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  • Aid and Authoritarianism in Africa: Development without Democracy ed. by Tobias Hagmann, Filip Reyntjens
  • Stephen Brown
Tobias Hagmann and Filip Reyntjens, eds. Aid and Authoritarianism in Africa: Development without Democracy. London: Zed Books, 2016. In association with the Nordiska Afrikainstitutet, Uppsala, Sweden. 186pp. Notes. Bibliography. Index. £24.99/$39.95. Paper. ISBN: 9781783606283.

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How do Western donor countries square their concerns about human rights and democratic governance in developing countries with their desire to support economic development, not to mention promote their own commercial and security interests? This thorny problem lies at the core of Aid and Authoritarianism in Africa: Development without Democracy, edited by Tobias Hagmann and Filip Reyntjens.

The editors’ introduction unpacks the relationship between aid and democracy/authoritarianism in sub-Saharan Africa since the end of the Cold War and provides a solid literature review. The editors note that despite donors’ lofty claims about “democracy, good governance and human rights in Africa, many are fostering development without democracy” (1). The volume seeks to “explore the motives, dynamics and consequences of international aid given to authoritarian African governments” (1).

Following a very interesting chapter by Rita Abrahamsen on the shifting uses and meanings of the term democracy over time in aid donors’ discourse, the bulk of the book consists of five case study chapters. All are very strong and nuanced in their analysis and well supported with evidence. Most focus on either the reason for donors’ support or the consequences thereof.

Four of these chapters examine one sub-Saharan African country. Zoë Marriage provides a compelling account of relations between donors and President Paul Kagame’s regime in Rwanda as well as the effects of donor support, if not fully the reason for their continued support. David Anderson and Jonathan Fisher demonstrate how President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda has adroitly taken advantage of Western security concerns to generate donor support for his regime, despite “increasing militarization and authoritarianism” (85). Emanuele Fantini and Luca Puddu take a more historical approach to Ethiopia, a very politically salient but surprisingly understudied case. They trace continuities in how donors supported large-scale, state-led “high-modernist” projects, one in the 1960s and the other in the 2000s, supporting the different regimes’ efforts to use aid “to uphold and legitimize the authoritarian exercise of political power” (113), and highlight the oft-ignored role of the private sector. Marie-Emmanuelle Pommerolle’s chapter is narrower but no less interesting, focusing on donor endorsement of undemocratic elections in Cameroon, a country insufficiently examined in English-language publications. The final case study chapter, by Helena Pérez Niño and Philippe Le Billon, compares two countries, Angola and Mozambique. They argue that aid plays a rent-like role in the latter, similar to the role played by oil revenues in the former, providing the resources in both instances to offer basic social services and maintain a patronage-based authoritarian system.

The concluding chapter, written by Nicolas van de Walle, demonstrates how policy actors have returned to a modernization theory–inspired approach to democracy promotion, based on the dubious belief that economic growth will lead almost automatically to democratization. Although this contribution is most welcome, the book would have been strengthed if it [End Page 249] had included a conclusion, perhaps written by the editors, containing a comparative analysis of the case studies and therefore focusing on lessons learned from the book’s content itself. In particular, it could have answered the questions laid out in the introduction: Why do donors support undemocratic regimes, and what are the results of this? Another lacuna is the lack of attention to the admittedly difficult question of policy implications and alternatives, particularly the question of what donors could or should do differently. In Cameroon, would it have been helpful for donors to apply more pressure on President Paul Biya, including by reducing or suspending aid? Would one expect the outcome to be better if, after clearly failing to promote political liberalization, donors chose to withdraw their support to the government of Rwanda? Would a reduction or suspension of aid to Ethiopia or Uganda truly have a strong negative impact on regional security, as those countries...


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