Barry Driscoll

Assistant Professor, Political ScienceGrinnell College

Award Information

2011 IDRF Program

Political ScienceUniversity of Wisconsin / Madison

Two Chiefs, One Queen: The Politics of State Capacity in Africa

State capacity is one of the most important variables in social science. It has been used to explain violence, democracy, and wealth. Although scholars have developed explanations for why capacity varies across states, scholars have been blind to how, in an era of decentralized governance, meaningful variation in the capacity to govern in developing states is often not between states but within them. In African political science in particular, conventional wisdom holds that governments are effective in the center but less so in the periphery. My dissertation illustrates the fallacy of that assumption. Rather than strong in the capital and weak elsewhere, there are in fact pockets of effective government throughout the state in the developing world. Why? My dissertation investigates subnational variation in governing capacity in Ghana. Ghana is an excellent case study because the fact that it is one of the most stable, effective states in Africa makes its own uneven subnational capacity all the more puzzling. Through a mixed methods approach that combines cross-district statistical analysis with four case studies, using qualitative interviewing and quantitative survey methods, I develop and test a theory that grounds the effectiveness of political institutions in the legitimacy of those institutions. I isolate in particular the role boundaries play in structuring the legitimacy of a given district, in some cases producing districts that are not seen as legitimate and thus corruption becomes an available option, while on the other hand producing districts that are seen as legitimate, making corruption less of an available option. My dissertation seeks to advance our understanding of governing capacity in developing countries, shifting our focus from comparisons across states to comparisons within them. This is most appropriate, I argue, as decentralization and deconcentration has shifted many realms of governance downward.