some practice in bad statistics

I just read a piece in the technology section of the Times which made me wish I had taken more statistics classes in college  (beyond the requirements for my econ degree). I think it is a good thing that the field is gaining prominence and I hope that it will spur an interest among governments the world over in scientific governance – a deliberate effort by governments to know the wants and needs of their populace and to respond to the same, of course toned with the occasional nudge in the right direction (I am a believer in soft paternalism, just fyi).

I also read a piece by my favorite Thursday columnist, Onyango-Obbo, of the Daily Nation. One of the points raised in the piece is that more urbanite and educated Kenyans are more likely to be “tribal” than rural folk. This is based on a study done some years back that showed that educated Kenyans in the towns and cities were more likely to be conscious of their ethnic identities than poor farmers and fishermen. Mr. Onyango-Obbo’s conclusion was therefore that education and exposure to other cultural communities does not help the anti-tribalism fight on the Continent.

I beg to differ. Educated people, and those exposed to other ethnic groups, are obviously more aware of their ethnicity. I became more aware of my being African when I arrived in New Haven, CT than when growing up in Kenya. Being exposed to “others” gets you thinking about your own identity. The question should be whether this emergent tribalism among educated Kenyan urbanites was negative or benign (like the kind of drive that made me read Ogot’s History of the Southern Luo for the first time in college). On this score my gut instinct tells me that the more exposed and well educated Kenyans are less likely to kill their neighbors simply because they speaks a different language. On the contrary, it is the rural folk who still imagine people from other parts of the country to be evil barbarians and intruders. Just look back to Kenya’s post-election violence of early 2008. Bloodshed occurred most prominently among the less educated and provincial Kenyans while well to do middle class Nairobians watched it all in shock on the BBC.

AGOA, African trade and development

Nairobi is currently playing host to delegates from all over the Continent and the US attending the 8th AGOA conference. I had time yesterday to listen to Sec. Clinton’s and President Kibaki’s speeches (President Kibaki, please fire your speech writers and hire a speech therapist). Despite the embarrassing delivery, President Kibaki’s speech struck the right tone. The US should open up more to African business and Kenyans (and Africans in general) should be quick to take advantage of the existing trade opportunities – even as they continue to tackle governance problems (which, contrary to Premier Odinga’s comments, is a major road block to African development).

I felt like Clinton’s comments were a bit too vague. It is high time the US stopped treating trade with Africa as  something that only happens at the pleasure of Washington (for more on this see Aid Watch). The one thing that hit home in the speech was the call for an increase in intra-continental trade. The last time I checked this accounted for a paltry 10% of all trade on the Continent. Poor transcom infrastructure is to blame. But political risk (read deplorable governance) is also to blame. I hope the many African delegates present took this point seriously.

I don’t know what deliverables come out of such AGOA gatherings so I will wait till the end of the conference to comment on its relevance. For now I am happy that United Parcel Services (UPS) has pledged to buy staff uniforms from the Kenyan market.