Accountability without democracy: lessons from african famines in the 1980s

Sellers, Daniel

Development economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen argues that democracies, by virtue of mechanisms of accountability, are better able to avert famines than non-democratic regimes. Using empirical evidence from colonial and independent India, Sen argues for the existence of an anti-famine political contract, between the government and its supporters, predicated on the prevention of famine. Building on this theory, Sen later tested his argument using cases in Africa. While Sen’s theory accurately predicts the outcomes, the causal mechanism he uses to explain each variation is falsifiable. In studying the experiences of each African country that succumbed to famine in the 1980s, I find that a free press and competitive elections are neither necessary nor sufficient conditions for a country to avert famine. The results presented in this paper question the presence and role of other causes contributory to famine prevention efforts, as well as the possibility of anti-famine commitments within less-than-democratic polities.

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The Journal of Politics and Society

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Helvidius Group
Helvidius Group of Columbia University
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November 1, 2014