Do Tough Traffic Rules Reduce Road Accidents?

The Kenyan Cabinet Secretary in charge of Transport recently announced a 22% decline in accidents on Kenyan roads in the first quarter of 2014 compared to the same period last year (resulting in 201 fewer deaths). Following the end of year holiday season uptick in road deaths (more people travel then; presumably more drink and drive as well) the government instituted strict traffic regulations, some of which have been struck down by the courts. But do these top-down rule changes work in reducing road accidents?

Probably not as well as we think, according to a new paper by Habyarimana and Jack:

This paper compares the relative impact of two road safety interventions in the Kenyan minibus or matatu sector: a top down set of regulatory requirements known as the Michuki Rules and a consumer empowerment intervention. We use very detailed insurance claims data on three classes of vehicles to implement a difference-in-difference estimation strategy to measure the impact of the Michuki Rules. Despite strong political leadership and dedicated resources, we find no statistically significant effect of the Michuki Rules on accident rates. In contrast, the consumer empowerment intervention that didn’t rely on third party enforcement has very large and significant effects on accident rates. Our intent-to-treat estimates suggest reductions in accident rates of at least 50%. Our analysis suggests that in institutionally weak environments, innovative consumer-driven solutions might provide an alternative solution to low quality service provision.

The Michuki Rules, which required retrofitting of vehicles with certain safety devices and other reforms as outlined in the net section, were widely believed to have led to an immediate and sustained improvement in the safety of Kenya’s roads. However despite this view, we find that most of the perceived effects were driven by short-run compliance costs imposed on vehicle owners and drivers, as opposed to their behavior, and that a month after the rules were introduced there was no discernible effect on insurance claims. In contrast, the consumer empowerment campaign we examine, which encouraged passengers to actively complain directly to their drivers when they felt unsafe, led to a remarkably large reduction in insurance claims of between a half and two-thirds.

Eng. Kamau and his team should take a look at this paper.

Also, the lesson here is not that we should not legislate against insanity on Kenya’s roads, just that those efforts should be complemented by a fire-alarm enforcement mechanism as opposed to using the Chai-Culture-crippled police patrol system.

Africa’s top economies

Yesterday Nigeria unveiled new GDP figures following the rebasing that catapulted the country of 170 million to become Africa’s biggest economy (GDP US$509b). Below is the ranking of the top sixteen economies in SSA. Mineral economies (10/16) still predominate (Source: The Economist).

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Mapping Nairobi’s Informal Transit System

Researchers and students at the University of Nairobi, the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at Columbia University, and the Civic Data Design Lab at MIT produced the map below – and the underlying data behind it – after carrying cell phones and GPS devices along every route in the network. Result? There is order to Nairobi’s seemingly chaotic matatu industry.

Pretty cool stuff. 

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 More here.

H/T Amanda R.

Understanding Uganda’s Military Adventurism Under Museveni

On January 15th 2014 President Yoweri Museveni finally admitted that Uganda People’s Defence Force troops are engaging in combat operations within South Sudan. Right after the political fallout in Juba and escalation of hostilities between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and those behind his former deputy Riek Machar, Mr. Museveni threatened Machar with military action if he did not come to the table to negotiate with Kiir. Museveni’s military involvement in the conflict has caused concern in Nairobi and other capitals in the region. For one, Uganda’s military intervention in the conflict may yet jeopardize the ceasefire agreement that was signed on January 23, 2014 in Addis Ababa. The regional body IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) is supposed to be a neutral arbiter and monitor in the conflict. Museveni’s clear leanings towards the government in Juba may bring to question IGAD’s neutrality in the mediation effort.

For historical reasons (see below) Khartoum fears Kampala’s military involvement in South Sudan. But this time the situation is slightly different, and a little more complex. Bashir has already shown his hand in support of Juba against Machar, possibly for two reasons: (i) Khartoum needs Juba’s help in weakening the rebellion by the rump SPLA (SPLA-North) that is still active in Blue Nile and South Kordofan, regions that border South Sudan; and (ii) Bashir needs to keep the oil flowing in order to ward off internal turmoil within Sudan due to rapidly deteriorating economic conditions (see here). Kiir’s willingness to throw SPLA-N under the bus comes as no surprise since it is an offshoot of the “Garang Boys” (mostly PhDs) who occupied a special place, unlike Kiir and others, in John Garang’s SPLA. SPLM-N’s leader Malik Aggar, shared Garang’s vision of one united reformed Sudan, as opposed to secession by the South. At the same time, however, Khartoum does not want a super strong South Sudan free of rebels. Total cessation of conflict in South Sudan would rob Khartoum of proxies to keep Juba in check. Uganda’s involvement could tip the balance in Juba’s favor vis-à-vis potential Bashir allies.

