No ICC hearings in Kenya

The ICC Pre-Trial Chamber Judge Ekaterina Trendafilova on Wednesday decided that the trial of suspects of the 2007-08 election violence in Kenya will not be held in the country.

Great move.

I am of the view that holding the hearings in Kenya would have created an unnecessary distraction from the important task of implementing Kenya’s new constitution. Already, the bigwigs accused of masterminding the violence that killed 1300 and displaced over 300,000 Kenyans have ethnicized their predicament. Holding the hearings in Kenya would have handed them an opportunity for a circus of ethnicity-charged rallies and demonstrations in Nairobi.

The ICC continues to be a source of debate in Kenya and across Africa. Many have faulted the court’s apparent bias against African leaders. Some have even called it a form of neocolonialism. While admitting that the court could use a little bit more tact [principally by acknowledging that it cannot be apolitical BECAUSE it is an international court SANS a world government] I still think that it is the best hope of ending impunity on the African continent – at least until African leaders internalize the fact that it is not cool to kill your own people.

Among the cases that should have been handled with a sensitivity to political realities include Sudan and Libya [and may be the LRA in Uganda]. Kenya’s Ocampo Six, the DRC’s Jean-Pierre Bemba and Cote d’Ivoire’s Laurent Gbagbo, on the other hand, should not raise questions of national sovereignty. Murderous dictators and their henchmen do not have internal affairs. In any case sovereignty for many an African country means nothing more than sovereignty for the president and his cronies.

Related posts here and here.

Is Peer Review in Decline?

One more reason for academics to keep blogging….

Glenn Ellison in this paper notes the general decline in the need for academics from top institutions to publish in top journals because they can get citations [hopefully confirming that they were right] by other means – through sites like SSRN [and perhaps even by sharing their works in the blogosphere]

Over the past decade, there has been a decline in the fraction of papers in top economics journals written by economists from the highest-ranked economics departments. This paper documents this fact and uses additional data on publications and citations to assess various potential explanations. Several observations are consistent with the hypothesis that the Internet improves the ability of high-profile authors to disseminate their research without going through the traditional peer-review process.

The author further notes that:

I started this paper by pointing out two trends: economists in several highly regarded departments are publishing fewer papers in the top field journals; and Harvard’s economics department is also publishing fewer papers in the top general interest journals.

Several pieces of evidence bolster the view that one factor contributing to these trends is that the role of journals in disseminating research has been reduced. One is that the citation benefit to publishing in a top general interest journal now appears to be fairly small for top-department authors. Another is that Harvard authors appear to be quite successful in garnering citations to papers that are not published in top journals. The fact that the publication declines appear to be a top-department phenomenon (as opposed to a prolific-author phenomenon) suggests that a top-department affiliation may be an important determinant of an author’s ability to sidestep the traditional journal system.

Inequality, Terrorism and Governance in Nigeria

On June 17th Nigeria experienced its first ever suicide bomb attack. Boko Haram, a militant Islamic group that seeks the imposition of Sharia Law in all of northern Nigeria, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Although the group’s principal aim – at least according to its press releases – is the imposition of Sharia Law, its motivating factors include economic, social and governance issues that the Nigeria’s infamously kleptocratic elite have so far chosen to ignore. According to the Christian Science Monitor:

The “nationalization” of the Boko Haram problem will intensify pressure on elected leaders and security forces to deal decisively with the group and prevent further attacks. Nigerian officials have proposed solutions ranging from crackdowns to outreach programs to amnesty offers. The government has to some extent pursued all of these options. Yesterday former Kano State GovernorIbrahim Shekarauproposed a hybrid approach of sorts, which would rely on intelligence gathering to defeat the group while advancing employment programs to deal with social and political grievances in Northern society.

