Quick Hits

1. Lunch with the FT: Mikhail Khodorkovsky

2. Blattman on Russian politics, and other stuff.

3. Tyler Cowen asks a rather odd question….  “Are anthropologists better than you think?” My simple answer is yes. I wish it were possible for everyone in the world working in development to take Jim Ferguson’s Economic Anthropology graduate seminar (or simply read this book), or David Laitin’s Political Culture class which includes works from brilliant anthropologists, both old and new. Plus my better half and a few close friends are anthropologists; and I can tell you from first hand experience that once you get through the jargon the field emerges as the mother social science [although in characteristic fashion none of the anthropologists I know would ever admit this].

4. Governance is hard. And now it is ISIS’ turn to find out.

5. 50 Shades of Poor: Who exactly qualifies as “middle class” in Congo?

Kenya Security Laws (Amendment) Act, 2014

President Uhuru Kenyatta assented to the Security Laws (Amendment) Act, 2014 (archived pdf here). Despite widespread opposition from a large section of the Kenyan public, amendments therein are now the law of the land. The law itself is a mixed bag. There are some good parts that are meant to streamline the criminal justice system. But there are other parts that will certainly be abused by politicians and over-eager security agents, and could lead to a drastic reduction of civil liberties in Kenya.

This is how the bill was passed:

Members of Parliament and Sergeants-at-Arms guard House Speaker Justin Muturi as he reads the motion to pass to the bill.

Civil Society groups in Kenya, and a section of Members of Parliament, have vowed to challenge the constitutionality of the Act in court.

Will the challenge succeed? The simple answer is I don’t know. The Kenyan Supreme Court leans to the right, and is likely to defer to the executive (and its allies in the legislature) on matters related to security. Plus my bet is that if you polled the law a good chunk of Kenyans would support it. It targets “terrorists” and “criminals.” The mainstream churches in Kenya have also come out in strong support, in no small part because suspected terrorists have made a habit of attacking packed churches along the Kenyan coast.

The judicial review process is unlikely to set aside the entire statute. The petitioners will be better served to focus on key clauses that are unconstitutional and ask the judges to strike those out. But I should reiterate that the judges are likely to defer to Parliament and the executive on this one.

From a legislative studies perspective, what is worrying is that in order to get the law passed  State House essentially told the National Assembly, “Trust me. I need these powers to secure Kenyan lives and property. And I will not abuse them. Trust me.” And then Parliament capitulated. There was no debate over the State’s total failure to use existing laws to prevent and/or deter crime. Or the corruption and gross ineptitude that ails the security sector. Instead the executive was rewarded with even more power, secrecy, and ability to silence criticism from the media. All open to cynical abuse.

What Parliament forgot is that that there are no good politicians; only constrained ones. And that if unchecked anyone and everyone will abuse power. It doesn’t matter whether they are Pol Pot or the Pope.

Working With the Grain in Development

I finally got to reading Brian Levy’s Working With the Grain. It is easily the most underestimated development book of 2014, and should be read alongside William Easterly’s Tyranny of Experts (which it both complements and pushes back against). Like Easterly, Levy worked at the Bank and has insightful case studies and anecdotes from South Korea, to Ethiopia, to Bangladesh, among other countries. The book’s main thrust is that approaches to interventionist development policy ought to internalize the fact that:

… Successful reforms need to be aligned with a country’s political and institutional realities. For any specific reform, an incentive compatible approach begins by asking, who might be the critical mass of actors who both have standing and a stake in the proposed arrangements – and so are in a position to support and protect them in the face of opposition? [p. 142-3]

From a policy perspective, Levy tackles the relationship between governance, regime types, and development head on. How do you deal with the Biyas, Kagames or Zenawis of this world if you deeply care about [both] the material aspects of human welfare – roads, hospitals, schools, electricity, etc., [and] political freedoms and inclusive institutions?

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 12.32.06 PM

Levy’s answer is that development experts should work with the grain, focusing on incrementally solidifying past gains in specific agencies and issue areas, instead of engaging in epic battles against ill-defined and equally poorly understood “bad institutions” and evils like “corruption.” He aptly points out that you do not need the full set of the “good governance” bundle in order to continue chugging along on the path to economic prosperity.

