Our knowledge of what works in preventing the natural resource curse in democracies is limited. In fact, there are fundamental doubts about the theoretical mechanisms that link natural resources to a decrease in income. Limited political accountability is not the only possible explanation, as there could be a generalised increase in rent-seeking activities in the economy. This study evaluates the impact of differentiated information about the management of the newly discovered natural gas in the Rovuma basin in Mozambique, and the holding of citizen meetings to deliberate the main priorities for spending revenues from these resources, on the behaviour of local elites and the general population.
Mozambique has discovered substantial natural resources in recent years. Known gas reserves in the Rovuma basin have the potential to transform Mozambique into a global player in Liquefied Natural Gas exports. Being a recent democracy, and with relatively weak institutions, Mozambique also faces considerable risks of resource and revenue mismanagement in the future, particularly since media independence and penetration are low and the level of political accountability is not improving. In this context, it is crucial to understand the role of information on elite and citizens’ behaviour in response to a large increase in income from natural resources. This is important not only for Mozambique, but also for similar countries facing large resource discoveries under weak institutions.
The main evaluation questions are:
- What is the effect of information about natural resources on the political elite’s behaviour, when: (a) local elites are the only ones being informed, (b) everyone is informed, and (c) citizens deliberate on ways to spend resource revenues?
- What is the effect of information about natural resources on citizens’ behaviour, when everyone is informed and when citizens deliberate on ways to spend resource revenues?
- What is the impact of different types of information channelled to citizens, on aspirations and other citizen outcomes?
This study uses a set of structured community activities, a randomised evaluation with three treatment arms and lab-in-the-field experiments. The first treatment arm comprised the local elite who received information about natural resources and its management; the second arm was the general public who received information along with the local elite; and the third arm was a group of citizens who received information and deliberated on spending the revenues from natural resources. The main outcome variables of interest are knowledge about natural resources, aspirations, social capital, trust, demand for political accountability and rent-seeking.
Theory of change
The theory of change rests on the central assumption that if constituents are better informed about the inner workings of the extractive governance, along with the option of public deliberation, it will be easier to communicate grievances, and demand better development and use of resources. It is expected that the information with deliberation mechanism will increase the willingness of common citizens to contribute to public goods provision or even to increase the sense of social cohesion among these communities. It should also translate into improved transparency and accountability, based on politicians’ need to be re-elected or be reappointed.
Sampled communities were stratified into two urban areas, semi-urban communities and rural communities. Each community was then randomly allocated to either the treatment or control groups, with 50 communities for Treatment 1, 51 communities for treatment 2, 50 communities for treatment 3 and 55 communities for the control group.
In addition to traditional survey measurements and the SCAs, the authors conducted a number of lab-in-the-field experiments such as: Trust game which measured elite capture from leaders, as well as trust in local leaders and demand for accountability from citizens; Rent-seeking game which measured the willingness to engage in rent-seeking behaviour at the expense of a more productive activity; and Public goods game that measured social cohesion and contribution to a common goal.
The study shows that the community-targeted information campaign was effective in raising awareness and knowledge of citizens about the natural gas discovery. However, when only the elite have access to information, the study shows the possibility of elite capture, which is manifested in the leaders’ attitudes in favour of corruption, misuse of funds for public purposes and less meritocratic appointments of community members for public service. It also shows that information and deliberation increased citizen mobilisation, trust at different levels, voice/accountability at different levels and decreased the likelihood of violence. This, the report argues, is more consistent with a curse mechanism centred on politician misbehaviour, possibly countered by improvements in accountability, than one based on generalised movements towards rent-seeking.
One of the key lessons for policymakers is that appropriate management of local populations’ expectations and the implementation of inclusive deliberation processes as resource exploration unfolds may be key to escaping the emergence of localised conflict. Information campaigns, like the one studied here, can be seen as a central piece of those inclusive deliberation efforts.