Do No Harm: Aid, Weak Institutions and the Missing Middle in Africa

24 Pages Posted: 17 Aug 2007

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The implicit assumption of the donor community is that Africa is trapped by its poverty, and that aid is necessary if it is to escape. This article suggests an alternative view: that Africa is caught in an institutional trap, signalled and reinforced by the small share of income of its independent middle strata. Theory and historical experience elsewhere suggest that a robust middle-income group contributes critically to the creation and sustenance of healthy institutions, particularly of the state. The article argues that if external aid is to be helpful for institution-building in Africa's weak and fragile states, donors need to emphasise not providing more aid but minimising the risks more aid poses for this group.

Suggested Citation

Birdsall, Nancy, Do No Harm: Aid, Weak Institutions and the Missing Middle in Africa. Development Policy Review, Vol. 25, No. 5, pp. 575-598, September 2007, Available at SSRN: or

Nancy Birdsall (Contact Author)

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