Bureaucrats and the Resource Curse in Africa

Numerous studies explain the behaviours of politicians and citizens which underlie natural resource curses. Curiously, however, this literature has not systematically considered the role of bureaucrats. This paper argues that this is a consequential omission. Bureaucrats are in charge of the day-to-day operation of states. As such, their actions may facilitate or constrain the use of resource rents for political advantage. Using results from a survey experiment with bureaucrats in Ghana and Uganda, this paper shows that some bureaucrats, including those who are not affiliated with the ruling party and/or remain outside of government patronage networks, may oppose politicians’ efforts to use resource revenues for political advantage. The findings challenge unitary-state assumptions underlying much of the resource curse literature. We call instead for greater attention to the processes through which state “rentierization” occur, and the specific roles played by bureaucratic actors in facilitating or containing the resource curse.