Democratic transitions in Africa: the impacts of development aid and democracy assistance.

Author:Stewart, James

The question of how aid impacts democracy in sub-Saharan Africa is important for both normative and instrumental reasons. Civil and political rights are a part of human freedom and the lack of them constitutes a major deprivation. Furthermore, some research suggests that democratic regimes are more likely to be interested in the developmental outcomes of their citizens.

In a recent UNU-WIDER working paper, Foreign Aid in Africa: Tracing Channels of Influence on Democratic Transitions and Consolidation, Danielle Resnick explores the channels, direct and indirect, through which development aid and democracy assistance have impacted Africa's democratic trajectory. She describes three main findings. First development aid was effective in promoting democratic transitions during the 1990s in African countries beset by economic crisis, domestic discontent, and a high dependency on aid. Second, development aid and democracy assistance have different effects on key elements of democratic consolidation. Third, the differing objectives of development and democracy aid create clear trade-offs in some areas.

Aid and democratic transition

The most direct way in which development aid has influenced democratic transition is through donor leverage on recipient policy making through political conditionalities attached to development aid. The emergence of this type of conditionality was stimulated by the end of the Cold War and reflected a changing attitude towards the importance of democracy among key donors. By the mid-90s bilateral donors such as Britain, France and the USA also made statements which emphasized the importance of democracy human rights and good governance.

This shift in attitude was reflected in the actions of many donors and during the 1990s, a number of recipient countries faced aid sanctions due to human rights abuses, military coups, rampant corruption or civil conflict. Aid conditionalities were more effective in some contexts than in others as aid interacted with other circumstances to facilitate, or prevent, democratic transitions. Not surprisingly, aid sanctions were typically most effective in countries where an economic crisis or domestic dissent concurrently existed. In addition to this, a high level of dependency on aid was an important factor in determining the effectiveness of these conditionalitieson influencing democratic transitions. Consequently, countries such as Nigeria and Gabon, with access to oil revenue, were less...

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