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International aid being used to influence elections

Governments of democratic developing countries are using international aid to support their election drives, new research from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) has found.

Kenya © Mister_Jack, FlickrDr Ryan Jablonski, an Assistant Professor in LSE’s Department of Government, tracked the spending of aid across Kenya from 1992, when multiparty elections began, to 2010 [1]. His research, published this week in World Politics, reveals that electorally strategic voters receive higher levels of foreign aid over those who may be more in need but support the opposition.

Individuals in constituencies that most strongly support the incumbent party benefit from more than three times the amount of aid as those in constituencies supporting opposition parties, or about US$1.50 more in World Bank and African Development Bank aid each year on average.

The research also reveals a clear ethnicity bias, with individuals in constituencies that share the ethnicity with the country’s leaders receiving about twice the aid, or about US$0.80 more per year as those that don’t. In total this means that these constituencies receive more than US$4,000,000 more in aid each year on average.

ryanJablonskiDr Ryan Jablonski (pictured left) said: “By following the money in Kenya, I found a clear pattern of international aid being allocated according to the political allegiance of the beneficiaries. Aid is being spent on projects that benefit the supporters of those in power, rather than people who may be more in need but who would vote for the opposition parties. An ethnic bias was also shown, which, as ethnicity plays a clear role in how Kenyans vote [2], also indicates that electoral strategy is a clear factor in deciding how aid is spent.”

This political bias has risen, Dr Jablonski argues, because aid agencies often lack the information required to identify how best to allocate aid and so delegate this responsibility to the leaders receiving the funds.

The development community’s belief that donors should cooperate with government agencies also encourages this bias [3]. As does the fact, he states, that, “democratic leaders of any country govern with an eye on winning re-election.” This enables us to extrapolate that this political bias is not relegated to Kenya alone.

“Donors lack the knowledge required to allocate aid directly, and so delegate this responsibility to recipient governments” Dr Jablonski said. “Delegating aid allocation, however, has perverse consequences. Governments may care about economic development, disaster relief or other development objectives, but their first priority is to remain in power. As a result, governments are using their informational advantages over donors in order to allocate a disproportionate share of aid to electorally strategic supporters, allowing governments to translate aid into votes.

“My findings do not indicate that international aid is never benefiting those in need, but do suggest that agencies should exercise caution when relying on the advice of governments on how to distribute aid. This is true even in democratic countries since electoral competition can create incentives for governments to lobby for the misallocation of development aid.”

'How Aid Targets Votes: the impact of electoral incentives on foreign aid distribution' by Dr Ryan Jablonski is published in World Politics.



Dr Ryan Jablonski, LSE’s Department of Government, r.s.jablonski@lse.ac.uk  

For a copy of the report, contact: Jess Winterstein, LSE Press Office, 020 7107 5025, j.winterstein@lse.ac.uk   


[1] Dr Ryan Jablonski tracked World Bank and African Development Bank data for spending on 153 separate foreign aid projects across each of Kenya’s 210 electoral constituencies between 1992 and 2010.

[2] Kenyan constituencies have frequently voted over 90 per cent in favour of coethnic candidates, with higher turnout rates whenever a coethnic is contesting office, which indicates a clear link between how aid is directed and the electoral strategy of incumbent governments. The figures show that moving from a non-coethnic constituency to a coethnic constituency increases the average aid per capita in a year by approximately $0.80.

[3] In nearly all but the most unstable political environments, donors cooperate with government agencies in order to allocate aid. This method of operation is enshrined in the 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and the World Bank’s policy is to rely on government systems for financial management and oversight unless the government has demonstrated its inability to manage these tasks.

3 April 2014