In other words, we don’t have to put everything else on pause until we get the institutions right (or topple the bad guys). It is not an all or nothing game. His argument is persuasive (“good governance” has failed as a prescriptive remedy for underdevelopment), albeit at the cost of casting the immense toll of living under autocratic regimes as somewhat ineluctable on the road to economic prosperity. But at least he dares to challenge conventional approaches to governance reform that have at best failed, and at worst distracted governing elites from initiatives that could have worked to improve human welfare in developing countries.

As I read the book I wondered what Levy might think of the current state of development research. We are lucky to live in an age of increasing appreciation for evidence-based policy development, implementation, and evaluation. However, the resulting aura of “objectivity” in development research often leaves little room for politics, and its inefficiencies and contextual nuances. Sometimes the quest for generalizability makes us get too much into the weeds and forget that what is good for journal reviewers seldom passes the politicians’ (or other influential actors’) incentive compatibility test, rendering our findings useless from their perspective.

It is obvious, but worth reiterating, that the outcomes we can quantify, and therefore study, do not always overlap with the most pressing issues in development or policies that are politically feasible.

Perhaps this is a call for greater investment in public policy schools (not two-day capacity building workshops) in the developing world that will train experts to bridge the gap between academic development research and actual policy formulation and implementation (talking to policymakers makes your realize that this gap is wider than you think). Linking research findings to actual policy may sound easy, but you only need to see a “policy recommendations” section of a report written by those of us in the academy to know that it is not.

The Development Set

A reader just reminded me of this timeless gem. It is from 1976.

Excuse me, friends, I must catch my jet
I’m off to join the Development Set;
My bags are packed, and I’ve had all my shots
I have traveller’s checks and pills for the trots!

The Development Set is bright and noble
Our thoughts are deep and our vision global;
Although we move with the better classes
Our thoughts are always with the masses.

In Sheraton Hotels in scattered nations
We damn multi-national corporations;
injustice seems easy to protest
In such seething hotbeds of social rest.

We discuss malnutrition over steaks
And plan hunger talks during coffee breaks.
Whether Asian floods or African drought,
We face each issue with open mouth.

We bring in consultants whose circumlocution
Raises difficulties for every solution –
Thus guaranteeing continued good eating
By showing the need for another meeting.

The language of the Development Set
Stretches the English alphabet;
We use swell words like “epigenetic”
“Micro”, “macro”, and “logarithmetic”

It pleasures us to be esoteric –
It’s so intellectually atmospheric!
And although establishments may be unmoved,
Our vocabularies are much improved.

When the talk gets deep and you’re feeling numb,
You can keep your shame to a minimum:
To show that you, too, are intelligent
Smugly ask, “Is it really development?”

Or say, “That’s fine in practice, but don’t you see:
It doesn’t work out in theory!”
A few may find this incomprehensible,
But most will admire you as deep and sensible.

Development set homes are extremely chic,
Full of carvings, curios, and draped with batik.
Eye-level photographs subtly assure
That your host is at home with the great and the poor.

Enough of these verses – on with the mission!
Our task is as broad as the human condition!
Just pray god the biblical promise is true:
The poor ye shall always have with you.

By Ross Coggins, from “Adult Education and Development,” September 1976. H/T @intldogooder. More here.

Development Experts and Their Biases

It is perhaps uncontroversial to suggest that World Bank staff have a different worldview from others. World Bank staff are highly educated and relatively wealthier than a large proportion of the world. However, it is interesting to note that while the goal of development is to end poverty, development professionals are not always good at predicting how poverty shapes mindsets. For example, although 42 percent of Bank staff predicted that most poor people in Nairobi, Kenya, would agree with the statement that “vaccines are risky because they can cause sterilization,” only 11 percent of the poor people sampled in Nairobi actually agreed with that statement. Overall, immunization coverage rates in Kenya are over 80 percent. There were also no significant differences in the responses of Bank staff in country offices and those in headquarters or in responses of staff working directly on poverty relative to staff working on other issues. This finding suggests the presence of a shared mental model, not tempered by direct exposure to poverty [emphasis added].

That is an excerpt from the World Development Report 2015, the section on the biases of development professionals.

One hopes that the problem highlighted by the last line is not crowded out of President Kim’s agenda at the Bank by the ongoing cost-cutting. And in case you were wondering, I don’t think flying coach and no breakfast will cut it since airports and the Mamba Points of this world are beyond the reach of most poor people. Speaking from experience, the development “expert” bubble is real, and enduring. We definitely need to do more to burst the bubble.

