Securing Reform? Power Sharing and Civil-Security Relations in Kenya and Zimbabwe

Article excerpt


Power sharing is increasingly used by the international community as a tool to end conflict, from Bosnia to Afghanistan to Liberia. In recent years, the use of power-sharing governments to settle conflict has been particularly preponderant in sub-Saharan Africa. (1) From 1999 to 2009, power-sharing agreements, also known as unity governments, were utilized in eighteen African countries to resolve a multiplicity of conflicts, ranging from high-intensity civil war, as in Sudan, to lower-grade electoral violence, as in Kenya and Zimbabwe. (2) In some cases, as in the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar in 2010, unity governments have been agreed to even before elections take place in an effort to defuse poll tensions. In many of these conflicts, the security apparatus of the state has played a prominent role. In Kenya and Zimbabwe, for instance, the security sector was involved in--if not directly responsible for--widespread political violence surrounding both countries' disputed elections in 2007-08, with the Kenyan police implicated in 36 percent of all fatalities and the security apparatus in Zimbabwe responsible for an overwhelming majority of the violence. (3)

In such cases, the depoliticization and reform of the state security sector is crucial to achieving a durable peace, improving governance, and aiding democratic consolidation. If reforms are not undertaken during the tenure of unity governments, any short-term gains secured by a power-sharing deal will likely prove fleeting, as security officials will remain as political instruments or continue to employ their influence in the political sphere. Although political polarization and other conflict legacies can stifle reform, power-sharing governments and the conflicts from which they emerge have the potential to generate propitious opportunities for security sector reform (SSR), particularly where the security apparatus has been involved in political violence. As the deleterious role of the security sector becomes apparent, domestic, regional, and international actors often urge parties to include SSR in the negotiated political agreements and pressure unity governments to enact security reforms and other institutional changes that impact security governance, such as constitutional review processes.

Despite this link between power sharing and security reform, there is a paucity of academic studies that examine the relationship between the two phenomena. Drawing on the cases of Kenya and Zimbabwe, this paper seeks to fill this gap and better understand when unity governments formed in contexts of low-grade electoral violence in Africa will facilitate or forestall state SSR. To varying degrees, the power-sharing agreements in Kenya and Zimbabwe recognized the need for security reform. To what extent have the unity governments realized these reforms? What factors have determined whether or not they progressed? To what degree are the findings from Kenya and Zimbabwe generalizable?

This paper has three main aims. First, it discusses the few studies in the literature that link power sharing and security reform, presents the paper's two hypotheses, and outlines the methods used in the study. Second, it demonstrates how the historical role of security forces and their balance of power with civilian actors shapes the prospects for SSR. In Zimbabwe, the rise of "security politics" gave the security sector a high degree of political influence, which prevented the inclusion of strong SSR content in the power-sharing agreement. This combination of high political influence and weak SSR content has resulted in little movement on state security reforms in Zimbabwe. In Kenya, a "diffusion of violence" over the past two decades gave rise to the practice of "militia politics," which led to a low degree of political influence in the security sector and allowed strong SSR content in the agreement. (4) In contrast to Zimbabwe, low political influence and strong SSR content have facilitated considerable, if slow and incomplete, progress on state SSR in Kenya. …