Institutions and Development

CID Faculty Working Paper No. 107

Robert H. Bates, Avner Greif, Macartan Humphreys, Smita Singh
September 2004


This paper addresses the political foundations for economic development in Africa and does so by exploring two basic themes: political accountability and political order. We say that political elites are accountable when, in order to retain office, they must employ power to serve the interests of those whom they rule. By political order we mean the extent to which people employ coercion to protect property rights rather than to trespass upon them. Where there is accountability, many hold, then those with power make policies that enhance the welfare of private citizens, as by rendering them more prosperous (e.g. World Bank 1991). And where there is political order, then there is security for property rights, rendering it in the interests of private agents to invest, to labor, and to generate higher levels of income (North and Thomas 1973). The paper provides data about the trajectory of political reform and political order in contemporary Africa and their significance for the behavior of governments. It demonstrates the limited impact of political reform upon public policy, documents the relationship between reform and conflict, and posits the existence of a political "trap" that limits Africa’s development.

Keywords: development, growth, political economy, Africa, accountability, institutions