The disappearing Lake Chad, 1963-2001

 

I have been looking at the African Development Bank’s long term strategy (available here) and one of the figures that caught my eye was the extent to which Lake Chad has shrunk over the last 50 years. Wow.

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State-building is not a walk in the park

 “Mauritius’s state building success came on the backs of relentlessly exploited slaves and indentured labourers. Sugar planters compelled the government to ignore mistreatment on sugar estates, implement unreasonable fines and annual passport fees in the name of preventing ‘vagrancy,’ and harass those workers who tried to search for a better life in urban professions. Planters’ actions were expressly designed to subjugate and repress the politically powerless in order to maximise their economic power. Moreover, the fact that class divides coincided with racial difference meant that economic and political contention between elites and labourers on Mauritius became imbued with what was, at times, virulent racism. The worst of these endeavours were related to the planters’ quest to secure an adequate labour supply in the four decades after 1825. Later initiatives, such as railway construction and research and development programmes, were fairly benign. Together, these undertakings transformed the island’s economy and governmental capabilities. In Mauritius, then, one finds something of a developmental paradox: although the long- term consequences of state building have led to a regional ‘miracle’, the way in which the island’s elite and government laid the groundwork for it was normatively reprehensible.”

That is Ryan Saylor writing in the latest edition of Review of African Political Economy.

The paper mostly focuses on the success story that was Mauritian state (capacity) building. But this paragraph is a reminder to those who imagine a whiggish history for much of the developing world to go take a hard, honest look at history.

Throughout most of history, in order to have barons that successfully limited the power of the king or his equivalent (thus creating the roots of post-enlightenment democracy) you needed barons who could extract the life out of peasants. Wars that made states killed lots of young conscripts, confiscated private property and led to the demise of whole peoples’ ways of life (Not all French had French speaking ancestors, for instance). And speaking of the French, they went through lots of republics and dictatorships to become what they are today. Further afield, following its own civil war the institutions of government designed to protect human rights in the US had to look the other way until the 1960s in order to preserve its democracy. In the 20th century, decades of intolerant Kemalist ideological orthodoxy laid the foundation for the Islamic world’s most resilient democracy in Turkey.

Source Wikipedia. Darker shades indicate state failure.

Source Wikipedia. Darker shades indicate state failure in 2011.

Will Egypt, Rwanda, Kenya and the rest escape these patterns if they are ever to become Denmark, the supposed paragon of liberal democracy?

How does one go about state-building in a modern world with sacrosanct borders and a saner human rights regime?

Recent events in the DRC and CAR confirm the urgency with which we ought to address the question of state-building in the developing world in general, and in Sub-Saharan Africa in particular (see map).

Wars of conquest (which probably would have resulted in Rwanda, Angola and Uganda carving up the DRC) are no longer kosher. Add to that the demands of a tighter and saner human rights regime and you are left with little room to maneuver if you are trying to create an effective state (which occasionally may involve curtailment of political rights). Unless you can somehow insulate yourself from the so called stakeholders, including the International Bleeding Hearts Industrial Complex – like much of east Asia did through the 70s and 80s – you are left with a rather tricky situation of trying to forge a unified state with a million and one centrifugal forces with communal rights backed by threats of donor sanctions. The same system ensures that every rebel group that can cobble together a few guns gets to sit at the table (see Sudan, Mali, Burundi, DRC, CAR, Chad). The UN or some Nordic state pays the hotel bills. Western observers and their sponsoring organizations write reports. Some of them meticulously document human rights abuses by rebels and government troops alike.

Meanwhile censuses are never taken. Taxes are never collected. Little economic activity takes place. And millions of people continue to live just a little bit better than they would in some stateless state of nature.

The present international consensus appears to be one that believes in state-building through democracy and institutions. Lived reality for much of world history appears to contradict this consensus. In most cases democracy and the phantom great institutions appear to lag state-building.

The challenge for those of us interested in state-building is to think of ways to go about the effort in a manner that is sensitive to the present human rights regime and structure of the international system. The present urgency, occasioned by widespread human suffering in the less governed spaces of the globe, requires that all reasonable options (including some uncomfortable ones) be put on the table.

Re-assessing Africa’s Resource Wealth

Over at African Arguments Bright Simons tries to debunk the accepted paradox of African poverty in the middle of a natural resource glut. The post is definitely worth reading, and raises some salient questions regarding resource use and development policy in Africa – and by extension, the economic viability of some African states (thinking of Chad, Central African Republic and Niger….)

Of those few minerals that Africa is believed to hold globally significant or dominant reserves, nearly all of them are concentrated in 4 countries: South Africa, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo and Guinea. When one computes the level of inequality of mineral distribution across different continental regions, Africa pulls up strongly, showing a far higher than average level of distribution ‘imbalance’ per capita or square mile. In very simple terms, it means that mineral wealth is more concentrated in a few countries in Africa compared to other continents. 

Adding that…..

with the exception of bauxite and petroleum, these minerals are not as widely used in industry (or in the same considerable volumes) as a number other minerals, such as tin, copper, nickel, zinc, iron, coal, and lead, that Africa does not produce in sufficient quantities. Indeed, of the top 5 metallic minerals which constitute 62 percent of the total value of global production, Africa is only a significant producer of one of them: gold. Africa has 8 percent of the world’s copper, 4 percent of aluminium, 3 percent of its iron ore, 2 percent of lead, less than 1 percent of zinc, and virtually no tin or nickel. To put these figures into perspective, recall that Africa has about 14.5 percent of the world’s population.

