Accepted paper:

Crowd Disruptions: Political Rallies and Audiences of Electoral Violence in Sierra Leone


Samuel Mark Anderson (New York University Abu Dhabi)

Paper short abstract:

During Sierra Leone's elections, the apparent chaos of public manifestations in which constituents demonstrate their preferences contrasts with calls from civil society to "say no to violence." Yet such calls often imply restrictions on political speech as much as they urge physical restraint.

Paper long abstract:

This paper maps out the role of spectacle in negotiating the future of Sierra Leone's democracy, tracking tensions and transformations that local actors imagine as leading towards prosperity or towards violence. During 2012 elections, "manifesting for the party" served as the primary means with which constituents demonstrated their priorities and affiliation via public processions sponsored by politicians contesting for nominations. Such acts offered politicians the opportunity to display to party officials their future potential as patrons and brokers capable of managing limited resources and unpredictable populations. Yet this orchestrated chaos also provided the ruling government and international observers with a flashpoint for anxieties about future violence that risked resurrecting the country's 1992-2002 civil war. Thus rallies were accompanied by ceaseless calls from politicians and civil society to "say no to violence"—directives that were facilitated by a range of artists and celebrities including theatre directors, mystic arts performers, and hip-hop stars. However, when interrogating the term "violence" for its local resonances, translations in Krio and Mende reveal that the concept is less tied to vision or injury than to sound, both through onomatopoeia and reference to dangers of "making noise." Saying no to violence thus often implied restrictions on political speech as much as it called for physical restraint. For a variety of reasons, spectacular practices were radically curtailed during the country's 2018 elections, purposely or inadvertently cutting publics out of the political process.

panel Pol27
Playing to the crowd: performance and the politics of campaign rallies