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  • Dictatorships and Democracy in African Development: The Political Economy of Public Goods Provision in Nigeria by LeVan, A. Carl
  • Nathaniel D. F. Allen

American University Professor A. Carl LeVan liberates the concept of veto players from its shackles in the literature on formal institutional design, as he uses Dictatorships and Democracy in African Development: The Political Economy of Public Goods Provision in Nigeria to examine whether veto players determine development outcomes in informal political contexts. His [End Page 138] core contention is that it is not commonly cited factors, such as democracy, oil wealth, or ethnicity, that best explain development outcomes, but the number of veto players with the power to block change and negotiate concessions. Through a mixed-methods survey of Nigeria’s post-independence history, he comes to the conclusion that while additional veto players may reduce political corruption, more dispersed decision-making authority undermines policymakers’ ability to procure national public goods.

The first three chapters of LeVan’s book are particularly noteworthy for the operationalization of the concept of veto players and adept application of the concept to Nigerian history. Drawing on the rational-choice literature on coalitional bargaining and new institutional economics, LeVan hypothesizes that additional veto players increase a political system’s accountability but make coordination difficult. The effect of increased accountability is decreased political corruption, whereas the effect of reduced coordination is reduced spending on national public goods. Under the criteria that veto players must have a motive to challenge policy, a mechanism for collective action, and the ability to challenge the state, LeVan applies his knowledge of Nigerian history to determine the number of veto players in each year since independence in 1960 through 2007. This systematic formulation allows for the veto-player concept to be applied to informal settings—a key concern in comparing democratic and authoritarian regimes (Tsebilis 2002).

The numbers of veto players are then used as the key independent variable in LeVan’s quantitative analysis. One series of OLS regressions reveals that more veto players are systematically correlated with fewer national public goods, including inferior macroeconomic performance, less efficient courts, and larger primary school classes (pp. 146–152). A second series of regressions illustrates that more veto players are associated with lower rates of local spending—an indicator for decreased corruption. LeVan’s results are highly significant and strongly robust to the inclusion of other controls commonly thought to be central covariates of development, including democracy, change in oil revenues, debt, and GDP growth. LeVan conducts no sensitivity analysis, does not control for potentially confounding factors (such as political instability or violence), and is unable to run a time series analysis because of the limited number of observations. Nevertheless, the fact that the number of veto players has such an impact on development outcomes (when controlling for most other important covariates) is strong evidence that LeVan’s theory has some purchase, at least in Nigeria.

LeVan’s case analysis is less artful than his theoretical foundations and quantitative empirical work. His qualitative assessment of Nigeria mostly consists of a slightly finer assessment of the performance of the indicators in the quantitative analysis over discrete time periods, but it lacks the thick description necessary to link his deductive hypotheses to the concrete mechanisms through which veto players influence the provision of public goods. The lack of thick description becomes even more problematic during attempts to apply the veto-player concept beyond Nigeria. LeVan devotes an entire chapter to analyzing how political actors advance their preferences [End Page 139] in Ghana and Zimbabwe, but he does not explicitly identify a single veto player in either country. Whatever his intent, the chapter does not extend or validate the theory.

The study’s limited external validity, lack of convincing thick description, and impressive but far from airtight empirical analysis together mean that LeVan could afford to be more modest in his claims. In his introduction, he reviews and then casts aside long-standing explanations of government performance, including regime type, wealth, ethnicity...


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pp. 138-141
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