The World Bank Group Africa Fellowship Program

The Bank has an exciting fellowship for PhD students from the Continent.

According to the Bank’s website:

Fellows will spend a minimum of six months at the World Bank in Washington, D.C. getting hands-on experience in development work. This includes knowledge generation and dissemination, design of global and country policies and the building of institutions to achieve inclusive growth in developing countries. While benefitting from research and innovation in multiple sectors, Fellows will also work on economic policy, technical assistance, and lending for eliminating poverty and increasing shared prosperity. Special attention will be given to work with Fragile and Conflict-Affected States.

More on this here.

On the quality of higher education (and human capital development) in Africa

This post first appeared on the African Development Bank’s Integrating Africa Blog where I am a regular contributor. 

UPDATE: I got an email from readers working with the Regional Initiative in Science and Education (RISE), exactly the kind of collaboration that I am saying is much needed in Africa. Check them out here.

According to The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2012-2013, the highest ranked university in Africa, the University of Cape Town, is 113th in the world. The ranking system employs 13 performance indicators that take into account universities’ core functions, including “research, knowledge transfer and international outlook.” Among the leading 400 world academic institutions, there are only four from Africa, all in South Africa. As a region, Africa only has 35 scientists and engineers per million inhabitants, compared with 168 in Brazil, 2,457 in Europe and 4,103 in the United States. The region is clearly behind as far as knowledge production and dissemination is concerned, producing only 1.1 percent of the world’s scientific knowledge, despite comprising more than 13 percent of the global population.

At barely over 8 percent, Africa’s gross enrollment in tertiary institutions of learning is the lowest of any region in the world (UNESCO, 2011). The average enrollment rate for developing countries is 23 percent, and that for advanced countries is 74 percent. Africa’s poor showing in the higher education sweepstakes is both a cause and effect of the region’s poor economic environment. The massive cuts in higher education funding in the wake of the structural adjustment programs of the 1980s and 1990s, even as enrollment more than tripled between 1991 and 2005, have had an adverse impact on quality. And in turn, the lack of high quality tertiary level education has starved the region of high skills needed for efficient allocation of factors of production thereby stunting improvement in productivity, high value addition and research and development. Africa devotes less than 1 percent of its GDP to research and development.

Data from 33 countries for which it is available show that tertiary education financing in the region has declined from a high of US $6,800 per student per year in 1980 to just about $981 in 2005. Over the same period the World Bank decreased its education lending from 17 percent in 1985-89 to just 7.5 percent currently (this is despite the fact that the World Bank nearly doubled its education lending between 2008 and 2009). The decline in public funding in the face of increasing demand for higher education has led to the proliferation of private universities of dubious standards and a bias towards perceived “soft” fields. In 2004 a meager 28 percent of students were enrolled in perceived “hard” disciplines in the sciences and engineering.

A 2008 study of 12 countries showed an increase in public universities from 113 to 188 between 1995 and 2008. Over the same period private universities ballooned from 14 to 107. This rapid increase in the number of universities in the region has not been matched by an increase in the number of trained teaching staff or facilities such as laboratories, libraries, and the like. Indeed, most of the new universities have tended to specialize in vocational subjects that require very little capital and human resource investment. To put it mildly, there is a great mismatch between the region’s development needs and the type of graduates it produces each year.

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An impression of the proposed Konza City in Kenya

The shortage of skills permeates nearly all skill levels, and could get worse as the region’s economy continues to grow over the next two decades. The case of Kenya is illustrative. The country has an ambitious plan to be the information and communication technology (ICT) hub of Eastern Africa (dubbed the “Silicon Savannah”) complete with a proposed $10 billion techno-city (Konza City) situated about 60 kilometres southeast of Nairobi. Already ICT multinationals, including IBM, Microsoft, Google and Intel, have their regional headquarters in Kenya. All this sounds good, except the lack of local skills. IBM’s research lab in Kenya has had to source for top talent among graduates in computer science, electrical engineering, mathematics, and data scientists from American universities. There is still a shortage of required skills among graduates of Kenyan universities. Quality assurance is also lacking, as recent news reports of “theses for hire” have demonstrated.

As the Kenyan case suggests, the lack of sufficient investment in high quality tertiary education has adversely impacted Africa’s ability to realize its economic potential. A 2005 study showed that a one-year increase in the higher education stock of the region could boost growth rate by about 0.63 percentage points. This adds up to an overall increase in income by about 12 percent over five years. For the region to take off economically there is need for greater investment in quality higher education that will train workers for the 21st century economy. But improving the quality of higher education in the region will be a very costly affair. On their own, the region’s countries lack both the resources (on account of their small economies) and demand (on account of their population sizes) to justify the types of investments required. This is where regional cooperation comes in.

