Power Sharing and Inclusive Politics in Africa’s Uncertain Democracies

March 21, 2011, 5:28 p.m.

How should international policymakers respond to evidence of a 'stolen' election? In, Power Sharing and Inclusive Politics in Africa’s Uncertain Democracies, A. Carl LeVan argues that traditional methods of building inclusive and consociational institutions can undermine accountability and democracy. Building inclusive institutions has been recognized by scholars as an important element in building stable democracies.  Arend Lijphart famously advocated for divided societies to implement a form of consocialtional democracy in ethnic cleavages are managed by grand coalitions of elites who wield mutual veto points in decision making.  Juan Linz advocated against presidential systems, attributing the shorter regime life of Latin American nations to their majoritarian nature.  Africa, it would seem, with its colonial era borders, would be the perfect setting to measure the impact of such institutions.  While many African institutional designs are more a result of colonial heritage – single member districts for former British colonies, two-round elections for French – the continent has developed both formal and informal mechanisms for governing across ethnic cleavages.

LeVan believes, however, that consociational and powersharing models, which were built by theorists examining Latin American “pacting,” are less relevant in modern day Africa.  Powersharing governments make it difficult for voters to evaluate government performance (which party is responsible for the state of the country?)  and nearly impossible to punish bad governance.  It also can create inefficient spending if it includes doling out useless ministries to placate power blocks.  While democracy promoters have pushed for strong institutions, LeVan continues, they have subsequently undermined them by legitimating “rule changes” to accommodate election losers.  Powersharing agreements like those in Zimbabwe and Kenya have set a standard for ignoring the results of an election in the name of forming an inclusive government.   LeVan goes on to say that exporting systems designed for post-conflict environments to areas where democratic values are more ingrained, only decreases accountability and undermines the legitimacy of the government.

Power sharing agreements have been widely used in Africa as paths out of civil war. However the research focus on conflict mitigation provides an inadequate guide to recent cases such as Kenya and Zimbabwe. When used in response to flawed elections, pacts guaranteeing political inclusion adversely affect government performance and democratization. Political inclusion in these cases  undermines vertical relationships of accountability, increases budgetary spending, and creates conditions for policy gridlock. Analysis using three salient dimensions highlights these negative effects: origin distinguishes extra-constitutional pacts from coalitions produced by more stable institutions, function contrasts post-war cases from scenarios where the state itself faces less risk, and time horizon refers to dilemmas which weigh long term costs versus short term benefits. The conclusion suggests that the drawbacks of inclusive institutions can be moderated by options such as sunset clauses, evenhanded prosecution of human rights violations, and by strengthening checks on executive authority.

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