On NYT’s Misguided Nostalgia for Conrad

The smoked monkeys brought the point home. During my first day on a boat on the Congo River, I’d embraced the unfamiliar: how to bend under the rail to fill my wash bucket from the river, where to step around the tethered goat in the dark and the best way to prepare a pot of grubs. But when I saw the monkeys impaled on stakes, skulls picked clean of brains and teeth thrusting out, I looked otherness in the face — and saw myself mirrored back.

I was the real exotica: the only tourist to take this boat in nearly a decade, and the only white woman, as far as the crew knew, ever. Expect to be kidnapped, people had warned me. Expect to have everything stolen and expect every arrangement to go awry. Bring your own mosquito net, waterproof everything twice and strap your cash around your ankle.

These are the opening paragraphs of Harvard historian Maya Jasanoff‘s piece on the Congo River in the Times. In the piece Prof. Josanoff seeks to uncover what has changed (or not) since Conrad was in the Congo a century ago. She has a forthcoming book titled The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World.

The piece reads like a satirical rejoinder to Binyavanga Wainaina’s How to Write About Africa.

Why did Jasanoff decide to embark on this mission? In the third paragraph we find out:

The Democratic Republic of Congo, I read in my guidebook, was “a huge area of dark corners, both geographically and mentally,” where “man has fought continuously against his own demons and the elements of nature at large.” This, in other words, was the heart of darkness, which was why I had wanted to come.

I would like to think that Prof. Jasanoff consulted more than a guidebook to find out more about the Congo before her trip. But I digress.

The whole thing is worth reading. After which you should write the New York Times editors to let them know what you think.

The point here is not necessarily to call out Prof. Jasanoff, but to highlight what seems to be an insatiable demand at the Times for orientalist pieces on Africa and Africans.

And while on the subject of Conrad and the Congo, a fitting antidote is by none other than Chinua Achebe. In his review of Heart of Darkness, Achebe laments the use of Africa and Africans as background against which Europeans act out their neuroses:

Africa as setting and backdrop which eliminates the African as human factor. Africa as a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognizable humanity, into which the wandering European enters at his peril. Can nobody see the preposterous and perverse arrogance in thus reducing Africa to the role of props for the break-up of one petty European mind? But that is not even the point. The real question is the dehumanization of Africa and Africans which this age-long attitude has fostered and continues to foster in the world. And the question is whether a novel which celebrates this dehumanization, which depersonalizes a portion of the human race, can be called a great work of art. My answer is: No, it cannot.

Read the whole review here.

Initial Thoughts on the Reelection of President Uhuru Kenyatta

Congratulations to President Uhuru Kenyatta on reelection. In the end, he outperformed the polls by having a well-oiled national campaign that paid close attention to down ballot races. Jubilee MPs, Governors, Senators, and MCAs were elected in Bungoma, Kakamega, and other key swing areas. Where the party won it won big; and in the places it lost, it stayed competitive. The same cannot be said for NASA-affiliates.kenyatta

The polls were not that off. Kenyatta led in all but one poll conducted by Infotrak. In the end it appears that the undecideds stayed home. Turnout was relatively lower in Western and Coast regions (to regions with the biggest share of undecideds) relative to the national average. Odinga needed to at least match Kenyatta’s stronghold turnout in these regions to stay competitive.

Of the two models that I ran, the one incorporation registration rate as a measure of voter enthusiasm did better that the one that only considered historical turnout rates by region. Kenyatta supporters registered at high rates and followed through on Tuesday. Undecided Odinga supporters stayed home on Tuesday.

In a model that gives less weight to registration rates (as proxies for voter enthusiasm and likely turnout), the estimated vote share is Kenyatta 52.8% vs Odinga 47.2%. 

A more involved model that tries to estimate differential voter enthusiasm yields an even bigger advantage for Kenyatta (54% vs 46%). 

Turnout in 2013 was most certainly inflated by both CORD and the Jubilee Alliance.