Cross-border educational exchanges are not new in Africa, and go back to the pre-independence era. For generations non-Senegalese francophone students have studied in Senegal, seen as a cheap way of getting quality education at par with diplomas from France. Uganda, with East Africa’s top university, Makerere, hosts legions of Kenyan students, eager to avoid congestion and high costs back home. South Africa, with its many quality institutions is also a preferred destination for students from across the continent. These historical cross-border exchanges have led to the formation of regional associations of higher education – the francophone Conseil Africain et Malgache pour l’Enseignement Superieur (CAMES); Inter-University Council of East Africa (IUCEA); Southern African Regional Universities Association (SARUA); and inter-university cooperation under the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU). Continent-wide, the 208-member Association of African Universities (representing 45 countries) is the umbrella organization of the region’s institutions of higher learning.

These associations need to be strengthened and empowered as drivers of regional harmonization of higher education both to facilitate cross-border inter-university mobility of both teachers and students and guarantee quality assurance. As a 2007 World Bank report aptly noted, “regional quality assurance networks are particularly relevant to Africa because of human resource constraints.” On this score the European Higher Education Area provides a possible model. The just over 10 years old Bologna process is working towards ensuring inter-university mobility (in terms of courses, qualifications, and periods of study) as well as a uniform quality assurance standard. In the African context, a continent-wide area of higher education is infeasible because of language and logistical constraints. However, sub-regional areas of higher education, based on the existing associations, provide a possible avenue to invest in a few good institutions of higher learning that can have a demonstrative effect on national institutions as well set high standards of learning. The associations themselves can also serve as certification bodies to ensure a uniform quality assurance standard (see here).

The announcement in late July 2013 of the creation of a new US $154.2 million multinational science, innovation and technology Pan African University (PAU) in the next five years is therefore welcome. (The African Development Bank (AfDB) has pledged a $45 million grant towards the effort.) PAU will be structured around existing institutions of higher learning across Africa’s five sub-regions. Basic sciences, technology and innovation will be based in East Africa; earth and life sciences including health and agriculture in West Africa; governance, humanities and social sciences in Central Africa; water and energy sciences including climate change in North Africa; and space sciences in Southern Africa.

Thus far, discussions over regional integration of systems of higher education have tended to view tertiary institutions as tools for regional economic and political integration – be it in East Africa, Europe or East Asia. However, the creation of stronger regional areas of higher education – especially in a region like Africa – can also be an economically efficient way of facilitating greater investment in higher education to match the demands of a 21st century economy. It is encouraging that current trends signal a move in this direction. University systems in Africa’s sub-regions would be a good place to start.

I conclude with a caution. The rapid increase in the number of public and private universities in Africa over the last two decades has come at the expense of other post-secondary institutions of learning such as polytechnics (this shift has occurred to a lesser extent in francophone Africa than anglophone Africa). In many countries governments have simply converted polytechnics and other constituent colleges into fully-fledged universities. This trend is worrying, especially given the fact that the vast majority of high school leavers on the continent do not make it to university. The low quality of high school education in the region (as demonstrated by the recent mass student failures in Liberia and Tanzania) is yet another reason why these “bridge” tertiary institutions are needed, both to prepare students for university and to impart valuable skills for those that do not eventually make it to university.

The rush to invest in university education should not distract from the fact that vocational post-secondary institutions, such as polytechnics, are an important component of human capital development, even in advanced countries as is the case in Germany (with its impressive “dual system” of training codified in the Vocational Training Act of 1969). As African economies move from dependence on primary commodities to manufacturing and technology, there will be need for skilled workers at all occupational levels. Doing away with vocational post-secondary institutions will only serve to further inhibit the development of adequate and relevant human capital to match the increased demand for skilled workers.

There is no way around the basics: Development will take time

I just read Chris Blattman’s response to the UK Prime Minister’s op-ed in the Journal. It reminded me of a lot of the things that I have been reading lately in preparation for my fieldwork (My dissertation will tackle the subject of legislative (under)development in Africa, with a focus on the Kenyan and Zambian legislatures).

Cameron’s sentiments in the op-ed are emblematic of the problems of development assistance. Like in all kinds of foreign intervention, developed states often try to externalize their institutions (and more generally, ways of doing things). These attempts often ignore the lived realities of the countries being assisted.

