Reporting the US government shutdown…

WASHINGTON, United States—The typical signs of state failure aren’t evident on the streets of this sleepy capital city. Beret-wearing colonels have not yet taken to the airwaves to declare martial law. Money-changers are not yet buying stacks of useless greenbacks on the street.

But the pleasant autumn weather disguises a government teetering on the brink. Because, at midnight Monday night, the government of this intensely proud and nationalistic people will shut down, a drastic sign of political dysfunction in this moribund republic. 

The capital’s rival clans find themselves at an impasse, unable to agree on a measure that will allow the American state to carry out its most basic functions. While the factions have come close to such a shutdown before, opponents of President Barack Obama’s embattled regime now appear prepared to allow the government to be shuttered over opposition to a controversial plan intended to bring the nation’s health care system in line with international standards.

……..As this correspondent’s cab driver put it, while driving down the poorly maintained roads that lead from the airport, “Do these guys have any idea what they’re doing to the country?”

That is Joshua Keating in an entertaining piece over at Slate on how the ongoing government shutdown in the United States might have been reported from an American perspective had it happened in another country. 

Do African leaders have a voice?

That is the question asked by Africa Is A Country:

These days, well-behaved African heads of state are rewarded by Barack Obama with the chance to meet with him in groups of four and have their picture taken with him. It’s like meeting Beyonce, but you get to call it a state visit. That’s what happened on Friday when Malawi’s Joyce Banda, Senegal’s Macky Sall, Cape Verde’s José Maria Neves and Sierra Leone’s Ernest Bai Koroma were paraded before the White House press corps, sitting in star-struck silence as Barack reeled off a kind of wikipedia-level roll-call of their accomplishments. They beamed like competition winners. It was all very feudal.

….. The East African called it as they saw it: “The meeting was to reward them for their support for US interests in Africa.” Though some others wanted to be there. In Uganda, some sites were wringing their hands over why Museveni hadn’t been invited.

The post raises an important question especially with regard to the recent rise in African assertiveness. Most of this has been restricted to elite circles with regard to the ICC and general Western meddling presence on the continent. 

Among the many posts I hope to write soon – the dissertation and life permitting – is one on African IR (yes, African International Relations). For a very long time the Continent has engaged the world in disaggregated terms – mostly as a result of individual weakness. But recently some countries have realized their power (For instance Uganda and Kenya in their military and diplomatic usefulness, respectively) and are more than willing to exercise those powers. The realization of individual power has also catalyzed a tendency to use the regional bloc – the AU – as a leverage in wider international engagements (I expect Kenya’s president-elect Uhuru Kenyatta to use the AU a lot in dealing with the charges he faces at the ICC). 

And among the African elite I expect a new sense of self-confidence, with calls like these to become louder and more common. Whether the Western governments (and regular Western Africa watchers) will adapt fast enough or be caught flat-footed is still unclear, especially after the ill-considered and tactless obvious attempt to influence the outcome of the Kenyan election. Also worth considering is whether this new-found African assertiveness will result in actual progress and attempts at catching up with the developed world or turn out to be a mere echo of the empty rhetoric of African pride – a la Zaireanization – that was championed by a kleptocratic navel-gazing African elite of decades past.

US Africa Policy, A Response

This is a guest post by friend of the blog Matthew Kustenbauder responding to a previous post.

On the question of human rights guiding America’s foreign policy in Africa, I agree with you; it shouldn’t be the first priority. The US needs a more pragmatic development diplomacy strategy, which would help African countries develop just as it would help American businesses thrive.

