Democracy and Education Spending in Africa


  • I would like to thank Chris Adam, Robert Bates, Varun Gauri, Francis Teal, Phil Keefer, Ken Scheve, Alice Sindzingre, Nic van de Walle, Leonard Wantchekon, seminar participants at CSAE, Oxford and at the LSE, as well as three anonymous referees and the editors for comments and suggestions. I would also like to thank the Department for International Development (United Kingdom) for funding this research.

David Stasavage is Senior Lecturer at the London School of Economics, Houghton St., London WC2A 2AE, United Kingdom (


While it is widely believed that electoral competition influences public spending decisions, there has been relatively little effort to examine how recent democratization in the developing world has resulted in changes in basic service provision. There have been even fewer attempts to investigate whether democracy matters for public spending in the poorest developing countries, where “weak institutions” may mean that the formal adoption of electoral competition has little effect on policy. In this article I confront these questions directly, asking whether the shift to multiparty competition in African countries has resulted in increased spending on primary education. I develop an argument, illustrated with a game-theoretic model, which suggests that the need to obtain an electoral majority may have prompted African governments to spend more on education and to prioritize primary schools over universities within the education budget. I test three propositions from the model using panel data on electoral competition and education spending in African countries. I find clear evidence that democratically elected African governments have spent more on primary education, while spending on universities appears unaffected by democratization.