Haley Swedlund, Ph.D.


Radboud University

Country: Netherlands

About Me:

I am an Assistant Professor at the Centre for International Conflict Analysis and Management (CICAM) at the Nijmegen School of Management, Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. I am also currently an associate at the German Institue for Area Studies (GIGA) in Hamburg, Germany and was previous a visiting fellow at The Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale University. I recieved my PhD from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University in 2011.

Research Interests

African Politics


Foreign Aid

Political Economy

Donor-Government Relations

Post-Conflict Peacebuilding

Sino-Africa Relations

International Political Economy

Countries of Interest





My Research:

My research is situated at the intersection of international political economy, development and conflict studies. I publish and lecture on donor-government relations, foreign aid, post-conflict peacebuilding, and qualitative methods. My book, The Development Dance: How Donors and Recipients Negotiate the Delivery of Foreign Aid was published by Cornell University Press in 2017. 


Journal Articles:

(2018) Rwanda’s post-genocide foreign aid relations: Revisiting notions of exceptionalism, African Affairs

This article studies donor–government relations in Rwanda since the end of the 1994 genocide. The notion that Rwanda enjoyed or enjoys exceptional relations with donors because of guilt regarding their inaction during the genocide is widespread in the literature and in policy circles. To assess this myth, the article first looks at aid trends for Rwanda and comparable countries, and then takes an in-depth look at aid relations with two average-size donors: Canada and the Netherlands. It demonstrates that Rwanda is not as exceptional as claimed, but instead should be considered one amongst a group of exceptional cooperation partners. The article further highlights that donors operated informally immediately following the genocide, but soon renormalized aid relations, and that there has always been a complex set of rationales determining donor behaviour regarding Rwanda.

(2018) Inequality and Ethnic Conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa, Social Forces

Theories of ethnic conflict predict that between-group inequality should be associated with a greater likelihood of violent conflict, but empirical results have been mixed. One reason might be that different types of inequalities have opposing effects on the likelihood of conflict. In this article, we posit that educational inequalities are likely to incentivize collective action by inducing grievances, while economic and demographic inequalities may actually dis-incentivize collective action by limiting opportunities for disadvantaged groups to engage in rebellion. We test these hypotheses on a new ethnic dyad database, incorporating 1,548 dyads formed by 290 ethnic groups living in 29 Sub-Saharan African countries. The analysis reveals that educational inequalities are indeed positively associated with conflict incidence, while this is not the case for economic and demographic inequalities. The association between educational inequality and conflict is stronger if the groups are wealthier. A higher joint educational level of the groups is associated with less conflict, particularly under more autocratic regimes. These findings demonstrate that to better understand the relationship between inequality and conflict, it is important to disaggregate the effects of inequalities according to the underlying mechanisms and the political context with which they are associated.

(2017) Can foreign aid donors credibly threaten to suspend aid? Evidence from a cross-national survey of donor officials, Review of International Political Economy

Under what conditions are foreign aid donors willing to suspend foreign aid to punish political transgressions, such as election fraud, corruption scandals or political repression? Prior scholarship has emphasized that political sanctions, including foreign aid suspensions, are constrained by the geostrategic considerations of donor countries. However, foreign aid suspensions often occur in strategically important countries, and donors respond differently to different types of political transgressions within the same county. To shed light on this puzzle, in this article, I present evidence from an original survey of top-level donor representatives in 20 African countries, including a list experiment designed to elicit truthful responses about the conditions under which donors are willing to suspend foreign aid. I argue that the likelihood of a foreign aid suspension depends not only on the strategic considerations of the donor government, but also on the institutional incentives of the donor agency. A donor agency's institutional incentives are shaped by the agency's organizational design, as well as by its foreign aid portfolio in the recipient country.

(2017) Is China eroding the bargaining power of traditional donors in Africa?, International Affairs

In this article, the author explores whether the growing presence of Chinese financial assistance is decreasing the bargaining power of traditional donors vis-à-vis African governments. The article relies on data from an original survey of high-ranking donor officials working in multiple African countries, as well as case-studies of Chinese engagement in three diverse African country contexts: Ghana, Uganda and Tanzania. It finds that claims of a ‘silent revolution’ in development cooperation due to China's increased involvement in the region are overstated. Among donor officials, there is far from consensus that China is decreasing the bargaining power of their agency. On the contrary, evidence from Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda suggests that traditional development aid continues to play an important role and that, in practice, China rarely directly competes with traditional donors. There are, however, two important caveats to this claim. First, when China and traditional donors do directly compete—for example, on infrastructure projects—many recipient governments prefer assistance from China. Second, given China's interest in expanding markets and acquiring natural resources, countries receiving higher amounts of Chinese official finance are likely to have lower rates of aid dependence. As a result, financing from China is likely to be correlated with a decline in the bargaining power of traditional donors, even if it is not causing such a decline.

