Working Paper
Foreign Aid in Africa

Tracing Channels of Influence on Democratic Transitions and Consolidation

How does aid impact democracy in sub-Saharan Africa? Drawing on existing literature, this study elaborates on the various channels, direct and indirect, through which development and democracy aid has influenced transitions to multi-party regimes and democratic consolidation within the region. The study’s findings are at least threefold. First, development aid was effective at promoting democratic transitions during the 1990s in those African countries that were beset by economic crisis, faced domestic discontent, or possessed a high dependence on aid, as well as when major donors took concerted action. Second, development and democracy aid demonstrate disparate effects on key elements of consolidation, including the avoidance of democratic erosion, the enhancement of accountability, and the promotion of competitive party systems. Development aid’s most direct influence is with respect to preventing democratic backsliding, though this is often done in an inconsistent manner. Democracy aid plays a more direct role with respect to enhancing accountability and party systems but, its cumulative impact remains hindered by the dispersion of assistance across different activities and its temporal focus on elections. Third, in some areas of consolidation, the disparate objectives of development and democracy aid create clear trade-offs that remain unresolved.