Meanwhile in Nairobi and Addis Ababa concern is growing over Uganda’s claim that the IGAD should foot the bill of UPDF’s adventures in South Sudan. Both Ethiopia and Kenya prefer settling the conflict at the negotiating table, partly because both have their security forces stretched by domestic armed groups and bandits and the war in Somalia. Kenya has said categorically that it will not send troops to South Sudan, even under IGAD. The wariness in Nairobi and Addis to send troops or cash for a military cause in South Sudan contrasts sharply with Kampala’s choice of military action from the moment the current flare up started in Juba. This despite the fact that Uganda also has troops serving in Somalia.

Which raises the question: What explains Uganda’s international military adventurism under Museveni? The answer lies in the confluence of history, international geopolitics, and Uganda’s internal politics.

Uganda is one of the more militarized states in Africa, with the military having direct representation in parliament (10 seats). It is also interventionist, with a history of combat engagement and support for rebel groups in six neighboring states – Burundi, the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Somalia, and South Sudan. More recently, the nation has been a key advocate for greater integration within the East African Community (EAC). Indeed, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni fancies himself as a possible head of an EAC political federation should it ever materialize. Uganda is also a key player in the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC), a proposed standby force with capacity to rapidly deploy troops to trouble spots in Africa (other key supporters include South Africa, Chad, and Tanzania).

Museveni and his kagogo (little) soldiers

Museveni and his kadogo (little) soldiers

President Yoweri Museveni’s military adventurism and internationalist outlook have deep roots. As a young student in Tanzania, Museveni was involved in exile organizations opposed to Iddi Amin. Indeed, Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA), started off as the Popular Resistance Army (PRA) in Tanzania (As testament to its Tanzanian roots, NRA borrowed the idea of political commissars from the Tanzanian military to educate civilians in “liberated” Luweero Triangle). In Tanzania and even after returning to Uganda Museveni made regional connections that he maintained even after he ascended to power in 1986 – including Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Sudan’s John Garang’, and leaders of Mozambique’s FRELIMO. Before rebelling against Kigali, Kagame was Museveni’s Chief of Military Intelligence. Museveni supported Garang’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).

Once in power, Museveni styled himself as the guarantor of peace and stability in Uganda. Many (both at home and abroad) evaluated his performance relative to the disastrous years under Amin and the ensuing civil war. The resulting peace dividend (albeit restricted to the south of the country) was marked by relative macro-economic stability, with growth averaging about 6% for much of the 1990s. This made Museveni a darling of Western donors and international financial institutions. However, Museveni’s record with regard to democracy and human rights remained dubious. This put him in awkward position vis-à-vis the West, especially since the 1990s was the zenith of Western promotion of liberal democracy.

To this Museveni reacted cleverly, and worked hard to position Uganda as a strategic player in the wider region’s geopolitics. In order to maintain his international stature and secure his position domestically, Museveni labored to bolster Uganda’s relevance to the West.

Museveni enters Kampala (Source)

Museveni enters Kampala (Source)

Beginning in the early 1990s, Uganda got militarily involved in a number of neighboring states. Support for Garang’s SPLA drew the ire of Khartoum, which in turn supported the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda. Subsequently, the Ugandan military conducted raids against LRA bases in Sudan while also offering combat assistance to the SPLA. For instance, the 1997 battle at Yei featured Ugandan soldiers alongside the SPLA against the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF). It is around this time that the seed was planted for future military involvement abroad at the turn of the century (this time in Somalia under the Western-funded AU mission, AMISOM, to help stabilize the country). After US President Bill Clinton designated Sudan as a state sponsor of terror, Uganda positioned itself as an ally in the frontline of “Global War on Terror.” Kampala served as an intermediary for US aid to SPLA, thereby further strengthening US-Uganda military ties. It is telling that in 2003 Uganda was among only a handful of African states that supported the US-led Iraq War. About 20,000 Ugandans worked in US military bases in Iraq (this was also an excellent job creation tool; and a way of earning Forex).

