Do host governments necessarily “do development” better than foreign donors?

A common complaint you hear against donor-driven development projects is that they are typically at variance with local priorities; and make no attempts to work along the grain, or build upon existing systems. It turns out that governments in developing countries aren’t any different.

Take the example of the slum upgrading project in the infamous Kibera slum in Nairobi:

A keen look at the Open Street Map for Kibera and Mathare Valley before the NYS initiative started reveals the existence of services such as education, health, water and sanitation points. In Korogocho, Mukuru, Mathare and Kibera self help groups had emerged even before NYS Initiative start to earn daily income from activities such as urban farming, garbage collection and water delivery services. It is a fact that most toilets are not connected to the main sewer and private clinics are either not registered or managed by quacks, while illegal power connections abound.

The NYS Initiative would have scored big by establishing connections with already existing services providers in poor neighbourhoods by either improving their capacity to offer quality and affordable services to the urban poor or by trying to create an enabling environment for slum entrepreneurs to be part of formal and legal business entities. It is a mistake to assume that  there are no service providers within poor neighborhoods. Poverty and lack of basic services is an urban reality which has motivated the establishment of civil society groups to initiate health, education and income generating activities for women and youths as a supplement to government efforts in meeting its obligations. No government in the world can be able to solve the complex community problems of the poor by itself.

And there is an interesting twist to this story…

Experience from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and the Urban Poverty and Slum Upgrading Project funded by the World Bank might be instructive. The project has some similarities with the NYS project in terms of targeting poor neighborhoods but was able to achieve more success because it worked more closely with local communities and partnered with Dar es Salaam Municipal Council officials from conception to implementation and monitoring stages, a situation which is totally lacking with the National Youth Service projects. The NYS Initiative seems to be a duplication and competition with the mandate of mandate of Nairobi City County.

I do not know about the veracity of the claims about the Dar slum (and I think the NYS budget is fully domestic — after the initial Chinese boost) but right now it’s hard not to feel like Tanzanians are doing everything right; while Kenyans are perennially running around in circles. The Mara Derby is on.

Read the whole thing here.

Thoughts on the Uhuru Kenyatta Administration in 2016

This is from Kenya’s leading newspaper, the Daily Nation, addressing the president:

We acknowledge the fact that it has been a tough year for leaders across the world — what with global economic upheavals and terrorists wreaking havoc everywhere.

However, we reject the almost criminal resignation and negligence with which your government has responded to our national crises this past year. We need not recount the number of lives lost, the losses incurred by businesses and opportunities wasted for millions of Kenyans due to the incompetence of the Executive.

With the exception of a few family businesses and tenderpreneurs who raked in billions of shillings — thanks largely to political patronage — everyone is losing money in this country.

More on this here. Read the whole thing.

This is pretty direct, and articulates a narrative of the middle class’ general dissatisfaction with President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration.

It will also have very little political impact.

First, the Kenyan middle class (the primary audience of the Nation) is tiny. Second, the same middle class is as much a hostage of identity politics as is the rest of the country (this is true of even for the Nation‘s editorial team) — and on this score Kenya’s demographic profile favors Mr. Kenyatta in the next election scheduled for August next year (All indications suggest that a breakup of the Jubilee Alliance ahead of 2017 is a low probability event). Third, there still exists a wide chasm between the middle and upper middle classes and the vast majority of working class and rural Kenyans (with the former group perpetually wondering why the latter group doesn’t vote for its interests). This is why identity politics continue to dominate even cosmopolitan counties like Nairobi, Kisumu, Nakuru, and Mombasa.

