Sowing Seeds of Support: Elections, Bureaucrats
and Agricultural Clientelism in Africa

Under what conditions will politicians undermine bureaucratic implementation of policy programs targeting the poor in order to distribute goods clientelistically in Africa?  And by what mechanism are politicians able to manipulate public policies implemented by the bureaucracy?  Studies of distributive politics have empirically examined a wide range of goods, but an important distinction needs to be made between goods distributed by party actors and those distributed by nonparty actors (bureaucrats).  ). Relying on bureaucrats for the success of electoral clientelism involves considerable uncertainty due to the principal-agent problems that characterize the relationship between elected officials and the bureaucracy. I argue that politicians’ incentives to manipulate targeted policy programs for electoral gain will be highest in contexts of low party system institutionalization and high opposition competitiveness. It is particularly difficult for parties to establish credibility with voters in contexts of low PSI, necessitating use of clientelistic electoral strategies, and high opposition competitiveness forces incumbents to rely on their advantage in accessing goods under the purview of the state.  The primary mechanisms by which politicians could manipulate policies implemented by the bureaucracy are to politicize the bureaucracy and rely on bureaucrats as brokers or to circumvent the bureaucracy and distribute goods directly.

I evaluate this argument in the context of agricultural subsidy programs in Burkina Faso and Malawi. I test whether subsidies are distributed clientelistically through analysis of household agricultural surveys paired with district electoral data. I use a World Bank/Government of Malawi survey in the case of Malawi and conducted my own household survey in Burkina Faso.  I conducted an original survey of Ministry of Agriculture bureaucrats in both countries to evaluate the bureaucracy politicization mechanism and draw on interviews with bureaucrats to assess the bureaucratic circumvention mechanism. The two countries exhibit variation in mode of subsidy distribution but similarly low levels of bureaucratic politicization; instead, politicians in Malawi circumvented the bureaucracy in order to distribute subsidies clientelistically.  These results suggest that bureaucrats can act as a barrier to clientelism.


Editor Reviewed:
“Agricultural Clientelism in the 2014 Campaign.” 2015. In The 2014 Tripartite Elections – Democracy Maturing? Edited by Nandani Patel and Michael Wahman.  Malawi: NICE

Works in Progress

“Determinants of Subsidy Program Manipulation in Africa”

“Bureaucratic Discretion in Clientelistic Contexts: Evidence from Malawi’s Farm Input Subsidy Program”

“Tipping Points and Grassroots Democracy Under Competitive Authoritarianism: Evidence from Burkina Faso” (with Lauren Honig)

“Electoral Effects of Credit Attribution for Local Development Projects” (with
Brenton Peterson)