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Harnessing foreign aid for the poor: role of institutional democracy

Eric Akobeng ()

Journal of Economic Studies, 2020, vol. 47, issue 7, 1689-1710

Abstract: Purpose - This paper examines the relationship between foreign aid, institutional democracy and poverty. The paper explores the direct effect of foreign aid on poverty and quantifies the facilitating role of democracy in harnessing foreign aid for poverty reduction in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Design/methodology/approach - The paper attempts to address the endogenous relationship between foreign aid and poverty by employing the two-stage least squares instrumental variable (2SLS-IV) estimator by using GDP per capita of the top five Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries sending foreign aid to SSA countries scaled by the inverse of the land area of the SSA countries to stimulate an exogenous variation in foreign aid and its components. The initial level of democracy is interacted with the senders’ GDP per capita to also instrument for the interaction terms of democracy, foreign aid and its components. Findings - The results suggest that foreign aid reduces poverty and different components of foreign aid have different effects on poverty. In particular, multilateral source and grant type seem to be more significant in reducing poverty than bilateral source and loan type. The study further reveals that democratic attributes of free expression, institutional constraints on the executive, guarantee of civil liberties to citizens and political participation reinforce the poverty-reducing effects of aggregate foreign aid and its components after controlling for mean household income, GDP per capita and inequality. Research limitations/implications - The methodological concern related to modeling the effects of foreign aid on poverty is endogeneity bias. To estimate the relationship between foreign aid, democracy and poverty in SSA, this paper relies on a 2SLS-IV estimator with GDP per capita of the top five aid-sending OECD countries scaled by the inverse of land area of the SSA countries as an external instrument for foreign aid. The use of the five top OECD's Development Assistance Committee (OECD-DAC) countries is due to the availability of foreign aid data for these countries. However, non-OECD-DAC countries such as China and South Africa may be important source of foreign aid to some SSA countries. Practical implications - The findings further suggest that the marginal effect of foreign aid in reducing poverty is increasing with the level of institutional democracy. In other words, foreign aid contributes more to poverty reduction in countries with democratic dispensation. This investigation has vital implications for future foreign aid policy, because it alerts policymakers that the effectiveness of foreign aid can be strengthened by considering the type and source of aid. Foreign aid and quality political institution may serve as an important mix toward the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 and the Africa Union Agenda 2063. Social implications - As the global economy faces economic and social challenges, SSA may not be able to depend heavily on foreign partners to finance the region's budget. There is the need for African governments to also come out with innovative ways to mobilize own resources to develop and confront some of the economic challenges to achieve the required reduction in poverty. This is a vision that every country in Africa must work toward. Africa must think of new ways of generating wealth internally for development so as to complement foreign aid flows and also build strong foundation for welfare improvement, self-reliance and sustainable development. Originality/value - This existing literature does not consider how democracy enhances the foreign aid and poverty relationship. The existing literature does not explore how democracy enhances grants, loans, multilateral and bilateral aid effectiveness in reducing poverty. This paper provides the first-hand evidence of how institutional democracy enhances the poverty-reducing effects of foreign aid and its components. The paper uses exogenous variation in foreign aid to quantify the direct effect of foreign aid and its components on poverty.

Keywords: Democracy; Poverty; Foreign aid (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2020
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