On presidential decrees

Nearly all world constitutions grant presidents the power make laws via executive orders and subsidiary legislation at the point of implementation. And this is what happens when presidents exercise the same powers without robust legislative oversight.

Corruption and Punishment

This paper contributes to the growing literature on anti-corruption accountability by comparing individual decision making under different norms and institutions. Employing an experimental methodology, I examine how the propensity to report corruption differs between Northern and Southern Italians, two groups that experience very different levels of corruption in everyday life. Further, the experiment measures behavior under two different institutional environments: a “strict enforcement” condition where reports always result in sanctions against perpetrators, and a “lax enforcement” condition where 50% of reports are ignored. I find no difference in the behavior of Northern and Southern Italians in the lax enforcement condition, but in the strict enforcement condition, Southerners are much more likely to denounce wrongdoing, while the behavior of Northerners remains unchanged. These results demonstrate that exposure to corruption may strengthen accountability norms, but only in the presence of high quality enforcement institutions.

That’s Nan Zhang in a fascinating paper on corruption in Italy.

As recent cases in the New York state legislature, Illinois, and the expense scandals in the UK Parliament demonstrate, the difference between OECD states and the developing world when it comes to corruption is simply about enforcement. It’s not, strictly speaking, because of a fundamental difference between OECD and non-OECD states in the pro-social tendencies of politicians. There are no good politicians or public officials, just properly incentivized ones. Most OECD states have managed to reduce corruption by having a credible deterrent in the form of functional judicial systems. Corrupt people go to jail.

Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 11.03.49 AMFor instance, over the last 15 years Kenya has seen a surge in the reporting of corruption scandals but to little effect. The most recent scandal to break is one involving the deputy president (pictured above), who allegedly inflated a hospital construction project by Kshs 11b (US $115m!!!) Since no one gets punished, the fear of getting exposed has little deterrence value. It is common knowledge that “everyone” is corrupt and gets away with it. In such an environment, you are a sucker if you are clean.

The obvious lesson here is that it is not enough to set up anti-corruption commissions. What reduces corruption is the credible threat that the corrupt will be punished.

H/T Tiago Peixoto.

On Predatory Investment in Africa’s Extractive Industries

The U.S. military’s African Center for Strategic Studies has a pretty interesting and detailed report on Sam Pa, his group of companies, and involvement in shady deals in the extractive sector in Africa. In Mr. Pa we have got the Hong Kong/Chinese equivalent of the shady Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler who’s playground is mainly the DRC (Global Witness has a thick dossier on Mr. Gertler; See also an FT piece on his partner, Benny Steinmetz, who recently got (figuratively) burned after a too-good-to-be-true deal went sour in Guinea).

Focusing on Mr. Pa and his business network in several African states, the ACSS report examines the networks and (corrupt) practices of the Hong Kong-based 88 Queensway Group. It outlines Mr. Pa’s business strategy as one based on:

Cultivating relationships with high-level government officials in politically isolated resource-rich states through infusions of cash, promises of billions of dollars in infrastructural development, and support for the security sector [….] Starting in Angola in 2003, Queensway has been engaged in the extractive industries in at least nine African countries, including Guinea, Madagascar, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe.

…… In many ways the prototypical predatory investor, Queensway frequently appears in resource-rich states in Africa where it can operate with high levels of opacity. In Angola and Zimbabwe, for example, few details from the contracts pertaining to Queensway’s investments—reportedly worth up to $9 billion in each country—have ever been disclosed to the public. In states where contracts have been unearthed, such as Guinea and Tanzania, the deals were revealed to be flagrantly unfavorable to the citizens of the host country. Having allegedly bribed African government officials and engaged in illicit arms trafficking and diamond smuggling, Queensway’s deals in Africa have often had a disastrous impact on governance.

You can download the full report here.

HT Financial Times

This is why epidemiologists are the most successful development experts of all time

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Courtesy of the ever-awesome xkcd

(And in this particular degree-off the only way physicists can catch up with the biologists is if they make teleportation a reality (I also appreciate the fast trains, btw). I’d really love to be able to be in either Nairobi or Chicago whenever I want to).

