The 1990s saw the rise of multi-party elections in Africa, as well as an increase in election monitoring by international organizations. The goal of such monitoring is to assess and document whether the election process is free and fair, so it’s expected that monitoring should promote peace and increase respect of the electoral process by all parties. Surprising recent evidence, however, suggests fraudulent elections are more likely to lead to violence when they are monitored by international observers.

Ursula Daxecker (Journal of Peace Research, July 2012) analyzes 189 African elections from 1997 to 2009 and accounts for contributing factors, such as pre-election violence, stability, and economic development. In cases in which there was election fraud, Daxecker finds that international observations may actually incite violence, rather than providing a stabilizing force. Essentially, the credible documentation of fraud publicizes illegitimate tactics and may serve as a rallying point for violent unrest and mobilization.

While international peace and democracy advocates assume increased transparency and media coverage is positive, Daxecker’s findings suggest increased attention can be problematic. In cases of fraudulent elections, documenting the truth comes with unintended consequences.