The absurdity of Cameroon’s Paul Biya

This is from the organized crime and corruption reporting project (OCCRP):

An investigation supported by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) gathered information about the president’s travels from 35 years of editions of the daily government paper, the Cameroon Tribune. They show that, over that time, Biya has spent at least four-and-a-half years [abroad] on his “brief private visits.” This total excludes official trips, which add up to an additional year. In some years, like 2006 and 2009, Biya has spent a third of the year out of the country.

And here is a breakdown of Biya’s destinations over the last three and a half decades. It is almost as if Biya is a colonial governor of Cameroon, a Fanonian caricature.

Paul-Biya-Chart-A2

How does Biya pay for all this travel (estimated to be at least $185m in total)?

….. According to the International Monetary Fund, more than $300 million of the revenue of Cameroon’s national oil company in 2017 was not accounted for. The president has oversight over the company, whose oil sales, according to a leaked US diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks, have historically been used as a slush fund.

Needless to say, the fascination with Geneva leaves little time for Biya to actually govern.

When Biya lands in Yaoundé, he also meets his government — at the airport. Formal ministerial councils are organized infrequently, every year or two at the most. But while Biya has used public funds to sustain a bureaucracy of 65 ministers and state secretaries, he mostly governs by decree or through a handful of laws sped through a rubber-stamp parliament.

Biya signs a flurry of acts between each of his trips. For example, in 2017, he signed a dozen laws — the entire legal output for that year – in a couple of days. It took him just three days to sign the entire year’s decrees.

Strong leadership can make a big difference in states with weak bureaucracies. But unfortunately for Cameroon, for 35 years it has been saddled with both an absentee landlord of a president and a barely coherent public service.

An enduring puzzle is why Cameroonian elites haven’t moved to come up with a more economically efficient means of keeping Biya in power and luxury. For instance, they could make him King, and have him sign decrees whenever he likes, but also have a Prime Minister that is responsible to a parliament and accountable to the people. Not that this would magically improve the quality of governance, but at a minimum, would likely introduce coherence within the public service (unless, of course, all of Cameroon’s elites simply want to appropriate public resources and spend their time in Geneva).

A response to this might be that elites in Cameroon are actually fine, constantly scheming and fighting for favor with Biya and access to governance rents.

But this still leaves open the question of why they wouldn’t want a more predictable means of accessing governance rents — that is not subject to the whims of Biya (who shuffles and jails ministers with wanton abandon). In any case, an elite-level collusion outcome — like the one described above — would create opportunities for the expansion of the pie beyond just oil and other natural resource sectors.

All to say that we should probably be spending more time exploring the seeming lack of elite-level political innovation across Africa (and Political Development more generally).

On the Odingas and Kenyattas of Kenya

This is from Jina Moore (who is doing a great job as East Africa bureau chief).

Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, the father of Raila Odinga, negotiated independence with the British. The colonial rulers wanted Mr. Odinga to lead the new Kenya, but Mr. Odinga had other ideas: He demanded Mr. Kenyatta’s freedom — and his appointment as Kenya’s first head of state.

“Kenyatta would not have been released, and he wouldn’t have been made prime minister, if it hadn’t been for Odinga’s backing,” said Daniel Branch, a professor of history at the University of Warwick and an expert on post-colonial Kenyan politics. “The two men always admired each other.”

Willy Mutunga, who was chief justice of the Supreme Court from 2011 to 2016, believes Mr. Odinga was motivated by more than mere admiration. “I think he genuinely believed that the country was going to be better off with somebody who had become a legend,” he said.

And so, in 1964, when Kenya became a republic, Jomo Kenyatta became its president, and Jaramogi Odinga vice-president.

The piece is worth reading. I liked the bits about the Odinga/Kenyatta conflict over land redistribution.

It would be interesting to think of the counterfactual: What if Odinga/Kaggia had won over Kenyatta/Mboya and redistributed all the land? What kind of Kenya would have emerged? Would it have been more stable and prosperous than present day Kenya? Was this a feasible option given the preferences of Whitehall? What would have been the political and human costs?

My (positivist) take is that most people under-estimate the important role that the “willing buyer willing seller” mantra played in facilitating elite-level buy-in into the Kenya Project (state-building and elite-level stability). It’s not just Kenyatta and his co-ethnics that got land. Lots of elites from other communities in the districts got land, too, and a chance to earn rents. For example, as part of his coup-proofing strategy, Kenyatta bought off the officer class in the armed forces (mostly composed of non-co-ethnics) with land. Kenyatta’s cabinets reflected this political economy reality, too. All the major districts had a representative.

On Zuma’s Exit in South Africa

Sisonke Msimang has a nice take over at FP:

Zuma was elected president of the ANC in December 2007 in a bitter and bruising battle against Mbeki, the man who had sacked him just a few years earlier. The following year, the ANC recalled Mbeki, triggering his resignation as president of the country.

Zuma bested his opponent in 2007 by gathering a coalition of the wounded. At the time, there were various factions within the ANC that felt aggrieved by Mbeki’s leadership style and by his economic conservatism. Many on the left within the party believed that in their haste to appease the markets and encourage international investment, the ANC’s leaders had conceded too much terrain to big business in the years following apartheid.

Zuma was known as an affable but flawed man. Union leaders and young radicals opposed to Mbeki — men such as Julius Malema, who was then the head of the ANC’s Youth League, and Zwelinzima Vavi, who headed the Congress of South African Trade Unions at the time — saw the man they were installing as malleable. They hoped Zuma would promote pro-labor and pro-poor policies, so they struck a Faustian bargain. Despite his obvious personal shortcomings, and the significant political liabilities he carried, they agreed to put him in power if he allowed them to run economic policy.

