Three questions with Julian Wucherpfennig on securing peace in multiethnic states

The Professor of International Affairs and Security on his new co-authored book "Sharing Power, Securing Peace? Ethnic Inclusion and Civil War".

Julian Wucherpfennig, Professor of International Affairs and Security at the Hertie School, is the co-author of “Sharing Power, Securing Peace? Ethnic Inclusion and Civil War”, published together with Lars-Erik Cederman (ETH Zurich) and Simon Hug (University of Geneva). In the interview below, he explains the nuances of power sharing and what including different ethnic groups in executive decision-making looks like in practice.

Wucherpfennig will present the book in conversation with Alex Scacco (WZB) and Ryan Griffiths (Syracuse University) in a launch event hosted by the Centre for International Security on 26 September.

There are many books on ethnic conflict and peacemaking already. What sets yours apart?

There are indeed many books on how to peacefully govern multiethnic states, including a good number that focus on the promises and/or pitfalls of power sharing – usually understood as any scheme of governance that allows representatives of multiple groups to engage in shared decision making through joint government.

What sets ours apart is that we focus on power-sharing practices, rather than formal institutions. In short, we focus squarely on actual behaviour – whether power is shared between multiple groups – regardless of whether this is prescribed formally by constitutional texts or simply the result of informal norms. This is crucial because (a) there is no guarantee that what has been agreed upon on paper will be reflected in a country’s actual power distribution, and (b) shared power often hinges on informal agreements without any formal prescription, as illustrated by practices in Switzerland and a number of recent African cases, for example in Ghana and Benin. This also highlights another contribution of the book, namely that we set up a “fair” comparison by not only focusing on post-conflict cases, but also on those which have remained peaceful thanks to power sharing.

Our book relies on large-scale global data that captures all politically relevant ethnic groups worldwide and covers the period 1946 to 2017 and uses advanced statistical methods. In this sense, it provides the most systematic and rigorous analysis of the effect of power sharing on peace to date.

Policymakers around the world seem to think that ethnic power sharing brings peace. Is this the case?

There has been a trend towards inclusive governance around the globe in recent decades. Power sharing has become the dominant approach favoured by third-party mediators, such as the United Nations or the European Union, for building state capacity and legitimacy in deeply divided societies. External actors have facilitated the adoption and implementation of power sharing in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iraq, Lebanon, Northern Ireland, Sudan and Macedonia, and they have recommended such arrangements for Cyprus, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Libya, Nepal and Syria. Still, in view of the tragedies in Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Zimbabwe and South Sudan, considerable scepticism remains, especially amongst scholars.

You suggest power sharing as a tool for preventing civil conflicts. How does that work in practice – two prime ministers at the same time?

What matters most is whether ethnic groups – through their representatives – are included in the decision-making processes that affect their fate. We speak of governmental power sharing when the country’s central executive decision-making body includes representatives of more than one ethnic group. This gives the group meaningful possibilities to influence policies that align with their own interests. Depending on a country’s political system, executive power is the presidency, the cabinet or senior posts in the administration, including the army.

We also cover territorial power sharing, which is when partial executive power is delegated to at least one regional body, through which representatives of ethnic groups can control decision-making in line with their own interests. In most instances, this means that ethnic groups get a say in the cultural policy domain (e.g. language and education) and/or significant economic autonomy (e.g. the right to levy taxes or substantial spending autonomy).


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