Foreign Aid and Democracy in Africa

Part of ReCom project

Foreign aid can exhibit multiple impacts on a developing country’s political economy. This project aims to better understand how aid influences the democratic process, with a specific focus on Africa. In particular, the project asks the following question: When, why, and how has foreign aid facilitated, or hindered, democratic transitions and consolidation in Africa?

In order to answer this question, this project primarily involves a comparative case study analysis conducted in eight of Africa’s multi-party democracies. Within these countries, attention is given to the 2000-2010 period and to democratic consolidation in three domains: 1) presence of genuinely competitive party systems, 2) respect for and legitimacy of political institutions, and 3) accountability to citizens. These case studies are supported by three additional studies analyzing the existing literature on aid’s impact on Africa’s democratic transitions in the 1990s, the theoretical challenges of democratic consolidation in developing countries, and whether aid’s impact on accountability varies according to a country’s existing level of democracy.

The aim of the project is to delineate for policymakers, development practitioners, and researchers which features of aid and which characteristics of recipient countries determine the magnitude and direction of aid’s effectiveness on democratic transitions and consolidation. Understanding these factors holds important implications both for development economics and for the broader good governance agenda pursued by much of the donor community.