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Power of the masses: group size, attribution, and the politics of export bans in Africa

Nicolai Schulz, Daniel (2019) Power of the masses: group size, attribution, and the politics of export bans in Africa. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis sets out to answer the question why African governments aiming to industrialize their economies introduce export bans on some processable commodities and not on others. It makes the argument that policy-makers avoid imposing export bans on commodities produced by a large share of the population because bans create a context in which politically dangerous producer mobilization is very likely. Export bans severely reduce producer prices. Since these are imposed at the border, beyond producers’ usual field of vision, producers normally struggle to see the origin of these price distortions. Equally negatively affected by bans, raw commodity traders, however, have the knowledge, motivation, and capacity to inform producers about the ban and organize their protest against it, therefore making mass mobilization likely. Traders and producers react to high export taxes in similar ways, but protests do not tend to arise in reaction to low export taxes. In the latter case, traders are usually able to pass price distortions on to producers. They, therefore, have a lesser incentive to engage in the costly endeavour of setting up cross-group defence coalitions. Seeing how producer mobilization is less likely in reaction to the imposition of low export taxes, imposition, even on large groups, poses no significant risk to policy-makers. To test my argument against competing explanations, I employ a mixed-method design. First, I conduct a large-N analysis based on an original dataset covering all export bans and taxes employed in 36 African states in the last three decades. Holding a range of competing political and economic variables constant, the analysis finds robust support for the core hypothesis: the larger the share of the population producing a commodity, the less likely governments will impose export bans on them. As expected, this also holds for high but not for low export taxes. Second, based on eight months of fieldwork, my comparative analyses of six country-commodities in Ghana, Kenya, and Tanzania further substantiate these results and mechanisms. Overall, these findings provide new insights into the critical role politics play in industrial policy-making in Africa and show that African mass producer groups can overcome collective action problems to oppose policies adverse to their interests in certain circumstances.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2019 Daniel Nicolai Schulz
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
H Social Sciences > HF Commerce
Sets: Departments > International Development
Supervisor: Shadlen, Kenneth C. and Boone, Catherine

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