The DRC is 50 today

The Democratic Republic of Congo is 50 years old. The last 50 years (after they killed Lumumba) have been absolutely disastrous for this vast country in the middle of the Continent; Independence merely replaced the brutality, cruelty and pillage of King Leopold’s men (King Albert II attended the independence day “festivities”) with the brutality and kleptocracy of Mobutu. All I can say is that I hope the future holds a less punishing existence for the country’s 63 million plus.

Congratulations to Congolese people the world over for their enduring spirit. Kofi Olomide, the prolific Congolese soukous musician, sums it up in a quote from Samba: “This is hell’s system. The fire is raging but we don’t get burned.”

The other Continental disaster, Somalia, also turned 50 on Wednesday. No cause for celebration there either.

Kenyan MPs raise their salaries, again

Being a member of parliament in Kenya is one of the most lucrative jobs on the Continent. The men and women of the August house unanimously voted to raise their salaries to US $174, 400 a year – which puts them at par with what US congressmen make. Most of this money will not be taxed. Understandably, lots of Kenyans have cried thieves! Although having the biggest economy in the wider region, per capita GDP in Kenya stands at a dismal US $ 1,600. 50% of Kenyans live below the poverty line. 78% of them live in rural areas; the vast majority of whom survive on rain-fed subsistence agriculture. On average, a child born in Kenya can hope to live to be 58.2.

The only good that can come out of this is that it will incentivize MPs to take their constituents more seriously – losing one’s seat has suddenly become more costly – thereby granting parliament better institutional standing by lowering the MP turnover rates (The idea here is that once they feel secure enough in their seats they may start to take their legislative duties more seriously — I know, wishful thinking). The pay hike may also empower parliamentarians and make them less dependent on party bosses and their patronage networks.

That said, it is still grotesquely obscene that Kenyan MPs make 109 times what their masters – the Kenyan electorate – make on average in any given year. And don’t even get me started on whether these clowns honorable members are worth the 1.1 million shillings they hope to make every month.

economic history… and some people’s lived experience

I am currently doing some research on the economic history of medieval Europe and came across an interesting quote from one Francesco Guicciar commenting on 16th century Spain:

... poverty is great here, and I believe it is due not so much to the quality of the country as to the nature of the Spaniards, who do not exert themselves; they rather send to other nations the raw materials which grow in their Kingdom only to buy them back manufactured by others, as in the case of wool and silk which they sell to others in order to buy them back from them as cloths of silk and wool

The quote reminded me of the thoughts I have whenever I buy Nescafe in Kenyan supermarkets or read about Nigeria importing refined petroleum products.

Raila hospitalized

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga has been hospitalized, apparently due to fatigue. The 65 year-old Mr. Odinga has no publicly known health condition except for his eye problems that have seen him take several trips to Germany for treatment. His aides say that Mr. Odinga will be confined to bed rest for a few days.

Update: The Standard reports that Mr. Odinga has undergone minor surgery to ease pressure on his brain after a minor accident. The BBC says the same. The AP speculates that Mr. Odinga may be suffering from “hydrocephalus, a condition where excessive fluid builds up on the brain. If left untreated, symptoms of the condition include cognitive problems and difficulty walking.” It appears that Mr. Odinga hit his head recently and had to get a hole drilled into his skull to drain fluid that had built up too close to his brain as a result. His aides, doctor and sister in law (one Connie Sigei) insisted that the Prime Minister is in stable condition and will be back on his feet in a few days. Ms. Sigei added that she “brought him boiled maize and he ate it all, drank water and asked for more.”

Obiang is back in the news

The diminutive dictator Brig. Gen. (ret.) Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, president of  Equatorial Guinea since 1979, is back in the news. After the UNESCO fiasco which nearly earned him the title of clown of the month of June Obiang is back again in the news, this time with an American PR agent. The Times reports that Mr. Obiang is attempting to “recast his reputation as a corrupt, repressive leader in a more progressive mold.” His agent, Mr. Davis even told journalists that “If there are political prisoners and no substantive charges against them, they will be freed.”Yeah right.

I suggest that Mr. Davis and his client start by reining in on the playboy son of the president, Little Teodoro. The younger Obiang’s lavish extravagance explains why Equatorial Guinea, a country with a per capita income of US $ 36,600 and a population of just over 0.5 million, has a life expectancy of 43 years, with 77% of its citizens living below the poverty line as of 2006.

