Zimbabwe: Power-sharing as an “Impediment” for Transition or the Road to Democracy?

Examining the ZANU-PF – MDC grand coalition government after the "Global Political Agreement 2009"

Term Paper, 2011

14 Pages, Grade: 1,7



1 Introduction

2 Theory: Power-sharing democracy by Arend Lijphard and his critics

3 The 2008 Polls and the Power-sharing Agreement

4 Power-sharing practice in Zimbabwe

5 Conclusion

6 Bibliography

1 Introduction

For the power-sharing government in Zimbabwe to work “one needs the intervention of both Jesus Christ and the Prophet Muhammad” (Chenjerai 2009). After president Robert Mugabe faced his first time ever loss in elections on 29 March 2008 he would rally against opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai one month later in presidential run-offs having to prepare losing his power after 28 years in office. Political violence and intimidation strategies from Zanu-PF in the rally for presidency were the reason for Tsvangirai to pull back his candidacy five days before the election day. After his inauguration Mugabe was forced on the negotiation table with the mediators aiming at a power-sharing arrangement which was finally agreed on and officially started to work in February 2009 (EISA 2009: 78).

In the following paper I want to focus on the power-sharing arrangement in theory and practice looking at the Zimbabwean case. I am interested whether the academic discourse of power-sharing which is both a theory and a policy advice actually works for a specific constitutional design (Lijphart 2002: 37). Is consociational[1] practice in Zimbabwe actually the only working type of government or is it rather an “Impediment” for a democratization process as Roeder and Rothchild suggest (Roeder and Rothchild 2005)?

So far the Zimbabwean case has not been discussed focusing on an analytical framework concerning its power-sharing performance. As I examine some of the work concerning consociationalism theory my paper can be seen as a preparatory work for a closer understanding of the power-sharing arrangement in Zimbabwe.

To contextualize the situation after the power-sharing agreement one needs to bear in mind the Zimbabwean political genesis of the past decades. Until the end of the 1990s Zimbabwe was considered as “the breadbasket of southern Africa” (Tarisayi 2009: 11). Zimbabwe was one of Africa’s role models in terms of educational system, a free press, independent judiciary and consolidated economy by then long time governed by Robert Mugabe. The Zimbabwean dilemma started when the military intervened in a costly conflict in the DR Congo in 1998 and started to ruin its own economy. Two years later Mugabe encouraged occupations of white commercial farms. By intentionally weakening one of the most vibrant economic sectors Zimbabwe soon faced high inflation rates, food shortages and growing unemployment. By 2008, the year of elections Zimbabwe according to IMF formed the fastest shrinking economy in the world with four million people in desperate need of food (Tarisayi 2009: 11-13).

After the formation of a power-sharing arrangement in 2008 the crucial question was if such a construction would work for Zimbabwe. In addition to the enormous challenges within the country there are many reservations concerning power-sharing arrangements in general as the concept already failed in many African countries before (Roeder and Rothchild 2005: 41). There were many actors involved such as SADC, AU and South Africa who were playing a vital role in negotiating the Global Political Agreement (GPA) which makes it necessary to have a closer look on their role in this process (EISA 2008: 78).

In my paper I start with a chapter on theory: “Power-sharing democracy by Arend Lijphart and his critics”. Then I will continue with a chapter regarding the 2008 polls and the points agreed for in the GPA leading to a chapter 4 where I combine theory and practice of cosociationalism in Zimbabwe.

My research question “Power-sharing as an “Impediment” for Transition or the Road to Democracy?” refers to the concepts of democracy and transition. By democracy I use the short definition formulated by Abraham Lincoln: “government of the people, by the people and for the people” (Schultze 2009: 137). Transition means the change of system from totalitarian to democratic regimes (Nohlen 2009: 1108). I use these terms introductory to lead the reader to the possible improvements associated with power-sharing governments.

