On Jumia’s IPO on the NYSE

This is from Quartz:

jumuiaJumia, the largest e-commerce operator in Africa, has today (April 12th) launched its landmark initial public offering (IPO) on the New York Stock Exchange.

The IPO marks a pivotal fork in the company’s journey since first launching operations in Nigeria in 2012 and expanding over time to 14 African countries with businesses across several verticals including food delivery, real estate, logistics, hotel and flight bookings.

The IPO priced the stock at $14.50. On Tuesday it closed at $43.04. Jumia started operations in Nigeria in 2012 but now has big markets in Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, and South Africa. The firm is registered in Germany. South Africa’s MTN remains its largest shareholder.

In my view the most exciting thing about the listing is that it could result in the allocation of significant amounts of capital that is needed to unlock the Continent’s online retail market and link it to the wider world market. According to the FT: 

…. mobile broadband penetration in Africa was 32 per cent, or 399m subscribers, in 2017. This was expected to rise to 73 per cent by 2022, to more than 900m subscribers.

The company said that less than 1 per cent of retail sales in the countries it operated in were conducted online, against 24 per cent in China, a sign of how undeveloped the African online market was.

I also foresee African regulators moving to force Jumia to have more of its operations domiciled on the Continent — both to create jobs and for tax purposes. The company CEO recently erroneously claimed that African countries do not have enough developers to justify the fact that its development office is in Portugal (and headquarters in Germany).

More on this here.

On Sudan’s history with coups

Coups beget coups (see, for example, the case of Ghana. More here). Furthermore, coup risk is typically highest after power turnovers, (like is the case in Sudan).

coupsFor these reasons, there is fair amount of clustering within countries when it comes to coup incidence. In Africa, Sudan leads the charts when it comes to coup incidence. According to Jonathan Powell’s data, Sudan (14) is third to Bolivia (23) and Argentina (20) in terms of the total number of both attempted and successful coups between 1950-2014 (note that this figure is different from rumored coups or other coup incidences that do not result in an actual attempt).

Because of its history with coups and military rule, it is going to be very difficult for Sudan to cycle back to civilian rule. The military has become used to governing, and will likely want to protect its turf relative to a civilian government, should one emerge.

This is not to say that establishing civilian rule is completely infeasible in Sudan. The generals in Latin America, the most coup-prone region of the world in the 20th century, have managed to shake off the habit.

It is hard to avoid comparing the events in Sudan with Egypt and Zimbabwe — instances in which mass action toppled autocrats but without the realization of full regime change. The next few weeks and months will test protestors’ patience and the overall organizational capacity of Sudan’s Civil Society.

So far it appears like there is not a high risk of intra-military fragmentation that might lead to armed conflict. I would imagine that, as a corporate entity, the military has a lot to lose should they fragment and/or come under civilian control, especially given Sudan’s emerging arms industry. Sudan has the third largest weapons industry in Africa (after South Africa and Egypt). In the short run, this might be a good thing in that it will create incentives for maintaining order within the security services. Total state collapse would be singularly bad.

 

What do poor people think about direct cash transfers?

Cash is great: more private consumption is better than less.

But societies organize out of poverty — through the provision of vital public goods and services. And low-income people know that.

This is from Khemani, Habyarimana and Nooruddin over at Brookings:

Screen Shot 2019-04-08 at 11.28.30 PMBuilding on prior work, we designed our survey questions to elicit views by presenting trade-offs: If the budget were spent on direct cash transfers targeted to poor people, it would come at the expense of other kinds of spending. Two different trade-offs with targeted cash transfers were presented in the allocation of (a hypothetical) additional budget for the block, a key local administrative unit in India. Respondents were told that since the (hypothetical) additional budget would be limited, the cash would come at the expense of either public health and nutrition services for children in their block or improving the quality of roads.

Of the approximately 3,800 respondents, only 13 percent chose cash if it came at the expense of spending to improve public health and nutrition (preferred by 86 percent of respondents). In contrast, if the cash came at the expense of improving roads throughout the block, the number rises to 35 percent of respondents choosing cash. These percentages are the same when we restrict the sample to respondents with little or no education, or to those who belong to historically disadvantaged caste groups. That is, the poor and less educated are overwhelmingly choosing public health over cash.

