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 3000 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-H., Mikkelsen, K. S., & Schuster, C. (2020). Oiling the Bureaucracy? Political Spending, Bureaucrats and the Resource Curse. World Development, 127(3). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2019.104745