If field country offices are mere extensions of DC, then many development projects will continue to be variants of the proverbial solar cookers decried by Jim Ferguson in the Anti-Politics Machine. And everyone will continue to run around in circles.

Kenya Security Laws (Amendment) Bill 2014

Here is a pdf copy of the Kenya Security Laws (Amendment) Bill 2014.

The proposed amendments will, broadly speaking, curtail the freedom of speech and association, and limit media coverage of security related stories. They will also cut into the independence of the Kenya Police Service by granting the president the powers to appoint and fire the Inspector General of Police. Presently an independent commission picks a list of candidates from which the president chooses the IG. Lastly, the law promises to resurrect the position of the all powerful internal security minister with broad discretionary powers.

All in the name of keeping Kenyans safe from foreign terrorists, and themselves.

There are a few good things in the proposed law, including the sections that clarify the roles of the office of the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP); and those that limit judges’ discretion in the handling of cases involving terror suspects.

Despite the dubious constitutionality of some clauses in the bill, I bet a majority of Kenyans would support it in a poll. For that we have to thank the recent uptick in terror attacks and fatal communal conflicts. This year alone hundreds of Kenyans have died from such attacks.

That said, if you ask me the problem of insecurity in Kenya is not simply a result of restrictive laws that limit the government’s ability to pursue and prosecute criminals. It is a problem of a corrupt police force that takes bribes from petty criminals, poachers, drug dealers, and terrorists, alike. It is a problem of an increasingly unaccountable intelligence and military securocracy that is both fighting jihadists in Somalia and trafficking in charcoal and other goods, the proceeds of which benefit the same jihadists. It is a problem of an ineffectual intelligence service that instead of diligently doing its homework prefers to carry water for foreign agencies, regardless of the domestic consequences.

And finally, it is a problem of an elite political class that wants to have its cake and eat it. They want a criminal justice system that protects those who steal from public coffers but punishes chicken thieves. A system that protects poachers and drug dealers but nabs terrorists and armed robbers. At some point something will have to give.

Iko shida.

Ebola Cases Growing in Sierra Leone

According to FT:

The WHO estimates that as December 8 Sierra Leone had 7,798 registered cases, overtaking Liberia for the first time since the outbreak started. According to the Geneva-based WHO, the number of cases is still “slightly increasing” in Guinea, “stable or declining” in Liberia and “may still be increasing in Sierra Leone”.

More here.

Two Important Lessons Americans Should Learn From the Senate Torture Report

As Americans digest the contents of the just released Senate Report on CIA’s use of torture, here are two important lessons that they ought to internalize.

  1. The release of the report neither absolves America of the deeds highlighted therein, nor does it mean that such gross violations of the rights of non-Americans have ended. As Mother Jones reported back in 2012, President Obama may have ended officially sanctioned torture, but as it continued to wage the global war on terror America merely “outsourced human rights abuse to Afghanistan, Somalia, and elsewhere” through rendition programs. In addition, CFR has calculated that over the course of 500 drone strikes under both the Bush and Obama administrations 41 men were targeted, but 1147 people were killed. Dangerous terrorists should be taken out, by all means. But at some point we must begin to ask questions about what ought to constitute an upper limit of tolerable collateral damage. Especially in relation to the lives of innocent non-combatants.
  2. By outsourcing illegal practices to governments in the developing world America is contributing to the weakening of institutions of accountability in those countries and the radicalization of potential jihadists. Six months ago I argued for caution in the ongoing militarization of US-Africa relations. My worry is that many American security arrangements with African governments are designed to bypass normal democratic channels (like direct military to military cooperation) and risk creating unaccountable militaries and governments. In Kenya, for instance, it is increasingly unclear whether the military or the elected civilian administration is in charge of national security policy (especially with regard to the mission in Somalia). Nairobi has also recently been on the spotlight accused of engaging in extra-judicial killings of suspected terrorists with foreign assistance. In addition, many governments in the region that cooperate with the US have enacted sweeping anti-terror laws, many designed to also silence domestic political dissent. If it is not yet abundantly clear, it is high time American policymakers realized that unaccountable and highly securitized governments play into the hands of jihadist recruiters.

The release of the report is certainly commendable. It is a shining example of the virtues of separation of powers, something that America, more than any other nation in history, has perfected. But it is not an end in and of itself. It ought to be a first step in acknowledging that human rights do not end at the water’s edge, and putting pressure on elected officials to devise national security and foreign relations policies that respect this fact. Despite what some Americans may say, respecting the rights of non-Americans and their desire for accountable political and military institutions will not weaken America. On the contrary it will make it stronger by bolstering its soft power, and safer.