H/T Brett

Quick thoughts on presidential term limits and the political crisis in Burundi

The president of Burundi is about (or not) to join the list of African leaders who have successfully overcome constitutional term limits in a bid to hang on to power. Currently (based on observed attempts in other African countries and their success rate) the odds are roughly 50-50 that Mr. Pierre Nkurunziza will succeed. The last president to try this move was Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso who ended up getting deposed by the military after mass protests paralyzed Burkina’s major cities.

Successful term limit extensions have so far happened in Burkina Faso (first time), Cameroon, Chad, Djibouti, Gabon, Guinea, Namibia, Togo, and Uganda. Presidents have also tried, but failed, to abolish term limits in Burkina Faso (second time), Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Zambia. Countries that are about to go through a term limit test in the near future include Angola, Burundi, Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Liberia, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone. Heads of State in Benin, Cape Verde, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Sao Tome e Principe, Tanzania, and Namibia (after Nujoma) have so far obeyed term limits and stepped down at the end of their second constitutional terms.

To the best of my knowledge only Sudan, The Gambia, Equatorial Guinea, and Eritrea have presidential systems without constitutional term limits. Parliamentary systems in South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Ethiopia, and Botswana do not have limits, although the norm of two terms exists in Botswana and South Africa (and perhaps soon in Ethiopia?).

So what we see in the existing data is that conditional on *overtly* trying to scrap term limits African Heads of State are more likely to succeed than not (9 successes, 6 failures). However, this observation doesn’t tell us anything about the presidents who did not formally consider term limit extensions. For instance, in Kenya (Moi) and Ghana (Rawlings), presidents did not initiate formal debate on the subject but were widely rumored to have tried to do so. So it’s probably the case that presidents who are more likely to succeed self-select into formally initiating public debate on the subject of term limit extension, thereby tilting the balance. And if you factor in the countries that have had more than one episode of term-limited presidents stepping down, suddenly the odds look pretty good for the consolidation of the norm of term limits in Sub Saharan Africa.

I wouldn’t rule out, in the next decade or so, the adoption of an African Union resolution (akin to the one against coups) that sanctions Heads of State who violate constitutional term limits.

So will Nkurunziza succeed? What does this mean for political stability in Burundi? And what can the East African Community and the wider international community do about it? For my thoughts regarding these questions check out my post for the Monkey Cage blog at the Washington Post here.

Correction: An earlier draft of this post listed Zimbabwe as one of the countries without term limits. The 2013 Constitution limits presidents to two terms (with a minimum of three years counting as full term (see Section 91).

Stanford Africa MBA Fellowship

The deadline is June 8th, 2015.

Stanford Graduate School of Business is excited to offer the Stanford Africa MBA Fellowship for the 2015-2016 application cycle. The Fellowship supports up to eight promising African students with financial need in obtaining an MBA at Stanford each year.

The Stanford Africa MBA Fellowship will provide financial support for tuition and associated fees for the two-year MBA Program (approximately $140,000). Within two years of graduating from the MBA Program, Stanford Africa MBA Fellows must return to Africa for at least two years of employment. This is an important aspect of the Fellowship because it assures that recipients will leverage their new skills to make an impact on the ground in Africa.

You can apply here.

Traditional birth attendants and antenatal care in western Kenya

This paper examines the extent to which locally informed intermediaries can be exploited and provided with incentives to change the health-seeking behavior of pregnant women in rural Kenya. Despite Kenya being the largest and most advanced economy of East Africa, maternal and infant health outcomes are typical for those of other sub-Saharan countries, which lag significantly behind the developed world. There is evidence that antenatal care (ANC) is associated with improved maternal health outcomes, yet the majority of women in rural Kenya fail to meet recommendations for ANC timing and use, despite the availability of government subsidized healthcare. I examine whether a local intermediary, whose own incentives might oppose those of the government, can be co-opted to assist the government’s objective of increasing women’s ANC utilization.

I use a randomized controlled trial (RCT) to evaluate a program, which provides financial incentives for TBAs to encourage pregnant women to seek ANC at a formal medical facility. Competition between the TBAs and the formal clinics makes the effect of the program an empirical question, as there is no guarantee that the TBAs will respond to the incentive.

