Research ArticleECONOMICS

Procedural fairness and nepotism among local traditional and democratic leaders in rural Namibia

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Science Advances  08 Apr 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 15, eaay7651
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aay7651


This study tests the common conception that democratically elected leaders behave in the interest of their constituents more than traditional chiefs do. Our sample includes 64 village leaders and 384 villagers in rural Namibia, where democratically elected leaders and traditional chiefs coexist. We analyze two main attributes of local political leaders: procedural fairness preferences and preferential treatment of relatives (nepotism). We also measure personality traits and social preferences, and conduct standardized surveys on local governance practices and villagers’ perceptions of their leaders’ performance. Our results indicate that traditional chiefs are as likely to implement fair, democratic decision-making procedures, and are as unlikely to be nepotistic. Moreover, elected leaders and chiefs express similar social preferences and personality traits. These findings align with villagers’ perceptions of most leaders in our sample as being popular and fair, and villagers’ responses reveal a discrepancy between planned and de facto implementation of democratic institutions.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

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