The Africanist Perspective is 7!

I started the blog seven years ago as an undergraduate in New Haven ahead of the 2007 elections in Kenya. Since then the blog has grown from a few readers a week to several thousand.

Thank you all for keeping me motivated to share my thoughts on this forum.

And of course special thanks to my better half Vanessa for the many conversations and insights that have generated many a blog post.

After the seven month hiatus I am back to blogging again. Here’s to the next seven years of blogging!

Ken

This is huge >> ICC drops case against Uhuru Kenyatta

The ICC prosecutor has dropped the charges against President Uhuru Kenyatta, citing the lack of evidence due to non-cooperation by the Kenyan government. Mr. Kenyatta stood accused of playing a significant role in the 2007-08 post-election violence in Kenya in which at least 1300 people died and over 300,000 were displaced.

Four quick observations.

  • The Kenyan case was always going to be a tough one for the ICC. Kenya is neither the DRC nor Sudan. As soon as Kenyatta got elected Brussels, London, and Washington made it clear that they would not sacrifice their economic and geopolitical interests in the wider eastern Africa region on the alter of justice. This gave Mr. Kenyatta latitude to attack the legitimacy and legality of the ICC case against him both through the African Union (AU) and Kenyan diplomatic channels. Back in Kenya witnesses disappeared or withdrew their testimonies. The Office of the Prosecutor repeatedly said that the Kenyan state refused to hand over evidence relevant to the Kenyatta case. All this while Western embassies remained quiet about the case (for fear of “losing” Kenya to China).
  • This leads me to conclude that in a perverse way, the collapse of the Kenyatta case might actually be good for the ICC. The court (and OTP) can save face by arguing that they had the authority to prosecute the case but lacked cooperation from the Kenyan state. Now, the biggest challenge for everyone involved is how to ensure that this does not get interpreted as blanket immunity for all sitting presidents who are suspected of committing atrocities against their citizens. The deterrent effect of the ICC should be preserved.
  • The collapse of the case has interesting implications for Kenya’s domestic politics. It is common knowledge that the political union between President Kenyatta and Deputy President Ruto ahead of the 2013 election was primarily driven by their ICC cases. Mr. Kenyatta’s case has collapsed. Mr. Ruto’s is ongoing. This will diminish Mr. Ruto’s bargaining power in the alliance. It will also demand for Kenyatta’s allies to walk a tight rope and ensure that they do not signal to Ruto’s supporters that they no longer need them now that Kenyatta is off the hook. Ruto’s bloc, URP, has the second largest number of MPs in the National Assembly. This will give him leverage of some sort, even as his case goes on. Simply stated, without the ICC bond, the union between Kenyatta and Ruto will become more transactional. This means that mistakes will be made, and each side will have to try hard to ensure that disagreements over specific issues do not get blown out of proportion. Knowing Kenyan MPs, this will be a tall order.
  • Lastly, now that the ICC is behind him President Kenyatta might actually seriously tackle the issue of insecurity in Kenya. It is widely known that since he took office his approach to security matters has been informed by the desire to rid his administration of anyone who might have been sympathetic to the ICC. The former chief of intelligence (who may have played a role in “fixing” both Kenyatta and Ruto) and other senior officials who may have testified against him were let go. It took the slaughter of more than 450 Kenyans at the hands of terrorists and armed bandits over the last 18 months for the president to fire the chief of Police and the Cabinet Secretary in charge of internal security. One can only hope that now Kenyans will get a more responsive security sector.

What does this mean for reconciliation in Kenya? Not much. 2007-08 shattered the myth of Kenya as a peaceful oasis in an otherwise volatile region. Kenyans are yet to comprehensively deal with the shock of seeing what neighbors could do to one another. The preferred MO has been to sweep things under the rug. That was the logic of the Kenyatta-Ruto alliance (the land issues that erupted in clashes between their respective constituencies have not been resolved). It is the same logic that drove the peace-at-all-costs campaign that stifled open discussion of contentious national issues ahead of the 2013 election.

For better or worse, Kenyans are desperate to move on past 2007-08. But the weight of historical injustices, inequalities, and the continued failure to address them are constant reminders that 2007-08 might happen again.