Whatever one thinks of him, William Ruto is a political genius. After Tuesday has emerged as arguably the most powerful politician in Kenya. Initially I had thought that Jubilee Party was a bad idea that would end up depressing turnout by forcing everyone to vote for the same candidates. In the end it did not matter. Instead, Jubilee won big in the presidential election and, perhaps more importantly, swept key down ballot races. The party will command at least 49% of the seats in the 12 Parliament and will most certainly hit more than 50% with the support of friendly independents. Ruto has successfully vanquished the Moi family in Rift Valley politics. And more importantly, he is slowly emerging to be a national politician with a strong direct following outside of his core base. Only Odinga has managed to achieve this feat in the recent past.

Chances are very high that William Ruto will be the 5th President of Kenya. I must admit to have been wrong in assuming that his political stock would plummet as soon as Kenyatta won reelection. Instead, I think because of his hold on Jubilee his stock will only rise with time. Kenyatta’s elite base cannot push him aside. He has the numbers in Parliament and the very credible threat of inflicting maximum pain by raising political temperatures in the Rift Valley.

This will be a tough loss for Odinga supporters. At 72, this was surely his last stab at the presidency. There will be a lot to be said about the organization and strategy of his campaign — including the apparent lack of polling agents, failure to try and raid Jubilee strongholds, and own goal regarding the prospects of violence following a rigged election (the latter may have cost Evans Kidero the Nairobi governorship). There is also the issue of IEBC’s inability to relay results with the confidence of all parties concerned. However, despite the possibility of hacking of the results transmission system, the down ballot results point to a credible Kenyatta win. Unless more evidence becomes public, I am inclined to believe that this election was credible. The KIEMS system worked. IEBC should build on this success to strengthen the transmission system. It was messy, yes. But it was also most certainly better than last time.

This is a step forward in Kenya’s political development. The opposition is in disarray, but the real institutional fights are about to start within the Jubilee coalition. Ruto’s 2022 ambitions will likely force him to expand the size of the Jubilee coalition. He will likely reach out to Odinga’s base — including in Coast, Nyanza, Eastern, and Western regions. Kenyatta will also want to give himself some credible check on Ruto’s power and influence, which will force him to reach outside of Jubilee’s core constituency for institutional support. Recall that Jubilee is now pretty much Ruto’s party. It will be interesting to see how Joho, Nyong’o, Ngilu, and Oparanya react to all this.

I expect Kenyatta to be constrained by intra-Jubilee politics in his second term. I will say more on the likely political and policy direction of the second term after Kenyatta announces his new cabinet.

In the next fortnight I’ll probably put together a piece on the historical and political significance of Odinga’s likely exit from the political stage.

Hon. Raila Amolo Odinga is perhaps the one individual who has contributed  the most to democratic consolidation in Kenya since the early 1990s. He is also a tragic figure who has had to deal with personal shortcomings, family tragedy, and systemic rejection by Kenya’s powers that be — all played out in full view of the Kenyan public. In addition, it is impossible to talk about Odinga without mentioning the ethnic factor. I think that the biggest impact of this loss will be the Kenyanization of the Luo elite. Since Odinga Senior, the Luo elite have invested a lot in trying to change Kenya (at great expense for the Luo masses) — a fact that made Luo Nyanza the perennial epicenter of oppositionist politics. But with Odinga’s exit, this collective commitment to oppositionist politics will likely diminish. I expect Luo Nyanza politics to become more fragmented and transactional (i.e. less purist). All else considered, the Kenyanization of the Luo elite will probably be a good thing for the masses in Luo Nyanza.

 

Three Known Unknowns Ahead of Kenya’s Presidential Election Tomorrow

Here are three factors that could potential lead to a surprise outcome in Kenya’s presidential election tomorrow.

1. Turnout: To be honest, we don’t really know what to expect with regard to turnout figures tomorrow. As Charles Hornsby notes here:

For some time I have been wrestling with an ethical problem. Reviewing the 2013 turnouts, in comparison with that from previous national elections since 2002, it became clear with the benefit of hindsight that turnouts were implausibly high not just in Luo Nyanza and Central Province, but in many other places…….. The size and scale gap between 2013 and every other election for the past 15 years is hard to explain.