I find that living in a TBA treatment village increases the likelihood of attending the recommended number of visits by 20.7%. Women living in TBA treatment villages are 4.4 percentage points more likely to attend the recommended number of visits than women living in control villages, who attend the recommended number of visits 21.3% of the time. The results of this experiment, the first to study the extent to which TBAs can be motivated to encourage women to attend the prenatal clinic, could have important policy implications. The program’s success suggests that despite having a risk of losing clients, TBAs can be utilized as intermediaries of health facilities. Furthermore, finding that TBAs can induce pregnant women to attend ANC visits indicates that cultural norms, which discourage women going to ANC visits, can be overcome with relatively small financial incentives. By increasing the demand for formal maternal healthcare, TBAs’ encouragement of ANC attendance by women may help achieve improved maternal and child health outcomes.

That’s Georgetown’s Nisha Rai, in an excellent paper on the possibilities of integrating the use of traditional birth attendants with the formal healthcare system in Kenya (and developing countries in general). You can find a summary of the paper at the Bank’s Development Impact blog here.

If you know a policymaker in the health ministry of a developing country, please have them read this paper.

Garissa: #147notjustanumber

A vigil to remember and mourn the Kenyans who lost their lives in the Garissa terror attack.

Date: Tuesday, 7th April 2015
Time: 5pm-9pm.
Venue: Freedom Corner, Uhuru Park.

Bring flowers. Bring handwritten messages,we will have a board to pin them. Carry an umbrella. Dress Warmly,Black if possible. Park your car at All Saints Cathedral or the parking near Uhuru Park main dais. Security will be provided.

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A vigil to remember and mourn the Kenyans who lost their lives in the Garissa terror attack.

Date: Tuesday, 7th April 2015
Time: 5pm-9pm.
Venue: Freedom Corner, Uhuru Park.

Bring flowers. Bring handwritten messages,we will have a board to pin them. Carry an umbrella. Dress Warmly,Black if possible. Park your car at All Saints Cathedral or the parking near Uhuru Park main dais. Security will be provided.

Facebook page here.

Binyavanga Wainaina on remembering victims of the Garissa terror attack

Baragoi. Burnt Forest. Eastleigh. Kapedo. Kariobangi. Kasarani. Kiambaa. Kiambu. Kibera. Kisumu. Likoni. Mandera. Mpeketoni. Murang’a. Naivasha. Nakuru. Ruiru. Trans Mara. Westgate. And others.

Acts of terrorism in these places, whether perpetrated by criminals or the state, were quickly forgotten by Kenyans eager to move on and not deal with the uncomfortable truths around them. It is this reality that has motivated a section of Kenyans on twitter to post names and pictures of victims of the victims of last Thursday’s Garissa University terror attack under the hashtag #147notjustanumber.

Here’s Binyavanga Wainaina reiterating this point over at Africa is a Country:

We are not a nation if we can’t properly and fully memorialize each and every citizen we lose. I want to see the names ages and photographs of those who died in Mpeketoni. Those killed during PEV. Stories. Forgetting is not good. It is in these acts, our public commons reawaken. The politics of saying we are not ready to face ourselves, the fullness of our pain, is the same politics that allows us to ignore it when a Kenyan strips the institution they are given to run, strips it dry, dry, and returns like a zombie, a plastic rubber-band zombie in some new form, to govern somewhere else again.

I want a public again. I want some random church choir knocking on my door at easter to sing at my door. I want to see three million Nairobians flood the streets to cry, and sing, and hug because our children have been killed. I want to stop feeling that we live inside mostly the private. I want never to hear the word self-empowerment again.

…. I want thousands of names inscribed permanently in Uhuru Park. I want each name to have a story. I want to see the names. I want to see the names. Stories. I want to see the names. Photographs. It is not enough to send MPESA to Red Cross. I want to be a citizen of a nation that is not just Electoristan.

My heart is dull with pain, and I feel the pull to cover it all with that hard, now familiar Kenyan cynicism and move on, which really means suck the very remaining soul of it dry.

More on this here.