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Executive Agency and State Capacity in Development: Comparing Sino-African Railways in Kenya and Ethiopia

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Why do infrastructure projects that are similar in nature develop along starkly different trajectories? This question sheds light on the varying state capacity of developing countries. Divergent from structural explanations that stress external agency and institutional explanations that emphasize bureaucratic capacity, I propose a political championship theory to explain the variance in states capacity of infrastructure delivery. I argue that when a project is highly salient to leaders' survival, leaders commit to the project; leaders with strong authority build an implementation coalition, leading to higher effectiveness. I trace the process of the Standard Gauge Railway in Kenya and Addis-Djibouti Railway in Ethiopia, relying on over 180 interviews. This research highlights the individual agency within structural and institutional constraints, a previously understudied area in state capacity.

Keywords: BELT AND ROAD INITIATIVE; CHINA IN AFRICA; ETHIOPIA; INFRASTRUCTURE; KENYA; LEADERSHIP; STATE CAPACITY

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2022

This article was made available online on July 16, 2021 as a Fast Track article with title: "Executive Agency and State Capacity in Development: Comparing Sino-African Railways in Kenya and Ethiopia".

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  • Comparative Politics is an international journal that publishes scholarly articles devoted to the comparative analysis of political institutions and behavior. It was founded in 1968 to further the development of comparative political theory and the application of comparative theoretical analysis to the empirical investigation of political issues. Comparative Politics communicates new ideas and research findings to social scientists, scholars, and students, and is valued by experts in research organizations, foundations, and consulates throughout the world.
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