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Read our key findings on power-sharing below.


Power-sharing is one of the most common ways in which conflict is brought to an end. While popular as a way to persuade conflict actors to engage in an inclusive political process, it can be controversial, and there are many alleged pitfalls such as corruption, instability of government, social division, blockage of popular legislation, and exclusion of non-dominant groups that can continue long after conflict has finished. Strategies to counter these problems depend on which of the many forms of power-sharing is present.

Power-sharing brings contenders for power who have been at the heart of the conflict into joint forms of government: often power-sharing aims at a form of group political equality which will not be delivered by majoritarian elections which deliver ‘winner-takes-all’ solutions. These arrangements are often creative and quite different in different contexts. However, they also often prove difficult to move on from, and in their operation they can exclude other actors and voices in ways that need to be thought through and addressed (Bell, 2018a).

Peace agreements illustrate the tension between the power-sharing arrangement and any broader social contract. Political power-sharing arrangements can be very effective in reducing and eliminating conflict violence. However, they are also often complex and find difficulties in evolving to produce self-renewing political systems in in which power is restrained and can change hands peacefully and without forms of mediation (Bell, 2018a).

If the power-sharing arrangements are intended to guarantee some form of political equality to marginalized groups, they may need to be supported as an indefinite arrangement rather than constantly placed under pressure to dismantle. Any pressure for reform of power-sharing arrangements needs to be accompanied by realistic alternative mechanisms for ensuring political equality between groups, if group identities remain politically salient, to have a chance of success (Bell, 2018a).

Power-sharing can be successful at ending the violence but often ‘splits power’ between groups and in a sense builds the conflict into new institutions, rather than resolving it (Bell and Pospisil, 2017). It will therefore have to be supported over time, and supplemented by other modes of inclusion and rights, if it is to build beyond an ‘elite pact’ into a broader social contract (Bell, 2018a; Bell 2018d).

Power sharing can take several different forms. Political power-sharing involves establishing an executive grand coalition, proportional representation in legislatures, mutual veto and segmental autonomy. Economic power-sharing means joint participation in economic institutions. Military power-sharing refers to provisions which share power in the institutions of police, army or security ministries. Territorial power-sharing is divisions of power on a territorial basis to accommodate geographically-concentrated groups. Often the opportunities and risks of power-sharing depends on both the form and function of the arrangement, and the issues at the heart of the conflict that it is attempting to address.


Political power-sharing

Political power-sharing arrangements provide important security guarantees for state and opposition parties or rebel groups, by offering them a place in government. These guarantees are useful to ending conflict, however, they are often criticized for rewarding violence, entrenching the divisions at the heart of the conflict by translating it into new political institutions, and focusing on an elite pact, to the exclusion of any social contract (Bell, 2018a).

A review of all peace agreements in intrastate conflict between 1990 and 2016 illustrates that power-sharing is used in peace to three quite different ends: at a national level to address nation-wide conflict, a sub-national level to address a sub-state conflict, and as interim power-sharing focused on moving from conflict and authoritarianism towards democratic modes of government. Each type of power-sharing creates a different form of elite pact, with different implicit theories of change, and different challenges for inclusion (Bell, 2018a; Bell, 2018d).

The central challenge is to ensure that the power-sharing arrangements do not operate only as an ‘elite pact’ but have capacity to evolve to a more inclusive social contract. However, peace processes involve incremental and non-linear journeys from conflict to peace, and political power-sharing often is very difficult to move from, even when it is not working effectively. The reasons of lack of trust and the need for political accommodation in divided societies, means that forms of shared power are necessary even when they do not work well due to lack of trust (Bell, 2018a).

If political power-sharing arrangements are intended to guarantee some form of political equality to marginalized groups, they may need to be supported as an indefinite arrangement rather than constantly placed under pressure to dismantle. Any pressure for reform of power-sharing arrangements needs to be accompanied by realistic alternative mechanisms for ensuring political equality between groups, if group identities remain politically salient, to have a chance of success (Bell, 2018a).

