Drivers of Conflict: The Political Marketplace

Investigating public authority through the logic of the political marketplace.

The political marketplace is a system of governance run on the basis of personal transactions in which political services and allegiances are exchanged for material reward.
Somali Shillings. Source: Flickr/AMISOM.

The political marketplace refers to a system of governance where monetised transactional politics have become systematic. Politics is run on the basis of personal transactions in which political loyalties and services are sold to the highest bidder in a competitive manner. In these contexts, the role of ‘institutions’ or the ‘rule of law’ is secondary. For example, a ruler bargains with members of the political elite over how much he needs to pay them — in cash, or in access to other lucrative resources (such as contracts) —in return for their support. The elite can exert pressure on him using their ability to mobilise votes, turn out crowds, or inflict damaging violence.

The political marketplace also refers to a way of analysing how power operates within these political systems – it can help us understand how those countries actually function and how they are likely to respond to external interventions and other political and economic changes.

The concept of the political market arose from Alex de Waal’s engagement with political elites and processes of conflict resolution in the Horn of Africa. The key concepts derived from the vernacular used by the Sudanese political elites, especially when dealing with conflict-affected peripheral regions such as Darfur. The framework was immediately recognised as consistent with the experience of politicians and political commentators from a number of other countries in north-east Africa. It has since become widely used in both the academic and policy-literature and is one of three logics used in the Conflict Research Programme to investigate how public authority functions. 

Our political marketplace research outputs:



Mehchy, Zaki, 'The interactions between state budget and political budget in Syria', LSE Conflict Research Programme, February 2021. 

Ali Saleem, Zmkan, 'The King of Salah al-Din: the power of Iraq's Sunni elites', LSE Conflict Research Programme, January 2021.


Haji Ingiriis, Mohamed, 'Profiting from the failed state of Somalia: the violent political marketplace and insecurity in contemporary Mogadishu', Journal of Contemporary African Studies, June 2020.

Skelton, Mac and Ali Saleem, Zmkan 'Iraq’s political marketplace at the subnational level: the struggle for power in three provinces', LSE Conflict Research Programme and IRIS, June 2020.

Gotts, Isadora 'The business of recycling war scrap: the Hashd al-Shaʿabi’s role in Mosul’s post-conflict economy', LSE Middle East Centre - Conflict Research Programme, May 2020.

de Waal, Alex, Sarkar, Aditya, Detzner, Sarah and Spatz, Ben 'A Theory of Change for Violent Political Marketplaces', LSE Conflict Research Programme and World Peace Foundation, February 2020.

Hoffmann, Kasper, Vlassenroot, Koen and Mudinga, Emery ‘Courses au pouvoir: the struggle over customary capital in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’, Journal of Eastern African Studies, January 2020.


Hoffmann, Kasper, ‘Ethnogovernmentality: The making of ethnic territories and subjects in Eastern DR CongoGeoforum, November 2019.

Al-Mawlawi, Ali ‘Public payroll expansion in Iraq: causes and consequences’, Report, LSE Middle East Centre- Conflict Research Programme, November 2019.

Muhasasa Ta’ifiya and its Others: Domination and Contestation in Iraq’s political field. Corruption Continues to Destabilize Iraq, POMEPS, October 2019.

de Waal, Alex. ‘Sudan: A Political Marketplace Framework Analysis’, Occasional Paper, LSE Conflict Research Programme and World Peace Foundation, August 2019.

Schouten, Peer et al. ‘Mapping artisanal mining areas and mineral supply chains in Eastern DR Congo - Impact of armed interference & responsible sourcing’, IPIS Research, April 2019.

de Waal, Alex. ‘South Sudan: The Perils of Payroll Peace’, Memo, LSE Conflict Research Programme, March 2019.

de Waal, Alex. Pax Africana or Middle East Security Alliance in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea?’, Occasional Paper, LSE Conflict Research Programme and World Peace Foundation, January 2019.

de Waal, Alex. ‘The Future of Ethiopia: Developmental State or Political Marketplace?’, Occasional Paper, LSE Conflict Research Programme and World Peace Foundation, August 2018.

Hoffmann, Kasper, Pouliot, Marieve and Muzalia, Godefroid. ‘Constructed Anarchy: Governance, Conflict, and Precarious Property Rights in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo’, Report, Social Science Research Council, March 2019.

Mansour, Renad. ‘Iraq's 2018 Government Formation: Unpacking the Friction Between Reform and the Status Quo’, Report, LSE Middle East Centre- Conflict Research Programme, February 2019.

Skelton, Mac and Ali Saleem, Zmkan. ‘Iraq’s disputed internal boundaries after ISIS: heterogeneous actors vying for influence’, Report, LSE Middle East Centre- Conflict Research Programme, February 2019.



