Researching the politics of development



Rethinking spatial inequalities in development: The primacy of politics and power relations

Working paper 29

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Abdul-Gafaru Abdulai
This paper offers a political explanation to the problem of spatial inequality in developing countries, paying particular attention to the implications of patronage politics and inter-elite power relations for the spatial distribution of public goods. After showing that existing explanations of spatial inequality are at best partial, the paper argues that prospects for overcoming spatial inequalities in the clientelist-driven political environments of developing countries depend substantially on the ways in which elites from lagging regions are incorporated into ruling coalitions, and how such forms of incorporation shape their influence over resource allocation decisions and policy agenda more broadly. The paper also departs from much of the existing literature on spatial inequality by emphasising the need to understand ‘powerlessness’ on the part of lagging regions as stemming not necessarily from their political exclusion from political decision making structures, but also from their incorporation into such structures on terms that potentially underpin their poverty. Based on this argument, the paper proposes a new framework for exploring the deeper and more structural underpinnings of spatial inequality in developing countries.