In other words, there is good reason to believe that the 2013 turnout figures were artificially high.

The use of technology and a raft of reforms, including the planned announcement of results at the constituency-level, are supposed to minimize opportunities for political parties to gin up turnout in friendly areas this time round. If these safeguards work, we will all be flying blind with regard to our turnout-based predictions of the final outcome in the presidential election. All I can say for now is that Kenyatta has a structural advantage over Odinga on likely turnout, but that if Odinga matches Kenyatta on turnout (especially in Coast and Western regions) he will most likely become Kenya’s fifth president.

2. Technology: The Kenyan public’s perception of the integrity of the polls will crucially hinge on how well the IEBC’s Kenya Integrated Electoral Management System (KIEMS) is judged to work. Kenya is holding one of the most expensive elections in the world (judged by cost per vote). And the use of expensive technology has been touted as a way of minimizing human discretion and, therefore, opportunities for vote rigging. But technology only works as well as humans allow it to. And sometimes stuff hits the fan. In addition, the IEBC only partially tested its results transmission system. Which means that there will most likely be hiccups in the data transmission process from the country’s 40,883 polling stations. Widespread technological failures will tarnish the integrity of the outcome, and could be a catalyst for political instability. 

3. The accuracy of opinion polls: Throughout this cycle, all polls except one have shown Kenyatta to be ahead of Odinga. In the recent past the polls have certainly tightened, with Kenyatta leading Odinga by 3 percentage points or less. But what if the polls are wrong? In 2013 they underestimated Kenyatta’s support by about 2 percentage points, on average. The same inherent bias may be at play this year, or it could be reversed. One important factor to look out for will be the effect of local gubernatorial races on the presidential race. For instance, the outcomes of local contests in counties like Machakos, Bomet, Narok, Meru, and Bungoma will likely have non-trivial effects on the presidential race in the same counties. Yet throughout this cycle there has been very little effort to calibrate the national polls using information from the state of county contests. And so while I believe that existing opinion polls give a fairly accurate depiction of the state of the race, only the final vote counts will tell.

 

 

 

 

What the poll numbers tell us about Kenya’s presidential election next Tuesday

Below is a table from a previous post comparing the poll numbers and actual votes ahead of the 2013 presidential election, as well as May 2017 poll numbers for the two leading candidates (Messrs. Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga). You can read the background post here. See also here.Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 9.30.40 PMAlso below is the July 23rd poll released by Ipsos Synovate that reveals some interesting changes over the last two months. As of now the race stands at 47% vs 43%, advantage Kenyatta. But with a margin of error of 2.09%, this is a statistical dead heat.

On President Kenyatta: 

Kenyatta has seen his support decline in Nairobi (by 11 percentage points), Coast, Eastern, and Western regions. His support has increased in North Eastern (by 5 percentage points), Nyanza and Rift Valley regions. In addition, his support is stable in Central region at 88%.

On Prime Minister Odinga:

Odinga’s support has declined in Rift Valley (by 6 percentage points) and Western. His support has increased in Nairobi (by 13 percentage points), Eastern, Central, Coast, and North Eastern regions. In addition, his support is stable in Nyanza region at 76%.

Screen Shot 2017-08-02 at 8.08.46 AM.png

Looking at Trends:

A bigger share of undecideds will likely break for Odinga: The above trends confirm my previous observation that undecideds in Coast, Eastern, and Western regions are likely to be reluctant Odinga supporters. Odinga has seen his poll numbers go up in Coast and Eastern as the number of undecideds has shrunk in both regions. At 14% in the latest poll, the number of undecideds in Western region remain virtually the same from the May figure (16% of respondents). Both Kenyatta and Odinga saw declines in their support in Western region between May and July, but most of the undecideds in the region will likely break for Odinga. Virtually all the leading political elites in the region support Odinga’s bid for the presidency.