Identity politics and the political marketplaceConflict Zone from the LSE Conflict Research Programme, 12 August 2020.

Buying and selling politics: the political marketplace and its adversaries, Conflict Zone from the LSE Conflict Research Programme, 29 July 2020.

Food and Power in Somalia: business as usual?LSE Conflict Research Programme, 23 January 2020.


Prospects for Democracy in SudanLSE Conflict Research Programme, 11 October 2019.

What’s Next for Sudan’s Fragile Democratic Transition?, Trend Lines: World Politics Review, 01 August 2019.


Understanding the Drivers of Conflict in IraqLSE Middle East Centre - Conflict Research Programme, 30 October 2018.

Understanding Violence in Africa and the Middle East, LSE Conflict Research Programme, 19 March 2018.


The Political Marketplace of South SudanRift Valley Institute, 15 August 2017.

Blog articles


What’s the oil rush in Somalia?,  LSE Conflict Research Programme Blog, 17/06/2020.

'Ahlu-Sunna Wal Jameeca and the Political Marketplace in Somalia'LSE Conflict Research Programme Blog, 16/06/2020.

'Change and theory in violent political markets'LSE Conflict Research Programme Blog, 12/05/2020.


‘Basket Fund’ and Public Authority in South-Kivu, Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, LSE Conflict Research Programme Blog, 30/10/2019.

From an electoral to a political crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo, LSE Conflict Research Programme Blog, Aymar Nyenyezi Bisoka and Koen Vlassenroot, 14/08/2019.

Sudan’s Political Marketplace and Prospects for Democracy, LSE Conflict Research Programme Blog, Alex de Waal, 01/08/2019.

General Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo ‘Hemedti’, LSE Conflict Research Programme Blog, Alex de Waal, 03/07/2019.

Beyond Anarchy: Property, Precarity and Land Governance in Urban Congo, LSE Conflict Research Programme Blog, Kasper Hoffman, Godefroid Muzalia and Marieve Pouliot, 26/06/2019.

Critical analysis of attempts to co-opt the tribes in Syria, LSE Conflict Research Programme Blog, Hainan Dukhan, 02/05/2019.

Why responsible sourcing of DRC minerals has major weak spots, The Conversation, Peer Schouten, 22/04/2019.

Security Arrangements in South Sudan's Peace Deal: Do No Harm, LSE Conflict Research Programme Blog, Alex de Waal, 28/03/2019.

From the Social Market Economy to the National Partnership: The conflict elite and public-private partnerships in a post-war Syria, LSE Conflict Research Programme Blog, Samer Abboud, 31/01/2019.

Internal Divisions within the Popular Mobilisation Forces: The Case of the Abbas Combat Division, LSE Middle East Centre Blog, Hayder al-Khafaji, 16/01/2019.

Delays to Iraq’s 2019 Budget reflect growing political deadlock, LSE Middle East Centre Blog, Ali Al-Mawlawi, 14/01/2019.


Security and Governance in the Disputed Territories Under a Fractured GOI: The Case of Northern Diyala, LSE Middle East Centre Blog, Zmkan Ali Saleem, Mac Skelton and Christine van den Toorn, 06/12/2018.

Identity Politics and the Political Marketplace, LSE Conflict Research Programme Blog, Mary Kaldor, 29/11/2018.

Iraq’s State-Owned Enterprises: A Case Study for Public Spending Reform, LSE Middle East Centre Blog, Ali Al-Mawlawi, 18/10/2018.

Rifts over Control of the Hashd al-Shaabi: Implications for Government Formation, LSE Middle East Centre Blog, Hayder al-Khafaji, 17/10/2018.

Rethinking rebel rule: How Mai-Mai groups in eastern Congo govern, LSE Conflict Research Programme Blog, 03/10/2018.

Public Authority and Iraq’s Disputed Territories, LSE Middle East Centre Blog, Christine van den torn, 04/09/2018.

The Bishop and the Prime Minister: Mediating Conflict in the Nineveh Plains, LSE Middle East Centre Blog, Mac Skelton and Karam Bahman, 25/09/2018.

How roadblocks, not just minerals, fund rebels and conflict in the Congo, The Conversation, Peer Schouten, 21/08/2018.

Al-Jazeera Under Siege, LSE Middle East Centre Blog, Jessica Watkins, 13/06/2018.

Other key publications

The Political Marketplace: Analyzing Political Entrepreneurs and Political Bargaining with a Business Lens, Africa at LSE Blog - Public Authority Series, Alex de Waal, February 2018.

Introduction to the Political Marketplace for Policymakers, JSRP Policy Brief 1, Alex de Waal, March 2016.

The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa: Money, War and the Business of Power, Polity Press, Alex de Waal, September 2015.



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