2 Theory: Power-sharing democracy by Arend Lijphard and his critics

The model of power-sharing is frequently discussed in the academic milieu and has given cause for broad controversies among scholars especially of political science. In Africa alone between 1999 and 2009 there have been 17 post-conflict power-sharing arrangements agreed on[2]. Mehler therefore talks of a “trend” of integrating power-sharing elements to newly formed political solutions (Mehler 2009: 2-3). As Arend Lijphart is referred to as “Mr Consociationalism” I chose his approach for the theoretical contextualization of my work (Lijphart 2002: 35).

In general terms power-sharing means that all relevant parties and representatives of all major groups share executive power in a broad coalition. In the Westminster model for esample executive power only lies in the hands of a parliamentary majority (Lijphart 1984: 46). Consociational democracy to Lijphart is the only “form of democracy for deeply divided societies but also, for the most deeply divided countries, the only feasible solution (Lijphart 2002: 37)”.

For Lijphart the concept is both a theoretical approach as well as a policy advice for countries and societies divided by major cleavages (Lijphart 2002: 37). By referring to these two layers his approach has been the target of many critics which I shall outline later in this chapter. Lijphart stresses the point that ethnic and other societal divisions form a problem for democracy. Therefore he brings forward four key methods of consociational government namely the grand coalition, mutual veto, proportionality and segmental autonomy and federalism. Lijphart refers to grand coalition as the primary method of consociational government. He portrays that all relevant political leaders of all important segments of society cooperate to govern a country. Whereas in the majoritarian model of democracy there are large opposition parties in consociational forms of democracy every party participates in government. According to Lijphart the majoritarian model works for rather homogenous societies where opinions among individuals are not very far apart. In divided societies he sees a high level of rigidity in the voter’s behavior. This inflexibility of voter’s behavior results in a constant monopoly of executive power for the party which represents the majority of voters. Therefore Lijphart argues for a power-sharing arrangement for such societies. Mutual veto is one of three secondary instruments of consociational government. Even in power-sharing governments the minority group can be excluded of decision-making by the majority party. A mutual veto can guarantee minority consideration. In spite of the advantages Lijphart names the danger of a “minority tyranny” (Lijphart 1977: 37) which means the minority group might abuse mutual veto to gridlock the government. Lijphart argues though that the government to work is also the interest of the minority party to maintain credibility. Proportionality which is the next method is closely related to grand coalition. It means that all groups influence a decision in proportion to their quantity in society. This includes the allocation of financial services as well as the civil service appointments. Segmental autonomy aims at recognizing segmental cleavages instead of abolishing them. In practice this means that a minority should be given the chance to rule itself in an area “of the minority’s exclusive concern” (Lijphart 1977: 41). As a specific type of segmental autonomy Lijphart names federalism. According to him segmental autonomy bears a certain risk of secession and partition if residents of a territory become very patriotic. (Lijphart 1977: 25-52) In the following Lijphart names some favorable conditions for a consociational government to work. I want to stress his most important remark which will in the next chapter be considered closely by looking at the case study. For Lijphart it is very important that the leaders of a power-sharing government “feel at least some kind of commitment to the maintenance of the unity of the country as well as a commitment to democratic practices (Lijphart 1977: 53).” Therefore I will assess the willingness of the Zimbabwean leadership to compromise in these areas in chapter 4.

As mentioned above Lijphart assesses the positive as well as the negative aspects of power-sharing. In respect of power-sharing Lijphart is both his own promoter and his own critic. After all he comes to the conclusion that power-sharing government is the best solution for deeply divided societies. In the next paragraph I will proceed by summing up the viewpoint of Roeder and Rothchild relating to Arend Lijphart’s theory of power-sharing. They suggest that power-sharing democracy delays rather than catalyzes the process towards democracy.

