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The internal dynamics of power-sharing in Africa

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Given the increasing use of power-sharing arrangements to manage a wide range of political crises over the past five years it is more important than ever to turn a critical eye on the dynamics and outcomes of unity governments. This paper argues that two key factors shape the way that power-sharing functions in Africa: the distribution of violence (that is, whether any one party has a monopoly on victimhood or whether all parties have committed, and retain the capacity to commit, atrocities) and the level of elite cohesion (whether political leaders have developed norms of mutual accommodation that render it easier to find areas of common-ground). The first half of the paper identifies four main power-sharing dynamics in Africa based on different combinations of the distribution of violence and the level of elite cohesion: the politics of distrust, the politics of collusion, the politics of partisanship and the politics of pacting. The second-half of the paper then draws on evidence from Angola, Burundi, the DRC, Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe to illustrate how such variations in the practice of power-sharing shape the prospects for reform.

Keywords: Africa; Angola; Burundi; DRC; Kenya; South Africa; Zimbabwe; civil war; democracy; power-sharing

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Politics and International Relations, African Studies Centre, Oxford University, Oxford, UK

Publication date: April 1, 2011


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