The Crisis in Greece (Lessons for the EAC and UEMOA)

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An abandoned venue from the 2004 Athens Olympics. Source: Guardian.

Greece is on the brink of a financial disaster. Banks and the stock market are closed. Capital controls have been imposed. The country will hold a referendum on July 6th, which could decide whether Greeks keep the euro or go back to using drachmas.

There’s not been a shortage of analyses of Grexit. From adoration of its game theorist Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis; to this odd piece in the Journal that says “Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras began leaning toward a risky referendum after creditors covered his proposed policies in red ink” (incidentally, marking papers in red can “damage students”). Barry Eichengreen blames the current crisis on political incompetence – on the part of both Greece and its eurozone creditors, with more blame on the latter. See here for a concise take on Greek fiscal history over the last four decades.

I hope folks at the EAC and UEMOA, the two entities most likely to realize monetary unions, are following the events in Greece closely. The big question on their minds should be: can there be a stable monetary union on the Continent without a fiscal and political union?

Lastly, regardless of how the next few days and the referendum play out, I hope Tsipras’ move will embolden leaders in the developing world to democratize their relationship with the IMF, the Bank, and other creditors. A reasonable democratic involvement in such matters would not just be an easy way to default and blame it on democracy. It would also incentivize creditors against lending money to governments like Greece’s. Obviously voters should not be allowed to decide whether or not they pay their debts (we know how that’d turn out), but they should be consulted before being saddled with crushing debt.

Summer Reading List

For only the second time in the last 10 years I am spending the whole summer in North America (and terribly missing the Jamuhuri). Which means I’ll have a little bit of time for some reading beyond my immediate research work. Here are some books that I have started reading since the beginning of the year or plan to read this summer. I’ll write reviews on a few of them over the next two months.

Fiction: 

We Need New Names – NoViolet Bulawayo

Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote – Ahmadou Kourouma

Nervous Conditions – Tsitsi Dangaremba (I am deeply embarrassed to say I’ve never finished reading this classic)

Stoner – John Williams

Political Economy:

The Settler Economies (Kenya and Zimabwe, 1900-63) – Paul Mosley

Medieval Africa, 1250-1800 – Roland Oliver and Anthony Atmore

Democracy in Africa – Nic Cheeseman

Ethnic Patriotism and the East African Revival – Derek R. Peterson

Economic Crises and the Breakdown of Authoritarian Regimes – Thomas B. Pepinsky (If you are a Comparativist, read Pepinsky often)

The Mind of the African Strongman – Herman J. Cohen

Political Order and Political Decay – Francis Fukuyama (Volume I was epic. Very few people do the big picture stuff the way Fukuyama does)

Bonus (time permitting):

The Firm – Duff McDonald (It’s crazy how many of my close friends work for McKinsey or are alums of the firm)

Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Philosophical Breakfast Club – Laura J. Snyder

Is There Room for Case Studies in Development Practice?

Amid the current much-needed revolution in (quantitative) evidence-driven development practice, is there room for case studies?

Michael Woolcock at the Bank says yes:

The frequency and sophistication with which case studies are deployed by social scientists has greatly expanded in recent years. The goal now is not merely to document or describe, but to diagnose, explain, interpret, and inform a basis for action. Professional schools across the disciplines – from medicine and engineering to business and public policy – now routinely use ‘the case method’ not only to teach but to generate practical knowledge.

As an example, Woolcock cites a report with case studies of successes achieved in the Ministries of Finance and Education in The Gambia (I should add, despite Yahya Jammeh):

Despite facing formidable political, economic, and capacity challenges, The Gambia has recorded sizable advances in the education sector in a relatively short time frame. Since 2000, enrollment has more than doubled in secondary schools, while the number of students enrolled in basic education has increased by 40 percent, with notable growth in the madrassas schools. Gender equality and completion rates in basic education have continued to improve across the board and surpass the regional averages. Simultaneously, the number of teachers formally trained and the number of students enrolled in the Teachers’ College has grown considerably since 2005.

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 4.30.59 PMThese gains are directly linked to the scaled-up investment in the sector, which has translated into a greater number of schools, larger number of qualified teachers and monitors, and the introduction of innovative programs catering to hard-to-reach groups. In turn, these achievements have been made possible by the organizational and management changes introduced by the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education (MoBSE) and its ability to remain focused on a small set of goals, report results, and mobilize domestic and external support to realize them, while generating and renewing its leadership cadre. To achieve this, the institution has had to navigate and solve numerous challenges in its internal organization and in the governance environment.

This is how development happens. Specific segments of governments get it right and, with some luck, generate positive spillovers into other departments. In Gambia it is happening in the Ministries of Finance and Education. In Kenya, the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) and, to some extent, the Treasury are doing much of the heavy-lifting in the quest to rationalize the Kenyan economy.