The race has tightened over the last two months: It is also clear that the race has tightened over the last two months as more voters have internalized the fact that this is a two-horse race between Kenyatta and Odinga. In particular, much of the tightening appears to have come from shifts in Western and lower Eastern, the two regions comprising the “Big Five” voting blocs where a clear majority of elites are behind the Odinga ticket.

Screen Shot 2017-08-02 at 8.03.45 AMScreen Shot 2017-08-02 at 7.59.37 AM

What do the numbers say?

First a couple of caveats.

In the last cycle the polling by Ipsos was off by a few percentage points in either direction. The final polls before the election underestimated Kenyatta’s support in all regions except Western. The final poll also underestimated Odinga’s support in Coast, Nyanza, and Western regions, was spot on in the Rift Valley, and overestimated his support in the remaining four regions. This is largely because polling in Kenya is often structured by region, on account of the fact that vote choice often maps neatly on regional/ethnic cleavages. No polling firm has figured out a likely voter model (I honestly don’t know why). Much of the underestimation of Kenyatta’s support came from the erroneous assumption of evenly spread turnout across the country.

And speaking of turnout, it is important to note that the Uhuru/Ruto ticket has a structural advantage. On average, Kenyatta’s core support comes from wealthier regions of the country that are relatively easier to reach and mobilize. In addition, with nearly 40% of the electorate coming from just two of the “Big Five” voting blocs, the combined ticket also offers a classic minimum winning coalition which adds to efficiency of messaging and turnout mobilization. This is in contrast to the Odinga/Kalonzo ticket’s turnout challenge. Its core is three of the “Big Five” that combined add up to just over 30% of the electorate. Therefore, Odinga has to make the difference by appealing to smaller voting blocs, particularly in the Coast, North Eastern, and Rift Valley regions (especially among pastoralist subregions of the Rift). The pro-Odinga non-Big Five regions have historically had relatively lower turnout rates, in no small part because of lower rates of access to education and economic opportunities. Dispersed support also means dispersed messaging. It is not clear that Odinga has successfully been able to overcome his turnout challenge ahead of Tuesday’s election.

The numbers, taking into account likely turnout: 

Based on 2013 turnout, I have created a model that takes into account county-level turnout (averaged at the constituency level to generate more data points). I have then clustered individual counties into regions. A more granular model that looks at individual voting blocs (e.g. that separates Nyamira and Kisii from the rest of Nyanza, Kitui, Makueni, and Machakos from the rest of Eastern, or Narok from the rest of the Rift Valley yields more or less similar results). Lastly, I weighted the estimated turnout in each county by the registration rates ahead of the 2017 elections. Turnout in 2013 varied from a low of 58% in Kilifi to a high of 95% in Makueni. Similarly, registration rates (as a share of eligible adults) ahead of 2017 varied from a low of 50.6% in Vihiga to a high of 86% in Kajiado. Presumably, these differences in registration rates reveal information on voter enthusiasm, and therefore likelihood of turning out next Tuesday.

All this is like attempting to perform open heart surgery with a blunt panga. So bear with me.

After the weighting, I then estimated turnout rates at the county level after which I used the raw vote numbers to estimate turnout rates at regional levels (polling is sparse at the county level). With the regional turnout figures, I then estimated the likely vote totals for Kenyatta and Odinga by region. Throughout this process I ignored the proportion of voters that are undecided.

In a model that gives less weight to registration rates (as proxies for voter enthusiasm and likely turnout), the estimated vote share is Kenyatta 52.8% vs Odinga 47.2%. 

A more involved model that tries to estimate differential voter enthusiasm yields an even bigger advantage for Kenyatta (54% vs 46%). 

In short, going by historical turnout rates, Kenyatta is still a strong favorite to win reelection next Tuesday.

Now, there are several ways in which I could be totally off the mark.