But I disagree with your characterization of Hillary’s position in this respect. Here’s Secretary Clinton’s own words:
“Last year I laid out America’s economic statecraft agenda in a series of speeches in Washington, Hong Kong, San Francisco, and New York. Since then, we’ve accelerated the process of updating our foreign policy priorities to take economics more into account. And that includes emphasizing the Asia Pacific region and elevating economics in relations with other regions, like in Latin America, for example, the destination for 40 percent of U.S. exports. We have ratified free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama. We are welcoming more of our neighbours, including Canada and Mexico, into the Trans-Pacific Partnership process. And we think it’s imperative that we continue to build an economic relationship that covers the entire hemisphere for the future.” 
“Africa is home to seven of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies. People are often surprised when I say that, but it’s true. And we are approaching Africa as a continent of opportunity and a place for growth, not just a site of endless conflict and crisis. All over the world, we are turning to economic solutions for strategic challenges; for example, using new financial tools to squeeze Iran’s nuclear program. And we’re stepping up commercial diplomacy, what I like to call jobs diplomacy, to boost U.S. exports, open new markets, lower the playing field – level the playing field for our businesses. And we’re building the diplomatic capacity to execute this agenda so that our diplomats are out there every single day promoting our economic agenda.” 

One of the problems, however, is that the pragmatic approach articulated by the Secretary doesn’t trickle down through the bureaucracy. This is especially true, ironically, of the State Department’s primary development diplomacy arm, USAID, which has a deeply entrenched culture of being anti-business. It’s a huge problem, and part of the reason why American foreign policy in Africa has been so slow to adjust to new economic realities.

Security drives US Africa Policy

Security drives US Africa Policy

Academics schooled in all the latest development orthodoxies but lacking the most basic understanding of economic or business history have flocked to USAID, so that the suggestion that American economic interests should guide development policy – making it a win-win for Africa and America – is anathema. It’s also why the Chinese are running all over the US in Africa.

As a prominent economic historian recently remarked in the Telegraph, “While we [Western governments] indulge our Victorian urge to give alms to the Africans, Beijing is pumping black gold.” And this is just it. As long as the US approaches Africa as a beggar needing to be saved and not as a business partner worthy of attention, both sides will continue to lose out.

In this respect, what Africa does not need is another “old Africa hand” steeped in conventional development ideas and old dogmas about what’s wrong with Africa and why the US must atone for the West’s sins. For this reason alone, John Kerry – not Susan Rice – probably stands a better chance, as the next Secretary of State, at putting American foreign policy toward Africa on a more solid footing.

- Matthew Kustenbauder is a PhD candidate in history at Harvard University.

Where do robbers choose to locate?

Rob thy neighbor appears to be the decision rule for robbers, at least in Chicago. Bernasco, Block and Ruiter, writing in the January 2013 issue of the Journal of Economic Geography, present research on robbers’ choice of crime sites:

“This article analyzes how street robbers decide on where to attack their victims. Using data on nearly 13,000 robberies, on the approximately 18,000 offenders involved in these robberies, and on the nearly 25,000 census blocks in the city of Chicago, we utilize the discrete choice framework to assess which criteria motivate the location decisions of street robbers. We demonstrate that they attack near their own homes, on easily accessible blocks, where legal and illegal cash economies are present, and that these effects spill over to adjacent blocks.”

The graph below (on p. 129 in the paper) illustrates robbers’ tendency to carry out their activities closest to where they live (for reasons why see the paper).

crime location

crime frequency and distance from robber residence

The findings are at once obvious and insightful. The insightful bit is that because of the geographic concentration of crimes and criminals, sometimes it might make more sense from the point of view of authorities to just focus on containing criminal activity within specific neighborhoods, leading to further entrenchment of a culture of crime in those neighborhoods.

If you notice,  in most places – including Nairobi – certain types of crime only get reported when they cross these implicit barriers. Otherwise, crime in bad neighborhoods becomes a case of if a tree falls in the forest.

