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Power sharing, transitional

governments and the role of


Katia Papagianni

Power sharing, transitional

governments and the role of



Katia Papagianni

Power-sharing transitional governments are common ingredients of peacemaking and

peacebuilding efforts. Power sharing guarantees the participation of representatives of

significant groups in political decision making, and especially in the executive, but also in

the legislature, judiciary, police and army. By dividing power among rival groups during the

transition, power sharing reduces the danger that one party will become dominant and threaten

the security of others. Liberia, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Nepal, Iraq

and Afghanistan are examples of countries where power-sharing transitional governments

were responsible for guiding the complex processes of demobilisation and re-integration of

combatants, return of displaced persons, preparation of elections and the negotiation of new


This paper focuses on the sharing of power in the transitional executive and legislature, and

argues that the international community has an important role to play in assisting power-

sharing governments to manage their countries’ political transition. Members of power-sharing

transitional governments need to resolve major disagreements among themselves, which

were not settled in peace agreements. Also, interest groups excluded from the peace talks

may demand to enter the political arena before elections are held and challenge the legitimacy

of transitional governments led by wartime elites. Both the sharing of power among former

enemies and the demands of excluded opposition groups are difficult to manage and are

potentially conflict-provoking. There is a role for external actors therefore, to assist transitional

power-sharing governments in managing these various challenges.

1 Katia Papagianni heads the Mediation Support Programme at the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue. She has worked previously

for UNDP, UN OHCHR, the National Democratic Institute, and the OSCE. Her field experience includes work in Bosnia and

Herzegovina, Russia and Iraq. She holds a doctorate in political science from Columbia University and teaches on peace- and

state-building at the Geneva Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies.

The author would like to thank for their comments: Elizabeth Cousens, Susanne Gentz, Caroline Johnigk, David Petrasek,

Meredith Preston McGhie, Michael Vatikiotis and Céline Yvon.

1 The international community seems to underestimate the need for third-party political

engagement during transitional periods. Greater attention is paid to talks leading to peace

agreements, while the negotiations taking place during the transitional period are not always

equally supported. The fact that a government of national unity is in place is often seen as the

return to ‘normality’ and as the beginning of reconstruction and other ‘post-conflict’ activities.

The skills deployed during transitional periods do not adequately include those required

for mediation and continued political engagement. This approach reflects the exhaustion

of international actors following lengthy peace talks, and the hope that peace agreements

will bring the ‘end’ to the mediation process and the beginning of something significantly

different. This approach is unfortunate given that the track record of transitional power-sharing

governments shows that very often they require substantial support to achieve their goals.

Transitional power sharing and third-party engagement

Third-party political engagement in transitions is about facilitating dialogue among the partners

of power-sharing governments, who typically have many unresolved issues to discuss, while

also mediating between power-sharing governments and other important political actors

who demand representation and influence in the transitional period. The task of facilitating

negotiations among the parties is not completed with the signing of agreements and needs to

continue through the transitional period.

In addition to offering much-needed security guarantees, the role of third parties is to

encourage, and pressure when necessary, national leaders to implement joint agreements with

their former enemies and to reach out to non-signatories of the peace settlement. Convincing

domestic elites to join a single, national-level political process is not a simple task. It requires

the investment of considerable political energy by external actors. Once in place, power-

sharing governments tend to resist the continued intrusion of third parties in their affairs. They

especially resist outside involvement when they use power-sharing transitions as opportunities

to solidify their power bases and construct institutions that promote their interests in the long

term. External involvement is particularly bothersome to these elites, when it advocates for

expansion of political inclusion and thus for the dilution of the privileges of the power-sharing


However, excessive interference or inappropriate contribution of external actors in the political

process can have multiple negative consequences. Instead of encouraging national leaders

to initiate inclusive political processes, external actors often prevent adequate consultation

by imposing deadlines related to their own timetables and interests. They favour the

participation of certain political groups and leaders over others based on their own interests

and understanding of a country’s political realities, and they impose their favourite models of

consultation over those derived from national political tradition. Furthermore, external actors

inevitably make assumptions, which are not always accurate, about a given society and the

‘desired’ or ‘appropriate’ outcome of its political transition. It is therefore important that national

leaders are in the driving seat of transitional politics, with external actors, when necessary,

pushing for inclusive political processes and for the expansion of political participation. 2

This paper makes three arguments.

