Transitions to multiparty politics occurred throughout Sub-Saharan Africa
with remarkable speed in the early 1990s, linking the region to the broader
‘third wave of democratisation’ which, from 1974, progressively marked
many areas of southern Europe, Latin America and post-communist Europe.
Unlike most earlier cases of political reform, however, the changes in Sub-Saharan Africa demonstrated a strong external orientation. A unique combination
of donor pressure, internal opposition and ‘snowballing’ led
regimes to rapidly introduce multiparty politics regardless of whether ruling
elites in fact supported democratisation. The particular constraints
surrounding these transitions place much of Sub-Saharan Africa at high risk
of civil violence. Drawing on the cases of Cameroon, Rwanda and Kenya,
this article argues that, during transitional periods, the greater the conflict
between ruling elites and opposition forces, and the greater the pressure
which regimes face to proceed with reform, the greater the likelihood that
states will sponsor ‘informal repression’, covert violations by third parties, to
regain political control.