That said, here are some quick thoughts on the Jubilee Administration as it enters its fourth year:

  1. President Uhuru Kenyatta is a politician: That means that he will invariably only take action that is consistent with his perceived political interests — getting reelected in 2017; keeping his political lieutenants and the wider Jubilee coalition happy; taking care of his core base; et cetera. Reformists who imagine that the president can operate outside of Kenya’s political system are bound to be disappointed. And those who equate Uhuru Kenyatta to Daniel arap Moi are missing the point by miles. Moi micro-managed. Kenyatta II delegates (Kibaki and Kenyatta I delegated, but with relatively better monitoring).
  2. The Kenyatta Administration’s biggest problem is too much delegation without sufficient monitoring: Much of the criticism of the Administration tends to be packaged in the language of “political will” — if only Kenyatta REALLY wanted to change things. The truth, however, is that the president faces both political and organizational obstacles to reform. Administrators continue to stonewall reform at will; and the administration remains too top heavy for its own good. What needs to happen is a radical restructuring to empower the equivalent of “mid-level managers” in the Civil Service. This should be accompanied by a shift from an internal police patrol system of monitoring (characterized by an extreme form of siege mentality) to a fire alarm system — Civil Servants should be judged by what the public thinks of their work. And those found wanting should be fired. Incentives matter. Focusing on these administrative and organizational reform agendas, rather than the politics of “political will” might be more amenable to the president (see 1 above) and could yield good results — especially if they come with sufficient political cover for the president.
  3. State House is not focused on any key signature policies: Most governments tend to be judged by a few signature achievements. President Kibaki will forever be remembered as Mr Infrastructure. Thus far Mr. Kenyatta has not staked his legacy on any pet projects or policies — most of the big investments he has made (in rail, roads, and power) are on Kibaki legacy projects. This makes it very hard for him to sell any “successes.” Back in 2013 I proposed housing, agriculture, and education as possible areas in which the president could make significant improvements while building on Kibaki’s legacy. The lack of focus at State House creates the impression of an administration that dabbles in everything but closes on nothing. It also allows Civil Servants to shirk a lot. They are doing everything, but have nothing to show for it. The president would be better served if he told his staff that he will no longer show up at the launching of anything, and instead will only be available for commissioning of fished projects. Incentives matter.
  4. Perception is everything in politics: Narratives matter in politics. They also tend to be sticky and self-fulfilling. It is going to be hard for the president to sell his successes — including in energy and electricity access and continued investment in Kibaki legacy projects — if the public is convinced that his administration is failing on every front.
  5. What is William Ruto’s strategy? President Kenyatta has had a rough three years. By his own admission the war on corruption and malaise in the public service has proven to be a lot harder than he imagined it to be. But he is a Kenyatta, and will most likely be reelected next August. Ruto, the Deputy President, hopes to succeed Kenyatta in 2022. However, Ruto’s electoral success will hinge on the Administration’s performance over the next seven years. Also, Vice Presidents typically take the fall for the boss if things go wrong. It is not clear to me how Ruto would be a successful candidate in 2022 if the Kenyatta II era is judged to have been a failure (especially since it will be judged against the Kibaki era). Given this reality one would expect Ruto to do his all to make the administration work for Kenyans, instead of relying solely on patronage. Kenya has changed a lot since 2010; and will have changed even more by 2022. Performance will matter a lot more then that it does now, even for rural Kenyans. I am constantly surprised that this fact does not seem to bother the man from Eldoret.
  6. What to look for in 2016: The management of Kenya’s public debt (which will impact movements in domestic interest rates, with knock on effects on growth); continued investment in key infrastructure, including transportation and power generation (by year end nearly all primary schools in the country will be on the grid, a pretty big deal); a rebound in tourism (he has his faults, but CS Najib Balala is probably the best man for the job at tourism); and continued growth in construction (which grew by 14.1% in Q3 of 2015). I remain cautiously optimistic about the handling of monetary policy. The Governor of the Central Bank, Dr. Patrick Njoroge, is probably the most respected technocrat in the country.

Historically, growth in the Kenyan economy tends to slow down by about 0.5 percentage points during election years. This time is probably not going to be different. That said, I expect the economy to remain on a positive growth trajectory (above 5% growth p.a.) going into 2017.

