Foreign aid, oil revenues, and political accountability: Evidence from six experiments in Ghana and Uganda

Brandon de la Cuesta, Lucy Martin, Helen V. Milner, Daniel L. Nielson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Foreign aid may act much like oil money in reducing voters’ willingness to demand accountability from their government, enabling corruption, clientelism, and repression. This is an important causal mechanism connecting public budgets to quality of governance. Yet other scholarship counters that aid is more beneficial than oil, either indirectly because of donor oversight or directly because aid is more likely to produce citizen pressures on governments. Empirical work on the topic employs observational data at the national, macro level, and has left the question unresolved. At the micro level, in some countries citizens have experience with aid revenues and oil funds, thus possessing information about the political implications of these different revenue sources. This article provides the first experimental tests of the direct mechanism linking aid and oil revenues to demands from citizens for greater political accountability. We report the effects of randomly assigned treatments identifying aid funds compared to oil money on behavior of citizens in six survey and lab experiments in Ghana and Uganda. We find no differences in accountability pressures when subjects are randomly assigned to aid or oil conditions in any experiment, including a survey-based field experiment in Uganda that employed very strong information treatments on the extent of aid and oil funds. Though little evidence suggests that either windfall necessarily reduces accountability demands from baseline in a meaningful way, citizens’ actions for aid money were statistically indistinguishable from oil revenues across all experiments. Aid may well have governance effects through the indirect route of donor oversight, but the results presented here suggest no evidence that aid, compared to oil, directly induces greater accountability demands among citizens.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)521-548
Number of pages28
JournalReview of International Organizations
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Political Science and International Relations


  • Africa
  • Experiments
  • Foreign aid
  • Natural resources
  • Political accountability
  • Political economy


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