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Transitional governments as a means to conflict resolution in Africa

15.07.2019
Article from AFRIC Editorial
Some African countries resorted to forming transitional governments in a bid to end conflict and ensure political stability in their respective countries. This phenomenon has become a widespread and popular way of managing a political crisis. This issue is gaining grounds since youths do not only want to effect change by dethroning authoritarian leaders but also want to overhaul the entire political structure. However, what becomes of these countries after the transitional period expires remains highly uncertain.

Governance challenges in Africa over the years has caused rising concern as people all over the continent are now waving a war against bad governance and development problems. Thus, there has recently been a heightened quest and struggle for democratic governance by Africans. In the process of holding governments accountable and advocating for better states of affairs in Africa, several countries have undergone uprisings and in some cases, citizens in countries like Algeria and Sudan rose up against their respective leaders and fought for them to relinquish their grip on power. Such a political crisis when they become intense usually results in the impeachment of the leaders and the fate of such countries depends on the institution of a transition government.

In March 2019, Algerians staged demonstrations in several cities against Abdulaziz Bouteflika’s bid to run for reelection. This forced him to withdraw as a presidential candidate and eventually stepped down from power. The newly-appointed Prime Minister, Noureddine Bedoui immediately initiated talks to form an interim government to pilot the affairs of the country before elections.

In Benin and Togo for instance, transition took place during crises of legitimacy for the ruling regimes. Thus, violence is usually brought to an end through the creation of a unity government which comprises all major players who took part in resolving the conflict.

Kenya also experienced a period of power-sharing between 2008 and 2013 after electoral violence took place in 2007. In a bid to overcome the political stalemate, the parties created a unity government which implemented changes by adopting a new constitution. A recent case scenario emerged in Sudan after the dictator Omar al-Bashir was ousted from power. On July 5, 2019, opposition parties and the military reached a power-sharing agreement after days of negotiation.

During the transition period, new strategies for democratic governance are drafted and principles of subsequent institutional arrangements are developed. There is equally the emergence of a ‘power-map’ depicting how power is going to be held. It most often takes into consideration the political, military elites as well as opposition and civilians who were central to the conflict to form new and revised political institutions.

It is worth noting that transition governments vary in different countries. In Kenya and Côte d’Ivoire, transitions took place through a more gradual process of reform rather than a definitive break away from the old regime.

How a transition governments work     

Transitional governments denote a political arrangement aimed at instituting a joint government between groups usually advocating for a democratic change. In most cases, transition governments are interim ruling bodies mandated to rule for a limited period. Some of these governments have the duty of drafting a new constitution and organizing elections that will see the passage from one government to the other.

The leaders of this form of government are not elected, they are likely selected from members of the country’s elite such as politicians, military figures, and trade union leaders.

Generally, interim governments are more concerned with moving from conflict and authoritarian rule to instituting democratic modes of government, and in such cases that occurred in countries like Sierra Leone and South Sudan, power is shared between state actors and opposition groups.

However, there is a danger when these actors retain hopes of remaining in power after the transition period. Thus, in setting up a transition government, it is necessary to map out ways in which the interests which may develop thereof will lead to a permanent settlement. Usually, those called up to lead transitions face several challenges as the entire country looks up to them to bring about change and end conflicts. This is a result of the fact that political systems are usually overhauled in case of transitions and there is a great need to develop a new system of government which will be welcomed by all. None the less, in case a transition government fails the political elite cannot go back to the old system because the political landscape has changed.

The need for third parties in a transitional government

There is usually high hopes that the transitional period may give space for debate to take place out of the power-sharing government to enable the emergence of new leaders. This is considered a good way to restrict power mongers and see that alternative voices are heard in the effort to bring about a permanent government, but sometimes political participation is resisted by those in charge.

Some analyst stipulate that transitional periods need to extend political participation beyond the signatories of agreements and also take into consideration political groups such as civil society and the public.

The analysts opined that the integration in the transition process is considered important because the people who must have fought against authoritarian regimes become anxious for politics in the country to open up and for them to be a part of discussions to determine the future of the country. Knowing fully well that transitional governments stay in power for several years and take decisions with long-term consequences, the public usually demands to participate in the decision making process. Thus, there is a need for those running interim governments to garner the support of the masses. Failure to get the population involved in the transition process may lead to them disengaging from the entire peace process as was the case in Burundi.

Equally, there exist difficulties in taking decisions by the transitional power-sharing governments, hence, opening up the peace process to welcome non-signatories to the power-sharing agreement is highly recommended. Libya’s transition which has been disrupted by armed non-state groups is now being threatened by the indecision of its interim leaders.

After the 2011 uprising brought Muammar al Qadhafi’s four decades of authoritarian rule to an end, the interim authorities have been unable to form a stable government to address pressing issues in the country.

To resolve the crisis, the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) was signed in 2015 in Skhirat, Morocco which brought together members of Libya’s coalitions to advocate for the creation of Government of National Accord (GNA). The agreement stipulated a 9 member GNA Presidency Council comprised of representatives from some key factions and regions. In May 2017, GNA Prime Minister-designate Sarraj and Field Marshal Haftar met in Abu Dhabi and later in Paris on July 2017, which gave hope for the amendments of the LPA and implementation of a modified GNA arrangement. But unresolved political differences and rivalries which made the UN downsize the GNA is still likely to influence efforts to secure democratic processes. The major problems the interim government is facing remain the control over Libya’s military and the role of Hifter as commander in chief of the Libyan National Army, which is largely opposed.

Impact of power-sharing on political development.

Several studies have placed more focus on different factors involved in transition governments such as the economy, but very little attention has so far been paid to the long-term impact transition governments may have on the country as a whole as well as its political development.

Generally, transition governments set the pace for the establishment of a new government. Hence, the degree of political participation after the transition period depends on decisions made by the interim authorities. It is thus necessary for the interim leaders to carefully concert among themselves to make decisions that will have a positive long term impact in the country. This is because the pace they set during the transition period will become the foundation upon which the country will function and the rules of the future political game will be constructed from their decisions and actions.

This period of transition impacts the future of the country in that, the institutions put in place by the interim leadership have an enduring legacy of the transition period and these institutions turn to shape the political outcome of the country. Hence, how such transition governments are run and managed determines the peaceful transfer of power in the future.

Article from AFRIC editorial

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