Kerry or Rice? The View From Africa

The window is closing fast on the chances of having an Africanist as US Secretary of State (Minister of Foreign Affairs). Republicans in the US Congress, human rights activists and a section of Africanists have come out in opposition to Ambassador Susan Rice. Republicans insist that she lied to Americans about the real masterminds of the attack on the US embassy in Libya that resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including the ambassador. The Africanists and human rights activists are not enthused by Ms Rice’s cozy relationship with the regimes of Paul Kagame of Rwanda and the late Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia. A section of African elites (the elitist sovereignty crowd) may also be wary of her support for interventionism on humanitarian grounds.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

As things stand Pres. Obama might be forced to choose Sen. John Kerry over Ms Rice in order to avoid an unnecessary war with a section of Congress at a time when everyone and their dogs and cats should be worrying about the fiscal cliff.

John Kerry would not be a terrible choice. His past focus on drug trafficking in Latin America, free trade agreements and climate change would make him useful to Africa.

As I have written before, Africa is increasingly becoming a transit point for drugs from Asia and Latin America destined for the European market. Africa also needs more trade with the US beyond AGOA. And climate change will probably affect Africans the most since the vast majority of them depend on rain-fed agriculture and live under conditions that can least withstand natural disasters. But Kerry is not an Africa expert and has done little on the region beyond his support for the South Sudanese cause. This makes it hard to see how he will connect his global focus on these important issues to the African context.

Susan Rice on the other hand has studied Africa and has in the past shown a pragmatism that you want in the top US diplomat. Plus it helps that Ms Rice would have Obama’s ear as she is reported to be very close to the president. She has had successes at the UNSC, the highlight of which was the intervention in Libya to stop Gaddafi from butchering civilians in Benghazi. Rice is a smart straight-talker whose undiplomatic streaks can be a plus in a region full of under-achieving strongmen.

For a very long time Foggy Bottom has seen Africa through a humanitarian lens. Even Hillary Clinton, with all her awesomeness, has done little in new initiatives for Africa beyond human rights issues and a campaign that involved providing cameras for rape victims in eastern DRC. These are not unimportant issues. I am not saying that human rights catastrophes in Africa should be ignored. Just that this should not be a secretary of state’s pet project for the entire the region.

In my opinion Ms Rice’s biggest plus is that she gets one of Africa’s biggest challenges: state incapacity.

It would be nice to have a US secretary of state who takes state capacity development in the region as her pet project (and has the guts to at times subordinate democracy promotion to this project). Her praise of Kagame and Zenawi (no doubt both rabid and at times murderous autocrats) was centred around this very same idea (and to be honest, the ghosts of Rwanda circa 1994). Democracy promotion is a noble cause. But it must be done with a sober mind. The last thing you want is a procrustean approach to the promotion of rights, freedoms and liberties like we have seen in the past.

(Just for the record, I am pro-democracy and have criticized the likes of Kagame here and here, among other forums).

Anyone who reads the development reports side by side with the human rights reports from Rwanda and Ethiopia must be conflicted. I have talked to a senior opposition figure from Ethiopia who told me that she thinks the biggest challenge to fighting Meles Zenawi (at the time) is that “people see the dams and the roads.” It is hard to ignore revealed competence. I would hazard to guess that most people would rather live in autocratic Singapore than democratic Malawi. Yes, it is not an either/or argument with these regimes. All I am saying is that interventionism has to be constructive and not lead to the rolling back of hard fought gains against disease, illiteracy and poverty in these states.

As I opined following Obama’s reelection, I think that security will be at the top of the US Africa policy, of course dressed up in rhetoric about democracy and human rights. John Kerry will handle that on auto pilot. His focus will be on the Middle East and South Asia. It would have been better to have an Africanist at the helm who understands more about the continent and could sneak in a few policy agendas here and there that could make a difference on the ground. An aggressive focus on state capacity development could have been one of those policies.

This is a missed opportunity for Africa. For the first time in history Africa had a chance to have the number one American diplomat be a person who is an expert on a section of the region (Ms Rice wrote a thesis on Zimbabwe). Her defense of a couple of African autocrats aside, I think Ms Rice would have been better for Africa than John Kerry – who in all likelihood will focus on the Middle East and South Asia and continue Sub-Saharan Africa’s designation to the “humanitarianism column.”