On the political front, the role of the Governors of Kenya’s 47 counties will the biggest wildcard. Many of these mini-presidents have amassed financial war chests and created networks that will prove consequential in 2017. True to Kenyan form, a number of them are already founding their own parties (the true District Parties are back, with cash). The balancing effects of governors (vis-a-vis established national politicians) creates a reality in which no one is fully “in charge” in the Jamuhuri, a fact that comes with all sorts of frustrations and fears. But sometimes that is a good thing. Especially when Kenyans and their indefatigable biashara habits are involved.

Lastly, expect to see more hard-hitting criticism of Mr. Kenyatta in the Kenyan press in 2016, much of it inspired by Kenya’s deep-seated Tanzania envy. If Tanzanian president John Magufuli maintains his reformist zeal there will be a lot of pressure on Mr. Kenyatta (#WhatWouldMagufuliDo?). Very few Kenyans will care to remember that the two presidents serve under two completely different constitutional and party regimes.

Happy New Year!

Kenya is at peak Tanzania envy

There’s a veritable reason President John Pombe Magufuli is a Tanzanian, and not a Kenyan. It’s the same reason Chief Justice Willy Mutunga is a product of the University of Dar es Salaam, and not the University of Nairobi. President Magufuli embodies the immutable character forged into the Tanzanian identity by President Julius Kambarage Nyerere, the philosopher-king. It’s a national character of service and selflessness that made Tanzania the anchor of the African liberation movement — the Mecca of all black freedom fighters.

It’s a mchicha [sukumawiki] culture of simplicity that eschews public gluttony, impunity, and vileness. That’s why #WhatWouldMagufuliDo has become a household hashtag. Not since President Nyerere have we seen the likes of Mr Magufuli in Africa. There’s a famous quote, attributed variously to Alexis de Tocqueville or Joseph de Maistre, which speaks of the character of a nation, a people. It says that “In a democracy, people elect the government they deserve.” The keys to the nugget are “democracy” and “elect.” In other words, it speaks of the free expression of the will of the people through an open plebiscite. In Tanzania, the people decided to “elect” Mr Magufuli over the opposition candidate, former PM Edward Lowassa. Even before the election, Mr Magufuli had distinguished himself as the hardest working member of the Kikwete government. Mr Lowassa was wildly popular, but Mr Magufuli beat him hands down. The people spoke.

…… In contrast, faced with a stark choice in Kenya in 2013, my compatriots were said to prefer Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto over CORD’s Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka. The former faced charges for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court. I was one among many who placed obstacles in Mr Kenyatta’s election. I argued that electing an ICC indictee wasn’t in the national interest. But voters were polarised along ethnic blocks and failed to see my logic. Today — three years after the election — Kenyans are more depressed than ever, and every new scandal sinks the country into a deeper funk. Most Kenyans today wish Mr Magufuli was a Kenyan. I hate to say I’ve no sympathy.

That’s SUNY Buffalo law professor Makau Mutua writing in the Standard.

This is among a long line of Kenya-Tanzania comparisons that often serve to highlight the relative moral/ethical deficiencies of the former. Kenyans are corrupt and boorish; Tanzanians are polite and virtuous. Kenyans are rabid tribalists; Tanzanians have a strong national identity crafted around Kiswahili as a national language and the great Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s vision for the Muungano (full disclosure, like Mutua, I am also intellectually enamored by the Dar es Salaam School).

Like all sweeping narratives there is some truth to these comparisons. And bucket loads of unsubstantiated hype. For example, under both Mkapa and Kikwete Tanzania had its share of mega corruption scandals, not unlike what happens north of the Kilimanjaro. Kenya ranks 145/175 in Transparency International’s perception of corruption rankings. Tanzania is at 119/175, still experiencing widespread corruption. The same slight differences are depicted in Afrobarometer survey results (See above. Tanzania is on the left. Question asks for respondents’ perceived share of government officials involved in corruption).

Also, the income of the average Kenyan is almost 1.5 times that of her Tanzanian counterpart. The infant mortality rates (per 1,000 live births) are 37 and 51 in Kenya and Tanzania, respectively.