Quick thoughts on presidential term limits and the political crisis in Burundi

The president of Burundi is about (or not) to join the list of African leaders who have successfully overcome constitutional term limits in a bid to hang on to power. Currently (based on observed attempts in other African countries and their success rate) the odds are roughly 50-50 that Mr. Pierre Nkurunziza will succeed. The last president to try this move was Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso who ended up getting deposed by the military after mass protests paralyzed Burkina’s major cities.

Successful term limit extensions have so far happened in Burkina Faso (first time), Cameroon, Chad, Djibouti, Gabon, Guinea, Namibia, Togo, and Uganda. Presidents have also tried, but failed, to abolish term limits in Burkina Faso (second time), Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Zambia. Countries that are about to go through a term limit test in the near future include Angola, Burundi, Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Liberia, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone. Heads of State in Benin, Cape Verde, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Sao Tome e Principe, Tanzania, and Namibia (after Nujoma) have so far obeyed term limits and stepped down at the end of their second constitutional terms.

To the best of my knowledge only Sudan, The Gambia, Equatorial Guinea, and Eritrea have presidential systems without constitutional term limits. Parliamentary systems in South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Ethiopia, and Botswana do not have limits, although the norm of two terms exists in Botswana and South Africa (and perhaps soon in Ethiopia?).

So what we see in the existing data is that conditional on *overtly* trying to scrap term limits African Heads of State are more likely to succeed than not (9 successes, 6 failures). However, this observation doesn’t tell us anything about the presidents who did not formally consider term limit extensions. For instance, in Kenya (Moi) and Ghana (Rawlings), presidents did not initiate formal debate on the subject but were widely rumored to have tried to do so. So it’s probably the case that presidents who are more likely to succeed self-select into formally initiating public debate on the subject of term limit extension, thereby tilting the balance. And if you factor in the countries that have had more than one episode of term-limited presidents stepping down, suddenly the odds look pretty good for the consolidation of the norm of term limits in Sub Saharan Africa.

I wouldn’t rule out, in the next decade or so, the adoption of an African Union resolution (akin to the one against coups) that sanctions Heads of State who violate constitutional term limits.

So will Nkurunziza succeed? What does this mean for political stability in Burundi? And what can the East African Community and the wider international community do about it? For my thoughts regarding these questions check out my post for the Monkey Cage blog at the Washington Post here.

Correction: An earlier draft of this post listed Zimbabwe as one of the countries without term limits. The 2013 Constitution limits presidents to two terms (with a minimum of three years counting as full term (see Section 91).

Kenya’s Milk Consumption is the Highest in the Developing World

Last year the French company Danone (maker of Activia yogurt) bought a 40% stake in the Kenyan dairy firm Brookside, a sign of the growing importance of the dairy market in the wider eastern Africa region. But the story doesn’t end with the big household names. Smallholder farmers are also getting a piece of the dairy bonanza in Kenya:

HT Sarora Dairies

On a related note, here is how a company in China is helping industrialize the country’s dairy sector:

A milk scandal erupted in China in 2008 when the industrial chemical melamine was found in dairy products nationwide. While many Chinese dairy companies faced huge losses or bankruptcy as a result, one small firm, Dairy United, accelerated its development. Dairy United is one of the fastest-growing and most innovative Chinese dairy producers, one that features an unusual organizational structure and business model. Unlike most corporate and cooperative dairies that purchase cows on the market, Dairy United leases dairy cows from local farmers, giving it access to its primary asset without a large up-front investment, and letting the firm grow its dairy herds with newborn heifers. In return, farmers receive fixed payments biannually, but relinquish control rights and residual claims to the firm. Thus, Dairy United’s leasing is helping transform Chinese milk production from a backyard, labor-intensive activity to a more industrialized mode of farming. The case is particularly interesting for understanding applications of agency theory in agribusiness.

That is according to a new paper in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics (which I hope chaps at the Ministry of Agriculture in Nairobi subscribe to).

How to write about Africa in one picture

This is a story about Kenya building the first new railroad since the British built the old one more than a century ago. The new line goes through a National Park. A watchman was attacked by a cheetah. No one was mauled by lions. The attempts to link the current project to the Man Eaters of Tsavo trope is noted, but that happened a century ago when the lion population in the Protectorate was still quite big, and rhinos charged mail cars.Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 11.33.38 PM

The rest of the story is here. Please skip through the Conrad-esque first paragraph.

Achebe (on Conrad’s racism) and Binyavanga (on how to write about Africa) should be required reading before some of these correspondents (and the social media interns) are inflicted on the world.

Remembering The Wagalla Massacre

This happened. Only 31 years ago. Lest we forget.