First, there is the issue of undecideds. The bulk of these voters are in Coast and Western regions, both Odinga strongholds. So far the trends indicate that undecideds appear to be breaking for Odinga in larger proportions. Should this trend continue, Odinga may eat enough into Kenyatta’s leads to force a runoff, or even an outright squeaker of a first round win.

Second, there is the issue of turnout. If Odinga were to average a turnout rate of 85 in Nairobi, Coast, and Western regions, my model estimates a vote distribution of 50.9% vs 49.1% in favor of Odinga. If Western and Coast regions alone got to 87% turnout, Odinga’s lead would increase to 51.1% vs Kenyatta’s 48.9%. Structurally, Kenyatta pretty much maxed out on turnout in 2013, while Odinga has a lot of head room.

As I keep saying, this is going to be very much a turnout election in which historical voting patterns strongly favor Kenyatta. For Odinga to have a fighting chance he has to convince undecideds to turn up and vote for him next Tuesday.

Other Interesting Polls to Consider:

There are two other polls that came out yesterday, one commissioned by Radio Africa and another done by Infotrak.

The Radio Africa poll puts the race at 47% for Kenyatta vs 46% for Odinga, a virtual tie. With this poll, too, the trends show a tightening race. Earlier in the month Kenyatta led Odinga by 49% vs 44%. The Infotrak poll puts the race at 49% for Odinga vs 48% for Kenyatta. Infotrak is the only polling company that has shown Odinga leading Kenyatta throughout this cycle.

Finally, Ipsos also released a poll yesterday that puts the race at 47% (Kenyatta) vs 44% (Odinga), but the details of which are not yet available. More on this soon.

Just How Bad is Public Debt in Africa?

Well, public debt in African states is much higher if you take into account their revenue mobilization capacities. The bigger the informal sector, the lower the debt/revenues ratio.

Consider the case of Nigeria (from the FT):

Nigeria’s accumulated government debt is just 18.6 per cent of its annual economic output, one of the lowest levels in the world, implying that its debt burden is more than manageable. But is this a fair reflection of reality?

Using a different metric, the Nigerian government’s gross debt is 320 per cent of its annual revenues, according to figures from Fitch Ratings, one of the highest figures in the world and comfortably above the median of 196 per cent for countries in Africa and the Middle East that are rated by Fitch.

More on this here.

 

On North Korea’s Lucrative Relationship With African States

A number of African countries have close ties to North Korea. And it is for the very same reasons that these states have (or had) ties with Cuba, China, and USSR/Russia:

Namibian officials describe a different North Korea — a longtime ally, a partner in development and an affordable contractor. Since the 1960s, when North Korea began providing support for African nations during their independence struggles with European colonial powers, the regime has fostered political ties on the continent that have turned into commercial relationships.

Recall that it is China that was willing to come to the aid of landlocked Zambia after apartheid South Africa and apartheid-lite Southern Rhodesia threatened the country’s trade links on account of its support for nationalists from both countries. The USSR and Cuba were also vital allies of African nationalist liberation movements at a time when the West was mired in doublespeak over decolonization and racial equality on the Continent. Cuba, in particular, committed blood and treasure in the liberation of Angola and Southwest Africa (Namibia).

Nelson Mandela vowed never to forget friends that aided the ANC against apartheid:

All to say that China, Russia, Cuba, and North Korea are not merely using African states. It has always been a game played on the basis of mutual interests, with the distribution of benefits dictated by the prevailing balance of bargaining power.

Making Sense of Competing Visions of Kenya in the Jubilee & NASA Manifestos

This is a longer version of my column in the Standard this week.

This week the leading political blocs in the upcoming General Election released their respective manifestos. Jubilee sought to convince Kenyans that it needs another term in office to finish the job it began in 2013. The National Super Alliance Coalition (NASA) presented an agenda for the full implementation of the 2010 Constitution, focusing on equity and inclusivity. Both documents present competing visions of where we are as a country, and where we ought to go.

