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