Foreign Aid, Oil Revenues, and Political Accountability: Elite and Public Opinion Evidence from Seven Experiments in Ghana and Uganda

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Oil revenues in developing countries -- as windfalls for which citizens do not pay -- may reduce voters' willingness to  to demand accountability from their government, enabling corruption, clientelism, and repression. This is an important causal mechanism underlying the resource curse. Prominent scholarship speculates that aid from foreign governments enables the same autocratic practices, but others counter that aid proves more beneficial than oil.  Empirical work on the topic employs observational data at the national, macro level, and has left the question unresolved. At the micro level, domestic elites and citizens  have experience with oil revenues and aid funds, thus possessing information  about the political implications of these different revenues. This paper reports the effects of randomly assigned treatments identifying oil funds compared to aid money on attitudes and behavior of members of parliament and  citizens in seven survey and lab experiments in Ghana and Uganda. Few differences in behavior or attitudes of elites or citizens toward accountability appear between oil and foreign aid that goes directly into government accounts. However, some significant differences arise between oil money (and state-to-state aid) versus foreign aid channeled through non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The results suggest that elites and citizens both view oil and state-to-state aid as equivalent but that aid channeled through NGOs is  different in its anticipated effects and in its ability to motivate action promoting accountability.