Nigeria Book: Dictators & Democracy

Dictators and Democracy in African Development: the Political Economy of Good Governance in Nigeria (Now in paperback! from Cambridge University Press, 2015)

Developing countries face the urgent challenge of identifying the factors that impact government performance.  Dictatorship, ethnic diversity, and low government revenues have all been blamed for the failure to provide social services or to create the conditions for economic growth.  My book manuscript argues instead that the underlying structure of policy making hinders development.  Using insights from “veto player” theory, I count the number of  policy actors with the political leverage to prevent policy changes and extract concessions.  By conceptually organizing government based on centers of power rather than degrees of political freedom, the theory transcends the blunt distinction between democracy and authoritarianism characteristic of research on government cover cropped

“Carl LeVan’s Dictators and Democracy in African Development is a seminal work that political practitioners and students of African politics and development should read. His long-range study of politics and governance in Nigeria is an outstanding contribution to an understanding of the policy process, public performance, and Nigeria’s inability, thus far, to reach its full potential in democracy, development, and provision of public good.”

– Atiku Abubakar, former Vice President of Nigeria

(L-R) Rep. John Conyers, me, and former U.S. Ambassadors Princeton Lyman, John Campbell, Howard Jeter, and Mark Bellamy at the book launch at American University, January 2015.

To measure government performance I distinguish between two types of policy outputs.  One set of policies includes fiscal discipline and judicial performance, because it is costly to exclude any citizens from consuming the benefits of these national collective goods.  The other set of policies include local collective goods, policies that do allow for excludability.  I measure these targetable, more “particularistic” polices with data on government consumption.

(Below: Interviewing General Yakubu Gowon, dictator from 1966-75.)

My statistical tests show that the number of veto players reliably predicts government performance between 1960 and 2007.  My results specifically demonstrate that regimes with more veto players have higher inflation, bigger budget deficits, and larger student/teacher ratios.  However these regimes also restrain spending on particularistic goods characteristic of patronage.  The results therefore present what I label a “Madisonian dilemma” because the conditions conducive to accountability also create coordination problems.  The results hold even after controlling for democracy, economic growth, oil revenues, and the level of foreign debt.  Unlike countries such as Liberia, Rwanda, or Tanzania, foreign aid has played a very minor role in Nigeria.  Finally, since the number of Nigeria’s ethnic groups does not change over time, we cannot explain government performance through the mere existence of diversity.

“ Carl LeVan’s ambitious study of governmental performance combines a compelling narrative of a half century of Nigerian history with systematic tests of hypotheses concerning the provision of public goods. This fine-grained analysis is a major contribution to African studies and to policy studies more generally.”

– Donald L. Horowitz, Duke University

Veto player theory offers an innovative alternative to the debate about the effects of regime type (dictatorship or democracy) by shifting our attention to political leverage.  The application of this theory to African cases reveals how the political units within many countries create shifting standards of inclusion.  This complicates the ability to appease diverse political constituencies in the policy making process.  The book’s conclusion analyzes events since 2007 and raises provocative questions about the future of the north/south cleavage at the core of Nigeria’s federal existence — which marked one hundred years in 2014.

Right: Interviewing Hon. Emeka Ihedioa, when he was the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives.  Below: with Nigeria’s Attorney General in 2004.


To learn more about the book, click here to watch a video of a book discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC.