News Release

Democracy aid contributes marginally to democratic development

Book Announcement

University of Gothenburg

Democracy aid can contribute to change, but only marginally and only under certain conditions. This is the conclusion of a new doctoral thesis from the University of Gothenburg.

Since the early 1990s, democracy and human rights have become increasingly important in the field of international development assistance. Democracy aid includes, for example, support to political parties, parliaments, election authorities, ombudsman offices and civil society organisations promoting human rights.

However, the tangible effects of this type of aid on democracy development have not been thoroughly assessed. In addition, the few existing studies have mainly focused on U.S. democracy aid. In her doctoral thesis, Agnes Cornell has studied the effects of the total democracy aid allocated by the whole donor community.

'We shouldn't expect democracy aid to have dramatic positive effects on democratic development. However, it may prevent democratic breakdown in democracies,' says Cornell.

Cornell bases her conclusion on statistical analyses of aid data over time. She also studied the effects of democracy aid in authoritarian regimes. In these countries, the results show that democracy aid is only effective in one-party regimes. This finding was expected, since according to Cornell's theoretical argument these regimes should feel the least threatened by democracy aid as they are relatively stable. They also have important political institutions, such as parliaments, that can channel the aid.

'So democracy aid can affect a country's democratic development, but only under certain beneficial conditions,' says Cornell.

Her study also addresses the challenges faced by the implementers of democracy aid. Cornell interviewed implementers of democratic governance programs in Peru and Bolivia, on both the recipient and donor sides. She found that one major obstacle in the implementation of democracy aid programmes is the lack of stability in the bureaucracy, caused by high staff turnover and especially when this is due to political appointments of personnel.

'The success of future development cooperation will depend on how well donors and recipients deal with the extensive staff turnover and the factors behind it in the recipient countries' public administrations,' says Cornell.


Title of the doctoral thesis: Institutional Impediments and Reluctant Actors – The Limited Role of Democracy Aid in Democratic Development

Author: Agnes Cornell,, +46 (0)31 786 6145, +46 (0)707 44 11 81.

The thesis can be downloaded at:

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