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Researchers: Professor Robin Harding (with Mary Clare Roche, PhD Candidate, University of Rochester)

In the 1990s, a wave of protest and a democratic global climate led to the fall of autocratic regimes and a series of elections across the African continent. More or less competitive elections were held in dozens of African countries. Much has been written on the subsequent prospects of democracy, but scholars still know little about the effects of this transformation in governance on the distribution of development resources. Do African governments use public resources to help win votes? And if so, how?

Up until now, it has been difficult for those studying the distribution of development resources in Africa to know which changes were a response to the introduction of democracy. The transition to democracy in the 1990s came at the same time as increased pressure from donors to target development resources in particular ways, and it is difficult to separate the two causes of changing patterns of distribution.

Whilst undertaking fieldwork in Gaborone, Botswana’s capital, Professor Harding came across historical village census records in the library of the University of Botswana, data which could provide the key to separating electoral pressure from donor demands, allowing us to understand the allocation of development resources.

By using this rare historical data from Botswana – a country where, unusually for Africa, elections have been held consistently since independence in the late 1960s – the project team will be able to separate the impact of electoral competition from the changed donor pressures of the 1990s. The project will code and digitise census and electoral data from 1970 up to the 1990s, and geo-reference this to maps of historical electoral districts. This will allow a comparison between information on the distribution of development resources and the results of local elections throughout the period.

The resulting conclusions will increase our understanding of the impact of electoral competition on the all-too-scarce resources necessary for development. This detailed knowledge is essential in allowing the design of political institutions which allow for inclusive and sustainable development.



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