Religious leaders and the prevention of electoral violence (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1366)



How have religious leaders been involved in reducing the risk of electoral and political violence and supporting free and fair elections (international experience and Kenya specific)? Where available, include a discussion on particular initiatives and how religious leaders were engaged or approaches on how this can be done.


There is limited literature specifically on the role of religious leaders in countering electoral and political violence, even less on ways in which to engage leaders in taking on such a role. While highlighting particular initiatives involving religious leaders during electoral cycles, this report also draws on literature that discusses the engagement of religious actors more generally.

Key findings of the literature include:

  • There are various characteristics associated with religious leaders that make them well placed to mobilise stakeholders and to engage in efforts to counter violence and promote peace. These include: trustworthiness and credibility; shared and respected set of values with different sides of a conflict and unique leverage as spiritual leaders; understanding of the local context, presence in local communities and local legitimacy; and strong networks and access to various levels of power.
  • Religious leaders may differ in their willingness to be involved in politics and in peacebuilding. Newer reformist churches in Africa, for example, exhibit less inclination than leaders from the established churches in playing a role in political debates and engaging in peace initiatives (Cooke, 2015).
  • Religious leaders also differ in their ability to engage effectively in countering violent conflict. Those who operate in an environment with strong horizontal networks (common religious beliefs, symbols, and activities) and strong vertical networks (connections between religious leaders and believers), were more informed and able to coordinate conflict resolution efforts (De Juan, Pierskalla and Vüllers, 2015).
  • The influence of religious leaders also depends on the organisational form of a particular religion.
  • There are various ways in which religious leaders can engage in curtailing electoral and political violence and promoting peace. These include: peace messaging and support for free and fair elections; civic education, debates and election monitoring; codes of conduct; intra- and Inter-faith dialogue and Inter-faith initiatives.


Haider, H. Religious leaders and the prevention of electoral violence (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1366). Governance and Social Development Resource Centre, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK (2016) 21 pp.

Religious leaders and the prevention of electoral violence (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1366)

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