Read the whole this here.

China & Civic Architecture in Africa

China just finished a 150 million Yuan four-year project to build Burundi a new presidential palace in Bunjumbura. This is but one of many installments of China’s ongoing influences on civic architecture on the Continent. The Burundian presidential palace is grand, and sitting on an elevation appears to have been designed to project the occupant’s power. While likely not the best use of that much money in Burundi, it is an important investment in the physical manifestation of Burundian stateness.

Other major civic buildings on the continent funded and (to be) built by China include the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the ECOWAS headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria, and Senegal’s Museum of Black Civilizations in Dakar.

dakarmuseum.jpg

The Museum of Black Civilizations in Dakar, Senegal

Concerns over costs (and espionage) aside, one of the under-appreciated effects of Sino-Africa relations in China’s continuing influence on African architecture. From train stations, to hotels, to high-rise apartment blocks, to libraries, China’s influence is making an indelible mark on Africa’s landscape. At the moment much of this appears to be cut-and-paste jobs with little, if any, African influence. But it is ineluctable that over time many of these foreign designs will be infused with local sensibilities and tastes in the continuing process of architectural evolution on the Continent (no more fake marble and chandeliers please!).

It is fair to say that the state of civic architecture in many African states is wanting. Many civic structures exist as physical embodiments of the malaise afflicting the African state.  The last golden age of public buildings died with the independence generation. The era’s designs focused on function, but also the implicit desire to project state power — Dar es Salaam’s austere public buildings with their long hallways and exposure to the elements (for ventilation) quickly come to mind. The economic crises of the long decade (1980-1995) virtually stalled much of the region’s architectural evolution as far as civic buildings were concerned.

The current iteration of Sino-African relations is changing this. More capitals (sub-national, national and regional) are seeing the construction of civic buildings befitting their stature. The influence of these developments will likely travel beyond their aesthetic impacts on Africa’s architectural landscape. Civic buildings are also monuments to the idea of the state.

 

East African Community Facts of the Day

This is from Charles Onyango-Obbo in The EastAfrican:

eactrade.pngIn the year 2000, Ugandan exports to Rwanda were worth $9 million. By the 2017/2018 financial year, this figure had shot up to $197 million, against imports of $20 million, giving it a surplus of $177 million, despite the icy relations currently prevailing.

In the same period, in a reversal of fortune, Uganda for the first time registered a $122 million trade surplus with Kenya, with exports worth $628 million and imports worth $505 million.Though Uganda hardly invests any serious money in agriculture, the country is now the EAC’s bread basket.

Kenyan business people travel as far as the remote parts of western Uganda to villages whose names they can’t pronounce, and put a deposit on food crops before they are harvested. None of this happens as a result of state policy, but rather the invisible hand of integration. The magic happens in that “invisible” East Africa.

Despite the circular firing squad that is the relationship between East Africa’s heads of state, the economic incentives for ever greater integration in the EAC remain strong.

Next in line to join might be the DRC. Then perhaps Somalia. Ethiopia might be interested, too.

Is Kenya prepared to go to war with Somalia over a disputed maritime territory?

Dzl_1dDXQAAJ3kdOn Saturday the Kenyan foreign ministry recalled the Kenyan ambassador in Mogadishu and asked his Somalia counterpart to leave the country. This followed an alleged London auction of oil blocks in a disputed maritime zone by the Somalia government.

A Kenyan official characterized the auction as an “unparalleled affront and illegal grab at the resources of Kenya” that would “not go unanswered”.

The government of Somalia has since disputed the charge, and in a well reasoned letter asked the Kenyan government to reconsider its actions. Earlier, a Kenyan foreign ministry official had sought to de-escalate the situation by clarifying that the two ambassadors were merely asked to touch base with their respective governments in order to facilitate consultations.