[O]n February [10th] 1984, soldiers of the Kenya Army mounted a security operation around Wajir in Kenya’s North Eastern Province. Having rounded-up all Somali men of the Degodia clan, as many as 5000 were taken to the Wagalla airstrip for interrogation. This was part of the policy of ‘collective punishment’ – a conscious act of state violence against its own citizens. After four days of interrogations at Wagalla, several hundred Degodia lay dead: whether 500 died, or 1000, or more is unknown, but the incident stands as the worst atrocity in Kenya’s modern history. This article recounts what is known about the massacre from witness and survivor testimony, putting this together with documentary evidence recently revealed through the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) and setting the analysis in the wider context of Kenya’s treatment of the peoples of its ‘forgotten north’. The conclusion summarises the findings of Kenya’s TJRC on Wagalla, and comments on the recent construction of a monument to commemorate the massacre, opened at Wajir on 14 February 2014.

The following individuals held a top level meeting in the Wajir DC offices on February 8th, two days before the massacre: Joseph Kaguthi (Asst. Secretary, Internal Security), James Mathenge (PS, OP in charge of Internal Security), Gen. J. R. Kibwana (former CGS), John Gituma (PS, Information and Broadcasting), Benson Kaaria (PC, North Eastern), Bethuel Kiplagat (PS Foreign Affairs), and David Mwiraria (PS, Home Affairs). Mwiraria has in the past argued that he and others at the meeting had not idea about what was about to happen.

Because of the failure to effectively deal with instances of gross state overreach like the Wagalla Massacre, impunity within the security services continues. Government reactions to insecurity in the northwest, at the coast, in the northeast, in dealing with Mungiki, out west in Mt. Elgon, and even in Eastleigh, are continuations of an old habit that goes back to the Mau Mau concentration camps under the emergency.

Throughout the “Shifta” war and well into the 1980s..

collective punishment continued to be used to ‘discipline’ the north, amid a growing sense of official impunity, as was evident in the collective punishment of a Somali community in Garissa

More on this here.

Here is the Citizen TV documentary from 2012.

Netflix is making thousands of Americans flunk geography

You can’t make this stuff up:

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The show began to air in 2010. This is its description as of February 3rd, 2015.

That said, if you have to visit Africa, the place to go is KENYA!

Because of this:

HT Hayes Brown

Is Nigeria’s Economy Overrated?

Here is Izabella Kaminska of the FT:

Source: Financial Times

Source: Financial Times

On the surface, Nigeria’s oil sector has dropped in significance to a mere 13% of real GDP, while the services sector has climbed to 40% in real terms. Yet, the reality is that it is the country’s oil revenues that have supported growth and, to a large extent, maintained social order. Without oil, both would fall apart; government spending would be much smaller, interest rates much higher, and the currency’s valuation much lower.

….. the country’s domestic savings rate, at a measly 20 per cent of GDP, is extremely low for a developing economy at this stage. A key reason being the government’s inability to tame chronically high inflation, meaning bank deposits have earned negative real interest rates for most of the past decade.

More on this here (HT Tyler Cowen).

And by the way, on this score Nigeria is not alone.

In an instance of the triumph of hope over experience The Economist recently pronounced the end of the resource curse in Africa. I do not completely buy their argument. Yes, growth and investment across the Continent may no longer be tightly coupled with natural resource cycles. But from Ghana, to Zambia, macro-economic stability (and important aspects of social spending) are still very tightly tied to movements in the global commodity markets.

Furthermore, many of these countries have recently re-entered the global debt markets partly backed by primary commodities as surety. The same applies to debts owed to Beijing. Last year alone foreign debt issues in the region exceeded $6.5b. As I argued in June of 2013, we might be entering another pre-1980s debt bubble.

Tanking crude prices have put Angola on the ropes. The country recently slashed $14b of previously planned spending. The Cedi and Kwacha took a nosedive (26% and 13%, respectively) last year because of sagging commodity prices (gold and copper) and government deficits (fueled by the expectation of future commodity bonanzas, especially in the case of Ghana whose debt to GDP ratio is now a staggering 65%). Even well-balanced Kenya (also a recent eurobond issuer) has had to go to the IMF for a precautionary loan against currency-related shocks in the near future. The current situation has prompted ODI to warn that:

The exchange-rate risk of sovereign bonds sold by sub-Saharan African governments between 2013 and 2014 threatens losses of $10.8 billion, equivalent to 1.1 percent of the region’s gross domestic product, the ODI said. While Eurobonds are typically issued and repaid in dollars, the depreciation of local currencies in 2014 makes it harder for governments to repay them.

All this brings to the fore SSA’s biggest challenge over the next two decades: How to carry out massive investments in infrastructure and human capital, while at the same time maintaining a sustainably balanced macro environment that is conducive to long-term saving.