So far Uganda’s most complex military adventure was in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). A mix of strategic geopolitical positioning, the need to secure markets for Ugandan goods, private greed and domestic politics drove Uganda’s invasion of the DRC. The first Congo War (1996-97) was swift, aimed at helping Laurent Kabila oust Mobutu Seseseko (Rwanda and Angola also helped). Soon after Uganda and Rwanda fell out with Kabila, occasioning the Second Congo war (1998-2003), which involved four other African states. It is then that the façade of intervention for regional stability completely broke down. Ugandan and Rwandan commanders exploited existing and new cross-border smuggling and semi-legitimate trade networks to orchestrate massive pillaging of natural resources in eastern DRC (Competition between the two militaries later intensified, resulting in the “Kisangani Wars.”)

For instance, in the year 2000 despite only producing 0.00441 tonnes of gold, Uganda exported 11 tonnes. A UN report indicates that well-connected generals (including Museveni’s half-brother) created entities headquartered in Kampala to facilitate the illicit trade. It’s important to note that Museveni’s tolerance of the semi-autonomous activities by his generals was strategic (it generated revenue through Kampala-based entities and kept the generals happy) and did not lead to fracturing within the military. Indeed, many of those involved were later promoted.

Museveni meets Somali President, Shayk Sharif Ahmed in Mogadishu in 2010

 

Incidentally, the present involvement in South Sudan also reflects the multifaceted logic of Ugandan international military adventurism. Historical alliances with the SPLA against the LRA and SAF make Kampala and Juba natural bedfellows. But the intervention is also about securing markets for Ugandan goods. According to figures from the Bank of Uganda, in 2012 the country’s exports to South Sudan totaled an estimated USD 1.3 billion. About 150,000 Ugandan traders operate across the border, not to mention countless more primary producers in agriculture who benefit from cross-border trade with their northern neighbor.

The above account explains Museveni’s efforts in the recent past to build an image as the regional powerbroker: heading peace talks between the DRC, Rwanda and eastern DRC rebels; intervening in Somalia to prop up the government in Mogadishu; and in the latest episode siding militarily with President Salva Kiir in South Sudan’s domestic political cum military conflict. Domestically, Museveni’s grip on power is as strong as ever. Recent reshuffles in the military removed powerful Historicals (the original “bush war heroes”) thereby leaving Museveni (and his son) firmly in control of Uganda’s armed forces. There is no end in sight for Uganda’s international military adventurism.

In many ways Uganda’s international adventurism has been a case of agency in tight corners. The country is a landlocked; has neighbors with sparsely governed borderlands that provide rear-bases for Ugandan armed groups; and Kampala needs Western aid to maintain the regime, a situation that necessitates acts of geopolitical positioning – especially with regard to the “Global War on Terror” and maintenance of regional peace and stability. Furthermore, oil discovery along the conflict-prone DRC border on Lake Albert and the need for pipelines to the sea to export Ugandan oil will necessitate even greater regional involvement. So while Uganda’s present outward adventurism is primarily because of Museveni’s peculiar personal history, it is correct to say that even after Museveni (still far into the future) the country will continue to be forced to look beyond its borders for economic opportunities, security, and regional stature.

We Must Free Our Imaginations — Binyavanga Wainaina

A great thinker. A great artist. A great Kenyan.

Part One (see also Parts Two, Three, Four, Five and Six)

Joyce Nyairo of the Daily Nation has written a stinging critique of Binyavanga’s short documentary. Nyairo takes umbrage at Binyavanga’s bashing of Pentecostals and giving a dumbed down, even simplistic, account of Kenyan history over the Moi years. 

The ultimate tragedy of Binyavanga’s documentary is the ease with which he slides into a diatribe against Pentecostals — as if homosexuality can only be popularised by bashing something or someone else’s conformity…..

Each one of the titles of this six part “documentary” is a quote from Binyavanga’s long and frighteningly convoluted tirade against the hypocrisies of Africa’s discourse on homosexuality.

The quotes are as clever as they are memorable. But they represent isolated flashes of brilliance in a text that is neither articulate nor lucid. Binyavanga struggles too hard to be profound, repetitively swinging from mimicry and lazy stereotyping to banal imagery that does nothing to enlighten. His style is unworthy, an injustice to his subject.