Forgetting the history of his own country (think autocratic monarchs, monopolies, limited suffrage), Cameron thinks that democracy, human rights and free markets (all great things) will magically create jobs in the developing states of the world. They don’t. In fact, they often lag the job creation process. For development assistance to be effective it must eschew these feel-good approaches to the problem of underdevelopment.

Blattman is spot on on a number of points:

  1. Unchecked leaders are bad for economic development (this is why I am so much into PARLIAMENTS!!!): Also, democracy is NOT synonymous with limited government. Heads of state like Queen Victoria or Hu Jintao or Bismarck or even Seretse Khama were in no measure democrats. However, they reined under systems with strong (sometimes extra-constitutional) checks to their power. That made a difference.
  2. Institutions rule, yes, but the right kinds of institutions: 1688 moments do not drop out of the sky. They are often preceded by decades if not centuries of civil strife, economic change and plain old learning. Institutional development takes time. Plus each society requires its own unique and appropriate mix of institutional arrangements to meet unique economic and social needs. A procrustean approach to institutional development (embodied in global capacity building) will inevitably fail. Institutional development must never be allowed to be captured by those who think that we can transform Chad simply by having them adopt Swedish institutions.
  3. Growth will require creation of jobs, i.e. industrial development: The poor countries of the world need real jobs for high school-leavers and other less educated people. The present focus on the “sexy” entrepreneural sectors – whether they are small businesses for the poor or tech hubs for the very highly educated – as the engines for growth in the developing world is misguided. I reiterate, starting a business is a very risky venture that should be left to the wealthy and the occasional dare devil. The poor in the global south need stable 9-5 jobs. Lots of them.

And lastly, where do strong institutions come from? There is no easy answer to this question. What we know is:

  1. History matters: Present countries with a long history of stateness have a better track record of building strong institutions for development. Yes, they may not always be democratic, but countries with a long history of centralized rule have strong states (and institutions) that deliver for their people (for more on this see Englebert and Gennaioli and Rainer).
  2. Democracy does not always create strong institutions: Since 1945 many have chosen to forget the fact that universal suffrage is a pretty recent phenomenon in the political history of the world. For the longest time world polities were ruled by power barons who held de facto power (as opposed to the procedural de jure power in democracies). When democracy came along after the Enlightenment the resulting structures of rule often reflected these de facto configurations of power. Over time institutions in these countries were cemented enough to allow for complete outsiders like say the current president of the United States to be elected without upsetting the balance of power (in another era he would have had to have mounted a coup). This is the challenge of the democratization in the new post-WWII states. How do you make democracy serve the interests of the people, rather that purely that of the elite? How do you use democracy to create strong institutions? Is this even possible? And if not, what other options do we have?

nairobi blasts were grenade attacks

The Daily Nation reports that the blasts at a “NO” rally in Uhuru Park, Nairobi were caused by grenades. This confirms Kenyans’ worst fear – that the explosions were not accidents but an organized attack on those opposed to the draft constitution. One hopes that Kenyan politicians will be sober-minded as the relevant authorities investigate this incident. The last thing we need is careless finger-pointing and sabre-rattling.

I hope that the president and his prime minister will follow on their promise to bring those responsible to book. This is a potentially dangerous attack on Kenya’s young and troubled democracy. Freedom of expression is one of the key pillars of civilized society. This is an attack on every Kenyan’s freedom of expression. Those opposed to the draft constitution should be allowed to do so openly and as loudly as they can, as long as they are within the limits of the law.

Politicians all over Kenya are currently on campaign mode for or against the draft constitution. The referendum on the new document will be held on the 4th of August this year. The main sources of division in the proposed constitution include land management, devolution of power from the centre, inclusion of Kadhi’s courts to adjudicate on Muslim family law and the existence of a loophole that could allow for the legalization of abortion.

please do away with the “omnipresent smells of donkey dung”

Big business and economic development in “pristine lands” is awful. Especially if you grew up with the comforts of indoor plumbing and general over-abundance of the purest hedonistic-capitalist kind. It is only when you have the choice to pop in and out of “tropical obscurity” that you would find the intellectual courage to defend a way of life that is just above that of man circa 1750 A.D. Suddenly you find yourself forgetting the basic fact that it is underdevelopment that makes infant mortality, HIV infection rates, gender inequality and a whole lot of other maladies most acute in your presumed tropical paradise.

I am beginning to read things to the effect that the development of a port in Lamu (Kenya) is bad – both for the environment and the local people and their culture. I don’t buy most of the stuff though. The likes of Gettleman want us to believe that people in places like Lamu are inherently anti-development. According to him the people of Lamu “say they are not especially well suited for the mechanized world.” Good for them. They would much rather live with the “omnipresent smells of donkey dung” than have a modern port constructed in their district. This is total horse manure.

