Power sharing and transitional goverment
Power sharing, transitional
governments and the role of
Power sharing, transitional
governments and the role of
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
+1 anno fa
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.
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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