Tore Nyhamar



This article discusses the preconditions for settling ethnic conflict through a constitutional compromise: democracy. The focus is on the conditions for transition to democracy amidst intense ethnic strife. What factors facilitate transition to democracy and what factors are obstacles? It is assumed that the attitude of social groups to democracy is determined by their leaders' rational calculations of the prospects of social, economical and political benefits. In other words, social groups have the capacity to formulate collective interests and act strategically to further them, and their leaders choose the alternative path of action with the highest expected benefits among those available. To extend the argument, I will first draw on some recent analysis in the rational choice literature on institutions. Second, I will analyse two very different contexts in which transitions to democracy were attempted, the events in Angola 1974-75 and in Zimbabwe in 1979-80. Rational choice theorists try to discover the meaning of rationality in different contexts, and the study of strategic choices and interaction of the six political elite groups in Angola and Zimbabwe, each with a core ethnic constituency, makes empirical probing and refining of the propositions of rational choice theory possible.

Author Bio(s)

Tore Nyhamar has been a Assistant Professor at the University of Oslo and is currently a visiting scholar at The George Washington University. At present his main work is on a project on negotiated transfers to democracy in ethnic conflicts.


democratic constitutions, democracy, ethnic conflicts, ethnic identity

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