….. Africa’s low production of the ‘hard minerals’ minerals most intensely used in industry compared to the less widely used ‘soft minerals’ reduces its total take from the global mineral trade. But it also makes a nonsense of fashionable policy prescriptions that emphasise import-substitution strategies based on value addition to minerals, rather than export competitiveness through smart trade strategy and the deepening of the financial system to support entrepreneurs.

More on this here.

H/T Africa in Transition.

Failed states index out, the usual suspects top the list

FP has the annual list of failed states. The Continent has a heavy presence on the list, with the usual suspects like Somalia, Sudan, Chad, Niger and Central African Republic, among the top failures. Also on the list are otherwise stable places like Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, among others.

The list is, in some sense, a reminder that several states out there are in dire straits. Insecurity and poverty continue to be a daily experience of far too many people. But it also raises methodological questions regarding the rankings. Some of the rankings certainly do not make any substantive sense and merely feed into alarmist stereotypes we already have of certain countries or regions of the world.

Methodological issues aside, the list is yet another reminder that despite the recent surge in Afro-optimism, a lot still needs to be done in order to improve the human condition in Africa, among other regions of the world.

Niger’s military keeps its word

The Nigerien military, led by Salou Djibo, has handed over power to democratically elected President Mahamadou Issoufou. The military ousted strongman Mamadou Tandja 14 months ago after he attempted to extend his rule beyond the term limit. Twice now, the last time being in 1999, the Nigerien military has intervened in politics in support of democracy.

The new president has promised to tackle poverty and famine in the uranium-rich country.

Former president Tandja had been in power since 1999. In late 2009 he was supposed to leave office at the end of his two terms but amended the constitution in a sham referendum allowing him to stay on for a third term. This forced the military to step in. Mr. Tandja’s presidency did not do much for Niger’s 15 million odd citizens. 63% of them continue to live on less than a dollar a day.

the generals have kept their word

My doubts were misplaced, thank goodness. Soldiers in Niger have overseen elections, one year after overthrowing Mamadou Tandja. President Tandja had attempted to cling on to power after he was term-limited. Gen. Salou Djibo, head of the military junta that carried out the coup one year ago, vowed to hand over power to the elected government in April.

The run-off election pitted opposition leader Mahamadou Issoufou against Seini Oumarou, an ally of the ousted former President Tandja. Mr. Issoufou won 36% of the vote in the first round and is confident of winning the runoff.

Uranium-rich Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world. Nominal per capita income in the country is $370 (Around $700 PPP). The literacy rate (15 years and older) is a dismal 29%. Fertility rate stands at 7.6 children per woman and 63% of its 16.4 million people live below the poverty line.

child-bride index

African states dominate the Economist’s child-bride index, with the Sahelian states of Mali, Niger and Chad in the top three. They also have the lowest literacy rates among their female populations.

This is one of those problems associated with “culture” that most development experts shy away from. My take on this is that the cultural defenses of such practices is a lot of horse manure.

There is nothing African about marrying off a 12 year old girl.

Most child marriages have deep-rooted economic motivations. In most cases it boils down to the bride-price. Solving the problem will therefore require not just laws that throw “human rights” at young African girls, but a concerted effort that also includes development practitioners to provide alternative income to men who marry off their 12 year-olds in exchange for goats.

ushering in the new year

Happy new year to all readers.

2011 will be a crucial year for a few countries on the Continent. On January 9th Southern Sudan will vote for secession, creating the newest state in the world. The aftermath of that might be all out war with North Sudan (over borders and oil) and/or civil war in the south (ethnically motivated warfare over control of the new state). That is what most analysts predict. I think there is a glimmer of hope for peace due to heavy Kenyan investment in the south and the desire to build, link and orient the new nation towards the East African Community. Watch this space as it all unfolds.

Uganda will hold elections on February 18th. Yoweri Museveni will win big and dig in even more now that Uganda has oil in the west of the country. Also bolstering Mr. Museveni’s hold on power will be the LRA’s delusional insurgency in the north of the country and the continuing war on terror in the horn of Africa – Uganda’s troops form the core of the African Union (AU) forces in Somalia. Mr. Museveni has been in power since 1986.

The other major election will be in Nigeria, the continental behemoth in the west. President Goodluck Jonathan is favored to win, but his victory will most certainly be tainted with chaos and irregularities.

Other countries holding elections in the new year are Central African Republic, Benin, Madagascar, Cape Verde, Chad, Djibouti, Niger and Liberia.

Electoralism remains largely dysfunctional and inconsequential in Africa because of a myriad of structural impediments (poverty, weak institutions, monarchical presidentialism, etc). In the recent past events in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Cote d’Ivoire have shown how far the Continent is from being a liberal democratic paradise (may be democracy is not for everyone at all times?). 2011’s elections will no doubt fail to buck the trend.

africa in the news

Forget about the elections in Tanzania or the Ivory Coast. What matters for the American audience as far as news from Africa go are human interest stories such as this one which made it to the front page of the New York Times.

I echo the point of the Times piece. It really sucks being a hunter-gatherer in Botswana. And by extension, it really sucks being a citizen of Chad, Niger, Uganda or any one of the 40 other countries that make up sub-Saharan Africa. Despite the “good news” (see earlier post below) things are really bad on the Continent.

Africa deserves all the bad press it gets. Period. The only problem is that Africans have not been able to participate effectively in the discourse on their continent or attempted to contextualize the bad press. The continent long lost the game of framing the narrative.

the political economy of food aid

Aid Watch has a piece on this very important subject, check it out.

Other stories worth checking out this Friday include Jina Moore’s and the IRIN piece on the food situation in the Sahel.