University of Sussex
Johnson,_Oliver_W..pdf (3.52 MB)

The evolution of donor-recipient relations in electricity reform: rethinking the principal-agent framework

Download (3.52 MB)
posted on 2023-06-07, 15:55 authored by Oliver W Johnson
Since the early 1990s electricity reforms across Sub-Saharan Africa have been marked by controversy. Despite the World Bank’s major role in driving electricity reform as part of its conditional lending strategy in the electricity sector, its relationship with recipient countries has received little attention within the electricity reform literature. This is surprising given the increasing pressure on the World Bank to improve the effectiveness of its conditional lending more generally. This thesis contributes to filling this gap by exploring how World Bank-recipient country relations shape and constrain the direction of reform. The donor-recipient relationship is commonly espoused in the academic literature as a principal-agent relationship, whereby international aid organisations (principals) delegate authority for implementing their development policies to recipient countries (agents). I develop this framework by incorporating refined concepts of power, partnership, ownership and knowledge, prominent features in development studies literature and recent donor discourse. The analytical framework developed is applied to the process of electricity reform in two countries: Tanzania and Ghana. While the impetus for reform in these two countries was similar, the way in which the reform process unfolded was different. The analysis is based on in-depth, semi-structured interviews and documentary evidence. It uses a process-tracing method, combining within-case and cross-case analysis. A number of insights emerge from the analysis. I find that availability of reform expertise plays a significant role in determining the strength of power relations between donors and recipient countries. It also appears that reform ownership lies within different ‘domains’. Uneven ownership across domains accounts for the inconsistent reform implementation noted in both cases. And knowledge asymmetry provides a useful concept to analyse the impact of decentralised donor staff. In conclusion, this thesis argues that a modified principal-agent framework offers additional insight into the workings of the donor-recipient relationship.


File Version

  • Published version



Department affiliated with

  • SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit Theses

Qualification level

  • doctoral

Qualification name

  • dphil


  • eng


University of Sussex

Full text available

  • Yes

Legacy Posted Date


Usage metrics

    University of Sussex (Theses)


    No categories selected


    Ref. manager