Is Democracy Detrimental for the Environment in Developing Countries? Evidence from Kenya

60 Pages Posted: 19 Feb 2018 Last revised: 7 Feb 2020

Date Written: September 1, 2013


What was the impact of the democratization wave that hit Sub-Saharan Africa in the early 1990s on the distribution of economic resources? This paper focuses on closed canopy forests of Kenya. Anecdotal and case studies show that these forests have su ffered severe destruction since the early 1990s. In this paper, I bring new evidence to investigate whether the sudden introduction of multi-party elections in the Moi era raised political motives to allow district access to government forest land. Closed canopy forests in the forest reserves of Kenya are owned and managed by the central government. I create two novel data sets to understand this issue. First, using Landsat satellite imagery I create a panel data of forest cover. Second, to uncover the possible mechanisms, I assemble a detailed panel data of forest land allocations by the government. Satellite imagery reveals that deforestation increased after the introduction of multi-party politics. This has been driven by more deforestation in loyal districts and little in opposition districts. The government administrative data shows that after the introduction of political competition, forest land has been primarily transferred for private use (to individuals/communities) rather than for public use (e.g. building schools). Further, within the private allocations, it is land used for squatter settlements that have increased since the introduction of political competition. Lastly, I find a correlation that in swing districts that greater access to forest land leads to higher votes for the ruling party in the next election. The findings shed light on understanding how weak political institutions can lead to serious pathologies in resource allocation.

Keywords: democracy, environment, Kenya, elections, forest, satellite, government, resources, resource allocation, political institutions

Suggested Citation

Morjaria, Ameet, Is Democracy Detrimental for the Environment in Developing Countries? Evidence from Kenya (September 1, 2013). Global Poverty Research Lab Working Paper No. 17-101, Available at SSRN: or

Ameet Morjaria (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Department of Managerial Economics and Decision Sciences (MEDS) ( email )

2001 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

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