I think Nyairo has missed the point of this short “tirade” by miles. The style of delivery and everything about this documentary show that Binyavanga’s intended audience is not the class of Kenyans who go to Blankets & Wine. He is not trying to preach to the choir – most upper middle class Kenyans already have liberal views on homosexuality and those that don’t often have to hide them behind their middle class civility. Neither is he trying to engage in an enlightened rebuttal of the claim that homosexuality is “un-African.” No. What Binyavanga is trying to do is to take the conversation to the streets, and the homes of regular Kenyans. He is aiming at the middle middle class and lower. Binyavanga knows that this is the demographic that will matter the most in changing Kenya, whether it is economically or in the further expansion of human rights.

Yes, Binyavanga has hoisted up the Pentecostal movement as his ultimate straw man. But that’s just in reaction to the hijacking of the conversation on homosexuality in Africa by religious moralists. It is hard to see how one can have an open conversation about homosexuality in Kenya today without addressing the question of sin and hell and Sodom and Gomorrah. This precedes even the macho talk of “natural African” (read heterosexual male) and “un-African” sexual habits. The language of “rights” alone will simply not fly, and when attempted will most likely result in an ugly backlash. This is what Binyavanga is speaking to.

“Only four shooters at Kenya mall (Westgate) and they may have escaped alive, says NYPD”

On Tuesday morning the NYPD issued a damning statement [full report here] that pointed fingers at the Kenyan government for its handling of the terrorist attack at the Westgate Mall in September. Dozens of people were killed in the attack.

According to the statement:

  • Despite conflicting reports from the Kenyan government, “evidence suggests that there were only four attackers, who may have escaped alive.”
  • The commander of the police tactical team that went to quell the siege was most likely killed by the KDF. “The police department tactical team entered the mall at 3 p.m., without police markings or identifications, and were fired on by Kenyan soldiers, killing the commander of the unit.”
  • The security team “had no idea what the mall looked like internally, and didn’t know they could access the closed circuit television system.”
  • The NYDP “didn’t know what had caused the mall to collapse,” but it is likely that “the Kenyan military may have used rocket-propelled grenades and anti-tank missiles on the building, and that heat from fires caused by the explosions may have weakened the poorly built structure.”
  • And lastly, “the Kenyan military may not have killed any of the attackers, there was “significant” physical and video evidence that they had looted the mall.”

[UPDATE: A reader, @ZiadFazel, just reminded me of the KTN documentary in October that questioned the official line about the attack. Back then the government dismissed the documentary as inaccurate and alarmist and even threatened to arrest KTN journalists. This new statement from the NYPD adds credibility to the evidence previously dismissed by the government]

Westgate is not just an indictment of the KDF (a force that has and continues to sacrifice a lot for regular Kenyans in the north east and in Somalia) but of the entire security apparatus in Kenya. For the longest time Kenyan civilian administrations have obsessed with issues of coup-proofing, maintenance of public order and the suppression of dissent over actual provision of security.* Urban crime, banditry in the north and pockets of rural areas even in the more governed south and latterly the threat of terrorism have exposed the underbelly of the Kenyan security system.

President Uhuru Kenyatta praised the KDF and the police following the botched operation at Westgate. Was this an attempt to boost the morale of the boys or was he simply continuing the tradition of appeasement with the aim of keeping the army in the barracks and the paramilitary GSU and police ever ready to “restore order” whenever necessary?

Whatever the case, it may be that President Kenyatta and his administration have found themselves in an unfamiliar territory. Kenya’s much touted bureaucratic-executive state may have worked well against internal dissent, but can it effectively deal with current security threats? Civilian control over the security apparatus demands for accountability and performance; and whenever there is failure, an attempt at correction. Is the Kenyan system capable of sustaining a civilian-military relationship that is responsive to the public and based on performance and accountability?

Kenyans were told many tales following that tragic Saturday afternoon in September and the ensuing four day siege. But the more Secretary Ole Lenku spoke of “exploding mattresses” the more questions emerged. The NYPD report is yet another reminder that the security system failed Kenyans, and that the civilian administration was unable to stand up to those responsible and demand for accountability.

*Read E. S. Atieno-Odhiambo’s chapter on “Democracy and the Ideology of Order in Kenya” and Tamarkin’s “The Roots of Political Stability in Kenya.”

Ethiopia’s Gibe Dam Threatens Kenya’s Lake Turkana, and Why the Kenyan Government Doesn’t Care

Six hundred miles upstream from the northern tip of Lake Turkana in Kenya, the Ethiopian Gibe III dam is nearing completion. According to Africa Confidential the dam will produce 1860 MW, making it the biggest hydro-electric power plant in Africa.