Mwalimu once quipped that Kenya is a dog-eat-dog society. To which Kenya’s then Attorney General Charles Njonjo replied that Tanzania is a man-eat-nothing society.

Tanzania’s economy may yet outpace Kenya’s in the near future on account of the former’s solid foundation of nationhood. But for now I think it is fair to say that Kenya’s faux “African Socialism” beat Tanzania’s Ujamaa in delivering the goods, the morality of it all notwithstanding.tanzania

Oh, and what about the tired stereotyping of Kenyans as being more hardworking than Tanzanians? Well, according to Pew survey findings a bigger proportion of Tanzanians (than Kenyans) believe that the best way to get ahead is through hard work.

So there is that.

 

Why isn’t the East African Community doing more on Burundi?

The situation in Burundi is deteriorating, fast.

Armed-forces-in-Burundi-340x230There are strong signs of ethnic violence. More than 300 people have been killed since President Pierre Nkurunziza successfully violated term limits to stay in office for a third term early this year. The ensuing violence has forced over 220,000 to flee the country, while scores remain displaced internally. Over the last week alone more than 80 people have been murdered in what is increasingly looking like a civil war rather than mere civil unrest met with heavy-handed repression. The African union has used the word “genocide” in reference to the Burundian situation.

For a background on the current Burundian crisis see here, here, here and here.

So given the clear evidence that things are falling apart in Burundi, why isn’t the East African Community (EAC) doing more to de-escalate the situation?

The simple answer is intra-EAC politics (which serve to accentuate the body’s resource constraints).

The EAC is a five-member (Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda) regional economic community (REC) that is arguably the most differentiated REC in Africa. Based in Arusha, Tanzania, it is a relatively robust institution replete with executive, legislative and judicial arms.

Like is the case for most African RECs, the EAC member states conceded precious little sovereignty to Arusha. For example, the  EAC treaty does not directly empower the REC to intervene in a member country even in cases of gross violations of human rights (like is currently happening in Burundi). So far regional cooperation within the EAC has mainly focused on economic issues that do not pose substantial threats to sovereignty. It is for this reason that the EAC has avoided any kind of direct intervention in Burundi to end what is a singularly political crisis — both within Burundi and at the regional level.

That said, Article 123 of the EAC treaty provides a loophole for intervention.

The Article stipulates that the purpose of political cooperation among EAC member states is to, among other things: (i) strengthen the security of the Community and its Partner States in all ways; and (ii) preserve peace and strengthen international security among the Partner States and within the Community. In my view these clauses mandate the EAC to protect both the internal security of Burundi as well as intra-EAC security.

It is important to note that so far the norm has been to treat vagueness in African REC treaties as a call to inaction. But vagueness also provides willing interveners with a fair amount of latitude over interpretation. Furthermore, since 2000 the trend within African RECs has been to dilute the infamous OAU non-intervention clauses (see the AU treaty, for example) especially with regard to security matters.

It is not hard to see how the conflict in Burundi poses a clear and present danger to both Burundi’s internal security as well as peace and security within the EAC.

We know from history that an all out civil war in Burundi would threaten the security of the region. Burundi’s ethnic make up roughly mirrors that of Rwanda. Ethnic conflict in Burundi would inevitably elicit an intervention from Rwanda, thereby regionalizing the conflict (with an almost guaranteed knock on effect in eastern DRC). In addition, even though Kagame may not be a fan of Nkurunziza, he lacks the moral authority to criticize him given recent moves to scrap term limits in Rwanda.

If Rwanda (overtly) intervenes in Burundi, it is not clear which side Tanzania — a critical player — would take (especially because of the implications for the stability of eastern DRC). Kigali and Dodoma do not always see eye to eye. In addition, the new Tanzanian president, John Magufuli, is not particularly close to his Kenyan counterpart on account of his closeness to Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga. This may limit the possibility of collective action on Burundi by the EAC’s two leading powers.