Whatever course the government pursues, the Boko Haram problem has already led several Northern leaders, including the newly elected Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State, to speak quite bluntly about the North’s serious problems of economic stagnation and political isolation. Northerners have been voicing such concerns for some time, but perhaps now these concerns will reach a broader audience and stimulate a debate that goes beyond just the issue of Boko Haram.

Since the unification of Nigeria in 1914, the north has continued to lag the south in a number of socio-economic indicators. Years of military rule by northern generals did not make things any better. Most of the country’s oil revenue wound up in Swiss bank accounts and as investments in properties in European cities – even as regular folk in Kano, Katsina and Maiduguri, and in the wider northern region, continued to wallow in poverty.

In a sense Boko Haram and its ghastly attacks on civilians and government installations is as much a rejection of Western/Christian education (its name loosely translates to non-Islamic education is a sin) as it is an indictment of northern Nigeria’s leadership. Even by Nigerian standards, the north is doing very badly.

Recently, the governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank, Professor Chukwuma Soludo, chastised the northern elite by noting that the “high and persisting level of poverty in the country is a northern phenomenon.” Nearly all northern states in Nigeria have poverty rates higher than 60%, with some at 90%. Prof. Soludo further added that “if you look at all the indications of development, what constitutes today the North seems to be lagging far behind that the gaps seem to have even widened.

It is hard to ignore the fact that regular southerners are inching ahead of their northern counterparts despite the generous revenue sharing arrangements among Nigeria’s 36 states.

What does this mean for national politics and governance in Nigeria?

Well, for one we know that the apparent north-south political divide in the last election was merely an artifact of presidential politics. Gubernatorial elections revealed that northern elites are also aboard Goodluck Jonathan’s gravy train.

Northern Nigerian elites are as much a problem in the north’s underdevelopment as the historical north-south divide.

In light of this, groups like Boko Haram show that the northern elite in Nigeria can no longer play the north-south card while keeping all the money from the national treasury to themselves. The men and women on the streets and in northern rural areas also want their cut.

I hope Abuja will not bury its head in the sand and pretend that Boko Haram is purely a security problem.

Kenya tried doing the same with the Mungiki group (with extra-judicial executions and all) without much success.

To Abuja I say: you must try to solve the problem you have, not the one you wish you had.

Accountable leadership 1 Abdoulaye Wade 0

Abdoulaye Wade is a study in delegative democracy gone crazy (In the words of Paul Collier, democrazy). Delegative democracy  is the phenomenon of elected leaders going rogue and essentially performing auto-coups (mostly through constitutional gymnastics) in order to entrench themselves in power (see O’Donnell). Leading lights in this regard include Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, the late Frederick Chiluba of Zambia, Vladimir Putin of Russia and Thaksin Shinawatra of Thailand.

Mr. Wade’s latest assault on Senegalese democracy has been his attempts to lower the threshold for the election of a president to a mere 25% down from 50%. He’d much rather win cheap against a fractured opposition in the first round than risk a runoff against a single opposition candidate. After 11 years in power without much to sing about the risk is just too high for the Wade regime. President Wade also wanted to create the position of an elected vice president before the 2012 elections. Many believe that Wade had his son Karim in mind for this new post.

In the end determined opposition protest outside the Senegalese parliament forced the president to withdraw the draft legislation.

If the opposition unites [and that is a big IF], they could beat Mr. Wade in 2012. Frequent power cuts, a flagging economy, rampant inflation and Wade’s brand of crass and tone deaf nepotism (he wants to be succeeded by his own son despite the revolutions the Islamic near-abroad) have served to alienate the aging leader from many voters, particularly in urban areas.

Mr. Wade is expected to run for a third 7-year presidential term next year. He is 85.

Graphical Illustration of China’s global reach

NPR has this cool graphic on China’s global investments [click on image to enlarge].

Notice that Nigeria is among the top destinations of Chinese investments.

In my alternate universe Abuja (the undisputed regional hegemon) is stable and uses this, and the fact that it is also among the most important sources of US-bound crude oil, as leverage to nudge the two biggest global powers in the direction of a more stable and coherent Africa policy.

