This panel takes a comparative sociological approach to the study of militias and elections, recognizing and examining variation across militia groups to understand their role in social, economic, and political contests for power in African nations.
Prevailing explanations for the emergence of militias understand them as tools of coercion, in which elites organize violence to seize (or maintain) control of political institutions. As such, theories tend to focus on the terrain of local or national political contestation to identify causes of the (non)emergence of militias. In this view, unconsolidated militias suggest either a failure on the part of elites to mobilize fighters in their favor, or a situation in which elites do not need militias to gain or maintain power. More consolidated militias can more effectively serve the interests of their patron. This panel problematizes such assumptions. It takes a comparative sociological approach to the study of militias and elections, welcoming papers from all disciplines that view militias as part of the broader social, economic, and political contest for power. Recognizing that all 'militias' are not the same, the panel brings together scholars to examine variation across militia groups, and consequent implications. Papers will identify how militias contribute to political outcomes in a sustained way above and beyond election day and vote casting—although we recognize that these are potentially important moments. This approach helps address broader questions about how elites manage militias to pursue narrow political ends while preventing them from becoming a future threat. By focusing on social and economic factors, the panel also interrogates the notion that the presence of militias necessarily implies a competitive electoral environment. We welcome papers that examine the relationship of the political environment to militias, writ large.