The Journal of Modern African Studies

Research Article

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

Nic Cheesemana1 c1 and Blessing-Miles Tendia2 c2

a1 Department of Politics and International Relations and African Studies Centre, University of Oxford, 92 Woodstock Road, Oxford OX2 7ND, UK

a2 Freelance Journalist and Researcher on Southern African Politics, St Antony's College, University of Oxford, Oxford OX2 6JF, UK


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.


* 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.