DISTRIBUTIVE POLITICS IN AFRICA: Shedding Light on the Provision of Electricity Using Nighttime Satellite Imagery

DeVeaux, Fred [Browse]
Senior thesis
121 pages


Shapiro, Jacob N. [Browse]
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs [Browse]
Class year
Summary note
This thesis complements the literature on distributive politics by measuring the effects of ethnic favoritism and electoral patronage on the distribution of electricity in developing countries. Using a unique data source of nighttime satellite imagery as a proxy for electricity consumption, I overcome the current data limitations and present a novel approach to investigate electricity provision at an unprecedented level of regional and ethnic subnational boundaries across sub-Saharan Africa. First, I show that light emissions detected from the sky can serve as a useful tool to measure relative levels in electricity access. By examining the variation in population-to-light ratios across districts in multiple countries over a span of twenty-one years, I characterize the extent of regional inequality and confirm the results of my analysis with national statistics. After demonstrating the validity of my measure, I combine the Ethnic Power Relation’s (EPR) geo-located ethnic boundaries with nighttime satellite data to find that ethnic homelands across sub-Saharan Africa receive approximately 5 times more electricity during years when their ethnic group has political power. I interpret this finding as evidence of ethnic favoritism. I also find that regions receive 30% more electricity prior to a presidential election when they are electorally competitive, and that for every increase of 10 percentage points of votes cast in favor of the winning president, regions receive an electricity increase of 15 percentage points during the years after the election. I interpret these findings as evidence of electoral patronage –namely that political leaders use electricity provision as a tool to encourage and reward electoral support, respectively. Overall, the results of my research affirm both the prevalence and significant impact that patronage politics have on resource distribution and inequalities in sub-Saharan Africa.

Supplementary Information