19550580_401Kenya and Somalia hold rival claims on a triangular maritime territory in the Somali Sea (see image). The matter is currently under consideration by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

It is worth noting that Kenya and Somalia have not had the best of historical relations. In the 1960s Mogadishu supported an irredentist movement in northeastern Kenya. The rivalry cooled down during Somalia’s years of civil war. During the same period Kenya stumbled upon a policy of supporting any and all efforts to keep the conflict and instability on the Somalia side of the shared border. The latest expression of the policy has been to support the state of Jubaland, a matter that goes against the interests of Mogadishu. Jubaland State President Sheikh ‘Madobe’ Ahmed visited Kenya in December 2018, likely on a mission to strengthen intra-clan alliances and support from Nairobi. Kenya is a troop contributing country (TCC) under AMISOM, and for a variety of reasons remains to be a weak link in the fight against Al-Shabaab, the terror group.

The dust up between Kenya and Somalia reflects larger geopolitical contests for influence in Mogadishu. It is reasonable to assume that the dispute over the oil exploration blocks will not be restricted to the two countries. In addition to interested Western private energy firms (and their home governments), Mogadishu is likely to get support from its friends in the Gulf and Turkey. Meanwhile, Kenya’s primary leverage will be its important role in AMISOM. A fallout with Nairobi would likely cause serious problems for Mogadishu, and pose a serious challenge to Somalia’s territorial integrity — Jubaland may find support to sue for independence from Mogadishu.

For now, both Kenya and Somalia have expressed public commitments to respect ICJ’s ruling regardless of the outcome. This is encouraging. Existing research suggests that states are less likely to escalate tensions if they commit to legal means of settling territorial disputes.. Indeed, Nigeria and Cameroon provide a good example of two countries that managed to settle a border dispute in a potentially oil-rich area amicably.

All to say that I don’t think Kenya is going to war with Somalia any time soon.

 

Why does Al Shabaab target Kenya?

Ngala Chome, PhD candidate at Durham University, has a great review of Al Shabaab recruitment and attacks in Kenya since 2011, and why the group has been able to stage a lot more attacks in Kenya (96.4% of recorded attacks between 2008-16) relative to other troop contributing countries engaged in Somalia (see map):

Screen Shot 2019-02-03 at 10.50.23 AM.pngKenya may have suffered these attacks since it is considered a key ally of the West. But why is Al-Shabaab (an Al-Qaeda affiliate) targeting Kenya more than it is other countries in the region, such as Ethiopia and Uganda, which also have close ties with the West and have fought Al-Shabaab in Somalia? To what extent does Al-Shabaab attack Kenya for the reasons it publicly gives? Will Al-Shabaab, for example, stop targeting Kenya if the Kenya Defence Forces pulled out of Somalia?

…. The Global Terrorism Database (GTD) recorded 14 more attacks before September 2011, and then 49 in 2012, 35, in 2013, 80 in 2014, 42 in 2015, and 45 in 2016. While the GTD is yet to provide figures from 2017, existing evidence shows that of the 302 trans-border attacks perpetrated by Al-Shabaab from 2008-2016, 3 occurred in Ethiopia, 5 in Uganda, 2 in Djibouti and 291 in Kenya. Brendon Cannon and Dominic Pkalya, in a recent article, have argued that beyond sharing a border with Somalia, Al-Shabaab targets Kenya more than other frontline states because of the opportunity spaces linked to Kenya’s international status and visibility, its relative free and independent media that widely publicizes terrorist attacks, a highly developed and lucrative tourism sector that provides soft targets, expanding democratic space and high levels of corruption. In sum, these variables play into Al-Shabaab’s motivations and aid planning and execution of acts that aim to fulfil the group’s quest to survive – as it losses more ground in Somalia – by maintaining its relevance on the global stage.

Read the whole thing here. For more on the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISON), Paul D. William’s new book looks fascinating (I haven’t read it yet).

For a broader understanding of the dynamics driving insurgency in the Horn, check out Michael Woldemariam’s Insurgent Fragmentation in the Horn of Africa: Rebellion and its Discontents and Inside Al-Shabaab by Harun Maruf, Dan Joseph and Christopher Anzalone.

 

Formalizing the “informal” sector may intensify market fragmentation and trading inequalities (Senegal Edition)

This is from a fascinating paper by Abhit Bhandari, a PhD candidate at Columbia:

Economic growth requires confidence in the secure exchange of goods. But when states selectively enforce rule of law, political considerations can moderate the trust that buyers have in sellers. How do political connections moderate economic behavior in developing countries, and how do such connections operate alongside formal state institutions? I propose a theory of seller moral hazard in exchange, where buyers believe that politically connected sellers can break deals with relative impunity. In this context, state-backed formal contracts may only protect the claims of connected buyers who similarly receive preferential treatment from the state.

