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Conditioning the Effects of Aid: Cold War Politics, Donor Credibility, and Democracy in Africa

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 May 2004

Thad Dunning
Thad Dunning is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley. He can be reached at
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The effect of foreign aid on regime type in recipient countries remains widely debated. In this research note, I argue that a recent focus on “moral hazard” has distracted attention from another mechanism linking foreign aid to domestic political institutions. During the Cold War, donors' geopolitical objectives diminished the credibility of threats to condition aid on the adoption of democratic reforms. The demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, on the other hand, enhanced the effectiveness of Western aid conditionality. I reanalyze an important recent study and demonstrate that the small positive effect of foreign aid on democracy in sub-Saharan African countries between 1975 and 1997 is limited to the post–Cold War period. This new empirical evidence underscores the importance of geopolitical context in conditioning the causal impact of development assistance, and the evidence confirms that the end of the Cold War marked a watershed in the politics of foreign aid in Africa.I would like to thank Henry Brady, Jennifer Bussell, Ruth Berins Collier, David Collier, Robert Powell, Jason Seawright, Beth Simmons, Laura Stoker, and two anonymous reviewers for their comments. I am also grateful to Arthur Goldsmith for sharing his data. Any errors are my own.

Research Article
© 2004 The IO Foundation and Cambridge University Press

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