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Oiling the bureaucracy? political spending, bureaucrats and the resource curse

Harris, Adam S.; Sigman, Rachel; Meyer-Sahling, Jan-Hinrik; Mikkelsen, Kim Sass; Schuster, Christian


Adam S. Harris

Rachel Sigman

Kim Sass Mikkelsen

Christian Schuster


What role do bureaucrats play in the development of the resource curse in countries that have recently discovered oil? Much of the resource curse literature argues that political leaders spend natural resource revenue in ways that entrench their political power but undermine longer-term economic development. This literature has largely overlooked the role of bureaucrats - those responsible for the day-to-day operations of the state. Bureaucrats may support or constrain political spending in ways that minimize the resource curse. Using results of a survey experiment with over 3,000 government employees in Ghana and Uganda, two countries with recent oil and gas discoveries, we find that bureaucrats treated with information on oil revenue are more likely to disapprove of spending practices that benefit political supporters. The results also suggest that material motivations may be at play: bureaucrats in Uganda who are secure in their jobs and outside of government patronage networks are most likely to oppose the political use of oil revenue. These findings challenge unitary state assumptions underlying much of the resource curse literature, especially for new oil producers. They also suggest that policymakers ought to engage civil servants in efforts to avoid or curtail the resource curse.


Harris, A. S., Sigman, R., Meyer-Sahling, J., Mikkelsen, K. S., & Schuster, C. (2020). Oiling the bureaucracy? political spending, bureaucrats and the resource curse. World Development, 127,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Nov 1, 2019
Online Publication Date Dec 2, 2019
Publication Date Mar 31, 2020
Deposit Date Nov 8, 2019
Publicly Available Date Dec 3, 2021
Journal World Development
Print ISSN 0305-750X
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 127
Article Number 104745
Keywords Geography, Planning and Development; Economics and Econometrics; Development; Sociology and Political Science
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This article is maintained by: Elsevier; Article Title: Oiling the bureaucracy? political spending, bureaucrats and the resource curse; Journal Title: World Development; CrossRef DOI link to publisher maintained version:; Content Type: article; Copyright: © 2019 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


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