Jennifer N. Brass, Associate professor at the O’Neill School of Public & Environmental Affairs at Indiana University, Bloomington
“Can civil society participation mitigate the negative effect of electricity access on political participation? Evidence from Kenya.”
Abstract: Electricity access rates in sub-Saharan Africa are, on average, the worst in the world. Fewer than half of residents have regular access to the electric grid, and for many, electricity is sporadic and expensive. Because of this, international donors and national governments have recently reinvigorated efforts to expand citizen access to the electricity grid. Policymakers and funders assume that improved access will result in better economic, political, and social outcomes for African citizens and residents, as electricity facilitates new opportunities. Yet a growing amount of research shows that those with access to electricity actually do not have better outcomes. Their incomes do not necessarily increase, their educational performance doesn’t always get better, and they actually participate less in political life. Preliminary evidence from a cross-national survey of African citizens (N~165,000), however, suggests that one group of people do participate more when they get access to electricity: members of civil society organizations. Our research combines this cross-national evidence with results from a nationally representative phone survey of ~1,900 people conducted in Kenya in December 2020. Results suggest which civil society members are more likely to contact government officials with concerns, and which are more likely to engage in other forms of collective action, like joining others to raise an issue of common concern, or attending protests or demonstrations. In addition to the research findings, I will discuss challenges of data collection and field research during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bio: Jennifer N. Brass, associate professor at Indiana University, studies service provision, governance, and state development, with a primary geographic focus on sub-Saharan Africa. She authored Allies or Adversaries? NGOs and the State in Africa (Cambridge University Press), as well as a range of articles and chapters focused on NGO provision of services and/or energy and electricity services. Brass has conducted field research in Senegal, Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda. She holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of California at Berkeley.