I test this theory in an environment with real economic stakes by creating and operating a legal business in Senegal, and hiring employees to conduct door-to-door sales. In a field experiment, I randomize whether my employees signal their political connections and/or offer formal contracts as part of the deal. Results show that sellers’ political connections decrease trust in exchange while formal contracts increase trust. Taking buyers’ connections into account, however, shows that asymmetric political connections impact willingness to trade, and that formal contracts boost trade only for politically connected buyers (emphasis added). These findings demonstrate the importance of unequal political connections in impeding trade, and the limits of piecemeal legal solutions. Exchange under such conditions can result in distinct trading networks that intensify inequalities.

Oh, and to get the study going Abhit registered a business in Senegal:

In preparation for the experiment, I undertook the process of creating and registering a formal business in Senegal. I completed the process in 2016 at APIX, Senegal’s primary agency for the promotion of investment and major works, which is also home to Senegal’s guichet unique (one-stop 20 shop) for formalizing a business. Despite the “one-stop” shop, the process took approximately one month from start to finish, as registering the business required the acquisition of certain documents that are not centrally controlled. This required visits to my local chef de quartier (neighborhood chief), police department, and the Ministry of Justice. The result of the process was the successful formalization of the business and the receipt of a unique business identification number called the NINEA (numero d’identification national des entreprises et des associations). NINEAs are commonly understood in Senegal as proof that a business is formal.

I highly recommend reading the paper. Abhit’s other ongoing projects are available here.

screenshot2019-01-31at9.02.58pmInspired by Yuen Yuen Ang’s take on the institutional structures that shepherded China’s takeoff, I have recently been thinking more seriously about what “optimal” institutions (as opposed to some notion of “strong” institutions) in specific developing country contexts would look like. With this in mind, Abhit’s paper offers an important insight into the potential pitfalls of lukewarm reforms — in this case the process of sectoral formalization. A common mistake made by most would-be reformers is the total disregard for forms of organization that make business transactions credible in the “informal” sector in the name of imposing a state-centric rule-based systems. As Abhit finds, the usefulness of formalization crucially depends on whether it also serves to level the playing field and expand the extent of firms’ markets. I for one think that the distinction between “formal” and “informal” sectors tell more about states’ fragmented regulatory capacity than about specific firms or sectors.

More broadly, I would argue that the world would be a better place if we knew more about firms in low-income states. What policy interventions can help accelerate firm growth? What management practices work in contexts where labor is insufficiently specialized (for insurance purposes)? Is firm-level productivity in Nigeria, Kenya, or Angola improving or not?

(If you know any works along these lines the comments section is open)

 

Is China Doomed to Fail in Africa?

This is from Wilson VornDick, a commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve, writing in the National Interest: 

It is unclear whether China could handle the financial repercussions of a larger, more systemic default or debt-forgiveness program across the African continent. Seeking relief, debtors to China would likely overwhelm existing mechanisms, like international arbitration, or China-backed forums such as the Export-Import Bank of China , China Development Bank , and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank . More importantly, debt restructuring, recoupment, and, in the more extreme case, seizure may not be viable, reasonable, or sustainable for Chinese interests or presence continent-wide. Just such a dire economic scenario might push China to use its nascent military force to protect or even seize its interests. Looking back at the previous period of Great Power Competition more than a century ago, leveraging military might to force repayment was commonplace. The U.S. military made multiple incursions into Caribbean and South American nations as did the Western powers in Africa and Asia.

It is reasonable to assume that China would have little or no experience in any dire economic contagion across Africa. The one primary example, the take-over of Hambantota Port, was an isolated incident during calmer times, before the financial uncertainty stoked by a slowing global economy or the current U.S.-China trade war. Moreover, the port takeover has now become a watershed moment in Chinese behavior that has attracted significant international scrutiny and ire.

More broadly, VornDick articulates the potential merits (from a U.S. standpoint) of a “Let China Fail in Africa” strategy as part of Washington’s Great Power global competition with Beijing. The whole argument is worth a read.