Being an economic conservative, albeit without Mbeki’s professorial demeanor, I am curious to see how President Cyril Ramaphosa will navigate popular demands for a renegotiation of the post-apartheid settlement which he helped midwife. Also, as corruption in South Africa did not begin with Zuma (or the end of apartheid), it will likely not end with his departure. Perhaps the biggest challenge ahead for the ANC will be to temper expectations. If Ramaphosa is seen to be too close to South Africa’s economic elite, it might elicit a populist backlash with dire economic and social consequences for South Africans. 

Here’s is Zuma’s resignation letter.

Interesting claims by Noam Chomsky regarding “Third World” intellectuals

A friend of the blog responded with this in an email:

This is an interesting take on the insularity of French intellectualism and French cultural ideology. Would like to hear more about this.
But after speaking about European intellectualism with such specificity, its unfortunate how he then goes and paints “Third World” intellectualism with such a broad stroke. His generalizations of “Third World” intellectualism follow some well worn paths of Europeans bemoaning the “mimicry” of European culture by citizens of the colonial/post-colonial world. He also seems to be saying that people of the “Third World” can’t be afforded the luxury to be  foucauldians or comparative literary scholars because they need to take up The Struggle!
After all, Edward Said was a comparative literary scholar. His work has mattered pretty profoundly.

Kenya: Flower Garden of the World

This is from CNN:

If you were the lucky recipient of a bunch of fragrant roses this Valentine’s Day, it’s likely that they came from Kenya.

The country is the third largest exporter of cut flowers in the world, accounting for around 35% of all sales in the European Union. Famed for being long-lasting, Kenya’s roses, carnations and summer flowers are also popular in Russia and the U.S. where last week several growers showcased their blooms at the World Floral Expo in Los Angeles.

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Here is MR:

Patchwork Leviathans? Pockets of Excellence in Otherwise Dysfunctional States

This is from Erin Metz McDonnell:

Within seemingly weak states, exceptionally effective subunits lie hidden. These high- performing niches exhibit organizational characteristics distinct from poor-performing peer organizations, but also distinct from high-functioning organizations in Western countries. This article develops the concept of interstitial bureaucracy to explain how and why unusually high-performing state organizations in developing countries invert canonical features of Weberian bureaucracy. Interstices are distinct-yet-embedded subsystems characterized by practices inconsistent with those of the dominant institution. This interstitial position poses particular challenges and requires unique solutions. Interstices cluster together scarce proto- bureaucratic resources to cultivate durable distinction from the status quo, while managing disruptions arising from interdependencies with the wider neopatrimonial field. I propose a framework for how bureaucratic interstices respond to those challenges, generalizing from organizational comparisons within the Ghanaian state and abbreviated historical comparison cases from the nineteenth-century United States, early-twentieth-century China, mid- twentieth-century Kenya, and early-twenty-first-century Nigeria.

…… Monolithically dysfunctional administrations are the exception, not the rule— albeit the exception that has long captured popular and academic attention (Evans 1989; Helman and Ratner 1992). Instead, many states regarded as uniformly ineffectual have great internal variation, with agencies spanning a continuum from ineffectual quagmires to competently achieving organizational man- dates in the public interest. These state “leviathans” are patch-worked: they are cobbled together from scarce available resources, with organizational diversity sewn loosely together into the semblance of unity. In such states, adapted Weberian-style bureaucracy exists in interstices—niches within predominantly neopatrimonial administrations.

The sociology of state and nation building, and development in general, is underrated.

Read the whole thing here.

Demography and the African future of the French language

This is from the Economist:

Today more people speak French in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, than in Paris. By 2050, thanks to population growth in Africa, some 85% of the world’s French-speakers will live on the continent. Mr Macron has been promoting French on his recent travels to the Gulf, China and, pointedly, Ghana, an English-speaking west African country surrounded by French-speaking ones. Visiting Tunisia, he said he wanted to double the number learning French there by 2020.

I wonder what Ngugi wa Thiong’o makes of these developments.

Here is a possible answer:

La Francophonie “cannot just be an institution for saving the French language; that is not what Francophone countries are worried about,” explains Mr Mabanckou. “Africans don’t need the French language to exist.” He asks how many universities in France teach Francophone African literature, and complains that American students are more likely to study such writers than are French ones. The French literary world clings to a Paris-centric vision, Mr Mabanckou says, too often failing to consider writers from former colonies as part of mainstream literature, as British publishers and universities now do.

Interesting paper on the privatization of the “Rule of Law” in autocratic China

This is from Stanford’s Lizhi Liu and Barry R. Weingast:

We argue in this paper that, China has begun to fashion an alternative approach to establishing legal market infrastructure, which we call, “law, Chinese style.” Facing the authoritarian’s legal dilemma that constrains formal legal development, the central government has effectively off-loaded a substantial part of the development and enforcement of commercial law to private actors, namely, various online trading platforms. This approach allows the central government to cabin the domain of the legal system to private law.

To elucidate this private development of law, we focus on Taobao, China’s largest online trading platform, owned by Alibaba. We demonstrate that, with over 430 million users and more than 10 million vendors, Taobao is not simply an exchange platform, but a complete market that is in the process of developing a modern legal system. The system includes a very complex reputation mechanism, a credit score, a fraud detection program, and even a jury-like system in which ordinary users can vote to adjudicate cases or to change platform rules. With respect to exchange on the platform, this legal system helps creates law, enforce contracts, protect certain property rights, resolve disputes, and prevent fraud. By doing so, Taobao has begun to supply many aspects of market-supporting infrastructure normally associated with the state.

This the kind of paper that might interest folks in Kigali and Addis Ababa. Or Nairobi, these days.