Firstly, the environmental costs of having a modern port in Lamu will surely be outweighed by the socio-economic benefits. Oil exports from Uganda and Southern Sudan, among other trading opportunities in the wider region will surely create jobs in the area. Secondly, why should we assume that exposure of Lamu culture to the wider (albeit still not completely apparent) Kenyan Culture is necessarily bad? Aren’t cultures supposed to change with time? Plus if Lamu culture cannot keep up after such an encounter it should be allowed to go the way of the dodo. That is why we build museums.

If it can be done – as it should – the construction of Kenya’s second port in Lamu should be a foregone conclusion. The Kenyan government should make this crystal clear to all the environmentalists and anthropologists concerned.

lessons not learned

It has been 25 years since the 1984-85 Ethiopian famine that inspired Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to write the song do they know it’s christmas?

The Ethiopian government is marking the anniversary in the most appropriate way: by appealing for food aid from the international community to assist the more than 6.2 million of its citizens who are faced with starvation sans food aid. Yes, over the last 25 years the government of Ethiopia has not been able to put in place systems to guarantee its people food security. It is almost like 1985 never happened. Agriculture  (which is dominated by coffee) accounts for over 40% of GDP and makes up 60% of Ethiopian exports (CIA factbook). Now, I am no expert on agricultural economics or on Ethiopia per se but I am willing to bet a few hundred shillings that Addis must be favoring cash-cropping over basic food security. I guess it is just a lot easier to tax coffee exports than peasant agriculture – especially if you have an expensive autocratic system to maintain.

I say food aid should be conditioned on Meles Zenawi loosening his grip on power. Just like food aid during the last famine helped prolong the civil war at the time (see Alex de Waal), giving Zenawi food aid without any preconditions will just continue to perpetuate the very system that has been unable to guarantee food security for Ethiopians. Sen’s beliefs on autocracies and famines are partly true. Ethiopians continue to have these cycles of famine because Addis does not have to listen to the average peasant in Afar.

This does not mean that we should heartlessly sit back and watch millions of people die. No, those that can should assist as many people as is possible. However, while at it, the international community should insist on fairer government in Addis. It doesn’t have to be about regime change through elections or those other democratic stuff. All is needed is a guarantee of the chance for average Ethiopians to live decent lives without having to worry about major famines every decade or so.

cannibals in zimbabwe?

The economist reports…

“On one occasion, 15 armed invaders, banging on metal objects and chanting war songs, forced their way into Mr Freeth’s house, threatening to burn it to the ground, kill the two men present, rape the women and eat the three children asleep in their beds. Thanks to an earlier beating, Mr Freeth, an emaciated, soft-spoken man of 40, has never recovered his sense of smell. Mr Campbell, 76, was so badly thrashed that his memory is impaired.”

I had absolutely no idea that Zims were into eating little children. But then again it could just be a case of some air-head Economist reporter (and his/her editors) clinging to the notion of cannibalistic Africans irrationally inclined to commit rape and murder. May they soon realize that the world has moved on.

And dwelling on the issue of white farmers in Zimbabwe, I think it might be time for everyone to look at the facts and accept the truth for what it is. It is true that Robert Mugabe and his marauding thugs have committed economic and other crimes by dispossessing thousands of white Zimbabwean farmers of their land. But it is also true that a tiny section of Zimbabweans who happen to be white own(ed) a disproportionate percentage of the arable land in the country. Add into this imbalance the fact that the land may have been acquired through questionable means a few decades back by the ancestors of these farmers and you have yourself an explosive situation.

It is no wonder that even Morgan Tsvangirai (the reformist Premier of Zim) is, according to the Economist, “blowing hot and cold” on the issue. He knows that he cannot, with a clear conscience, defend the system of land ownership that exists in Zimbabwe.

I am in no way supporting violent seizure of land in Zimbabwe. All I am saying is that there is a case for radical land reform in the country. And this is not a question of race and/or ethnicity. I have seen the same tensions in Kenya – where squatters have clashed with fellow Kenyan ( indigenous) owners of large tracts of land. I am totally against illegal redistribution of land. But at the same time I cannot defend an obviously unjust system of land ownership.