More on this here.

The new constitution and patronage politics in Kenya

Former president Moi infamously liked warning voters that siasa mbaya maisha mbaya (bad politics leads to a bad life). This was code for vote for the opposition and no roads, no schools and no hospitals for you.

The framers of the new Kenyan constitution must have particularly disliked the power of the presidency in doling out development money and other patronage largesse. According to the Daily Monitor (Ugandan Daily):

“From 2012, it is likely to have the most limited presidency in Africa. The president has only about 10 per cent of the budget to dole out his patronage and fund his pet projects. The bulk of the rest are fixed; both by a constitutional cap, and a negotiation process.”

It will be interesting to see how the Kenyan presidency evolves following this revolutionary clipping of its powers. Already the executive has seen its powers watered down by an increasingly powerful parliament. To reinforce this trend, the judiciary has just seen the appointment of a card carrying reformer as Chief Justice. A powerful judiciary will provide a check not only on the presidency but on the wider executive branch as well – especially the now independent and obscenely corrupt Kenyan ministries.

Credit for the relatively more limited presidency also goes to President Kibaki.

Many forget that for a long period of time Kibaki governed with Moi’s constitutional powers. It is a relief that the limited presidency will now be both de facto and de jure, especially because there are way more Mois than Kibakis vying for the presidency in 2012.

A word of caution, though. Institutions are not automatic fixes to problems of governance. They are like incomplete contracts that have to be reinforced by numerous conventions and “gentleman agreements.” The Kenyan political elite may yet find ways to circumvent the spirit of the new constitution.


When not worrying about jobs, terrorists and reelection, Obama calms babies

This is on the fluffy side of things…

Remember when Obama could do just about anything [including touching MC Hammer]? Well, he still has some of that magic touch – at least when it comes to babies.

HT Huffington Post

Quick hits

1. If you don’t have a summer reading list already, Blattman has one for you. The list is obviously not exhaustive, but two pressing titles I might add are Avner Greif’s Institutions and the Path to the Modern Economy and Gerschenkron’s Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective.

2. In yet another not so nice chapter in the relationship between the Angolans and Congolese, Angola has deported thousands of Congolese. According to IRIN:

The expulsions are symptomatic of the tense relations between Luanda and Kinshasa, rooted in disputes over border demarcation and natural resources. Angola’s alleged loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue due to the unauthorized artisanal exploitation of diamonds is a particular bone of contention.

3. Michelle Obama is in Africa on one of those first lady gigs. Many Africa watchers have complained that the visit does not have any real policy agenda beyond the usual talking points.

I agree.

But I would also like to point out that the failure of Africa to reap an Obama dividend is not just because of the State Dept.’s indifference to Africa but also because Africa lacks a coherent voice in Washington. Is there an Africa lobby? What does it do?

Instead of a calculated strategic response to the election of the first US president of African descent the Continent has swung from euphoria to disappointment over the fact that manna did not fall from heaven.

4. Lastly, the fortunes of the AU force in Somalia appear to be on an upswing. Now if only Somali politicians can get their act together and form a stable government.

Failed states index out, the usual suspects top the list

FP has the annual list of failed states. The Continent has a heavy presence on the list, with the usual suspects like Somalia, Sudan, Chad, Niger and Central African Republic, among the top failures. Also on the list are otherwise stable places like Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, among others.

The list is, in some sense, a reminder that several states out there are in dire straits. Insecurity and poverty continue to be a daily experience of far too many people. But it also raises methodological questions regarding the rankings. Some of the rankings certainly do not make any substantive sense and merely feed into alarmist stereotypes we already have of certain countries or regions of the world.

Methodological issues aside, the list is yet another reminder that despite the recent surge in Afro-optimism, a lot still needs to be done in order to improve the human condition in Africa, among other regions of the world.