1 The transitional period is a continuation of the peace talks and, as far as possible,

international engagement facilitating these talks should remain in place. Third parties should see

power-sharing transitional governments as vehicles through which the parties continue talking

and negotiating. Given that not everything is resolved in peace agreements, the transitional

period is an opportunity for the parties to stay engaged.

2 Transitional periods are opportunities to expand participation beyond the signatories of peace

agreements. Political engagement by third parties is often needed to bring non-signatory armed

groups into the peace process, as well as to encourage power-sharing governments to allow

unarmed opposition groups and the wider public to participate meaningfully in the transitional


3 Peace agreements should not include agreements on a country’s long-term institutional

arrangements. Long-term constitutions should ideally be decided through a transitional process

that provides for wide-ranging elite discussions as well as public participation.

Transitional power sharing as an extension of peace talks

In transitional periods, peace talks continue in two main ways. First, efforts continue to bring

into the political process armed opposition groups who refused to sign the agreement. Second,

the signatories of agreements continue to negotiate the many outstanding issues within power-

sharing governments. Convincing non-signatories to join the peace process is a crucial goal

for the transitional period and one that benefits enormously from the support of third-party

mediation. By offering a share in power, transitional governments may succeed in drawing

in non-signatories whose interests may have changed or who needed additional guarantees

before joining the peace process.

For example, efforts continued in Burundi after the signing of the Arusha Peace Agreement

in August 2000 to bring into the political process non-signatory rebel groups. In 2003, the

largest non-signatory, the National Council for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD), joined the

transitional government. Talks continued, and finally in September 2006 the last rebel group

signed a ceasefire agreement. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) also, the war

continued in the east of the country following the establishment of the transitional government

in 2003 and efforts to bring rebel groups into the political process continue to this day. In both

cases, the role of third parties in mediating between the transitional governments and the non-

signatories has been indispensable.

The case of Iraq demonstrates the consequences of not bringing into the political process

powerful, armed opposition groups. Iraq’s transition from 2003 to the adoption of the

constitution in late 2005 failed to provide for a meaningful dialogue among key political elites.

This alienated the Sunnis and those Baathists who could have been co-opted in the new

political reality at the early stages of the transition. The policy of de-baathification and the

exclusion of former Baathists from the official political process left the transitional period with

3 a legitimacy deficit for a substantial portion of the population. At each stage of the transitional

process, the US and its Iraqi allies decided against wider inclusion in the political process,

although alternatives existed which could have created a political space for dialogue. As a result

of a narrowly led transitional process, the constitution adopted in 2005 was largely rejected by

the Sunni population.

The second reason to see transitional periods as extensions of peace talks is that members

of power-sharing governments continue to negotiate issues not addressed by the peace

agreement. In Burundi, many important decisions on the peace process were reached after

the 2000 Arusha agreement, including a ceasefire agreement reached only in 2003, and the

country’s constitution adopted in early 2005. Most power-sharing governments negotiate a

number of outstanding issues, including disarmament and demobilisation of combatants,

drafting electoral laws and establishment of electoral commissions, vetting state institutions,

creation of a unified army and police, and writing new constitutions. These negotiations are

rarely smooth. However, there is a perception within the international community that at this

stage the mediation process has ended, and that different skills and types of intervention are


It is true that simply sharing power among former enemies may promote moderate behaviour

and encourage a positive-sum perception of politics. Especially when combined with third-party

security guarantees, power sharing reduces the parties’ security concerns. Their inclusion in

the transition allows parties to test their opponents’ commitment to respect interests other than

their own. Through power sharing, the signatories of agreements continue talking, to build trust,

and to offer assurances and guarantees to each other.

However, making power-sharing governments work is not a straightforward endeavour.

Routine interaction and relationships among the parties are not yet established. The

government partners share few, if any, common interests, have low expectations about their

partners’ reliability and are plagued by security fears. Power sharing is designed to make

decision making slow and consensus-based in order to reassure parties that they will be

consulted on matters of importance. Given divergent interests and effective veto powers by

each party, transitional power-sharing governments usually fail to embark on reconstruction and

reconciliation. They tend to stagnate and are often unable to take decisions.

