Power-sharing and security sector reform in Zim, Kenya

In this article, Alexander Noyes explores the relationship between power-sharing agreements and security sector reform (SSR). In many transitional countries, SSR can play a crucial role in making situations more stable and democracy more feasible. But can power-sharing agreements help SSR where it matters most?

Alexander Noyes Political Analyst

While international actors use power sharing to resolve a vast range of conflicts in Africa and view security sector reform as critical to achieving a durable peace, there is a distinct lack of studies examining the relationship between power-sharing and SSR. In the cases of Kenya and Zimbabwe, from 2008-2013, two main factors determined the divergent SSR outcomes of the respective power-sharing governments: the degree of political influence possessed by actors within the security sector and the strength of content on security reform within the power-sharing agreement.

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. From 1999 to 2009, power-sharing agreements, also known as unity governments, were utilised in 18 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. In some cases, as in the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar in 2010, unity governments have been agreed to even before elections took 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. The Kenyan police were implicated in 36% of all fatalities and the security apparatus in Zimbabwe was responsible for an overwhelming majority of the violence that spread across the country.


In such cases, the depoliticisation and reform of the state security sector is crucial to achieving 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 polarisation 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 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 sector 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, we can better understand when unity governments formed in contexts of low-grade electoral violence in Africa will facilitate or forestall state SSR.

Securing politics

In the cases of Kenya and Zimbabwe, the historical role of the security forces and their balance of power with civilian actors shaped 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 resulted in little movement on state security reforms in Zimbabwe under power-sharing.

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, namely the police, and allowed strong SSR content in the agreement. In contrast to Zimbabwe, low political influence and strong SSR content facilitated considerable, if slow and incomplete, progress on state SSR in Kenya under the coalition government.

Both the political influence and SSR content variables are important in advancing SSR: lower degrees of influence are necessary but not sufficient unless coupled with strong SSR content in the agreement. The implications of the findings are clear: A low level of political influence within the security sector and robust SSR content in the agreement are the most favorable conditions for reforming the security apparatus. Under such conditions, unity governments can generate significant opportunities for SSR.

Unfortunately, such conditions usually prevail where SSR is needed least. Kenya may prove to be the exception in this regard, as a unique set of circumstances shaped a unidirectional relationship between the police and the political sphere, making police reforms essential but also plausible. Zimbabwe, on the other hand, demonstrates that, as one might expect, where SSR is most desperately needed, that is where it is least likely to advance.

Strong links and blurred lines between the polity and the security sector in Zimbabwe can be traced back to the liberation war and through the early years of Independence in the 1980s, the latter exemplified by the brutal Gukurahundi campaign undertaken by then prime minister Robert Mugabe and security forces to suppress opposition in Matabeleland.

Political hegemony

Despite a long history of politicisation, the security apparatus has become increasingly and overtly political since 2000, when Zanu PF’s political hegemony was first challenged by the MDC and Mugabe began to rely heavily on the security sector to remain in power.

The year 2000 marked the launch of Zanu PF’s “Third Chimurenga” (armed struggle), a narrative linking resistance to conquest in the late 19th Century to the liberation struggle in the 1970s and the land expropriations of white-owned farms in 2000.

The Third Chimurenga is framed in the selectively nationalist language of “patriotic history”, which propagates a dichotomised view of Zimbabwe’s past as a struggle between revolutionary “patriots” and “sell-outs,” with the opposition dismissed as mere puppets of the West and Zanu PF — the fathers of Independence — enjoying the right to “rule in perpetuity”.

The opposition movement led by Morgan Tsvangirai, MDC-T, emerged in 1999 and dealt the ruling party its first major defeat in the 2000 constitutional referendum.

In the run-up to the 2002 elections, security chiefs publicly stated that they would not salute politicians who did not possess liberation war credentials, that is the opposition, a sentiment that has subsequently been repeated before every major election.

Such statements were far from mere rhetoric, as the Joint Operations Command (Joc) — the supreme security body comprising the leaders of Zimbabwe’s military, police, Central Intelligence Organisation, prison service and high-ranking Zanu PF members — orchestrated violent campaigns to guarantee Zanu PF’s success in the 2000 and 2002 elections.

State-sponsored violence — carried out by a mix of security officials, party youth militia and self-styled “war veterans” — featured prominently in subsequent elections, culminating in the 2008 crisis.

Plum positions

Mugabe’s illegitimate victory that precipitated power-sharing negotiations headed by former South African president Thabo Mbeki under the auspices of the Southern African Development Community and the African Union.

As compensation for the security sector’s fealty since 2000, Mugabe has increasingly awarded security leaders plum positions in the state and party structures. As a result, the security apparatus has penetrated every aspect of the Zimbabwean state, from the Reserve Bank to the electoral commission.

Regarding the spread of the military into state institutions, an MP who sat on the Home Affairs and Defence Parliamentary Portfolio Committee, asserted: “All institutions that are supposed to be totally civilian are militarised.”

Taking the point further, a local journalist and senior staff member at a leading civil society organisation stated that the military “has become ubiquitous, it’s omnipresent, it’s everywhere. They occupy every sector of our society. You go to the courts, you find the military, you go to parliament, you find the military, in the executive, there is the military, in the state parastatals, government bodies, they are there”.

The security sector is involved in the management of the economy as well, with ostensibly parastatals often times managed by those with ties to the security apparatus. Security sector actors have also benefitted from their control over illicit sources of revenue such as the Marange diamond fields and their involvement in the land invasions that proliferated across the country in 2000 under Mugabe’s fast-track land reform programme.

The above illustrates the security sector’s immense influence within the political arena, state institutions and the wider political economy of Zimbabwe.

The security sector has become politicised while the political sphere has become securitised, giving rise to the practice of security politics.

Security reforms

The protracted power-sharing negotiations headed by Mbeki resulted in the signing of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) in September 2008 and the formation of the inclusive government in early 2009. The GPA recognised the need for security reform, but to what extent? The agreement did not require security reforms to be included in the constitutional review process, did not mandate a review of extant security laws, and did not establish a commission of inquiry or accountability mechanisms. Article 13 did note the need for state institutions to “remain non-partisan and impartial”, while also calling for a new training curriculum for the security forces.

The agreement, however, provided no timeframe delineating when such limited security reforms would be carried out. It is clear that the SSR content of the GPA must be deemed as weak.

However, given the finding of the study that the content of the power-sharing agreement has considerable potential to drive reform, negotiators would be wise to push vigorously for concrete SSR content even in cases where security leaders possess medium to high degrees of political influence.

Such content could enable pressure from domestic and international actors to overcome the security sector’s protestations and force members of the unity government to uphold their promises and implement SSR. Democracy in Africa.
Noyes is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Politics and International Relations at Oxford University.


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