A glaring omission in VornDick’s analysis, however, is the interests and roles of Africans in this whole game (note that this is a gap in the “China-in-Africa” genre more generally).

chinafricaA key weakness that I see in the “Let China Fail in Africa” strategy is that it vastly underestimates the extent to which Africans will be willing to work hand in hand with China to make the Sino-African relationship work.

China’s forays in Africa is creating complex tapestries of personal and institutional relationships that will become ever harder to undo. For example, in both electoral democracies and autocracies in the region, citizens have come to expect political elites to provide public goods — many of them financed and built by China. Demands for more of the same will likely only get stronger. The desire to secure funding for more public goods will likely push African elites even closer to Beijing. Furthermore, at a time when the U.S. is working hard to signal that Africans are not welcome on its shores, tens of thousands of African students are earning degrees in Chinese universities. Many of these students will probably go back to their respective countries and maintain ties with Chinese business and academic contacts. These kinds of investments in soft power will matter in the long run.

Global diplomacy is not just about crass material interests. It is also about values and shared commitments to respectful mutual cooperation. If African elites become convinced that they are better off bandwagoning with China, they will do so.

And most importantly, having made that choice, they will make specific investments (whether deliberately or not) to make their nations ever more closely allied with China. They will adopt specific technologies. Establish specific market relationships. Acquire specific weapons systems. And yes, more of their students will learn Chinese and go on to earn degrees in China. The closer the military, economic and “soft” ties, the more African elites will be willing to make costly investments in order to ensure that their respective states’ relationships with China work.

A good lesson in this regard is francafrique. The relationship between France and its former colonies in Africa is not winning any awards soon. But for almost six decades African elites have remained committed to the relationship and worked to give the French military free rein in the region and French firms access to vast natural resources. The French state, in turn, has worked to prop up the same elites despite massive economic and political failings.

The point is: China’s failure in Africa (if it comes to pass) is not what will determine the future of Sino-African relations. What happens before any such failure will likely matter more.

Is Cameroon descending into Civil War?

The conflict between the government of Cameroon and armed fighters in the country’s anglophone regions may not meet the technical definitions of civil war, but it is pretty close.

Which is why it is odd that neither the African Union nor the “international community” is paying more attention to the conflict. I would hazard a guess that part of the problem is that the regional body in Central Africa, ECCAS, is the most rudderless of the Continent’s RECs. Perhaps a more proactive ECCAS would have forced the AU’s hand.

This is from Bloomberg: 

He’s one of a growing number of civilians trapped between the army and roaming gangs of English-speaking insurgents fighting to break away from the majority-Francophone nation. The conflict has decimated the local economy in the conflict zone, and according to the United Nations, left hundreds of people dead and displaced about 437,000 people.

“The military burn houses, destroys, loots property and kills citizens,” Cyprain, 41, said on condition that his surname not be used out fear for his safety during an interview in the port city of Douala, where he now stays with relatives. “Separatist fighters attack, kidnap and even kill people they suspect are their enemies.”

There’s no end in sight to a conflict that started in late 2016 with peaceful protests against the dominance of the French language in schools and courtrooms of the Northwest and Southwest regions, where most people speak English. President Paul Biya, 85, said on Twitter last week he’ll order the defense forces to “neutralize” all fighters who don’t lay down their weapons, a warning he first gave in his traditional year-end speech.

Biya might yet end the conflict through military victory, as per his threat. Indeed, research shows that a state’s ability to fend off armed challengers is important in preventing civil war outbreak.

But what if the Cameroonian state is not strong enough to quell the rebellion?

So far the African Union and other international actors seem to be betting that Biya will prevail. But it is also possible that everyone is vastly underestimating the resolve and capacity of those behind the armed rebellion. Add to this Biya’s record of gross mismanagement of the Cameroonian state and it becomes clear why the Cameroonian military may bungle the fight for effective control over the anglophone regions of the country (comparisons of how Nigeria let Boko Haram metastasize into a full blow insurgency come to mind).

Also, it looks like the conflict is escalating:

About 300 armed men swarmed into the town of Bangourain on Dec. 23 and set houses ablaze in what was the biggest attack in French-speaking territory since the conflict began.

