For a long time analysts of war-torn societies have understood post-conflict situations primarily as processes of transition towards consolidated statehood. This perspective is increasingly considered unsatisfactory in that it raises false expectations of state-building processes and conceals important dynamics unfolding in situ. This article formulates an integrated analytical framework that allows for characterizing and assessing the dynamics in post-conflict polities. It is argued that any post-conflict polity can be characterized by focusing on the interactions between three post-conflict actors: the formal government, external actors and informal powers. In a second step Amartya Sen’s capability approach is used as an analytical benchmark for measuring state-building achievements. Subsequently, the analytical framework is applied for comparing two diverse post-conflict environments, Mozambique and Liberia, in order to illustrate the potential and limitations of the analytical framework.