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Power-sharing in comparative perspective: the dynamics of ‘unity government’ in Kenya and Zimbabwe*

  • Nic Cheeseman (a1) and Blessing-Miles Tendi (a2)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 May 2010

This paper draws on the recent experience of Kenya and Zimbabwe to demonstrate how power-sharing has played out in Africa. Although the two cases share some superficial similarities, variation in the strength and disposition of key veto players generated radically different contexts that shaped the feasibility and impact of unity government. Explaining the number and attitude of veto players requires a comparative analysis of the evolution of civil–military and intra-elite relations. In Zimbabwe, the exclusionary use of violence and rhetoric, together with the militarisation of politics, created far greater barriers to genuine power-sharing, resulting in the politics of continuity. These veto players were less significant in the Kenyan case, giving rise to a more cohesive outcome in the form of the politics of collusion. However, we find that neither mode of power-sharing creates the conditions for effective reform, which leads to a more general conclusion: unity government serves to postpone conflict, rather than to resolve it.

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The authors would like to thank Andreas Mehler and the participants of the ‘Power-Sharing Agreements in Africa’ conference (Hamburg), Gabrielle Lynch and the participants of the ‘Democratization in Africa’ conference (Leeds), Jocelyn Alexander, Owen Elliott, Susanne Mueller, Brian Raftopoulos, Timothy Scarnecchia, and two anonymous reviewers, for their insightful and helpful comments.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

D. Anderson 2003. ‘Briefing: Kenya's elections 2002 – the dawning of a new era?’, African Affairs 102, 407: 331–42.

D. Branch & N. Cheeseman 2006. ‘The politics of control in Kenya: understanding the bureaucratic-executive state’, Review of African Political Economy 33, 107: 1131.

D. Branch & N. Cheeseman 2009. ‘Democratization, state failure, and sequencing in Africa: lessons from Kenya’, African Affairs 108, 430: 126.

S. Brown 2009. ‘Donor responses to the 2008 Kenya crisis: finally getting it right’, Journal of Contemporary African Studies 27, 3: 389406.

N. Cheeseman 2008. ‘The Kenyan election of 2007: an introduction’, Journal of Eastern African Studies 2, 2: 166–84.

P. Keefer & D. Stasavage . 2003. ‘The limits of delegation: veto players, central bank independence, and the credibility of monetary policy’, American Political Science Review 97, 3: 407–23.

J. M. Lonsdale 2008. ‘Soil, work, civilisation and citizenship in Kenya’, Journal of Eastern African Studies 2, 2: 205–14.

G. Lynch 2008. ‘Courting the Kalenjin: the failure of dynasticism and the strength of the ODM wave in Kenya's Rift Valley province’, African Affairs 107, 429: 541–68.

A. Mehler 2009. ‘Peace and power sharing in Africa: a not so obvious relationship’, African Affairs 108, 432: 453–73.

S. Mueller 2008. ‘The political economy of Kenya's crisis’, Journal of Eastern African Studies 2, 2: 185210.

G. Murunga & S. Nasong'o . 2006. ‘Bent on self-destruction: the Kibaki regime in Kenya’, Journal of Contemporary African Studies 24, 1: 128.

D. Sullivan 2005. ‘The missing pillars: a look at the failure of peace in Burundi through the lens of Arend Lijphart's theory of consociational democracy’, Journal of Modern African Studies 43, 1: 7595.

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The Journal of Modern African Studies
  • ISSN: 0022-278X
  • EISSN: 1469-7777
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-modern-african-studies
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