What are political settlements and why are they now at the centre of donor efforts to foster more peaceful and effective states and societies? This paper draws on academic and grey literature to examine political settlements and processes of state formation and political, social and economic transformation. Analysing available research, the paper finds that, at least in the short to medium term, more inclusive political settlements at the elite level are crucial to avoid the recurrence of violent conflict, and to lay the foundations for more peaceful political processes. The literature also suggests that, over the long term, states and societies underpinned by more open and more broadly inclusive institutions are more resilient and better at promoting sustained and broadly shared prosperity. However, there is a big gap between these two findings: further research and learning are needed on how a political settlement with a narrow focus on elite inclusion can be transformed into a more broadly inclusive political order.
The literature also highlights:
- the need for greater attention on the concept of ‘inclusion’. Who is included? Is is the process or the outcomes that are inclusive? How is it inclusive?
- the importance of historical trajectories on the political economy within the state and on a global level.
- the likely involvement of multiple, non-linear dimensions of change towards greater inclusion. This may include: from war and/or violent conflict towards peace and a state monopoly on the use of violence; from closed political orders towards systems that are more open and representative; and from clientelism to substantive citizenship.
- how inclusive political settlements may appear at critical junctures (end of a war; a national crisis; natural disaster), or at moments of limited change (shift in key appointments; coalition-building). Either way, the role of political leadership within and outside the state is likely to be a key factor.
- factors which have supported governance transitions and the transformation of political settlements towards greater inclusion include: security and stability; rule of law for all; elite commitment and leadership; and bottom-up pressure for change.
Further research and learning are needed on how a political settlement with a narrow focus on elite inclusion can be transformed into a more broadly inclusive political order. Questions to ask include:
- What are the key drivers and dynamic processes at play?
- Are there any tensions, dilemmas and/or trade-offs between process-based inclusion and outcome-based inclusion?
- How can bottom-up pressures for change shape political settlements?