On one hand, Jubilee which sees the country’s problems as rooted in poor infrastructure and a lousy business environment. Its vision of government intervention in the economy is thus driven by the need to facilitate private investment (mostly through crony capitalism, but also through streamlining of the regulatory environment).

jubilee

But on the other hand is NASA, whose manifesto suggests a firm belief that the ambitious 2010 constitution has yet to be fully implemented; and that the country still requires structural transformation in order to guarantee equitable sharing of national resources, social inclusivity, and equality before the law and the government.

On a spatial left-right scaling, NASA’s manifesto is decidedly to the left of Jubilee. This is reflected in both the specifics in both manifestos and the choice of words in the documents. NASA (see image below) envisions a much bigger role for the government in the effort to transform Kenyan lives than does Jubilee (see above).

Both manifestos and visions for Kenya’s future have merits and demerits. Jubilee has a case to make for working with the country we have without re-litigating the political settlement of 2010 and its (partial) implementation since 2013. Restructuring society doesnasa not always yield the desired results, and often comes with instability. Their vision of doing their best to build infrastructure and letting hardworking Kenyans do the rest makes sense if one believes that you go to battle with the army you have. Their proposed vision of Kenya is grounded in the idea that a rising tide, even if marked by high levels of inequality, lifts all boats. Simply stated, it is a vision that prizes ends rather than means.

NASA’s vision of structural transformation is also valid in its own right. It prizes means and ends. Their plan for Kenya is informed by the idea that no society can continue to cohere if a section of citizens have deep feelings of structural inequality and discrimination. That we can have all the roads, water and sanitation, and bridges we need, but still flounder if a sizable proportion of Kenyans still feel like second class citizens in their own land. They also contend that inequalities today will breed inequalities tomorrow, and that a future in which only a small segment of the nation has access to the most lucrative economic opportunities and the best government services – simply on account of the language they happen to speak – is one destined to bring conflict. In a nutshell, NASA’s is a nation and state building manifesto that promises to not only increase the number of sufurias in Kenyan kitchens, but also create a new kind of nation-state devoid of the “culture of madharau.”

A priori, it is hard to say which vision fits the country best at this point in our history. Kenyans who have seen their lives improve over the last four years will most certainly want to eschew any radical changes — this is true, despite recent worrying headline economic numbers. Those who have seen their economic situation stagnate or worsen want change now. Looking at the numbers, there is ample evidence in support of either argument.

This is why, unlike some partisan observers, I see no reason to worry that the world would end if either Jubilee or NASA wins. The truth of the matter is that life will go on as before — with messy and contested politics at every turn, and high levels of economic inequality.

It is extremely hard to change or ignore social forces.

If Jubilee wins, it will be hard to continue ignoring issues of equity in perpetuity. Eventually, even diehard Jubilee supporters will realize that the crumbs that fall off the table are a raw deal. In the same vein, a NASA win will not necessarily produce a radical transformation of the Kenyan state. Once in power, the coalition’s leadership will most certainly be disciplined by our unwieldy political economy dominated by so-called cartels and our general structural conservatism.

As a student of political development, all I can say is that either path will lead to further consolidation of our political economy — either through further entrenchment of a hierarchical order (under Jubilee); or the widening of the economic upper class (under NASA).

Below is a list of what I consider to be the highlights of both manifestos. Consistent with the claims above, the Jubilee manifesto has specifics on many of its promises, while NASA’s largely sets out frameworks within which it will seek to transform Kenyan lives and the nation-state.

Jubilee:

  1. Investments in universal secondary education and 100% transition from primary to secondary school
  2. Completion of 57 large-scale dam projects to improve water access and irrigation
  3. Setting aside 1% of R&D funds to document and disseminate lessons and best practices in policymaking from the 47 counties
  4. Increase of electricity access to up to 100% of Kenyan households (from current ~53%)
  5. Complete several ongoing and planned transport and energy infrastructure projects (six-lane highway from Nairobi to Mombasa, Isiolo-Lamu road, SGR to Malaba etc) 

NASA:

  1. An ambitious nation and state building framework to guarantee equity and inclusivity
  2. Strengthening of the devolved system of government (including in areas of education, health, and agriculture)
  3. Investments in improving agricultural productivity (including for smallholder farmers)
  4. Expansion of social protection for households with orphans and vulnerable children
  5. Implementation of regionalized (cross-country) development plans

 

More Anglophone African Students are Joining Universities in China than the U.S.

