Transitional justice processes take on a range of different forms. Much attention is paid to their face value rather than the underlying characteristics that embody the true nature of these mechanisms. This articles argues that more attention needs to be paid to one underlying factor that has critical implications for the role of transitional justice in shaping new political dynamics: the impartiality or selectiveness of transitional justice processes. Using a comparative analysis of state-sponsored transitional justice in twelve African countries, we explore the contextual factors that appear to impact on impartiality, in order to make sense of the politics that shape transitional justice. The findings suggest that impartial transitional justice appears to flow from processes where the power balance is more equal, a situation that appears enhanced in contexts where there is some degree of democracy leading up to the transition, where the conflict was in the form of repression rather than civil war, and where change came as part of a reform process, rather than a military victory. This raises serious questions about which contexts may be amenable to effective transitional justice processes, while also highlighting the danger of political manipulation of transitional justice.