Rural Democracy: Elections and Development in Africa

Robin Harding, Associate Professor of Government, has published a new book exploring the introduction of democratic electoral competition across Africa.

Rural Democracy: Elections and Development in Africa argues that although popular images of electoral fraud, clientelism, and ethnic conflict, the reality is more promising. In countries like Ghana and Botswana, leaders are using public goods and services to encourage popularity and support from voters.

The book is part of the Oxford Studies in African Politics and International Relations series.


How have African rulers responded to the introduction of democratic electoral competition? Despite the broadly negative picture painted by the prevailing focus on electoral fraud, clientelism, and ethnic conflict, the book argues that the full story is somewhat more promising. While these unfortunate practices may be widespread, African rulers also seek to win votes through the provision and distribution of public goods and services. The author's central argument is that in predominantly rural countries the introduction of competitive elections leads governments to implement pro-rural policies, in order to win the votes of the rural majority. As a result, across much of Africa the benefits of democratic electoral competition have accrued primarily in terms of rural development. This broad claim is supported by cross-national evidence, both from public opinion surveys and from individual level data on health and education outcomes. The argument's core assumptions about voting behavior are supported with quantitative evidence from Ghana, and qualitative historical evidence from Botswana presents further evidence for the underlying theoretical mechanism. Taken together, this body of evidence provides reasons to be optimistic about the operation of electoral accountability in Africa. African governments are responding to the accountability structures provided by electoral competition; in that sense, democracy in Africa is working.

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    Cover of Robin Harding's new book, 'Rural Democracy: Elections and Development in Africa'
Publishers Website
Robin Harding is Associate Professor of Government, Tutorial Fellow at Lady Margaret Hall