Leadership, Community Ties, and Participation of the Poor: Evidence from Kenya, Malawi, and Zambia.

Prisca Jöst & Ellen Lust


Research on public goods provision in Africa suggests that local leaders’ ability to mobilize the poor varies with the nature of the community. Yet there remains uncertainty about why local leaders are better at mobilizing the poor in some communities than others. In this paper, Jöst and Lust address this question. They examine the relationship between the social density of local communities, the social proximity of authority figures to these communities (local or distant leadership), and leaders’ ability to mobilize the poor to contribute to educational and burial funds or vote for an endorsed candidate. To do so, the authors employ a conjoint experiment and utilize observational data from an original survey fielded in Kenya, Malawi and Zambia. They find that the poor respond more to neighbours and local leaders than to distant leaders and that the social density of communities moderates this relationship. Moreover, examining the mechanisms, it is found that the fear of sanctions or expected rewards, and the desire to bandwagon with others in the community appear to drive mobilization. These findings extend the understanding of how leadership and social ties facilitate mobilization, particularly among the poor.