It is sad that Mugabe’s illegal (and at times murderous) repossession of land in the country has overshadowed the real land problem in Zimbabwe – to the extent that even a somewhat respected newspaper like the Economist feels no shame in allowing a subliminally racist line like the one quoted above in its pages.

subsidiary of british firm suspends ore imports from congo

It is not a secret that the war in eastern DRC is more than anything else economic. The trade in charcoal and a litany of minerals has forever been blamed for the conflict that has killed, maimed or displaced millions of Congolese. It is therefore encouraging to learn that Thailand Smelting and Refining Co. (Thaisarco), a subsidiary of British metals giant Amalgamated Metals Corporation (AMC), has suspended the import of tin ore (cassiterite) from the Congo because it believes that the trade in the mineral might be financing the Congolese civil conflict.

The move has however been criticised by Global Witness, an advocacy group.Global Witness argues that if AMC is indeed concerned about the financing of the conflict then instead of cutting and running it should contribute in the setting up of a proper industry-wide system of checks on all sources of metals. The cessation of imports, argues Global Witness, does nothing for artisanal miners in the Congo who depend on trade in metal ore for their livelihood. It also does nothing to stop the trade in ‘blood’ metals in general from the Congo.

Citing a 2002 UN Report that accused AMC and its subsidiary (among other firms) of breaching OECD guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, Global Witness said that AMC and Thaisarco had always known that their activities in the Congo were funding the conflict there.

AMC and Thaisarco cited “the threat of misleading and bad publicity” as their main reason for halting their trading operations in the DRC. Kudos to Global Witness for their campaign against militarized exploitation of minerals in the DRC. I hope this sets a precedent for the many foreign firms that continue to profit by trafficking in minerals from the Congo – at the expense of millions of innocent women and children… and men.

it is time more districts translated into wider taxation

President Kibaki has created about 180 districts over the last 6 years. The logic behind the creation of the many districts, according to the president and his men, has been that there is a need to bring government services closer to the people. One obvious question then is what government services? Are we talking about registration of births and deaths, motor vehicle registration, licensing, issuance of title deeds, judicial services and all that stuff? Because these services are still mostly highly centralised, requiring one to travel either to Nairobi or to far off provincial headquarters. Critics of the new districts have oftentimes highlighted their high cost and non-viability (The president thinks such critics are “backward”).

It was therefore welcome news when yesterday the president announced the halting of the creation of new districts – citing financial reasons. For some reason this fact (high costs) never crossed the minds of the president’s advisers somewhere between new district # 1 and # 180.

And now that we have over 180 new and expensive districts – most of them dished out for political reasons and “people’s demands” – I think it is time we require the new districts, being local governments, to do what governments do: TAX EVERYONE. Each district should be required to raise a percentage of its expenses from local populations (it is quite unfair for Nairobians to pay for non-viable districts in remote parts of the country created purely for political reasons). This minimum requirement need not be uniform across the board – people in West Pokot need districts too, you know – but should be geared towards making local people bear some responsibility for their local governments. With local funding for local districts, Kenyans may be persuaded to care more about who gets appointed to be DC and what their DC and the many district committees do. And to add to the positives, the DC’s will have an incentive to promote local economic activity to generate revenues.

Eventually, one hopes, this idea of local taxation for local services will make Kenyans demand that they get to elect their local DC’s instead of having State House appoint them.

This may sound like a pipe-dream but there is hope. Given parliament’s increasing assertiveness and power-grab from the executive and judiciary it is conceivable that such an idea can successfully be passed into law by the august House. Does someone know a crafty MP with nothing to lose who can champion this cause?

ps: I never thought I’d ever say this but I am actually missing the Standard online edition. What happened to them? Can’t they afford a website?

rather alarming developments

I just read this article on the Economist website on the security situation in Southern Sudan. The piece reminded me of posts I made on this blog a while back about nomadic pastoralism and other supposedly “African” ways of life.

The strongly worded emails that I got over these two posts notwithstanding, I still stand by them. I think that it is time we woke up and faced the truth. Subsistence agriculture, nomadic pastoralism and the isolated rural life that characterizes most of Africa are inefficient at best and the real causes of African poverty at worst. Economic history shows that the percentage of a state’s population involved in agriculture is inversely proportional to per capita GDP. Forgive the cliche, but numbers don’t lie (at least not all the time).

Now I am not advocating for Soviet-style relocation of whole populations or anything close to that. But African governments ought to be cognizant of the above mentioned trend and so offer incentives to their nomadic communities to settle down (plus it easier to provide public goods to sedentary populations)  and encourage rural farmers to consolidate their production.

I say this with a firm belief in agriculture as a pillar of economic development. Again, the history books show us that agriculture, textiles and construction comprise the holy trinity of economic development. This was true for England during the Industrial Revolution in the mid 18th century and is still true today. Starving, unclothed and homeless people will not magically start thinking about how to land a man on Mars.