The Material Value of the Kenyan Presidency

The following campaign message by Martha Karua, a presidential candidate in Kenya’s election in March of 2013, highlights the material value of the Kenyan presidency.

“Tufanye hesabu tena…Let’s count the cost and keep all of us accountable. A recent research suggested that some presidential candidates will spend as much as Ksh. 11 billion shillings ($130 million) each to try and capture the presidency. Now, at around Ksh. 3.2 million a month including allowances, the President of Kenya earns Ksh 38.4 million ($452,000) a year, much more than what President Obama, the German Chancellor and the PM of England earn, and which translates to Ksh. 192 million in a five year term. So in one five year term, the most a president can hope to earn is around Ksh. 192 million, quite a substantial sum by world standards.

My question; why would anyone spend Ksh. 11 billion to only earn Ksh. 192 million? Does this math add up to you dear Kenyans? How would that individual be hoping to recover the remaining Ksh. 10.78 billion to cover their campaign expenses including buying of votes and bribery? The answer is simple! Corruption and impunity! Inflated government tenders to well connected family and friends. These inflated tenders drive the cost of living for all Kenyans sky high, the very reason ordinary Kenyans can barely make ends meet last 49 years!
Do the Math!”

More on Obama’s WB President Nomination

Source: Wikipedia

Nigerian Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is definitely the dream candidate for the Bank. But the realities of U.S. domestic politics and foreign policy concerns are stacked against her nomination to the presidency of the Bank. It will be hard for the U.S. to selflessly relinquish an important tool of foreign policy and influence in the Bank’s presidency.

If Obama backs down, he will be criticized for being soft in the face of international pressure. If he nominates a non-American, he will still be criticized as an apologist for those who hate America (real or imagined) and a believer in American decline.

Obama’s incentive is to get his nominee become World Bank President. Full stop.

Source: Wikipedia

So far those rooting for Ngozi (including yours truly) have questioned Jim Yong Kim’s credibility (he is/was not a fan of neo-liberalism) and competence (he is not an Economics PhD; but a mere MD, PhD) as World Bank president.

You can get Kim’s co-authored book here (or your local library; $97 is a bit pricey), it is on my to-read list (A review of the book is available here).

Here is quoting a post over at the Duck of Minerva for a more balanced take:

If Dr. Kim criticized the growth agenda of the structural adjustment era, so what? This has all become mainstreamed into the Bank’s own philosophy of pro-poor growth.Does it take a PhD in Economics to run the World Bank successfully? If selected, Dr. Kim would be the leader with the most hands-on development experience that the Bank has ever possessed. He would be as or more experienced in the field as serious contenders that were mooted in advance like Susan Rice, Hillary Clinton, or Pepsico CEO Indra Nooyi (ok, maybe Larry Summers knows more but Summers always know more than anybody). As Daron Acemoglu and Jim Robinson pointed out on their blog [Why Nations Fail]: “Perhaps all of Mr. Kim’s critics prefer the status quo where the World Bank is run by ex-warmongers (Robert McNamara), bankers (James Wolfensohn) or career civil servants (Robert Zoelick). Wait wasn’t that the World Bank that they loved to criticize?”

Adding that:

You don’t have to denigrate Dr. Kim to praise the other candidates. The strongest case is that while Dr. Kim is a good candidate, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is the dream candidate. She’s from a large developing country, knows the issue well, understands the complex world of global finance, and is intimately familiar with the culture and organization of the Bank. And, for her supporters, the changing nature of the international system has made this practice of the U.S. having the automatic right to appoint the Bank’s president an anachronism.

In which Mitt Romney channels Downs (1957)

Sometimes politicians get out of character and reveal the naked truth about the strategic logic of hunting for votes in a two-party electoral system.

Briefly stated, the median voter rules (also check this out).

For more on this check out the piece on the Times website.