Dictatorship and Disease

Most Bad things go together.

Like Keating at FP, I am unwilling to make any causal claims linking dictatorship to disease or vice versa but suffice it to say that most people who live under dictatorships – in Chad, Zimbabwe, Myanmar, North Korea, etc – do live despite great odds occasioned by their respective governments’ incompetence and runaway lack of accountability.

It is not obvious that democracy necessarily leads to good outcomes. In this regard I agree with Huntington that it is not the type of government that matters but the degree of government. China and Rwanda, for instance, are competent autocracies with high degrees of government. They also register much better outcomes than many nominal democracies out there

(Just for the record, this is not to say that we should not promote democracy. Despite the sobering reality of this world, I believe that everyone should do all in their capacity to help disperse power whenever they see it being concentrated in one individual or institution — paraphrasing my officemate Tomer).

khalwale re-elected

Bonny Khalwale has won back his Ikolomani parliamentary seat. Mr. Khalwale lost his seat after the courts nullified his election in 2007 on account of irregularities.

What does this mean for Kenyan national politics?

My answer is that it is hard to tell. The results will certainly dent Deputy Premier Mudavadi’s claim to be the voice of Western Province. The outcome also reflects badly on Premier Odinga who had staked his reputation in the election by campaigning repeatedly in the constituency for the ODM candidate – who came second. The biggest winner here is Eugene Wamalwa who has been angling for the title of ethnic chief spokesperson for Western Province. It just might serve to increase his chances of being nominated as a vice presidential candidate (by either Uhuru or Kalonzo) in next year’s election.

That said, all politics is local. Clan politics and Western-specific regional and sub-ethnic squabbles definitely played a role in this election. Plus, Mr. Khalwale can always be bought off into the Odinga bandwagon come next year. That is the nature of Kenyan politics.

As regards next year’s general election the field is still wide open. All bets are off until candidates hand in their presidential nomination papers. It is a good thing the constitution has a ban on post-submission negotiation of posts (and alliances).

Spring quarter WGAPE Conference, UCSD

I am currently in San Diego attending the Spring Quarter WGAPE conference at UCSD.

WGAPE  (the Working Group in African Political Economy) brings together west coast-based faculty and advanced graduate students in Political Science and Economics who combine deep field research experience in Africa with training in political economy methods (Just one more reason why I am glad I made the decision to attend grad school at Stanford).

Current and previous conference papers can be found here.

WGAPE alums include Chris Blattman, Kimuli Kasara and Kim yi Dionne, among others.

Aid Watch winds up

I hope that William Easterly and Laura Freschi of Aid Watch will reconsider resuming blogging in the near future. Their insights on development matters have been most valuable. I remember, as a college student in wintry New Haven, experiencing a change in my approach to development issues after reading The White Man’s Burden. I read it a few months after reading The End of Poverty while volunteering in the summer at a hospital in eastern Ghana.

I wonder how things would have turned out – as far as my opinion goes in the Easterly-Sachs debate – if I had read the two books in reverse.

Although the blog’s skepticism over interventionist prescriptions oftentimes left me jaded about the prospect of ending poverty in our time, I liked the diversity of the subject coverage and the authors’ dogged commitment to holding aid do-gooders’ feet to the fire.

Finding a substitute for Aid Watch will be hard.

will the latest land grab help africa?

Update: You can find individual country reports from the Oakland Institute, a California based think tank, here.

I am on record as having reservations about the latest scramble for Africa African governments leasing vital arable land to foreign companies and governments (esp. in the face of high levels of food insecurity in the region).

Like many, my first reaction was to protest against these land deals. Like most natural-resource concessions on the Continent, they appeared to favor only the foreigners and a tiny clique of well placed individuals in African governments – at the expense of the many.

But I am beginning to have second thoughts. This latest land grab on the continent maybe the catalyst of an African green revolution. Most African governments gave up on non cash-crop agriculture in the 1970s. Some, like Nigeria, abandoned agriculture wholesale and quickly became net exporters of agricultural goods. Bad policy (see Bates) and non-agricultural resources (mostly oil and metals) were to blame.

