Understanding and Deploying the Political Settlement Framework in Africa
- Hazel GrayHazel GrayCentre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh
Research using variants of political settlement analysis have gained prominence in scholarship on Africa. Political settlement research provides an analytical lens that takes the researcher beyond a narrow focus on formal institutions to examine how distributions of power among groups affect the way that institutions work. A political settlement can be defined as a combination of power and institutions that is mutually compatible and also sustainable in terms of economic and political viability. The main theoretical building blocks of the framework are institutions, power, and rents. Despite its burgeoning influence as an analytical approach, existing literature contains considerable differences in the core concepts and causal mechanisms described as constituting a political settlement framework. There are key differences within the literature between research that conceptualizes political settlement as action and political settlement conceptualized as process. In understanding political settlement as process, a political settlement is conceptualized as a stable political order that has not necessarily been planned or consciously willed by different social groups. The outcomes intended from the adoption of any particular set of institutions cannot be taken for granted. Groups that may appear powerful in terms of their formal political and economic positions in society may not be able to actually enforce compliance with formal and informal institutions they desire, leading to a much more complex relationship between institutions and paths of political and economic change. Approaches that understand political settlement as action emphasize the role of agreements made by powerful groups or elites. Forging a viable and inclusive political settlement is treated as a desirable policy outcome where institutions that generate inclusion, stop war, or reduce violent conflict can be purposefully established and enforced by elites. The two versions of the framework have been deployed to explore a range of different phenomena including economic change and industrialization, corruption, social policy, conflict, and state-building in a number of African countries. A key insight of the political settlement framework is that it provides many new insights into the variation between political economies on the continent. However, it is crucial that those seeking either to deploy or to critique the framework recognize the diverse way in which concepts and underlying causal processes have been defined. Such tensions within the framework can be important for driving research and thinking forward.