The incident triggered such angry reactions on social media from Cameroonians that the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa issued a statement urging Francophones and Anglophones to “exercise restraint and refrain from hate speech and retaliation against one another.”

screen shot 2019-01-28 at 11.36.25 amAt some point it will become impossible to piece the Cameroons back together. Human rights abuses by the Cameroonian military, several instances of which are well documented, will only harden the belief that the francophone-dominated state does not view its anglophone citizens to be legitimate members of a shared political community.

 

Here’s why African states value their economic and political ties with China

This is from an excellent essay by  in Foreign Policy:

…. when former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson raised a cautionary alarm for Africans to be wary of Chinese predatory investments just a few months ago, his lecturing tone did not go over well. Many African leaders reacted negatively to the underlying assumption that they were not qualified to figure out profitable from predatory investments on their own.

Sierra Leonean President Julius Maada Bio rebuked the warning as misguided, saying, “We are not fools in Africa. … At difficult times, when we needed help most, China was there for us.”

The expansion of Confucius Institutes across Africa is another part of the push worth engaging with. With more than 50 Confucius Institutes teaching Chinese language, as well as the Communist Party’s version of Chinese history and culture, more and more Africans have the chance to study Chinese and travel to China on cultural scholarships. In 2015, approximately 50,000 African students attended Chinese universities, compared with 40,000 in the United States and the United Kingdom. Elementary and middle schools in several African countries are now offering Mandarin as a foreign language.

I highly recommend that you read the whole thing.

H/T Judd Devermont

A most unlikely critique of françafrique

This is from the BBC:

On Sunday, Luigi di Maio [Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister] called on the European Union to impose sanctions on France for its policies in Africa.

He said France had “never stopped colonising tens of African states”.

He accused France of manipulating the economies of African countries that use the CFA franc, a colonial-era currency backed by the French treasury.

“France is one of those countries that by printing money for 14 African states prevents their economic development and contributes to the fact that the refugees leave and then die in the sea or arrive on our coasts,” he said.

“If Europe wants to be brave, it must have the courage to confront the issue of decolonisation in Africa.”

Read the whole thing here.

di Maio is a member of the Five Star Movement, whose popular support in Italy appears to be trending in the wrong direction (which might explain the decision to poke France in the eye in this manner).

Here’s a description of Macron’s françafrique. 

And here’s how violent extremism in the Sahel might be reinforcing françafrique.

screen shot 2019-01-22 at 11.47.02 amIt is worth noting that, from the French perspective, the economic case for françafrique is not as strong as it used to be (see image). Trade with the CFA zone as a share of total French trade volume has been on a steady decline since the 1960s. However, the corrupt symbiotic relationship between African and French economic and political elites is still strong. Plus France still needs francophone Africa for geopolitical reasons. By 2050 about 80% of the world’s French speakers will live in Africa.

Ethics of publishing images of the dead

Yesterday at 3 PM four suspected Al Shabaab gunmen attacked the Dusit complex (14 Riverside) in Nairobi. Initial reports indicate that at least 21 people were killed in the attack. More than 700 people were at the complex at the time and were evacuated.

It is worth noting that yesterday was the third anniversary (15/01/2016) of the El Adde attack (also by Al Shabaab) on a Kenyan military base in Somalia. El Adde was the deadliest attack in Kenyan military history — with at least 141 soldiers reportedly killed.

As the Dusit attack was unfolding, media houses began publishing images from the complex. One image — in a New York Times story — drew the ire of Kenyans for showing two dead men slumped over their seats at a cafe. The Times claimed that this was standard policy.

Kenyans did not buy their explanation. And for good reason. At the very least, the image was insensitive. The two men were easily identifiable by their clothing.

First, it’s one thing to show the image of the dead covered in the streets (the ethics of which are also questionable), and another to show two easily-identifiable dead men slumped over their seats at a cafe. It takes a significant amount of empathy gap to not notice this difference. Second, and more importantly, Kenyans’ demands for respect for victims and their families are valid in their own right. They do not need further validation by what the Times does elsewhere. It is not ordained that what passes for Nice or New York ought to naturally pass for Nairobi. As an institution, the Times ought to have shown that it takes the complaints about the image seriously.

