The value of democracy: Evidence from road building in Kenya

Just how significant is ethnic favouritism in Africa? It’s a common aspect of Africa’s perception and many of the continents ills have been blamed on it. Yet, it has been quite difficult to find concrete evidence of this behaviour. So how much does it actually exist and what are the effects? We look at the case of Kenya and find strong empirical evidence of ethnic favouritism. Across the 1963 to 2011 period, we find strong evidence of ethnic favouritism: districts that share the ethnicity of the president receive twice as much expenditure on roads and have four times the length of paved roads built. However, during periods of democracy, our measures of favouritism disappear entirely. Africa’s recent improved economic performance may be due, then, to democracy placing greater constraints on the executive which in turn limits ethnic favouritism.

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