No doubt the developmental impact of the Gibe projects will be huge. Despite doubling Ethiopia’s 2007 installed power generation capacity, the project will bring more than 150,000 hectares (about 580 sq. miles) of land under irrigation (this will be more than the total acreage under irrigation in the whole of Kenya as of 2011). In addition, the boost in power generation capacity will feed into the East African Power Pool, thus helping alleviate power problems in Kenya and beyond.

But will the benefits of the Gibe projects outweigh the potential human cost, especially considering externalities that will spread beyond Ethiopia’s borders?

According to Sean Avery, the Omo-Gibe project intends to divert as much as 32% of the Omo River’s waters for irrigation and other uses upstream. But the Omo River is the main inlet of Lake Turkana, Kenya’s largest by area (Kenya owns the smallest bit of Lake Victoria) and Africa’s fourth largest lake.

Lake Turkana gets as much as 90% of its inflow from the Omo River.

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Map showing Lake Turkana and location of Gibe III

In a new Oxford study, Avery notes that one of the planned Ethiopian irrigations schemes alone, the Kuraz Sugar Scheme, will gobble as much as 28% of Omo inflows into Lake Turkana at 70% efficiency and a whopping 40% if the project inefficiently uses water! The same study notes that construction of Gibe III may lower the water volume in Lake Turkana by as much as 41-58% (or an average drop in lake level of 22 metres) over a period of time. This will have a significant impact on the Lake’s salinity (being the biggest desert lake in the world) and suitability of its water for human consumption and agriculture. To put this in perspective, the average depth in the lake is 30 metres. Without proper water management upstream Lake Turkana faces hydrological collapse akin to what happened to the Aral sea or what is happening to Lake Chad.

At this juncture you may ask, why isn’t the Kenyan government up in arms over the Gibe projects?

Well, the simple answer is that a confluence of factors have made it such that Nairobi does not have an incentive to care about the 170,000 odd people that will be adversely affected by a decline in water volume and economic viability of Lake Turkana. Three of these factors stand out.

  1. Turkana, being largely rural, sparsely populated, poor, and with a low literacy rate, does not make a fertile ground for pressure groups to form. Complaints over the potential impact of Gibe III have mostly come from academics and international NGOs that, lacking political salience, are very easy to ignore. Historical low voter turnout in the region also does not help matters. This has made it easy for the government to pretty much ignore the region over the years. Residents of Turkana often talk of “going to Kenya” whenever they venture into the southern regions of the country.
  2. A more important reason than the one above is perhaps that Gibe III will provide power to the Kenyan grid. Kenya’s Vision 2030 development plan includes a raft of projects that will require increased generation capacity in the next couple of decades that the country will surely not meet. Gibe III will be a much needed plug in the expected energy capacity gap. Notice that most of the projects will benefit the more politically powerful pockets of the Kenyan electorate to the south of the country, most of whom have never and will probably never hear of the human impact of Gibe III in Turkana unless it leads to something catastrophic enough to attract national media attention.

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    Source: Gado, Daily Nation

  3. Oil. Oil. Oil! As if things could not get worse for residents to the north of Turkana county, commercially viable deposits of oil have been discovered to the south of the county. It goes without saying that moving forward most of the economic focus will be in that part of the county, at the expense of most other economic activities (and Turkana residents’ most pressing needs, see image) – including fisheries on Lake Turkana.

Admittedly, the fault here lies not with Addis Ababa. Ethiopia had to do what it had to do to meet its development needs. The fault is Nairobi’s for not having the foresight to strike a workable “Coasian bargain” with Addis on an arrangement that would be less harmful to residents of Turkana. This post has attempted to sketch some of the reasons why this is the case.

In an ideal world Nairobi would have negotiated with Addis Ababa for a discount rate for power from Gibe III and pledged to invest the difference in compensating residents of the Lake Turkana basin who will be adversely affected by the planned projects on the other side of the border. Unfortunately, for the three reasons stated above and others, I doubt that this happened or will happen in the near future.

To paraphrase a famous quote from a couple of millennia ago, in the world we live in those with political power get what they want and those without suffer what they must.