Here is a great explainer on why a lot of Kenyans took particular offense to the Times’ response:

… In the New York Times’ initial story about the event, penned by recently appointed East Africa bureau chief Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura, the photo editors decided to include an image (from the wire Associated Press) that has since spurred not one but two trending hashtags in Nairobi.

Taken at the popular Secret Garden Café tucked away in the compound, the grainy photograph depicts a scene of utter carnage. Two unidentified men’s lifeless bodies are slumped over on their tables, their laptops still next to them. It is a horrific reminder of the indiscriminate nature of terrorist attacks.

… What particularly angered Kaigwa — and many others — is how de Freytas-Tamura responded to the controversy: she reminded her critics that as the reporter, she did not choose the photo, and that people could take their concerns up directly with the photo department. She was factually correct, but to many Kenyans, she displayed an unnerving callousness.

“I think what that tweet showed to people is that they didn’t have someone who listen[ed] to them and empathize[ed] with them,” says Kaigwa. The reporter later deleted the tweet and instead shared the New York Times’ official policy on showing casualties during terrorist attacks.

Underlying the current discussion (and no doubt fueling the expressions of outrage) is, of course, a long history of the Western press being callous about publishing images of dead Africans. And it is in that context that the reaction from Kenyans should be understood. My hope is that this present discussion will force the Times and other media houses to review their guidelines on publishing images of the dead — regardless of their nationality.

Finally, and to echo Nanjala Nyabola, it goes without saying that the Times’ reprehensible editorial choice in this instance should not be used to attack individual journalists or the freedom of the press more generally.

Rural Bias in India?

We all know about the phenomenon of urban bias. But in India, there appears to be strong political incentives for rural bias.

This is from Bloomberg:

It’s an election year in India, with the world’s largest polls expected in the spring. The focus of politicians is, as usual, on farmers and rural areas and competitive pandering to both — hardly surprising in a country that considers itself a nation of villages.

However, this narrative has one major flaw. India is, in fact, more urban than politicians know or acknowledge. This seriously affects India’s growth prospects, leading to inefficiencies and loss of productivity in both rural and urban areas. What’s worse, the resulting misallocation of resources is making India’s blossoming urban areas well-nigh unlivable.

…. The consequences of underestimating the urban share of the population are dire. Resources are badly misallocated: By one estimate, over 80 percent of federal government financing still goes to rural development. This reduces incentives for politicians, especially rural ones, to change the status quo. Tens of millions of Indians who live in dense, urban-like settlements are governed by rural governments that lack the mandate and the money to deliver basic services. In India, urban governments are constitutionally required to provide things such as fire departments, sewer lines, arterial roads and building codes. Local bodies in rural areas aren’t.

Read the whole thing here.

Things are different in Thailand. According to The Economist:

The World Bank reckons that over 70% of Thailand’s public expenditure in 2010 benefited Greater Bangkok, home to 17% of the country’s population. In no other economy with a comparable level of income is government spending as skewed, say the bank’s economists.

 

 

 

Are Metros Overrated?

This is from a story in The Guardian:

The ITDP bemoans Africa’s obsession with metros. Lagos in Nigeria – the largest city in the world without a functioning mass transit system – has been trying to build a metro since the 1980s. In the latest of many incarnations, the project was supposed to begin operations in 2012 at a cost of $2.4bn (£1.9bn). Six years after the supposed start date, construction is “nowhere near complete”, says Kost.

Abidjan, the economic capital of Ivory Coast, began construction of a metro last year. The French-financed and -built line is projected to carry 500,000 passengers a day at a cost of $1.7bn. Dar es Salaam’s bus system, by contrast, has capacity for 400,000 people and cost less than a 10th of that – about $150m.

Addis Ababa in Ethiopia opened a Chinese-built and -operated light rail line last year at a cost of $475m. Shenzhen Metro Group has a deal to run it for the first five years.screen shot 2019-01-09 at 4.03.54 pm“With a metro, an international firm will often just parachute in its own system,” says Kost. “Bus rapid transit allows existing stakeholders to get involved. That’s what we did in Dar es Salaam and what we’re planning in Nairobi, where the bus bodies will be built in the city and local operators will look after tickets, fare collection and IT. It’s good for the development of the local economy.”

Regular readers know that I have a bias for Kost’s argument. Read the whole thing here.

H/T Dina Pomeranz.