(2013) From donorship to ownership? budget support and donor influence in Rwanda and Tanzania, Public Administration and Development

In this article, I analyze the relationship between budget support and ownership, or recipient-country control over policy outcomes, by exploring how budget support donors in Rwanda and Tanzania attempt to exert influence over domestic policy processes. In contrast to the conventional rhetoric about budget support, my empirical analysis finds little evidence that budget support decreases the influence that donors try to exert over recipient-country governments. Instead, semi-structured interviews with donor and government representatives in each country suggest that the aid modality is often used as a tool by which donors attempt to increase their leverage over domestic decision-making. In particular, I identify three mechanisms frequently used by budget support donors to influence domestic policy processes: voice amplification, a seat at the table, and a license to ask questions.

(2013) Non-governmental and not-for-profit organizational effectiveness: A modern synthesis, Voluntas

NGO / NPO is a highly relevant issue for scholars and practitioners, but the literature is increasingly fragmented along disciplinary lines. We address this problem by presenting a comprehensive and interdisciplinary review of the literature on NGO and NPO effectiveness using citation analysis. In order to uncover commonalities across disciplines concerned with similar questions, This approach limits author biases, fosters an interdisciplinary perspective, and adds a different methodological approach. Our review uncovers three trends: (1) There is a general consensus that these measures are not commonly used, although they are commonly used by NGOs / NPO rating agencies; (2) the scholarship on NGO / NPO effectiveness is dominated by conceptual works, while empirical studies remain rare; (3) a consensus on how to operationalize effectiveness remains elusive. These results suggest that progress in our understanding of NGO / NPO effectiveness requires enhanced efforts at crossing disciplinary divides, adding empirical analyzes, and increasing attention to developing shared categories and methodologies.

(2013) The domestication of governance assessments: evidence from the Rwandan Joint Governance Assessment, Conflict Security and Development

In this paper, I consider the strengths and weaknesses of including local actors in governance assessments through an analysis of the Rwandan Joint Governance Assessment (JGA) and its supporting institutions. The JGA is the first and only governance assessment produced and approved by donors and a recipient country. The approach is seen by many as a model to replicate elsewhere, because it combines donors' need to assess governance in the countries in which they work with a desire for context sensitivity and local ownership. However, local and/or joint approaches may also face a variety of problems ranging from implementation difficulties to the risk of political co-optation. The case study presented in this paper highlights the practical and political challenges faced during the implementation of the JGA and analyses to what extent these have the potential to compromise the approach. For both the donors and the recipient government, the process represents unknown terrain in which they continually struggle to position themselves. The findings also point to more general problems that can arise when international frameworks are embedded in local contexts.

Books Written:

(2017) The Development Dance: How Donors and Recipients Negotiate the Delivery of Foreign Aid, Cornell University Press

In a book full of directly applicable lessons for policymakers, Haley J. Swedlund explores why foreign aid is delivered in different ways at different times, and why various approaches prove to be politically unsustainable. She finds that no aid-delivery mechanism has yet resolved commitment problems in the donor-recipient relationship; bargaining compromises break down and have to be renegotiated; frustration grows; new ways of delivering aid gain traction over existing practices; and the dance resumes. Swedlund draws on hundreds of interviews with key decision makers representing both donor agencies and recipient governments, policy and archival documents in Ghana, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda, and an original survey of top-level donor officials working across twenty countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. This wealth of data informs Swedlund’s analysis of fads and fashions in the delivery of foreign aid and the interaction between effectiveness and aid delivery. The central message of The Development Dance is that if we want to know whether an aid delivery mechanism is likely to be sustained over the long term, we need to look at whether it induces credible commitments from both donor agencies and recipient governments over the long term.

Book Chapters:

(2019) Fieldwork in “Restrictive” Environments: Contrasting Methodologies, SAGE Research Methods Cases in Politics and International Relations

In this research methods case, we focus on the challenges facing researchers who conduct fieldwork in restrictive environments; that is, contexts where researchers often face constraints on freedom of research and information. In such environments, the threat (or perceived threat) of encroachment on academic freedom can considerably affect both research design and data collection. We consider how researchers can vary methodologies to circumvent some of the major challenges of working in restrictive environments. To do so, we draw on our collective experiences with different methodological approaches, including elite and non-elite interviews, focus groups, and surveys, while conducting fieldwork in post-genocide Rwanda. We compare the trade-offs faced by these alternative approaches in a restrictive environment and offer advice for researchers embarking on research in this context. Our goal is to provide creative and savvy suggestions to assist junior scholars in designing and conducting research in challenging political climates.

Media Appearances:

Blog Posts:

(2017) The Conversation – Africa

Is China displacing traditional aid donors in Africa? The evidence suggests not. Republished on: MSN Money, Quartz-Africa, AllAfrica.com, The Star (Kenya), China File, Asia Times, The New Age (South Africa).

(2017) Washington Post

There’s another big reason U.S. foreign aid is important: It helps the U.S. get what it wants

(2015) Washington Post

Why donors demand elections after unrest in developing countries.