Do Inclusive Elite Bargains Matter? A Research Framework for Understanding the Causes of Civil War in Sub-Saharan Africa
Author: Stefan Lindemann
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Sub-Saharan Africa is the world’s most conflict-intensive region. But why have some African states experienced civil war, while others have managed to maintain political stability? This discussion paper from the Crisis States Research Centre argues that the ability of post-colonial states in Sub-Saharan Africa to maintain political stability depends on the ability of the ruling political parties to overcome the historical legacy of social fragmentation. Creating inclusive elite bargains can bring stability while exclusionary elite bargains give rise to trajectories of civil war.
During the past 50 years, there has been civil war in 24 out of 48 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. These countries combine all the major risk factors associated with the onset of civil war: inequalities, worsening environmental scarcities, high dependence on primary commodity exports and weak democratic institutions riddled with neo-patrimonial rule.
The severity of the situation in Sub-Saharan Africa has given rise to considerable research into the processes of conflict and civil war. There are five main theoretical approaches in the civil war literature, whose arguments are focused on: (1) ethnic diversity, (2) economic performance, (3) inequality, (4) natural resource scarcity or abundance and (5) political organisation. While some schools of thought provide important insights that can be built upon, they are unable to resolve the question of why some states manage to maintain political stability. This is because they pay insufficient attention to differences in the inclusiveness of elite politics:
- The importance of ethnic rifts is contingent on inclusive versus exclusionary political organisation.
- Poor economic performance can be accommodated by inclusive approaches to political organisation and crisis management.
- A focus on vertical inequality neglects the discriminatory relationships between social groups and a focus on horizontal inequality neglects more important inequalities at the elite level.
- The political distribution of natural resources influences the trajectory of countries, whether they are natural resource-rich or –poor.
- The actual inclusiveness of political organisation is more important than regime type.
- Consideration of informal forms of political organisation needs to examine differences in the inclusiveness of clientelist systems.
The diversity of violent conflict should be acknowledged. However, if one takes a case-study approach and analyses the extent to which different countries adopt inclusive policies with regard to their elites, the question of how to maintain stability becomes clearer:
- Exclusionary elite politics involve a ruling party that establishes a narrow coalition of elites by defining exclusionary access to state structures and state resources.
- Exclusionary elite bargains fail to accommodate existing social divisions and provide excluded leaders with an incentive to mobilise protest and violent rebellion.
- Inclusive elite politics involve a ruling party that integrates a broad coalition of key elites by defining inclusive access to state structures (jobs) and state resources (rents).
- Inclusive elite bargains help to accommodate social fragmentation and thereby provide a disincentive for violent rebellion.
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Lindemann S., 2008, 'Do Inclusive Elite Bargains Matter? A Research Framework for Understanding the Causes of Civil War in Sub-Saharan Africa', Discussion Paper 15, Crisis States Research Centre, London School of Economics and Political Science.
Organisation: Crisis States Research Centre, http://www.crisisstates.com/index.htm