Firstly they criticize the lack of democratic competition that follows a power-sharing agreement. As every relevant group participates in government it is likely that they create an elite cartel which is unwilling to resign from power. Roeder and Rothchild state that competition among elites is constituent for a working democracy so power-sharing would rather limit democracy. As Lijphart proposes a constitutional design that provides the possibility of mutual veto Roeder and Rothchild have reservations concerning the performance of such a constitutional design. In their eyes mutual veto fosters the suspicion among ethnic groups as they might use it to deadlock the governmental decision-making process. Roeder and Rothchild rather see a “weapon to extort concessions” than the cure for marginalized ethnic groups to gain a share of power (Roeder and Rothchild 2005: 37). Thirdly they address the problem of the focus on the distinctions of ethnic groups rather than on their potential commonalities. This would uphold the interethnic conflict on a high level as there are often conflicts around the issue of fair proportionality in representation. The fourth peril Roeder and Rothchild bring forward is the second-generation problem. They claim that the power-sharing agreement might not last for a long period due to developments in society. The leaders of the majority parties would find it hard to preserve long-term commitment because they have the impression to be denied full power. This could according to Roeder and Rothchild lead to a radicalization of the political elite. By governmental inefficiency they refer to a number of obstacles created by consociational democracy concerning its performance. Even though they admit that power-sharing increases representativeness they see great opportunity costs because of governmental inefficiency. These cost originate namely from the “duplication of decisonmaking agencies and bureaucracies (Roeder and Rothchild 2005: 39)”. In addition to that policy-making would slow down and the government would become incapable of launching important reforms. Following the argument of slow decision-making processes Roeder and Rothchild criticize the incapability of power-sharing coalitions to adapt to changing social conditions. “Power-sharing institutions freeze a status quo that makes political change difficult (Roeder and Rothchild 2005: 39).” Leaders of the predominant political class are characterized by their unwillingness to step down from power and resist changes in power-sharing arrangements. This would lead to a repression of newcomers to enter the political stage. By inadequate enforcement Roeder and Rothchild outline their last peril of power-sharing. Especially an early phase of power-sharing would require external guarantors to ensure the implementation of the policies agreed on. Majority groups must be monitored because they might easily behave opportunistically to gain full power. That is why Roeder and Rothchild are not very optimistic about power-sharing governments. They analyze that most of the “experiments” collapsed and led into violence[3]. (Roeder and Rothchild 2005: 36-41)

Every argument presented by Lijphart and Roeder/Rothchild is somewhat ideal-typical. This means that they do not refer to a specific country or society[4]. The authors rather share the opinion that power-sharing benefits from some constellations in society for the government to work (Lijphart 1977: 53-99; Roeder and Rothchild 2005: 41-49). They differ in their optimism concerning power-sharing as the cure for deeply divided societies as I have shown above.

For my analysis I put a focus on the perils of consociationalism because my initial impression was that for the Zimbabwean case power-sharing does not work well. Therefore I close this chapter by formulating a hypothesis which I will assess in the following: Most of the perils for consociationalism put forward by Roeder and Rothchild can be validated by analyzing the Zimbabwean case after the Global Political Agreement in 2009 which enacted the power-sharing between the ZANU-PF and the MDC.

3 The 2008 Polls and the Power-sharing Agreement

The polls held on 29 March 2008 were the first “harmonized” elections in young Zimbabwean history. Citizens were asked to vote for a president, the Senate, the House of Assembly as well as the local government council on the same day. For the first time since independence 1980 the ZANU-PF lost control of the House of Assembly gaining 97 seats in parliament while the two MDC fractions[5] got 109 seats (Tarisayi 2009: 21). Morgan Tsvangirai winning the first round of presidential elections only missed the absolute majority necessary to take office by two percent defeating president Robert Mugabe and two independent candidates (Tarisayi 2009: 22). The opposition parties were able to hold their campaigns for the “harmonized” elections without fearing massive outbreaks of violence provoked by ZANU-PF. Still there were reports concerning politically motivated intimidation and few instances of violence. The elections were called overall “peaceful, credible and an expression of the will of the people” according to the Southern Africa Development Community Election Observer Mission (SEOM) (Tarisayi 2009: 21)[6].

