Africa’s looming debt crises

The 1980s are calling. According to Bloomberg:

Zambia’s kwacha fell the most on record after Moody’s Investors Service cut the credit rating of Africa’s second-biggest copper producer, a move the government rejected and told investors to ignore…..

Zambia’s economy faces “a perfect storm” of plunging prices for the copper it relies on for 70 percent of export earnings at the same time as its worst power shortage, Ronak Gopaldas, a credit risk analyst at Rand Merchant Bank in Johannesburg, said by phone. Growth will slow to 3.4 percent in 2015, missing the government’s revised target of 5 percent, Barclays Plc said in a note last week. That would be the most sluggish pace since 2001.

The looming debt crisis will hit Zambia and other commodity exporters hard. As I noted two years ago, the vast majority of the African countries that have floated dollar-denominated bonds are heavily dependent on commodity exports. Many of them are already experiencing fiscal blues on account of the global commodity slump (see for example Angola, Zambia and Ghana). This will probably get worse. And the double whammy of plummeting currencies and reduced commodity exports will increase the real cost of external debt (on top of fueling domestic inflation). I do not envy African central bankers.

Making sure that the looming debt crises do not result in a disastrous retrenchment of the state in Africa, like happened in the 1980s and 1990s, is perhaps the biggest development challenge of our time. Too bad all the attention within the development community is focused elsewhere.

Does Kenya have too many MPs?

An article in the Daily Nation asked this provocative question. In the article, the author examined the cost per capita of legislatures in several countries; and concluded that legislatures in OECD democracies tend to be relatively more representative (seats/million people) as well as cost effective (per capita cost/east) than their counterparts in the developing world.

Of course, linking per capita income to the density of representation has its pitfalls. An assumption that countries with smaller economies should have smaller assemblies, regardless of population size, implicitly undervalues the political voice (and rights) of citizens of poor countries. At the same time, setting an arbitrary upper bound on the remuneration of legislators (and general resourcing of legislatures) has the potential to limit the continued professionalization of legislatures in emerging democracies. Under-resourced legislatures find themselves in a bad equilibrium of high turnovers, weak institutionalization (lack of experience), inability to check the executive or effectively legislate, and a whole lot of dissatisfied voters who invariably choose to go with erstwhile challengers.

How break out of this bad equilibrium is one of the key questions I grappled with in the dissertation (and in the ongoing book project). But I digress…

legseatsThe standard metric in Political Science for comparing the density of representation was developed by Rein Taagepera in the early 1970s. The Taagepera formula predicts that assembly sizes tend to approximate the cube root of the total population of states. In the dissertation I looked at how African states faired according to this metric (see figure) and found that the vast majority of countries on the Continent have relatively smaller assemblies than would be predicted by their population sizes (the figure only captures the sizes the lower houses). Somalia, Uganda, Sudan, the DRC, South Africa, and Ethiopia are the clear outliers. Incidentally, Kenya’s National Assembly is right on the parity line.

The usefulness of this metric (at the national level) diminishes beyond a certain population size. For countries with hundreds of millions of people or more, it makes more sense to apply the formula with respect to sub-national assemblies, if they exist. This is for the simple reason that beyond a certain number of seats the legislature would become too big to reasonably be able to conduct its business (see Nigeria).

Presidential Salaries in Africa

Paul Biya of Cameroon earns $610,000 per annum, 229 times the earnings of the average Cameroonian.* Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 10.31.57 PM

Think about it for a second: Paul Biya earns $210,000 more than Barack Obama.

Notice that these figures do not include all manner of allowances.

Source: Daily Nation

*Note that the interns at the Daily Nation mixed up Mauritania and Mauritius. The CNN bug is contagious.

How did Nkurunziza manage to stay in power even after a coup?

Ronald Rugero offers an insightful take on the dynamics of intra-elite politics in Burundi:

…… the attempted coup pitted two ideological factions against each other within the ruling party. On one side are the “progressives” represented by Niyombare, the leader of the coup and first Hutu chief of staff in the history of the country. Backed by the West, the progressives blame the current crisis on Nkurunziza’s wanting to seek a third term at all costs, contrary to the Peace Accord of Arusha and the Burundian constitution.

On the other side, the “conservatives” rally behind Nshimirimana, for whom the current crisis goes far beyond a simple difference in the reading of the constitution. A central concern of this faction is the progressives’ close ties with Rwanda, which indirectly accuses Nkurunziza’s government of preparing a genocide similar to that of 1994, utilizing the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and the Imbonerakure (the youth wing of the CNDD-FDD). The conservatives, and Nkurunziza, are supported by Russia and China.

