Although many African governments introduced provisions for subnational elections in the early 1990s, there is variation in the extent to which these reforms were implemented and sustained. Our inductive analysis of three post-conflict cases – Angola, Ethiopia and South Africa – suggests that one factor explaining this variation is elite discontinuity when an insurgent group wins power in the aftermath of conflict. Systems of subnational elections adopted by new governments with an extensive social base derived from an insurgency, as in South Africa and Ethiopia, have proved relatively robust. By contrast, in Angola, where there was no change of executive power after the conflict ended, routinised subnational elections have not been implemented. The identified causal mechanism is that, for the new governments in the first two cases, subnational elections served as opportunities to mobilise party support and to consolidate control by sidelining local elites aligned with the previous regime