Where power-sharing is focused on bringing armed actors into an interim transitional arrangement, these actors need to retain some hope of having access to power post-transition if they are to be incentivised to ‘complete’ the transition. If the interim transitional arrangement has required political power-sharing, it will be necessary to consider how the ideologies and interests that have propelled that arrangement will be accommodated in any, more permanent settlement. Straightforward majoritarian democracy is unlikely to achieve the types of political accommodation necessary to sustaining peace (Bell, 2018a).

Supporting power-sharing arrangements focused on political equality can be accompanied by projects which seek to re-shape identity claims and ideological divisions over time, in the hope of moving from the more rigid aspects of the power-sharing arrangements (Bell, 2018a).

Risks as to entrenching group identities can be mitigated by power-sharing design ‘tweaks’. These often appear to involve technical fine-detail, but may be crucial in maintaining an open texture to the power-sharing arrangements, or mitigating their effects on those who do not identify in terms of the main group identities. These tweaks include: how groups are named in the power-sharing arrangements, and whether fixed or flexible terms are used; whether there is a human rights component to the arrangements; and whether other minorities are also protected by the arrangements (Bell, 2018a).

Transitional justice interacts with different forms of power-sharing; the tensions in the peace versus justice debates which are central to TJ theory and practice and how they interact with consociational forms of governance; the relationship between community versus individual rights in consociational settlements; and how the emphasis on TJ theory and practice on ‘bottom-up, victim led’ processes interact with consociational debate on grassroots versus elite interactions. These intersections mean that transitional justice and consociationalism could potentially work together in a complementary fashion, providing a ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ engagement that acknowledges but is not subservient to group difference (Brown and Ní Aoláin, 2016).



Economic power-sharing

Economic power-sharing shares the generation, collection, and distribution, of the state’s economic resources between military-political protagonists and groups at the heart of the conflict, with the aim of achieving fairness between groups in ways that are intended to address the political, social and economic divisions of the conflict (Bell, 2018b).

Economic power-sharing is not unique to conflict settings. Many countries have forms of economic power-sharing, in particular where they have devolved power to sub-state units. So called ‘fiscal federalism’ involves sharing of economic management and decision-making between central state institutions and those of sub-state units. Countries with significant natural resources also often have special mechanisms for allocating these resources, which can prioritize the territories in which the resources are found, or target particular areas of socio-economic need (Bell, 2018b).

Issues of economic distribution are particularly important in conflict-affected states due to a well-established link between wealth inequalities and the onset and durability of violent conflict. Economic power-sharing and more inclusive management of natural resources often needs addressed as part of peace processes, and can have conflict resolution functions (Bell, 2018b).

Economic power-sharing also carries some risks in terms of sustaining or renewing conflict, for example, by resourcing armed actors in ways which enable them to renew or sustain conflict, or by providing unintended incentives to new actors to take up arms (Bell, 2018b).

There are five main forms of economic power-sharing resulting from peace processes and agreements:

  1. Political approaches to economic power-sharing, which share power over economic resources and decisions.
  2. Territorial approaches to economic power-sharing, which involve forms of ‘fiscal federalism’ that go along with territorial power-sharing.
  3. Specific arrangements for natural resources connected to the conflict, which create mechanisms for sharing power in their management, or in the redistribution of wealth gained from them.
  4. More ‘invisible’ economic power-sharing which meets the economic needs of groups whose well-being is critical to stability and economic development.
  5. Residual joint resource management, which allows for ongoing joint management of cross-border economic issues post secession or similarly absolute territorial division (Bell, 2018b).

There is a tension between the group accommodation ambitions of economic power-sharing, and economic reform focused on creating a broader social contract capable of delivering public goods. For peace and development, war economies and modes of controlling resources will have to be replaced by other forms of economic management and accountability. The challenge in peace negotiations is to persuade the parties to the conflict that they have something to gain from new economic arrangements, sufficient to persuading them to give up forms of privatised economic power, exercised on behalf of one group only (Bell, 2018b).

