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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.
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Keywords: China in Africa; Ethiopia; Kenya; belt; infrastructure; leadership; road initiative; state capacity

Appeared or available online: July 16, 2021

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