This is from Rogue Chiefs:

chinauni.pngTHE surge in the number of African students in China is remarkable. In less than 15 years the African student body has grown 26-fold – from just under 2,000 in 2003 to almost 50,000 in 2015.

According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, the US and UK host around 40,000 African students a year. China surpassed this number in 2014, making it the second most popular destination for African students studying abroad, after France which hosts just over 95,000 students.

And it looks like soon Africans will comprise the biggest proportion of foreign students in China:

Chinese universities are filled with international students from around the world, including Asia, the Americas, Europe and Oceania. The proportion of Asian international students still dwarfs the number of Africans, who make up 13% of the student body. But this number, which is up from 2% in 2003, is growing every year, and much faster than other regions. Proportionally more African students are coming to China each year than students from anywhere else in the world.

Also, African students in China are mostly studying mandarin and engineering:

Based on several surveys, most students tend to be enrolled in Chinese-language courses or engineering degrees. The preference for engineering may be due to the fact that many engineering programmes offered by Chinese universities for international students are taught in English.

And they are more likely than their counterparts in the West to go back home after finishing their studies.

Due to Chinese visa rules, most international students cannot stay in China after their education is complete. This prevents brain-drain and means that China is educating a generation of African students who – unlike their counterparts in France, the US or UK – are more likely to return home and bring their new education and skills with them.

Perhaps the much-discussed skills transfer (or lack thereof) from China to African states will take place at Chinese universities instead of construction sites on the Continent.

The recent decline in the number of foreign students applying to U.S. colleges and universities will no doubt reinforce China’s future soft power advantage over the U.S. in Africa.

What does this mean for research in Africa? According to The Times Higher Education:

chinauni2.pngChina’s investment in Africa is having a positive impact on research, citing China’s African Talents programme. Running from 2012 to 2015, the programme trained 30,000 Africans in various sectors and also funded research equipment and paid for Africans to undertake postdoctoral research in China.

…. the 20+20 higher education collaboration between China and Africa as a key development in recent years. Launched in 2009, the initiative links 20 universities in Africa with counterparts in China.

And oh, the Indian government is also interested in meeting the demand for higher education in Africa.

In December 2015, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi also announced that the country would offer 50,000 scholarships for Africans over the next five years.

Notice that all this is only partially a result of official Chinese (or Indian) policy. The fact of the matter is that the demand for higher education in Africa has risen at a dizzying pace over the last decade (thanks to increased enrollments since 2000). To the extent that there aren’t enough universities on the Continent to absorb these students, they will invariably keep looking elsewhere.

According to the Economist: 

Opening new public institutions to meet growing demand has not been problem-free, either. In 2000 Ethiopia had two public universities; by 2015 it had 29. “These are not universities, they’re shells,” says Paul O’Keefe, a researcher who has interviewed many Ethiopian academics, and heard stories of overcrowded classrooms, lecturers who have nothing more than undergraduate degrees themselves and government spies on campus.

In those countries where higher education was liberalised after the cold war, private universities and colleges, often religious, have sprung up. Between 1990 and 2007 their number soared from 24 to more than 460 (the number of public universities meanwhile doubled to 200).

And on a completely random note, the black line on the graph above may explain the otherwise inexplicable persistence of the CFA zone in francophone Africa.

Three Important Narratives Driving Kenya’s 2017 Presidential Election

I think it is safe to say that Kenya’s 2017 election is a lot more about 2022 than it is about deciding who will be Kenya’s president over the next five years. And for that we have to thank Deputy President William Ruto. In 2013 Ruto defied all odds and served as kingmaker for Uhuru Kenyatta. In exchange, Kenyatta promised to support his stab at the presidency in 2022, assuming Kenyatta wins reelection this August.

