africa’s population – the economist’s view

The Economist has two interesting pieces on the demographic trends in Africa. The first article notes that the fertility rates on the continent are finally beginning to come down. The second one discusses the chances that Africa will take advantage of the democratic dividend and execute its own green revolution.

As I have argued before, there is a great deal of economic sense in bringing population growth on the Continent under control – at least until people’s life options have been increased enough so that they can make well informed choices on the number of offspring to have. The usual critics of family planning measures – the Church and conspiracy theorists – should take some time to visit slums or rural homes in which overburdened, dis-empowered daughters of the Continent with little or no economic wherewithal run

will agriculture save africa?

The Atlantic Monthly has a piece on the looming global food crisis – the world population is set to hit over 9 billion by 2050 while grain yields have not been increasing at the rates they used to in the latter decades of the 20th century (Will Malthus ever be right? God forbid!).

The article posits that Africa, with its rather dismal performance in the agricultural sector, presents a good opportunity for the increase in grain yields to add to the global food basket.

check out the short piece here.

edward kennedy, 77, passes on

America has lost one of its most illustrious sons. Ted Kennedy, brother to assassinated president John F. Kennedy, died Tuesday night at home in Massachusetts. Kennedy’s passing on comes at a time when the Democrats are battling to pass comprehensive reforms of America’s healthcare system. The late Ted Kennedy had for long championed the cause of giving affordable healthcare coverage to all Americans.

excellent books

The long silence, dear readers, is because I actually got work to do at my internship over the last few days. That and my brief trip to Zanzibar and the rather unreliable internet we have at the office thanks to our ISP (name withheld).

But while I was away I started reading three excellent books: Wangari Maathai’s The Challenge for Africa, Michela Wrong’s It’s Our Turn to Eat and Jean Oi’s Rural China Takes Off. I like Maathai’s frank take on the many challenges facing the African continent. I wish she were as involved these days on advocacy issues as she was back in the day – but may be even firebrands like this one get jaded after some point. Wrong’s book is a reminder to all who want to change Africa and Africans that it takes more than idealism to do the job. I am loving it. Oi’s book is about how local governments in China managed to break the cycle of underdevelopment to engineer the economic miracle that is the Asian giant.

I have a little over a week at my internship and will soon be posting a piece on my take on the state of the civil society movement in Kenya.

development issues

My promise to write a post on African development is almost becoming like Dr. Dre’s promise to release the Detox album. I promise it will come soon, after I settle on an opinion that is robust enough to withstand more than a few critiques.

For now we should be content listening to much wiser development experts – like Blattman, TN Srinivasan (the man who taught me intermediate microeconomics) and cynic in chief Bill Easterly.

A few years ago I used to conflate economic development with modernization. I thought that all it took to make vibrant economies in the global south was the importation of technology, material goods and ideas of governance from the more developed parts of the globe. But time has taught me that historical lock-in effects matter. The global south’s geography, historical poverty and social structures have created path dependencies that will take a lot of time to undo. This is not to say that we should give up on the idea of accelerated development. What I am suggesting is that as we do this we should have it in mind that certain things take time to change and that short-term failures disappear when you look at the long-term picture.

In other news, the conflict in Darfur has become less sexy and so it is no longer all over the news. But Darfurians are still suffering. The same applies to the Congo. Here is yet another reminder that the madness in the land of Mobutu continues unabated.

a most sickening story

The Post has a story on the worsening state of the rape epidemic in eastern DRC. A government operation in the area designed to alleviate the suffering of eastern Congolese in the hands of a myriad rebel movements went awry when the same soldiers entrusted with the task of protecting civilians started running around raping women and girls. The story quotes a local who said that over 90% of the rape cases can be attributed to government soldiers.

The US foreign minister, Hillary Clinton, is scheduled to visit the region today (Tuesday) and has expressed her government’s commitment to fight against sexual violence in the DRC, especially in the eastern provinces. The conflicts in the Congo have been the deadliest since WW II, with an estimated 5.4 million deaths as of 2008.

In other news, Uganda is facing a public health nightmare with the emergent of the strange nodding disease. Read more on this here.

links that I liked

The East African, my favorited regional weekly, this week has a few interesting pieces. Of course there are the regulars – Wanyeki and Charles Onyango-Obbo.  There was also this one that mentioned in passing Kenya’s insouciant approach to threats to its territorial integrity.

Wronging rights has a thing on some crazy Chechen and a tiger.

And please read AfricanLoft, if you haven’t yet today.

how hard can it be?

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) continues to run amok in the great lakes region, killing, maiming and abducting civilians at will. The governments of Uganda, The DRC, Central African Republic and Southern Sudan have proven unable to provide a solution to the LRA problem once and for all. A joint military operation by the governments of Uganda and the DRC early this year only served to fuel further attacks from the rebel movement – leading to 500 deaths, according to a UN report.

All this makes one wonder: How hard can it be to conclusively deal with the LRA? They need not be completely routed. The huge UN peacekeeping force in the DRC and the very active Ugandan military must be capable of reducing the human toll from the operations of LRA. And more importantly, isn’t it time that Uganda made up its mind on whether it wants to negotiate or pursue a military solution to the conflict with Kony and his murderous gang? Kampala’s indecision continues to cause hundreds of deaths in the wider great lakes region. Museveni should either agree to talk with Kony or take the fight to him (conclusively – and this can be done, with proper planning and commitment. The LRA is not al-Qaeda or al-Shabab). Fighting a war of attrition with a rebel movement whose MO is to maim and abduct young children is simply not an option.

the au should get serious on somalia

The international community has neglected the people of Somalia for almost two decades. Throughout this period the country has been ruled by a bunch of thuggish clan-based warlords. Nobody really knows the exact death toll of the mess the country descended into after the ouster of strongman Siad Barre in the early 1990s. The only time the country came close to be governed by one central government was when Islamists under the Islamic Courts Union ruled large swathes of the country for most of 2006. However, the ICU’s links with Al Qaeda earned them the wrath of the US, which asked Ethiopia to invade and chase away the Islamists.

Now the country has an interim government that spends most of its time dodging militants and shifting from town to town. Somalia’s troubles are rapidly being transferred to the wider Eastern African region. Already the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya is stretched to three times its capacity, putting enormous strain on the Kenyan government and relief agencies. Piracy off the Somali coast is yet another direct result of the anarchy within Somalia. And perhaps most worrisome of all, the threat of terrorist attacks on capitals in the region -  by al-Shabab – is causing many security agents in the region sleepless nights.

It is time the African Union took the Somali peace initiative more seriously. For starters it should urge Eritrea to stop funding the Islamists and then step up its own peacekeeping operations in the country (by sending in more troops). After security – or some semblance of security – has been restored then it should aggressively pursue a pragmatic solution to the country’s conflicts, even if it means splitting it into two like those in Somaliland will most likely want.