Making sense of the Kenyan government’s reaction to UNSC vote on ICC deferral

The UN Security Council has rejected Kenya’s (and the African Union’s) request for a one year deferral of the case against President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy at the Hague. The two stand accused of crimes against humanity committed following the disputed elections in 2007. More than 1300 people died, and hundreds of thousands were displaced.

The US, UK, France, Australia, Guatemala, Luxembourg, South Korea and Argentina abstained to stop the deferral request. China, Russia, Togo, Morocco, Pakistan, Azerbaijan and Rwanda voted for a deferral. African leaders have in the last two years been on an ill-advised crusade against the ICC, terming it as a “race hunting” tool of “declining” Western powers.

Kenyatta and Ruto are innocent until proven otherwise, but their attempts to make their personal cases at the ICC a regional struggle of Africans against imagined neo-colonialists bent on usurping African sovereignty is a little misguided. The Kenyan case is different (Kenya is not Sudan or the DRC) and ought to have attracted special consideration from the court (see closing remarks below). However, despite its faults the ICC is all the continent has in the quest to hold its leaders accountable. I reiterate, murderous dictators in Africa and elsewhere should never be allowed to have internal affairs.

Here is the government’s total freak out response following the UNSC vote, with some comments from yours truly.

STATEMENT FROM THE FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTRY IN KENYA

Kenya takes note of the outcome of the United Nations Security Council meeting on peace and security in Africa, and specifically on the subject of the request for deferral of the Kenya ICC cases. Kenya wishes to thank China and Azerbaijan who, during their stewardship of the Security Council, have been professional and sensitive to the African Union agenda.

Wow, this is how bad things have become. That Kenya finds friends in states like Azerbaijan. Yes, this is the place in which the president recently announced the election results even before the polls opened. These are our new committed friends. We are going places. 

Kenya wishes to thank the seven members of the Security Council who voted for a deferral and is particularly grateful to Rwanda, Togo and Morocco – the three African members on the Security Council – for their exemplary leadership.

Again, the only country we should be associated with on this list is perhaps Rwanda. I wish we could do what they have done with their streets, and corruption, and ease of doing business. But by all means we should not borrow their human rights record. Oh, and please let’s stay away from their variety of democracy.

This result was not unexpected considering that consistently some of the members of the Security Council, who hold veto powers, had shown contempt for the African position. The same members and five others chose to abstain, showing clear cowardice in the face of a critical African matter, and a lack of appreciation of peace and security issues they purport to advocate.

Letting the trial go on does not threaten peace and stability in Kenya. This is an empty argument. There will not be any spontaneous violence. Furthermore, the president is not the operational commander of the KDF. He is the Commander in Chief. He gets to issue orders from some room somewhere. Orders can be issued from anywhere. And remind me again how this trial impacts security ALL OVER AFRICA, other than by raising the cost of genocidal activities by African presidents?

Oh, and did I mention that the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is almost entirely paid for by the European Union?

Inevitably, it must be appreciated that the outcome of this vote demonstrates that the Security Council does not serve the interests of a majority of its members and is clearly in need of urgent reform. It cannot be that a few countries take decisions that go against reason and wisdom in a matter so important to nearly one billion Africans.

One billion Africans. Really? I had no idea our president was this important of a man. One billion Africans. Many of whom starve to death; or die of treatable illnesses; or never make it to their first or fifth birthday because their leaders steal all the money meant for medicine. These Africans? Why should their names be invoked to protect the same leaders that have confined them to degrading penury for the last half century? Why, I ask? 

Also, the claim that Africa is united against the ICC is false. We all know about the divisions that stalled the silly idea of a mass walkout from the ICC by African states.

The African Union, in one voice, took the unprecedented step of making a simple request to the Security Council, bearing in mind the security and stability it seeks to achieve on the continent. But the Security Council has failed to do this and humiliated the continent and its leadership.

Ahh. Now the truth comes out. It is not about the one billion Africans after all. This is about the humiliation of the African leadership. It is about protecting the sovereignty of a few inept rulers. Forget the one billion Africans. It is about their big men rulers who steal tax money and stash it away in bank accounts in the same Western countries they like to call names.

The Security Council has failed the African continent, which will have to make its own judgment in the coming days and weeks about how it wishes to engage with the Security Council, which obviously does not believe the voices of more than one quarter of its members is significant enough to warrant its serious and purposive attention.

The security council has failed African leaders. Not the African people en masse. Africans want to have elections without having to worry that voting one way or the other will result in their houses being torched or their mothers, sisters and brothers murdered or raped. They also want freedom from ignorance, disease and material want. Is that too much to ask?