At the moment the odds are in favor of Kenyatta winning reelection, either fairly or unfairly.

rutoWhich makes a lot of the campaigning in this cycle about building alliances and potential national coalitions for Ruto’s 2022 stab at the presidency. To this end three important narratives are emerging that specifically relate to Ruto’s quest to be Kenya’s 5th president.

  1. Stop Raila Odinga at all costs: The only man standing between William Ruto and the presidency is Odinga. A surprise Odinga win this August would deal a serious blow to Ruto’s presidential ambitions. As I have noted before, Ruto’s political following has remained largely transactional, and dependent on the constant flow of resources. If out of power these resources would certainly dry. In addition, Ruto has only recently acquired enormous wealth, which means that he still lacks the deep rootedness among Kenya’s economic elite that would afford him protection like it has for the Moi, Kibaki, Odinga, and Kenyatta families. A double loss of political and economic power would be too steep a fall to recover from. If Odinga loses, that will certainly be the end of his political career and will provide a wide opening for Ruto to raid his vote-rich strongholds in preparation for future elections.
  2. Have a negotiation-proof Kenyatta succession plan: It is common knowledge that Kenyatta’s promise to back Ruto in 2022 is not credible. Whatever his personal commitments to Ruto, Kenyatta’s political base will be independent enough to back candidates of their own choice in 2022. And as a former president, Kenyatta will have no power to compel political and economic elites to back the candidate of his choice. Which is why Ruto has sought to cement the credibility of Kenyatta’s promise by building a strong political party in Jubilee Party. JP is supposed to tie Kenyatta’s hands by coupling the political destinies of the Ruto and Kenyatta wings of the ruling coalition in both 2017 and 2022. If this scheme succeeds, the de facto party leader (i.e. Ruto) will have an enormous upper hand in influencing the public political behavior of elites allied to Kenyatta in 2022, perhaps enough to keep them faithful to Kenyatta’s public commitments. If this sounds familiar it is because a variant of this has been done before, by Moi through KANU following the death of Jomo Kenyatta in 1978.
  3.  Consolidate the Rift Valley vote: Ruto is no Moi, yet. Which means that he will continue to struggle to cement the Rift Valley vote, especially this year. Isaac Ruto might surprise him in Bomet (and parts of Kericho). And in the future Gideon Moi will certainly make a run for Elgeyo Marakwet, in addition to Baringo and Nakuru (and the wider Rift vote). All to say that, as a politician, Ruto is at once extremely powerful and vulnerable. He is powerful on account of being Deputy President with seemingly unlimited access to state resources. But he is also incredibly vulnerable, especially because his own backyard is littered with people who would soon see him tossed into the dustbin of history. In this sense he is no Kenyatta or Odinga, both of whom enjoy near-fanatical support in their respective bases and do not have any serious elite challengers.

All this to say that Deputy President William Ruto probably has the most to lose in this August’s presidential election. Which probably means that he will also work the hardest of any of the leading national politicians this cycle. And work hard he will, being one of the most electrifying national politicians on the stump (perhaps second only to Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho). This, of course, is good news for the incumbent Jubilee Party and President Kenyatta’s reelection prospects.

A short guide for academic researchers working in African states

This is by Keguro Macharia over at The New Inquiry:

You are a researcher, not a tourist. Don’t act like a tourist.

Do not be condescending. Do not tell your hosts that they are “clever” or “bright” or “intelligent.” Do not act surprised when your conceptual paradigms are challenged. Engage those who challenge you.

Don’t turn us into native informants. Respect us as intellectual equals. Ask us the same kinds of questions you’d ask people you consider intellectual equals. Be rigorous. We can take it. Expect the same.

Never ever presume to tell us what is “wrong with us” and how we can “fix” ourselves. If you’re tempted to “offer solutions,” resist the temptation. Figure out the work that’s being done. Try to find a way to enter existing conversations.

Read the whole thing here.