And then there is Uganda. President Yoweri Museveni is currently the designated mediator in the Burundian negotiation process. But he is currently preoccupied in his bid to win an nth term in office (who’s counting?) His legitimacy as a mediator is seriously in question on account of his political record back home. Recall that the proximate cause of the current crisis in Burundi was Nkurunziza’s decision to violate term limits. Museveni scrapped term limits in 2005 and has systematically squeezed the Ugandan opposition into submission through heavy handed tactics that are direct violations of human rights.

Sadly for Burundians, the current state of inter-state relations within the EAC is strongly biased against any robust intervention to stop the violence that is increasingly becoming routine. Nkurunziza knows this, and will likely try to make an end run on his perceived political opponents before the wider international community begins to pay closer attention.

Lastly, the other possible interveners — the  UN and the EU — are also not likely to intervene in Burundi any time soon, despite the country’s heavy dependence on foreign aid. Europe is hobbled by the ongoing refugee crisis and the war on ISIS. As for the UN, it increasingly launders its interventions through region or sub-regional IOs (see for example AMISOM in Somalia, under the AU). This kind of strategy requires a willing regional partner, something that is lacking in the case of the EAC (or the AU for that matter).

In the next few weeks there will probably be attempts at mediation and calls for a ceasefire. But my hunch is that things are likely to get much worse in Burundi in the short term.

Stanford Biz School Seed Transformation Program is seeking applicants from East Africa

Do you run an SME? Are you interested in training and mentorship? Then apply for Stanford’s STP.

The Stanford Seed Transformation Program addresses the needs of founders/senior leaders in developing economies who lead growing, small to medium sized enterprises.

The STP curriculum is customized to address the needs of founders and senior leaders of small and medium sized companies who are committed to growing their businesses.

Over a period of six months, you will attend four highly interactive sessions—each lasting one week. Sessions cover tools and methodologies that you will use to grow and transform your business.

For example, you will learn about Design Thinking—an innovative problem-solving approach refined by Stanford faculty and its alumni—that is invaluable for identifying new products and services for your customers.

STP topics include leadership training, strategy, organizational design, business model development, operations, accounting, marketing, finance/investing, value chain innovations, governance, business ethics, and product and service innovations. 

You can apply here.

The Kenyan Army’s Criminal Racket in Somalia

Quoting from a new report from the Journalists for Justice project:

With the death toll from al-Shabaab attacks inside Kenya rising to over 400, Journalists for Justice felt that the task of examining whether Operation Linda Nchi is actually delivering was overdue. This study looks at the conduct of KDF forces in two areas: 1) sugar smuggling and financial enabling of al-Shabaab and, 2) human rights violations.

This report presents the findings of several months of research in Somalia in Kismayo and Dhobley and inside Kenya in Liboi, Dadaab, Garissa and Nairobi. A desktop review, encompassing UN monitoring reports, academic studies, African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) communication and media reports was followed by one-on-one interviews with over 50 people with intimate knowledge of KDF activities, including serving senior KDF officers, UN officials, western intelligence officials, members of parliament, victims of KDF human rights violations inside Somalia, journalists, doctors, porters at the charcoal stockpiles, drivers on the sugar routes and middlemen in the Dadaab camp.

…. JFJ research suggests that both KDF, the Jubaland administration of Ahmed Madobe and al-Shabaab are all benefitting from shares in a trade that is worth, collectively, between $200 million and $400 million.

More on this here.

For more on the challenges facing Kenya’s security operation in Somalia see here.

Thandika Mkandawire on the “Kenya Debate”

The ‘Kenya debate’ was a debate not among Kenyans but about Kenya by a group of expatriates, most of whom were temporarily resident in Kenya. This may partly explain its abrupt end. Kitching (1985) also suggests that the fact that all the protagonists viewed themselves as progressives precluded the further pursuit of the debate on how a capitalist accumulation process could be promoted.

Ouch. Kenyanists (Kenyan or not) will appreciate the zinger (please bring back economic history!) The quote is from a footnote on page 198.