The African Union’s request to the Security Council included its key resolutions at the Special Summit on the ICC. The important one for the Security Council to note was the one that categorically says that no sitting Heads of State or Government may appear before the ICC. Kenya regrets failure of important members of the UN Security Council to have due consideration of Kenya’s critical role in stabilizing the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes regions, and their reckless abdication of global leadership.

Wait, are these important global leaders in the UNSC the same ones President Kenyatta termed as “declining powers”? What makes them important now? 

Just for the record, I am part of the 67% of Kenyans who in a recent poll were in favor of the president attending court at the Hague. Having both the president and his deputy on trial will serve a great symbolic task of demystifying the Kenyan political leadership. The demonstration effect to all politicians, voters and criminal gangs alike will be clear: You cannot kill innocent civilians and get away with it.

In my view, the best case scenario is having both men attend trial and then get a not guilty verdict.

Kenyans are nowhere near ready to discuss frankly what happened in 2007-08 or the deeper issues of ethnicity and economic disparities that often mirror ethnic lines and how to deal with these issues at the national level. A forced conversation, especially one that has a foreign touch in the form of a court verdict, may result in unpleasant consequences. This would be a less than ideal outcome, but one that would not necessarily be catastrophic for the country. The constitution is clear on succession should either one or both leaders be found guilty and jailed.

More on direct cash transfers

As Chris Blattman put it, the Cashonistas are rejoicing. And with very good reason.

There is mounting evidence that giving money directly to poor people does a much better job of improving their welfare than traditional channels of institutional(ized) aid-giving. On a related note, this evidence lends credence to claims by proponents of oil-to-cash programs. Oil to cash enthusiasts advocate for direct payments to citizens of revenues from extractive sectors (and especially oil) so as to avoid what is commonly known as the resource curse (more on oil-to-cash here). I am not one to argue against evidence, so I am intrigued by the success of Give Directly, and look forward to further impact assessments to ascertain the stickiness of the observed welfare gains.

However, I agree with Brett Keller that we shouldn’t allow the present evidence to distract us from thinking about things like schools, hospitals, business-promoting state institutions, etc.

Despite the within-community evidence of positive effects of direct cash transfers, we shouldn’t forget that these communities do not exist in a vacuum but within political economies of various states. For instance, given what we know about ethnicity and attendant barriers against collective action, what would be the effect of giving all the money to the people and then requiring them to comply with tax regimes and other collective action endeavors?

Furthermore, giving poor people money is often based on an implicit premise that the poor ought to become entrepreneurs and lift themselves out of poverty (People respond to incentives, and we know what would happen if say we guaranteed them direct cash transfers in perpetuity. So the scheme only works if poor people can use the money to start businesses). But entrepreneurship is hard. Even for people with trust funds and super-charged business incubation resources. So is it really fair to require that the objectively most risk averse among us lift themselves out of poverty by starting businesses? Isn’t this the role of the middle and upper middle classes who can tolerate the risk? I am not saying that entrepreneurship is limited to particular classes (lots of people from humble backgrounds have created wildly successful businesses the world over). What I am saying is that as a matter of policy we shouldn’t unnecessarily burden the most vulnerable among us.

Also, to borrow from Huntington, we are well advised to keep in mind that even though economic success leads to stabilization, the process of development can be destabilizing. With this in mind, for most development initiatives to succeed, they need political cover (broadly defined as the ability to shape or influence government policy). Interventions to accelerate growth must never lose sight of this fact. Those who make and/or can influence policy matter a great deal.

This might sound very 20th century, but I think that the best anti-poverty measure out there is still mass job creation by BIG business (and agree with Chris Blattman here). It beats all the pro-poverty pro-poor interventions I can think of. So may be instead of raining cash on the poor it might be better to think of smart ways of jumpstarting the growth of SMEs in the developing world into mass employers. This is not a trickle down economics argument. It is an argument for the continued emphasis on macro reforms in the political economy to provide an enabling environment for mass job creation.

We can’t continue to insist that institutions matter but then turn around and do our best to device anti-poverty interventions that skirt the very same institutions that we insist are the fundamental cause of long-run growth.

Direct cash transfers might prove to be a key part of the shortcut to Denmark (and I hope the successes stick). But like with most shortcuts, the potential for disappointment is a little higher than most of us would like to admit.