Members of power-sharing governments may be under pressure from extremist elements

within their constituencies who oppose compromise and the sharing of power with opponents.

Thus, power-sharing institutions may foster ‘outbidding politics’, where extremist politicians

within a group make radical demands on moderate leaders of their own group who participate

in the government. In such cases, reaching joint decisions is extremely difficult, and leaders do

not have strong incentives to move beyond the positions they held during peace talks. Given

the many causes of stagnated power-sharing governments, it is crucial for third parties to

remain engaged during the transitional period and to encourage governments to take decisions 4

and move the transition forward. This is not easy, of course, as power-sharing governments

rarely welcome such engagement.

Examples of deadlocked power-sharing governments abound. In Cambodia, the shared

government between Hun Sen and Prince Sihanouk, created in 1993, was paralysed by

fighting between the two prime ministers and ultimately fell victim to a coup in 1997. Liberia’s

power-sharing transitional government was marred by corruption scandals and lack of progress

in key issues. Observers argue that the leaders of armed factions blocked disarmament until

they received more government jobs. Although the government had a two-year mandate to

restore basic services to the population, it spent several months debating the sharing of high-

level posts within the transitional institutions (ICG, January 2004).

Similarly, in Burundi, it took more than a year even to install the transitional government due

to the parties’ disagreement on who should lead it. The stalemate was broken only when

Nelson Mandela announced that Pierre Buyoya of UPRONA would remain president for the

first eighteen months of the transition, with a FRODEBU member serving as vice-president,

and that in the second eighteen months these roles would be reversed (Curtis, 2007, 179).

Finally, in Cote d’Ivoire, a year after the Ouagadougou Peace Accord of March 2007, little

has been achieved on the two most crucial issues of the peace process: the ‘identification’

of the population, which will determine who is a citizen and has the right to vote; and the

disarmament and re-integration of former rebels.

In addition to the above difficulties, the members of power-sharing governments are rarely

cohesive and disciplined, which makes negotiations extremely difficult. In the DRC, the

signatories of the Sun City Agreement did not have strong command and control over their

military and political wings. There were parallel chains of command in the army, the former

rebel groups, and the transitional civilian government. The transitional government included

leaders with diverse and often competing agendas. Thus, although ‘bringing everyone together

in the ruling structures was designed to stop violent conflict, the trade-off was low governance

efficiency and effectiveness’ (Curtis, 2007, 191).

Burundi demonstrates the importance of sustained international engagement in transitional

periods. It also demonstrates, as is often the case in mediation in general, that a lot of muscle

is required for an effective third-party role. Burundi’s power-sharing transitional government

was inaugurated in November 2001 and stayed in power until August 2005. Throughout the

transitional period, South African and regional engagement in the peace process was key in

bringing non-signatories into the process and pressuring all actors to advance the process.

For example, in the discussions leading to the agreement on the new constitution in 2004, the

role of international pressure and South Africa’s sustained engagement proved indispensable

(Reyntjens, 2006, 121). The South African mediation applied sustained pressure to move the

process forward, and regional summits of heads of state firmly endorsed agreements reached,

thus leaving little space for manoeuvre by parties critical of these agreements and preventing

future re-negotiation (ICG, December 2004, 5–6).

Given all the challenges involved in transitional power sharing, there is an important role for





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Dispensa per il corso di Teorie dei conflitti e dei processi di pace della Prof.ssa Maria Luisa Maniscalco. Trattasi del saggio di Katia Papagianni dal titolo "Power sharing, transitional governments and the role of mediation" all'interno del quale viene affrontato il tema del ruolo dei governi di transizione di power-sharing come strumento di peackeeping e peacebuilding.

Corso di laurea: Corso di laurea magistrale in relazioni internazionali
A.A.: 2011-2012

I contenuti di questa pagina costituiscono rielaborazioni personali del Publisher Atreyu di informazioni apprese con la frequenza delle lezioni di Teorie dei conflitti e processi di pace e studio autonomo di eventuali libri di riferimento in preparazione dell'esame finale o della tesi. Non devono intendersi come materiale ufficiale dell'università Roma Tre - Uniroma3 o del prof Maniscalco Maria Luisa.

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