Ways to address tension between group accommodation and a broader social contract within economic power-sharing arrangements include:

  1. Conflict analysis that specifically addresses the relationship between economic resources and conflict.
  2. International supporters of peace processes with sufficient organizational capacity to ensure joint economic-conflict management approaches.
  3. Mediation support aimed at helping re-frame economic power-sharing debates and peace agreement design in ways which help manage the tension between the political drivers of economic power-sharing design, and the need for functional and accountable economic institutions.
  4. Reframing political disputes over economic resources as technical problems, and strategically sequencing talks to manage technical detail outside them.
  5. Increased attention to less visible ways of addressing the distribution of economic power.
  6. Ensuring marginalized communities whose socio-economic needs are invoked by the parties have access to influence talks (Bell, 2018b).

There is a need to anticipate risks of implementing economic power-sharing, and mitigating where possible. The following issues are some of the most common pitfalls:

  1. If the agreement does not provide sufficient incentive and security guarantees through its economic power-sharing arrangements, the agreement in its entirety may fail to be implemented, with severe conflict and development consequences;
  2. If implemented, political economic power-sharing provisions can strengthen conflict-parties economically and politically to renew conflict, or even incentivize new groups to use violence in pursuit of ‘a share of the pie’;
  3. Territorial economic power-sharing tied to territorial divisions of power, can cause new grievances around inequality, for example of people in other regions, or majority populations at the centre, who feel they are losing out to a new prioritization of a conflict-affected region (Bell, 2018b).



Military power-sharing

The core overarching intention of military power-sharing provisions negotiated in peace and transition processes, is to ensure proportionate representation of opposing parties and factions, ethno-national groups, and other former combatants in the armed forces so as to stabilise the move from violent armed conflict to a post-conflict setting (Bell, Gluckstein, Forster & Pospisil, 2018).

Definitions of military power-sharing are contested, but it can be understood as an agreement to share military decision-making and/or operational tasks between different armed contenders for power, or to proportionally include ethno-national groups or former combatants in ranks and file or command structures (Bell, Gluckstein, Forster & Pospisil, 2018).

Military power-sharing includes measures such as: joint command structures; merger of forces; other forms of ethno-national or combatant proportionality in the army and police and associated security force institutions (for example monitoring commissions) (Bell, Gluckstein, Forster & Pospisil, 2018).

Military power-sharing is often turned to in peace negotiations as a solution to providing security guarantees for groups. Like other forms of power-sharing it can offer all those at the heart of the conflict an incentive to buy into the peace process. For military leaders and personnel from non-state opponents, military power-sharing can offer an alternative to straight forward disarmament which nonetheless affirms the state’s monopoly on the use of force. However, military power-sharing also often means that militaries are expanded at a point where they should really be downsized, and their central control can become more diffuse as the price of a formal state monopoly on use of force, creating risks if the peace process breaks down (Bell, Gluckstein, Forster & Pospisil, 2018).

Military power-sharing can offer a solution to contestations over military leadership and authority, and the dominance of one political or ethno-national group in state institutions, including security forces. Without this form of power-sharing, parties may have little incentive to end the conflict and disarm. There may also be principled reasons for military power-sharing, namely to make sure that military forces and power-structures are made more inclusive of former opposition interests and personnel and other forms of inclusion such as geographic, ethnic, or gender-based inclusion (Bell, Gluckstein, Forster & Pospisil, 2018).

Military power-sharing arrangements focus on the inclusion of groups key to the conflict, but in doing so can create perverse incentives to smaller groups outside of the main peace agreement consensus to assert their claims violently. As in almost all peace negotiations, often the agendas of those who have carried out violent acts are central to negotiations. While military power-sharing can underwrite a commitment of the main parties to move from violence, the risk of incentivizing new forms of violence is also real (Bell, Gluckstein, Forster & Pospisil, 2018).

International militaries are often involved both in the fabric of military power-sharing arrangements, and in supporting the development of military power-sharing and the practical training and financing of its implementation. The role of international actors will depend on the military power-sharing provisions negotiated, on the relationship of international actors to the conflict, and local capacities for undertaking security functions which may be low or non-existent in cases where the state has had very little functional existence during the conflict (Bell, Gluckstein, Forster & Pospisil, 2018).