The ONE question Obiang should be asked the next time he meets the press is: how hard can it be to run a country of 500,000 people with ALL that money?

Paul Kagame: clown of the month

He is credited for ending the Rwandan genocide. For some time in his presidency he was the regional darling of donors and newsroom editors, being touted as one of the new class of pliable autocrats responsible leaders that were poised to drag the Continent out of abject mediocrity. But absolute power corrupts absolutely. Events like this, this and this are signs that Mr. Kagame is slowly but surely transmogrifying into a bangling and tactless dictator, just like the rest of them. Elections are due in Rwanda later this year which means that Mr. Kagame can only tighten his grip on power and ratchet up his campaign of intimidating the opposition.

For his lack of tact and shameless intolerance of those with different opinions I hereby pronounce Paul Kagame the clown of the month.

the political economy of food aid

Aid Watch has a piece on this very important subject, check it out.

Other stories worth checking out this Friday include Jina Moore’s and the IRIN piece on the food situation in the Sahel.

populism gone mad

The Kenyan parliament today passed a law that empowers the finance minister to fix prices of “essential goods” in an effort to tame unscrupulous traders who exploit wananchi with arbitrary price hikes. That is the story the sponsors of the bill want us to believe. Trade Minister Amos Kimunya has criticized the bill as a bad signal to investors. Kenya, he said, is still committed to the principles of economic liberalization. I concur with Mr. Kimunya’s criticism of the bill. Hayek’s old wisdom about the impossibility of controlling the economy still holds; You can’t fix retail prices without also having to fix the costs of production, transportation, advertising etc. And don’t even get me started on the demerits of allowing politicians – like Finance Ministers – to have this much power over the market.

The market definitely needs responsible regulation but in this instance the best way to protect wananchi, if this is the true aim of parliament, would have been to reduce the barriers of entry in the relevant industries and let competition and the invisible hand of the market drive the prices down. It is the best way to do it. President Kibaki should reject this bill.

UPDATE: For more read Jaindi Kisero of the Nation

failed states index

Foreign Policy, in its July/August issue has 2010’s failed states index. The Continent has 12 of the top 20 worst performers on this index, with Somalia, Chad, Sudan, Zimbabwe and the DRC being in the top five respectively. Kenya is 13th on this index, performing worse than Niger, Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone, among other basket cases. The substantive meaning of the rankings aside (I’d rather be in Kenya than in Sierra Leone on any day), the index is a grim reminder of how badly governed the Continent is. The best ranked mainland African state is Ghana, at number 54. Mauritius leads the Continent at number 30, out of 177.

Also in the FP issue is an exposé of Bozize’s Central African Republic. I used to think that he was doing a relatively good job. Turns out he is full of bucket-loads of horse manure:

“Bozizé has fared no better than his predecessors, ruling a territory the size of Texas with a GDP significantly smaller than that of Pine Bluff, Arkansas.”

And don’t miss out on Ayittey’s ranking of the world’s worst dictators. Our good friend Rob is second only to the crazy guy who runs North Korea.

Lastly, I must say something about my favorite punching bag Idriss Deby’s Chad. Idriss Deby is a study in ineffectual leadership and is on the list of Africa’s many ‘wasted dictatorships.’ In 2006 he successfully conned his way out of the World Bank brokered plan to use revenue from the Chad-Cameroon pipeline to reduce poverty among his country’s extremely impoverished 10.3 million souls. He now uses most of Chad’s oil revenue to fund his poorly-run security forces that remain vulnerable to any rebel group that can land its hands on a technical. But with over 1.5 billion barrels in reserves and a world thirsty for oil, it appears that this Zaghawa “warrior” is here to stay, his incompetence notwithstanding.

The HDI numbers tell it all. The literacy rate in Chad is at a dismal 25%. Life expectancy stands at 48 years. 80% of Chadian’s live on less than a dollar a day. The growth rate of the economy, -1% last year, -0.2% in 2008 and 0.6% in 2007, cannot keep up with the population growth rate of more than 2% (despite a rather high infant mortality rate of 97 deaths/1000 live births) – which means that Chadians’ living standards will continue to decline into the foreseeable future.  The bulk of Chadians (more than 80%) make do with subsistence agriculture. Oil, cotton, cattle and gum arabic are the country’s main export commodities.

sources: FP and The CIA World Factbook