While my general skepticism remains, here are potential upsides:

  1. Commercialization of non cash-crop agriculture: The vast majority of agricultural production in Africa takes place in smallholder farms that are hard to finance or insure (tea, coffee, and other cash crops get all the money). Their small sizes also limit the economic feasibility of improvements such as mechanization, irrigation, etc. The advent of commercial production of food crops in the region will have market effects, for sure. Agricultural SM&Es and even Big Agriculture will bring much needed capital to this vital sector of the economy.
  2. Land consolidation: This is already happening (and is the main source of my skepticism regarding the benefits of these deals). With consolidation comes economics of scale, R&D, mechanization, etc. I hope that African governments will ensure that this latter day enclosure movement takes place in a humane manner. It is in their own interest since most of these governments’ political bases reside in the countryside and live on subsistence agriculture. Consolidation might also spur further growth by creating demand for more goods (people earn wages and their are no longer producing their own food). Remember that specialization determines the extent of the market (Adam Smith).
  3. Technological diffusion: With commercialization will come irrigation, mechanization, use of fertilization, R&D, etc that will most certainly diffuse to the local agricultural sector. Rain-fed agriculture when you have the Nile, the Niger, the Voltas, the Congo, the Zambezi, Tana, Athi, etc, is so pre-Mesopotamia.
  4. Political reforms: In my view, one of the key impediments to political reforms in Africa has been the persistence of what Hyden called the “uncaptured peasantry.” A landed peasantry that can live off the land allows politicians to play with the macro-economy like there is no tomorrow. If the people get off the land, the general performance of the national economy will have a bigger impact on their lives. Suddenly, reaction to stratospheric inflation rates and other failures in the macroeconomy will not be confined only to urban centres. This will, in part, serve to end Africa’s tyranny of the countryside – a situation in which ethnic chiefs elected from the countryside ignore the underrepresented urban dwellers – and spur real democratic accountability.

Discussion of the downside of these deals is already out there. It also helps to look at the potential upside (at least in the long-run). I remain convinced that the real pro-poor growth in Africa will come from SM&Es and big business, whether in agriculture or other sectors.

electoral democracy and inflation in africa

UPDATE: A related paper is here. [HT Julie]

Central bank independence is still the exception rather than the rule in most of Africa. This then raises the question of what effects elections – with the high associated costs of buying votes – have on the inflation rate.

For instance, Uganda has been experiencing inflation (a.k.a walk to work) riots following Museveni’s reelection. Many in Uganda and beyond have attributed the hike in the cost of living not just to global trends (food and oil prices) but also to Museveni’s massive reelection budget. Just before the Ugandan elections in February the president doled out cash like he was “printing his own money.”

Next door in Kenya rumors abound that the recent hike in oil prices, the failure to resettle IDPs and other forms of grand corruption are related to politicians amassing a war chest for next year’s general election.

This raises the question: Is there a correlation between election years and inflation in Africa?

My first stab at this reveals rather weak correlations between election years and trends in inflation rates in a number of African states. (Shown below are Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, Senegal). The vertical dotted lines indicate election years.

In the regressions different lags produce different results.

That said, it appears that competitive elections are significantly correlated with hikes in the inflation rates for up to three years (elections are “competitive” if the incumbent gets less than 2/3 of the vote).

Given the fact that Museveni’s vote share was trending downward in 1995, 2001 and 2006 (75%, 69% and 59% respectively), the NRM leader must have panicked and opened the floodgates for this past election.

Election monitoring and international sanctions against cheating have made the stealing of elections a very costly endeavor. But politicians are smart. If you can’t stuff the ballot boxes you can certainly intimidate voters or buy them off.

My hope is that with time the buying off of voters option will become institutionalized and made impartial to party ID.

tapping africa’s potential

As promised here’s a brief note on the conference on Africa at Stanford.

Most of the speakers (esp. Fred Lwaniker of the Africa Leadership Academy and former HP CEO Carly Fiorina) reiterated Achebe’s take that the trouble with Africa is simply and squarely a problem of leadership. There is hope though. People like Lamido Sanusi, Nigeria’s central bank governor and the current central banker of the year. Mr. Sanusi has played a major role in cleaning up the Nigerian banking sector in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

Chris Udry of Yale talked about the all important agricultural sector in Africa. Over 60% of Africans depend on agriculture for their livelihood. The sector has however been largely ignored on the Continent over the last three decades. In personal conversations with Chris he pointed out that this is illustrated by the number of Agricultural Economics PhDs graduating these days. His takeaway point was that African agriculture can be strengthened by having strong land tenure systems, adoption of fertilizer and other farm implements and by availing finance to farmers. All these efforts will, however, require consolidation of farming. Mechanization on a small scale is expensive. Plus no bank will finance a farmer with one acre and two cows.

The third and last broad theme of the conference addressed the investment opportunities in Africa. Business leaders from fields as diverse as ICT, consulting, finance and social entrepreneurship talked about the high margins and potential for return on investment. Most importantly, these business leaders noted that the challenges to investment and growth in the region can be overcome. MTN is operating a successful mobile operation in Nigeria despite the country’s power woes. Finance is thriving in Kenya despite high levels of corruption. For the most part the high margins more than make up for these high operating costs.

africa is open for business

There has been a lot of positive talk about business in Africa lately.