Military power-sharing must be understood as one part in a wider ‘security transition’. Military power-sharing is often agreed as an alternative form of demobilization, demilitarization and reintegration (DDR) measures, or put in place as part of a wider attempt as SSR. DDR, SSR and forms of military power-sharing may all be part of a ‘security transition’, as defined in the box below – which is itself a political process. Toolkits for DDR and SSR should integrate better analysis of uses of military power-sharing, rather than assuming that the demobilization of combatants and return to civilian life or rule of law based SSR will be the norm (Bell, Gluckstein, Forster & Pospisil, 2018).

Military power-sharing needs to be supported with contextual awareness and understanding of the different possible goals of the arrangements. In particular, consideration should be given to:

  • The relationship of the military power-sharing arrangements to the wider group accommodation provided for by the peace agreement (notably political and territorial power-sharing).
  • The role that control or membership of an army or militia plays in terms of access to other economic resources and goods and the incentives that attach to maintaining armed forces (Bell, Gluckstein, Forster & Pospisil, 2018).

Understanding the potential for military power-sharing (and indeed all forms of power-sharing) to entrench division is important to anticipating to entrench division is important to anticipating implementation challenges and mitigating them (Bell, Gluckstein, Forster & Pospisil, 2018).



Territorial power-sharing

Territorial power-sharing is often used in peace processes, to accommodate the competing interests of conflict parties to territorial control, including competing claims to unitary statehood and to secession. Like other forms of power-sharing it can offer greater inclusion in the form of self-government for groups who have been contesting the state’s marginalization of them. However, territorial power-sharing can in turn cause other forms of inclusion and exclusion which require to be anticipated and addressed (Wise, 2018a; Wise, 2018bWise and Bell, 2018).

Territorial power-sharing involves the delegating of some of central government’s responsibilities to different geographical areas. Territorial power-sharing can include restructuring from a centralised to a federal state, or moving decision-making power from a central government to regional or local governments. It can also include delegation of forms of political, fiscal, or administrative self-governance to regional or local groups who make claims to govern a particular area (Wise, 2018a).

Different elements of forms of territorial subdivision (such as federalism, devolution, and autonomy) are often combined in creative and multi-layered permutations. Using territorial power-sharing to accommodate ethno-national groups is more likely to be part of a complex package of decentralizing powers to a variety of sub-state entities, sometimes building on earlier rhetorical commitments to federal principles, such as in Bosnia and Nepal (Wise, 2018a).

Territorial power-sharing arrangements are reached mostly during peace processes relating to intrastate, identity-based conflicts across a variety of geographical contexts, including secessionist disputes. These arrangements are often agreed at the ‘substantive/comprehensive’ agreement stage – that is, as part of an overall settlement framework, and in forms which are highly varied, which draw eclectically on existing models of state configuration – often adding layering and complexity as a result of negotiating dynamics (Wise, 2018a).

During negotiations on territorial power-sharing, there are critical decisions that have implications for inclusion. Decisions over how territory will be split, internal demarcation processes, institutional frameworks, dispute resolution, division of responsibilities, articulations of the nature of the state, and anticipating newly created ‘minority-majority’ dynamics, can all have implications for inclusion and exclusion of different groups. Reflection on these decisions may create space in negotiations to anticipate possible inclusion dilemmas, and creative ways to manage exclusive outcomes that may contribute to future conflict (Wise, 2018a; Wise and Bell, 2018).

Analysis on how to ensure that power-sharing arrangements enable inclusion beyond the main conflict parties should question the conflict dynamic which the territorial power-sharing attempts to address, and anticipate lines of resistance. For example, identifying whether negotiations are attempting to pull a fragmented state back together, or further decentralize a federal state to demobilize a geographically concentrated minority, will have implications for which party is more likely to embrace or push against, a territorial power-sharing ‘solution’ (Wise, 2018a).

Symbolic naming of the arrangements may be as contested as substance, and require creative approaches to ‘naming’. The multiple meanings associated with terminology such as ‘federalism’, ‘autonomy’ and ‘decentralization’ can lead to parties favouring particular concepts due to what they understand those terms to mean, or rejecting proposals due to their terminology, regardless of the mode of devolution of power that they establish in practice. Opening up space in the process for a diverse range of parties to express how they understand concepts of territorial power sharing, may reduce the opportunities for misinterpretation or disappointment (Wise, 2018a).

