Democratic Transition in Conflict-Torn Societies

Published on 1 January 2003

This three-book series is the product of an IDS-based research programme, funded by the Department for International Development, which explored variations in democratic institutions in countries emerging from violent conflict. Liberal democracy has been widely regarded as a panacea for countries emerging from despotic rule and violent conflict in developing and post-communist countries.

Donors and international financial institutions have actively promoted it in tandem with economic liberalisation, considering both to be preconditions for participation in the global economy. The case for democracy includes the claim that it facilitates peaceful management of conflicts through political institutions, not violence, offering a solution to political instability.

But democracy, it seems, is as capable of awakening dormant conflicts, reinforcing class and gender inequalities, and penalising minorities, as it is of empowering citizens or broadening political participation. This programme of research was concerned to understand the conditions under which democratic institutions in developing and transitional economies are effective in resolving deep-seated social conflict, broadening political participation, controlling security forces, and delivering development. Research was conducted with partner institutions in four countries (Bosnia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and Uganda) and the conceptual frameworks for this work, and empirical findings, are now available in three volumes of essays published by Zed Books, London.


Cawthra, Gavin and Luckham, Robin (eds) (2003) Governing Insecurity: Democratic Control of Military and Security Establishments in Transitional Democracies, London: Zed Books

Democratic institutions in the post-Cold War era have come to be regarded as the only legitimate forms of governance. Elections have seemingly replaced coups as the main mechanism for changing rulers, and there remain very few overtly military governments. But the longstanding legacies of military rule over the past half century continue to cast a shadow over many newly instituted democratic regimes. And the fact that more and more societies have experienced order and government disintegrating under the pressures of violent conflict and internal war posts even more intractable obstacles to the institutionalisation of democracy and human security. The authors of this volume explore the challenges of establishing democratic (and not just civilian) accountability and control of the military and other security establishments (including non-state armed formations) in countries that have been either the victims of authoritarian military rule or racked by violent internal conflict.

The book examines both successful democratic transitions and failed ones. A wide range of cases is covered, including Algeria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Chile, the Congo, Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Sri Lanka. The problems of ensuring democratic control and reforming the security sector in conditions of regional conflict and insecurity, notably in the Balkans, Latin America and West Africa, are also examined.

Governing Insecurity fills a significant gap in the literature on governance and development, which has hitherto largely neglected military and security questions.

Gavin Cawthra holds the Chair in Defence and Security Management at the University of Witwatersrand.

Following retirement, Robin Luckham is a Research Associate at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex.

Both editors are leading authorities on questions of the military, democratic transition and security sector reform.


Bastian, Sunil and Luckham, Robin (eds) (2003) Can Democracy Be Designed? The Politics of Institutional Choice in Conflict-Torn Societies, London: Zed Books

Constitution-making for democracy has always been a highly political and contested process. It has never been more ambitious, or more difficult, than today as politicians and experts attempt to build democratic institutions that will foster peace and stability in countries torn by violent conflict. The extended investigation out of which this book has grown ranges across three continents. It examines such apparently intractable cases as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Sri Lanka and Fiji, as well as apparent ‘success stories’ like South Africa, Ghana, and Uganda,

Three groups of questions are explored:

  • How and by whom were democratic institutions designed?
  • How have they functioned in practice: what has been the relationship between democratic institutions and democratic politics?
  • How have they measured up to the pressures placed on them by ongoing violence, poverty, globalisation and democratisation itself?

The authors, while regarding democracy as a general entitlement, refuse to subscribe to a triumphalist view which sees it as a universal panacea. Instead they seek to understand how democratic institutions actually facilitate (or sometimes fail to facilitate) improved governance and the management of conflict in a variety of national settings.

This thoughtful and empirical set of explorations is highly relevant to other societies wrestling with similar problems of institutional design in situations of democratic transition and/or deep-seated social conflict.

‘There are no single unequivocal answers to the question this book addresses. Yet these highly informed original contributions on the politics of institutional design offer a wealth of insights into the kind of processes that have led to recent successes and failures on the democratisation front’.– Martin Doornbos, Institute of Social Studies, The Hague

Sunil Bastian is a Research Fellow at the International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Colombo.


Goetz, Anne-Marie and Hassim, Shireen (eds) (2003) No Shortcuts to Power: African Women in Politics and Policy-Making, London: Zed Books

Whatever the other shortcomings of representative democracy in the world today, one issue that remains only partially resolved is the political participation and policy impact of one half of the population – women. This book examines this question in the context of two countries, South Africa and Uganda, which in this regard have accomplished much more than most (including the Western democracies).

How did women achieve some 30 per cent representation in both national and local political institutions in these countries? How far did women’s mobilisation in civil society play a part? How sustainable are these gains likely to be? And of equal importance, there are the questions around the impact of women politicians on policy. Here the volume examines two litmus-test pieces of legislation – around land in Uganda and gender violence in South Africa. What emerges is that the political routes to increased female participation vary and the solidity of the gains made depends much on the strength of the gender-equity lobby in society at large. What is more, participation does not necessarily translate into effective policy influence enhancing the position and interests of women.

‘A rare and valuable comparative study of two nations frequently credited with having the most advanced gender politics in Africa …. An exciting, timely and well-conceptualised book that will be of immense value in the fields of politics, development and gender studies.’

– Professor Amina Mama, African Gender Institute, University of Cape Town

‘One of the best books ever to make the intellectual case for women’s engagement in politics. It is not only a rich and well-documented analysis that advances knowledge in African studies, but also a sterling contribution to the global and comparative study of women in politics.’

– Professor Kathleen Staudt, University of Texas at El Paso

Anne Marie Goetz is a political scientist and Fellow of the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex.

Shireen Hassim lectures in political studies in the School of Society Sciences, University of Witwatersrand.


Image of Anne Marie Goetz

Anne Marie Goetz

Emeritus Fellow

Image of Robin Luckham

Robin Luckham

Emeritus Fellow

Publication details

published by
Zed Books
Cawthra, G., Bastian, S., Goetz, A.M., Hassim, S. and Luckham, R.
Anne Marie Goetz and Robin Luckham


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