Mckinsey came out with its big report in June 2010. That was followed by the release of Steve Radelet’s Emerging Africa, a story of the 17 African countries that have the political and economic fundamentals right. Most recently the Economist has highlighted the fact that among the top ten fastest growing economies in the world over the next decade, seven will be African.

Keeping in the same vein the innovative African Leadership Academy has organized a conference at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR).

The keynote address this morning was by Jeff Sachs via skype. Sachs noted that microfinance was oversold to the global south and that the current backlash is sort of warranted, but that it is overblown.

He also pointed out, rightfully, that pro-poor growth as currently understood “cannot refashion the economy.”

I oftentimes disagree with Sachs’ proposals for ending poverty, but on this point (and as I have written before) he is right. The eradication of poverty in Africa is contingent on sustainable job creation by SMEs and big business.

Other big names at the conference include the Bank’s Devarajan, Mckinsey’s Leke, Africa.com’s Clarke, Chris Udry of Yale, Paul Romer of Stanford, among others.

The conference website is here.

More on this later tonight (west coast time).

general kianga should be a little bit embarrassed by this

The Kenyan army is one of the most professionalized on the Continent. When their counterparts across the region were going nuts with politics through most of the 60s, 70s and 80s they opted instead to stay in the barracks. The coup attempt of 1982 died before it began. Just to illustrate how disinterested they are in politics, many Kenyans, including yours truly, cannot name the top generals in the armed forces.

But I think they are taking their dormancy too far. Uganda illegally occupied the Kenyan island of Migingo a while back. Now they are trying to annex yet another Kenyan island.

Most recently the Daily Nation is reporting that a group of Ethiopian tribesmen who attacked and killed 20 Kenyans within Kenyan territory stopped Kenyan officials from visiting a Kenyan village on the Kenyan side of the border.

“Prime Minister Raila Odinga and five Cabinet ministers were barred from accessing a Kenyan village occupied forcibly by Ethiopian tribesmen for fear of being attacked.”

Really? Seriously?

Where is the Kenyan army?

africans should hold their noses and support the icc

Quoting the Economist:

These days the ICC’s biggest opponents are in Africa, which provides the court with its biggest group of members (31 out of 114) and is the scene of all the cases currently being investigated or prosecuted: in the CAR, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Libya, Sudan and Uganda. Accusing the court of unfairly targeting African countries, the 53-member African Union (AU) is again calling for “African solutions to African problems”. It particularly dislikes the court’s increasing willingness to go after sitting presidents. At its summit next month it plans to extend the authority of its African Court of Justice and Human Rights to cover criminal as well as civil cases. International lawyers such as Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch, a New York-based lobby, see this as an attempt to circumvent the ICC.

It may not work. The reason so many African cases are before the court is not because of bias; all the ICC’s cases have been referred to it either by the UN Security Council or by the countries themselves. It is because the standards of justice in Africa are often poor. Courts in many parts of the continent are packed with pliant judges keen to do their masters’ bidding. Moreover, attempts to create a regional system of African justice have so far failed. The African Court, under the AU’s aegis, has never issued a ruling of note. The AU’s pledge to ensure that Hissène Habré, held responsible for thousands of deaths as Chad’s president in the 1980s, is brought to justice has not been fulfilled. The Southern African Development Community’s tribunal, set up in 2005, has been virtually suspended since Zimbabwe refused to accept its ban on the expropriation of white farms and the 15-country regional club proved reluctant to enforce its rulings.

Many across the Continent have opposed international involvement in Africa’s affairs. Most of these Afro-nationalists have been dictators and those who depend on them, with a few true African nationalists on the fringe. My take is that Africa needs a conscience, regardless of where it comes from. As things stand tiny Botswana is the only nation that aspires to stand for justice. President Khama has condemned Mugabe, Bashir and those of their ilk.

South Africa, Nigeria, Ethiopia and the DRC, all potential continental leaders by virtue of their size, have been dismal failures at this task.

The ICC might be misguided in its attempts to decouple justice and politics. It might even bring terrible memories of the pre-sixties for those of our parents’ generation (calls of neocolonialism are all over the place). It may also be patently biased against African autocracy. But for now it is all most African peasants have against the goons that run their countries. Those who care about justice and accountability on the Continent should hold their noses and support the efforts of the court to give a voice to the voiceless.