Sequencing territorial devolution of power in stages, to build incremental agreement, can help build support for territorial power-sharing as a framework for a more inclusive state. In some peace processes, comprehensive territorial power-sharing frameworks build on earlier peace plans or rhetorical commitments to power-sharing principles, even if these earlier proposals failed to be implemented. These processes raise the possible importance of having certain concepts agreed in principle at the outset of negotiations (Wise, 2018a).

Creative techniques for formalizing ‘unsettlement’ may present opportunities to promote plurinational solutions to statehood. These techniques can serve to reassure conflicted groups that they will not lose out by entering the new arrangements. Creative techniques include providing for extra territorial connections between kin groups; leaving unresolved border areas; providing for open-ended unresolved processes, such as by using postponed referendums (Wise, 2018a).


Power-sharing and inclusion

Those concerned to support both inclusion of the main groups at the heart of the conflict, and capacity for a broader self-sustaining social contract can usefully analyse the inclusion dynamics of the power-sharing arrangement by considering the function that the power-sharing arrangement has in creating a new political settlement. To influence the inclusiveness of a power-sharing arrangement, it is important to consider not just the technical issues of powersharing design, but the role that power-sharing is contemplated to play in resolving the conflict (Bell, 2018a).

Robust individual rights protections can be very important to mitigating group-based politics. They are often pushed by local actors as an integral part of the political power-sharing arrangements, rather than an abstract commitment to international norms and rule of law. International actors tend to support inclusion of human rights provisions and mechanisms in peace agreements, because they are committed to them as democratic norms. However, implementation of the agreement often prioritizes measures aimed at sustaining a fragile ‘political deal’ between elite actors, without paying attention to the implementation of human rights protections (Bell, 2018a).

International supporters of peace process often fail to understand that human rights measures are not just ‘liberal peace’ add-ons, but practical tools for balancing the power-sharing arrangement. A more political understanding of the role of human rights in building wider social legitimacy for the peace agreement, and enabling civil society to challenge elements of the political culture which perpetuate conflict, is important to achieving outcomes that are more inclusive (Bell, 2018a).

Political power-sharing involves both hazards and opportunities for the inclusion of women, depending on the function it has (Bell 2018c). While power-sharing can emerge as an elite pact that largely excludes those non-dominant groups not directly involved in the conflict, there is evidence that power-sharing peace agreements are much more likely to have provisions for women and that these are more likely to be implemented (Bell and McNicholl, 2019Bell, 2015).

Institutional settlements such as forms of power-sharing that that privilege stability over transformation, and recognise and accommodate difference along only one dimension, work to incentivise and fix the gender status quo, dilute gender reforms, and marginalise and stigmatise women. The logic links the gendered status quo of dominance and deference with the delivery of stability, predictability, and predominant norms of ethno-nationalism (Mackay and Murtagh, 2019).

Territorial power-sharing comes with potential opportunities and risks for women’s inclusion.  New post-conflict institutions can be designed to be more inclusive but fundamental rights and protections can also be at risk. Risks are also different for different women depending on whether they are part of the majority or minority community in the sub-national territory (Wise and Bell, 2018; Wise, 2018a).

Peace agreements that create sub-state entities only rarely contain provisions that support the participation of non-dominant minority groups within sub-state or devolved institutions.  They do however tend to include provisions for non-discrimination based on gender. This means there are opportunities for alliances between non-dominant groups, women and other civic actors who do not fall within the main social divisions to support a broader inclusion agenda (Wise, 2018b).

The following activities can be useful in making power-sharing proposals more inclusive:
– Producing strong gender-responsive conflict analysis of group power dynamics and incentives
– Modelling power-sharing proposals for their possible gender impact
– Supporting and resourcing the building of alliances between and across women’s groups
– Supporting and resourcing the building alliances with other groups, for example with civil and human rights groups, other equality constituencies and political groupings pushing for equality
– Formulating clear proposals for women’s inclusion
– Pushing for representation in the structures set up to advance the transitional deliberation
– Asking for support and technical advice from gender advocates and advisors (Bell, 2018c; Wise and Bell, 2018).