Many analysts make the mistake of thinking that the departures of CNDD-FDD personalities like the second vice president Gervais Rufyikiri or the President of the National Assembly Pie Ntavohanyuma (both supported by the “progressive” wing) affect the party. As long as the majority of the military establishment, most of whom are unknown to the media, are behind Nkurunziza, the whole party and the Burundian military will support him. In light of nascent rebellions like the one declared last week on the Burundi-Rwanda border, it is unrealistic to imagine that a swift attack could remove the power of Bujumbura and drive out Nkurunziza.

You can read the whole piece here.

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.

Kenya: Five Things About Al-Shabaab and the Somalia Question

Early Thursday morning militants from the al-Shabaab terror group stormed Garissa University College in Kenya and killed at least 147 students. The second worst terror attack in Kenya’s history lasted 13 hours and was made excruciatingly horrific by the fact that many of the victims remained in communication with their loved ones until the very last moments. Unbearable images of young students laying dead in their own pools of blood in classrooms will forever be etched in Kenyans’ memories. The attack echoed the September 21, 2013 Westgate Mall terror attack that killed 67 people. After Westgate many Somalia analysts insisted that such daring missions were the kicks of a dying horse, and cited successes by AMISOM and AFRICOM in taking back territory from al-Shabaab and decapitating the organization through drone strikes against it leadership.

Following Garissa, it might be time to reconsider this persistent narrative and overall Somalia policy in the Eastern African region. Here are my thoughts:

Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 9.51.35 AM1. Regional powers do not want a powerful central government in Mogadishu: Since independence several governments in Somalia have espoused a dream of re-uniting all the Somali lands and peoples in eastern Africa (under “Greater Somalia,” see map). That includes parts of Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, and more recently the breakaway regions of Somaliland and Puntland. A strong central government in Mogadishu would most certainly revive this old irredentist dream, despite the fact that the irredentist dreams of Somalia’s pre-Barre governments and the costly wars with Ethiopia (and proxy wars with Kenya as well thereafter) were the beginning of the end of stability in Somalia. Nairobi and Addis are acutely aware of this and that is part of the reason Kenya has for years maintained a policy of creating an autonomous buffer region in southern Somalia – Jubaland. The problem, however, is that a weak Mogadishu also means diffused coercive capacity and inability to fight off breakaway clans, militias, and terror groups like al-Shabaab.

The situation is complicated by the fact that Ethiopia and Kenya do not see eye to eye on the question of Jubaland. Addis Ababa is worried that a government in Jubaland dominated by the Ogaden clan could potentially empower the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), a separatist Somali insurgent group it has fought in its southeastern Ogaden Region.

2. The African Union and its regional partners do not have a coherent game plan for Somalia: To a large extent, African governments fighting under AMISOM are merely carrying water for Western governments fighting jihadist elements in Somalia. The West pays and provides material and tactical support; and the West calls the shots. Ethiopia and Kenya have some room to maneuver, but overall policy is driven by AFRICOM and the Europeans. The lack of local ownership means that African troops, especially the Kenyan and Ugandan contingents, are in the fight primarily for the money. Kenyan generals are making money selling charcoal and smuggling sugar (the UN estimates that al-Shabaab gets between US $38-56m annually from taxing the charcoal trade). The Ugandans are making money with private security contracts dished out to firms with close ties to Museveni’s brother. Only the Ethiopians appear to have a clear policy, on top of the general international goal of neutralizing al-Shabaab so that they do not attack Western targets.

What kind of settlement does Kenya (and Ethiopia) want to see in Somalia? (See above). What does the West want? What do Somalis want? Are these goals compatible in the long run?

3. The internationalization of the al-Shabaab menace is a problem: Western assistance in fighting al-Shabaab and stabilizing Somalia is obviously a good thing. But it should never have come at the cost of unnecessary internationalization of the conflict. Al-Shabaab has been able to get extra-Somalia assistance partly because it fashions itself as part of the global jihad against the kafir West and their African allies. Internationalization of the conflict has also allowed it to come up with an ideology that has enabled it to somehow overcome Somalia’s infamous clannish fractionalization (although elements of this still persist within the organization). Localizing the conflict would dent the group’s global appeal while at the same time providing opportunities for local solutions, including a non-military settlement. AMISOM and the West cannot simply bomb the group out of existence.