Mkandawire’s paper on “Thinking About Developmental States in Africa” (not on Kenya) is a must read in any PE class on African development.

Nairobi Matatu Routes on Google Maps

Screen Shot 2015-08-27 at 10.48.26 AM

A screen shot of the commute from Ongata Rongai to Kahawa West

Launching the matatu routes in Google emphasizes the need to study the informal transit networks that shuttle masses of people around in sub-Saharan Africa, southeast Asia, and south Asia. “You’re saying this is part of the system,” said Klopp. And since the GTFS data structure and the Nairobi data are open source, Digital Matatus gives other groups in Mexico City, Manila, Dhaka, China, and elsewhere a plan to collect and disseminate data on their transit. The collaboration has already received requests from around the world to map their cities.

Digital Matatus has also started talks with four more cities in Africa—Kampala, Accra, Lusaka, and Maputo—to use the same methods to map their informal mass transit systems. “So many of our problems in developing cities where you have extreme poverty and awful environmental conditions—they’re always tied in some way to the transport sector,” said Cervero. “It’s very chaotic and unmanaged, so this is a huge first step towards enhancing those services.”

People in Nairobi still use the paper maps because the matatu routes have not changed since their release, and the ultimate goal is a formal transit system with set maps, times, and prices. But hopefully “formal” will still mean you enjoy your commute with twinkling disco balls and a good beat.

Wired has the rest of the story on how this happened here.

This is a cool development that will hopefully inform Nairobi County’s infrastructure planning going forward. It should not take 2.5 hours to travel across the city from Kahawa West to Rongai, a distance of only 24 miles.

Key Issues That President Kenyatta Will Raise During Obama’s Visit

This week for the first time a serving American leader will visit Kenya. Such a high profile visit has been long coming. It was eight years ago that the North American country witnessed only the 43rd peaceful handover of power following a free and fair democratic election.

Many analysts had expected that then Kenyan president, Mwai Kibaki, would extend a courtesy invitation to president Barack Obama in order to signal Kenya’s commitment to the process of democratic consolidation in the United States. President Kibaki’s decision to avoid being associated with Obama was perhaps emblematic of the concerns many in the Kenyan government still have regarding the American leadership’s commitment to reforms, including in areas such as police brutality, income inequality, ethnic and racial tensions, and overall respect for human rights.

For example, America has only 5% of the world’s population but 25% of its prisoners. Many of those languishing in crowded jails are people of color serving long sentences in large part due to racially-biased laws and police departments.

obamaAware of this blot on America’s record, Obama sought to assuage Kenyan officials by visiting a federal prison in the region of Oklahoma as well as publicly declaring his commitment to reforming the justice system in America. As a gesture of goodwill the American leader also released several prisoners ahead of his visit. The Kenyan Ambassador in Washington, Robinson Githae, welcomed this move by the U.S. government, but reiterated the need for structural reforms. Mr. Githae also emphasized Kenya’s commitment to supporting governance reforms in the United States and the Americas in general.

The Kenyan Ambassador also listed a number of issues that President Kenyatta hopes to raise with the American leader during his two-day visit in Nairobi. These include:

  • Regional and global security: The United States is the most militarized nation in the world. As such, it has had a hand in nearly every single geopolitical hotspot on the globe. President Kenyatta will remind the American leader of the need to respect international law and the sovereignty of other nations, even as his country pursues its interests abroad. For example, in a statement last week Mr. Kenyatta commended the American negotiating team for reaching a deal with Iran just in time for the visit. He also lauded the American leader’s decision to by-pass the country’s sophomoric parliament and first seek the deal’s approval at the United Nations. Eager to please Kenyan officials, America this week began the process of normalizing relations with Cuba. The government of Kenya hopes that these gestures will endure beyond the current administration and signal a new American commitment to engaging other nations of the world with mutual respect.
  • Ethnic and racial violence: Having lived in the Americas during his college years, Mr. Kenyatta is well aware of the evils of racial discrimination in that part of the world. The president will particularly focus on the utterances by some candidates in next year’s U.S. election who suggested that all immigrants from neighboring countries are violent criminals. Mr. Kenyatta will emphasize the need for ethnic and racial tolerance ahead of the election in order to avoid ethnic violence or a souring of relations with America’s neighbors. The Americas hold the dubious title of being the murder capital of the world, in addition to being a leading source of drugs such as cocaine. Kenya is keen to ensure that the volatile region remains reasonably contained since it is a vital supplier of movies and soap operas to the global market.
  • Respect for human rights: Despite its impressive rebound from the stolen election of 2000, the United States continues to experience several challenges with regard to human rights. It’s police routinely brutalize men, women, and children in front of cameras, and get away with it. Just this year almost 400 people have been killed by the police or died under mysterious circumstances while in the custody of police. The U.S. government also continues to spy on its own citizens, in many instances in direct violation of its own constitution. Mr. Kenyatta will press the American leader on these issues, and remind him that his country lags other nations that share its level of political and economic development.
  • Bilateral Trade: Trade ties between Kenya and the United States are weak. In 2013 the total volume of trade between the two countries was a mere 2 percent of Kenya’s GDP. America’s economic insignificance to Kenya is signaled by the fact that the latter is the former’s 96th largest trading partner. President Kenyatta will press the American leader on the need to maintain the American EXIM Bank (whose authority has lapsed) as a financier of bilateral trade. The president will also remind the throngs of businesspeople and cronies that will be part of the Obama delegation that they need to stop the habit of hiding behind “political risk”  and warped ideas about Kenya as excuses for not investing in the country.

An often under-appreciated aspect of this visit is that the American leader’s father was Kenyan (indeed, America’s leading TV station has speculated that Obama himself was born in Kenya). It is unclear what, if any, President Kenyatta has planned for the American leader to mark this historic visit to his father’s home country.

A slightly different story on administrative unit proliferation

The emerging stylized story about administrative unit proliferation in the developing world is that it is often a result of political machinations by national and local elites intent on creating new units for marginalized groups and for the ruler to buy votes; and that such proliferation only serves to re-centralize actual power — see for example these really cool papers by Grossman and Lewis (on the specific case of Uganda), Mai Hasssan (on the use of new districts to buy votes in Kenya) and Kimuli Kasara (also on how heightened electoral competition after 1992 accelerated the process of administrative unit proliferation in Kenya).

But there is also a slightly different, and in some ways complementary, story.

Regarding the creation of new provinces in Vietnam, Edmund Malesky notes:Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 12.30.20 PM

The timing of provincial separations after Party Congresses, the dominance of Non-state Provinces despite little change in national output, and the decisive political outcome of this dominance at the 2001 Party Congress bolster the argument that reformers had an explicit electoral strategy in calling for the splitting of provinces in 1996. By creating new Non-state Provinces, modernizers believed they could influence the outcomes of future CCOM debates about
grand strategies and smaller NA debates about implementation of these new policies. While rhetorically it was easier to argue for new provinces based on efficiency, it would seem they were studying maps of
district economic composition and creating new reform-oriented
provinces out of SOE-dominated areas.

The key difference between administrative unit proliferation in Vietnam and Uganda (and Kenya before 2010) is the electoral connection (an aspect that, in my view, is missing in the current literature). Because the provinces had votes (in party congresses and plenums), the creation of new Vietnamese provinces had significant implications for the de facto distribution of power in both Hanoi and the periphery (and in Malesky’s story, made reforms possible). Provincial splits in Vietman were therefore not just about patronage and marginalized groups, but also about securing a win for the reformist bloc at the centre.

This might not be the case in countries where new units can be created without altering the balance of power in the party congress or parliament — either because such action does not create new electoral districts; or the president gets to nominate or can credibly influence the election of the representatives of the new districts. For this reason, I would predict that Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa (whose subnational units are electorally significant and have a fair amount of fiscal autonomy) are unlikely to create new primary subnational units willy-nilly.