The Perils of Power-Sharing: Africa and Beyond

Chandra Lekha Sriram, Marie-Joëlle Zahar


The purpose of international conflict-resolution efforts is, in the short term, to bring an end to violent armed conflict, and, in the medium to longer term, to prevent the revival of conflict. However, at least one of the mechanisms often utilised in conflict resolution and peace agreements, power-sharing, may not only prove problematic in early negotiation and implementation, but may potentially be at odds with the longer-term goal of preventing resurgence of conflict. Why might this be the case? Longer-term peacebuilding seeks to prevent conflict in part by building strong and sustainable states. Such states should be able to avoid reverting to armed conflict because they would be more responsive to grievances and more effective in dealing with violent dissent. However, power-sharing arrangements may undermine such efforts by placing in power individuals and groups not fully committed to, or unable to take part in, governance for the benefit of the entire populace; in part because it necessarily places in power those who have engaged in significant violence to achieve their ends. This is likely to create less democratic states, although we do not insist that democracy is or should be the only goal of peacebuilders. Rather, we suggest that powersharing arrangements may tend not only towards undemocratic states, but towards states which are not responsive to the needs of the citizenry for security in ways which may undermine human security and state legitimacy.

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