British Journal of Political Science

Research Article

Political Institutions and Economic Policies: Lessons from Africa

a1 Department of Political Science, Columbia University
a2 Department of Government, University of Harvard


Many assert that the economic problems of Africa possess political origins. In particular, they point to a lack of political accountability and argue that economic reform and the renewal of growth depend upon political reform and in particular upon the promotion of competitive electoral politics. Summarizing these arguments, this article formalizes and tests them, using both an African and global sample of data. While it finds support for the view that within Africa – and globally – competitive institutions are associated with less extractive policies, it finds no evidence that these institutions have facilitated the implementation of Washington consensus policies.


a This article was originally presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, San Francisco, 2001. The authors would like to thank James Habyarimana, Karen Ferree, Smita Singh, Richard Tucker, John Gerring and Irene Yackovlev for their help and advice. Special thanks go to Philip Keefer for insightful comments given at the APSA meetings. This article was begun while Robert Bates was a visiting scholar with the World Bank and has been written with the support of the National Science Foundation (Grant SES 9905568) and the Carnegie Corporation. The authors also wish to acknowledge the support of the Center for International Development, the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, and the Africa Initiative of Harvard University. The authors alone are responsible for its contents, however.