This paper offers a theoretical framework of elite bargains and draws on the case of Zambia to show that the priorities of peacebuilding can conflict with those of economic development. In Zambia, elite bargains have helped to avoid civil war but they have also constrained the economy, resulting in an unproductive peace. The study argues that while inclusive power structures are indispensable for preserving peace and stability, it is important to recognise that a trade-off might be needed between power-sharing and economic development.
Elite bargains describe the extent to which rulers have used the distribution of positions of state power to accommodate the dominant cleavages in society (ethnicity, language, region, religion, class and so on). Inclusive elite bargains exist where rulers provide representatives of contending social groups with balanced access to positions of state power, while exclusionary elite bargains involve a biased inter-group distribution of public appointments.
Measuring the inclusiveness of an elite bargain involves focusing on the extent to which positions of political, military and economic power are shared between members of competing social groups:
- Political power-sharing provides group leaders with visible recognition and control over resources. Indicators of inclusiveness include: the inter-group distribution of the cabinet and the ‘inner core’ of political power; the distribution of positions in the ruling party; and the distribution of permanent secretaries.
- Military power-sharing shapes feelings of physical security and survival. Representation at the upper levels of the army is what gives competing group leaders a real stake in the security sector.
- Economic power-sharing is of immediate material interest for members of competing groups. Indicators include the inter-group distribution of board directorships and senior management positions in key state-owned enterprises (the most lucrative public institutions in patronage-based political systems) and in key privatised companies.
Previous research suggests that inclusive elite bargains will be conducive to both peace and economic development. In Zambia, however, this study finds that inclusive elite bargains have been accompanied by persistent economic stagnation as well as by enduring peace. It seems that, in Zambia, there was no alternative to sacrificing economic development for the sake of peace, especially in the early decades of postcolonial rule when the country’s unity was extremely fragile:
- Inclusive elite bargains seem to be responsible for the absence of civil war since independence in 1964.
- The decade-long efforts to promote national unity mean that temporary imbalances in public appointments are unlikely to become an immediate trigger of violent conflict.
- Privatisation and deregulation were used to create new opportunities for accumulation and corruption, which has helped to pay off and co-opt potential challengers. These privatised companies were stripped of their assets. They were not recapitalised and many were fully relocated to other countries, leading to an enormous loss of wealth.
- Less attention to the political imperative of inclusiveness might have prevented the emergence of a bloated, inefficient public sector and thereby favoured economic development.
- A less inclusive elite bargain in a context of high social fragmentation would also have increased the likelihood of civil war with obvious negative implications for Zambia’s economic record.
There is evidence that the Zambian dilemma of unproductive peace also affects other countries in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond. More research is needed.