The presidential run-off scheduled for the 27 June 2008 was characterized by major outbursts of violence. In rallies held in the rural areas the ZANU called indirectly for threats on members of the MDC (Tarisayi 2009: 22). Between “harmonized” elections in March and the run-off event in June Morgan Tsvangirai got arrested five times[7]. Five days before the run-off was due, Tsvangirai resigned his candidacy for presidency. Nevertheless Robert Mugabe was then the only candidate for the elections with no choice for the people to vote for an opponent. The very next day he was sworn in for president ignoring the fact that neither African nor Western politicians acknowledged his inauguration (Tarisayi 2009: 23).

After Mugabe had “robbed” the election Thabo Mbeki, former president of South Africa together with the African Union (AU) and the SADC insisted on post-run-off negotiations between the two major parties (EISA 2008: 78). Mugabe soon agreed on a procedure which was clearly aimed at forming a power-sharing government in Zimbabwe. During the talks Tsvangirai made clear that he would insist on top positions of executive power for his MDC. The mediators then were to propose a “dual system of executive power” giving a national president the right to chair the cabinet and the prime minister the command of the council of ministers. The talks led to an “inter-party agreement to power-sharing” on 15 September 2008 which officially came into force on 11 February 2009 (EISA 2009: 78). The commitments included major challenges such as “the enhancement of free political activity and participation in national institutions” and the “Freedom of assembly and association, as well as freedom of expression and communication” (EISA 2009: 80). As a key achievement ZANU-PF and MDC jointly agreed on an executive design in which the president Mugabe “co-governs” with Prime Minister Tsvangirai (EISA 2009: 81). The new cabinet has 31 members for which 15 ministers come from the ZANU-PF while 16 are nominated by the MDC. Both parties declared to aim at a new national constitution within the next 12 months.

Zanu-PF and MDC joint for power-sharing government in a state of political crisis. External mediators had an important influence on the achievement to bring two parties that deeply mistrust each other together. Whether or not the power-sharing coalition in Zimbabwe after its implementation leads the way to democracy, I will analyse in the next chapter. Therefore I will consider the actual conditions under which the power-sharing arrangement in Zimbabwe came into office. I will then analyse if Lijpharts idea of power-sharing in deeply divided societies serves for the Zimbabwean case.


[1] Lijphart uses the terms power-sharing and consociationalism “synonymously” (Lémarchand 2006: 3).

[2] Zimbabwe together with Kenya and Madagascar forms an exception because there was no civil war in the forerun of power-sharing agreements – “but violent political crises about the country’ leadership occurred in 2008/2009 (Mehler 2009: 3).”

[3] Roeder and Rothchild cite Horowitz who found out that power-sharing arrangement have a high “mortality rate”. Only 4 of 16 examples examined by Horowitz lasted for a longer period (Roeder and Rothchild 2005: 41).

[4] There are broad discussions if Lijphart’s consociational theory applies both to western democracies or developing countries for example in Africa as well (see for example Mehler 2009: 4).

[5] After the party’s split in 2005 the MDC is divided in the MDC-Tsvangirai (MDC-T) and the MDC-Mutambara (MDC-M) named after their leaders (Ndhlovu 2009: 91). In this paper I refer to the MDC as a unit meaning these two fractions.

[6] There are different perceptions on the pre-election situation and the polls on March 29 itself. In contrast to the SADC the International Crisis Group talks of a “flawed election” (ICG 2008).

[7] Masunungure describes the run-off polls as a “militarized election without a choice” (Masunungure 2009: 97).

Excerpt out of 14 pages


Zimbabwe: Power-sharing as an “Impediment” for Transition or the Road to Democracy?
Examining the ZANU-PF – MDC grand coalition government after the "Global Political Agreement 2009"
University of Hamburg  (Politikwissenschaft)
Krieg, Friedensbildung und Staatlichkeit in Afrika
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Area Studies, Zimbabwe, Democracy
Quote paper
Jasper Finkeldey (Author), 2011, Zimbabwe: Power-sharing as an “Impediment” for Transition or the Road to Democracy?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/179596


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