Much commentary today is deeply skeptical of the economic impact of democracy in low-income countries. Regular multi-party elections have been widely associated with a growth of political corruption, ethnic conflict and declines in productive economic investments. Yet, since the generalization of regular competitive elections in Sub Saharan Africa in the early 1990s, the region has undergone rapid economic growth. Are these two developments a coincidence? This paper examines the relationship between political regime and economic growth in Sub Saharan Africa since 1985. Using different regression models, and taking into account potential confounding factors that have not always been adequately dealt with in the literature, it finds that level of political liberalization is positively correlated with economic growth during this period. Moreover, the longer a country is above a certain threshold of democratization, the greater the positive economic effect.
Nicolas van de Walle is the Maxwell M. Upson Professor of Government, and Chairman of the Department of Government at Cornell University in Ithaca New York. He taught at Michigan State University from 1990-2004. He was a Non-Resident Fellow at the Center for Global Development from 2001 – 2012, and before that, from 1994-2000 a Fellow at the Overseas Development Council, in Washington DC. Mr. van de Walle has worked extensively as a consultant for a variety of international and multilateral organizations, including the World Bank, USAID, and UNDP. He has published widely on democratization issues as well as on the politics of economic reform and on the effectiveness of foreign aid, with a special focus on Sub Saharan Africa.