman at the African Studies Centre, University of Oxford, has researched how leaders and ruling parties in sub-Saharan Africa uses institutions and patronage to build and protect their power base, and the impact this has on democratic processes. Looking especially at the experience of Africa's one-party states, he has explored how different patronage structures mobilise support, why some political parties are more durable than others, and why some regimes survived the transition to multi-party states while others did not.

The research has helped UK Government institutions such as DFID and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to identify the best strategies to reduce violence during African elections. Findings regarding violence and patronage in Kenya also informed the official report of the Independent Review Commission (the Kriegler Commission), which was set up by the Kenyan Government to investigate the limitations of the 2007 general elections.

Dr Cheeseman's research was funded by the ESRC and the African Conflict Prevention Pool of the UK government.