4. Kenya is the weakest link in the fight against al-Shabaab: Of the three key countries engaged in Somalia (Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda), Kenya is the least militarized. It is also, perhaps, the least disciplined. According to the UN, Kenyan troops are engaging in illegal activities that are filling the coffers of al-Shabaab militants (charcoal worth at least $250 million was shipped out of Somalia in the last two years). Back home, Nairobi has allowed its Somalia policy to be captured by a section of Somali elites that have other agendas at variance with overall national policy. The Kenya Defense Force (KDF) risks becoming a mere pawn in the clannish struggles that straddle the Kenya-Somalia border. It is high time Nairobi reconsidered its Somalia policy with a view of decoupling it from the sectional fights in Northeastern Province. The first step should be to make the border with Somalia real by fixing customs and border patrol agencies; and by reining in sections of Somali elites who continue to engage in costly fights at the expense of ordinary wananchi. The government should adopt a strict policy of not taking sides in these fights, and strictly enforce this policy at the County level.

5. Kenya will continue to be the weakest link in the fight against al-Shabaab: Of the countries in Somalia Kenya is the only democracy with a government that is nominally accountable to its population and an armed force with a civilian leadership. This means that:

(i) Generals can run rings around State House and its securocrats: Unlike their counterparts in Uganda and Ethiopia, the Kenyan generals do not have incentives to internalize the costs of the war in Somalia. The cost is mostly borne by the civilian leadership. They are therefore likely to suggest policies that primarily benefit the institution of the military, which at times may not be in the best interest of the nation. And the civilian leadership, lacking expertise in military affairs, is likely to defer to the men in uniform. The result is makaa-sukari and other glaring failures.

(ii) Kenyan internal security policies are subject to politicization: With every al-Shabaab attack (so far more than 360 people have been killed) Kenyans have wondered why Ethiopia, which is also in Somalia and has a large Somali population, has remained relatively safe. My guess is that Ethiopia has done better in thwarting attacks because it has a coherent domestic security policy backed by unchecked coercion and surveillance of potential points of al-Shabaab entry among its Somali population.

Now, Kenya should not emulate Ethiopia’s heavy-handed tactics. Instead, focus should be on an honest assessment of how internal security policies in Mandera, Garissa, Wajir, Kwale, Kilifi, Mombasa, Nairobi, and elsewhere are playing into the hands of al-Shabaab. What is the best way to secure the “front-line” counties that border Somalia? What is the role of local leaders in ensuring that local cleavages and conflicts are not exploited by al-Shabaab? How should the security sector (Police and KDF) be reformed to align its goals with the national interest? What is the overarching goal of the KDF in Somalia and how long will it take to achieve that goal? How is the government counteracting domestic radicalization and recruitment of young Kenyan men and women by al-Shabaab?

These questions do not have easy answers. But Kenyans must try. The reflexive use of curfews and emergency laws, and the blunt collective victimization of communities suspected to be al-Shabaab sympathizers will not work.

I do not envy President Uhuru Kenyatta: Withdrawing from Somalia will not secure the homeland. Staying the course will likely not yield desired results given the rot in KDF and the internal politics of northeastern Kenya. Reforming the police and overall security apparatus comes with enormous political costs. A recent shake up of security chiefs and rumors of an impending cabinet reshuffle are signs that Kenyatta has realized the enormity of the insecurity situation in the country (and overall government ineffectiveness due to corruption). But will Kenyans be patient and give him the benefit of the doubt? Will the president be able to channel his laudable nationalist instincts in galvanizing the nation in the face of seemingly insurmountable security threats and ever more corrupt government officials?

Meanwhile 2017 is approaching fast, and if the situation doesn’t change Mr. Kenyatta might not be able to shrug off the title of “Goodluck Jonathan of the East.”

For the sake of Kenyan lives and the Jamuhuri, nakutakia kila la heri Bwana Rais.

Africa’s Billionaires in 2014

Only 9 out of 54 African countries are represented on the 2014 Forbes billionaires list. There are certainly more than 29 dollar billionaires on the Continent (most of the rest being in politics). Let’s consider this list as representative of countries in which (for whatever reason) it is politically safe to be publicly super wealthy – which in and of itself says a lot about how far Nigeria has come.

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Source: Forbes

Some will look at the list and scream inequality. I look at the list and see the proliferation of centres of economic and political power. And a potential source of much-needed intra-elite accountability in African politics. For more on this read Leonardo Arriola’s excellent book on the role of private capital in African politics.

See also this FT story on the impact of currency movements on the wealth of Nigeria’s super rich. Forbes also has a great profile of Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man.

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