Ongoing Research Project

Understanding Governments of National Unity in Africa: Context, Design and Rationale

Intra-state conflicts in Africa have resulted in many governments formed out of power-sharing agreements in what is usually christened as ‘Government of National Unity’ (GoNU) (sometimes called Unity Government or Coalition Government). Whilst this term is popularly used in mass media, political discourse and also in academia, it is employed without consideration for the latent but significant variations that exist in context, institutional design and rationale of such governments of national unity. Hence this qualitative study aims at exploring GoNUs in Africa and tracing African Union (AU/OAU) policy on the growing concept in post-colonial Africa.

The study focuses on 15 unity governments (GoNUs) in Africa over the period of 1978 to 2016. They include Burundi, DRC, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Zanzibar and Zimbabwe. The literature suggests that the background circumstances surrounding the GoNU formation influences the rationale for its formation and the political institutions designed to support the government. The literature also suggests that the AU’s stature as the most prominent regional actor has made it a key facilitator in the formation of GoNUs over the years. Hence the objective is to explore the AU policy perspective on this GoNU phenomenon. It also aims at detecting the evolution in AU (OAU) policy and practice vis-à-vis how GoNUs have been formed over the years on the continent. I therefore intend to interview persons within the following target expert groups:

• Officials from the political, peace & security as well as legal departments of the AU who have knowledge or experience in the AU’s involvement in the formation of GoNUs and other power-sharing governments
• Officials from the Office of the AU Panel of the Wise with knowledge in the Panel’s recommendations for the management of post-election and post-conflict governance crisis
• Officials with working knowledge in the application of the 2007 African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance

The questions under consideration include:

1. What circumstances motivate the AU’s support for the formation of a GoNU?
2. In the AU’s view, what is the right timing or under what circumstances does the proposal of a GoNU become admissible or welcome?
3. The literature suggests that GoNUs have been formed in all sub-regions of the continent, how much of knowledge sharing is encouraged across sub-regions?
4. How do the AU and its REC relate to one another in their policy/practice vis-à-vis GONUs? i.e. is there any division of labour between these two actors?
5. Does the AU have any current (or past) policy that is specific to GoNUs, beyond just power-sharing? How does the AU apply this in practice if there is any?
6. Which actors within the AU take responsibility for advising on GoNU constitutional legal engineering? How much external (non-AU) input goes into the legal reforms?
7. How much flexibility is allowed in creating a GoNU framework? Does that raise concerns about the risks of creating room for arbitrariness and bias?
8. What is the AU’s comment on the procedures used to install GoNUs, i.e elections, appointments?
9. Is the formation of a GoNU expected to lead to an expansion, maintenance or reduction in government size? What are the AUs comments regarding the type and number of stakeholders to include in a GoNU? Besides, does it matter the level of governance at which certain stakeholders are included?
10. How is the general idea of power sharing different from the specific concept of GoNU?
11. What are the AU’s comments on the limitation that GoNUs generally seem to place on competitive multi-party politics? How does this impact the AUs objectives of promoting competitive multi-party democracies? Are there any policies or conventions guiding this limitation of political competition?
12. Democratisation or violence mitigation: what is the primary purpose for supporting the formation of GoNUs?
13. Does the AU consider or expect the GoNU to be an exception rather than a norm in governance practice in Africa?
14. GoNU has become a popular term for many post-crisis government of political accommodation, even in cases where the agreement does not clearly state that. What could be the motivation?
15. Are there any instances where the AU’s intention of supporting a GoNU has differed from that of conflict parties or other parties?


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