internally displaced people in Africa

There are other questions too. Should IDPs stay in rural areas or be resettled in towns? Providing the right amount of assistance is tricky as well. Too much, and an African government risks turning camps into subsidised slums. Too little, and people die.”

The above quote is from this weeks Economist Newspaper. As I have argued before, I think that the move to come up with a framework to protect IDPs on the Continent is a charade. I don’t get how the likes of Mugabe (one of the chief displacers of people on the Continent) are supposed to be entrusted with protecting the same people. Having UNHCR do the job sounds good but is riddled with huge moral hazard problems – as illustrated by the above quote.

Meanwhile, this is the kind of life that many an African autocrat (and soon the effects of climate change) forces his fellow citizens to live.

malaria is still around, you know

Researchers have discovered a trend in the habits of mosquitoes. The little insects are feeding on human blood earlier than they used to. This means that more and more people get bitten earlier in the evening before they get to sleep under bed nets – which in turn translates into higher malaria infection rates. Bed nets lower infection rates by a whole 40%. Now researchers are urging people to use mosquito repellents. Personally, I don’t think this will fly. I for one do not like the “tourist smell” of repellents (I still don’t get how tourists stand themselves smelling like that!). I would advocate for a more aggressive approach to eliminating mosquitoes. DDT is bad, I know. But can’t we find other means of doing this? Plus malaria deaths, lost man hours because of disease burden and expenditures on anti-malaria medication may outweigh the cost of eliminating mosquitoes – thereby making the latter the more rational option.

Meanwhile, the WHO in a 2003 report says that malaria is still alive and well and continues to kill 2000 African children every day. That translates to 0.73 million children every year. I need not even add the figures for people over the age of 5.

where is Nkunda?

Laurent Nkunda remains imprisoned in Rwanda – at least as far as a google search can tell. This even as his minions – or have they taken over already, given the fractious nature of rebel movements on the Continent? – who have been integrated into the Congolese army issued a warning that they are going to resume fighting if Kinshasa does not control its “indisciplined” soldiers.

I keep thinking that the arrest of Nkunda might have done what taking out the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia did – it spawned a variety of splinter rebel groups each with its own litany of grievances, which continue bargaining with them even harder.

This may be counter-intuitive, but in the fight against rebel movements may be the protagonists – in this case Kinshasa, Kigali and other concerned parties – might find it more useful to strengthen the stronger movements and use them to take out the weaker ones with the guarantee that once they do this they will be given better terms at the negotiating table. This approach would eliminate “security dilemma” concerns since the governments would be supplying the strong rebel group with arms.

There are of course a ton of commitment problems that arise out of this approach. For one the government would not want the rebel group to get too strong. How to guarantee this is not very clear. Secondly, it would be hard to get guarantees from governments that they will not take out the rebel movement militarily in a more conventional attack after the latter take out the splinter groups who thrive on asymmetric warfare. May be a guarantee of integration afterwards? A cabinet job?

– if you think this is nuts, look at Iraq and possibly Afghanistan.

Marende needs to do more

Kenyan parliamentarians are the highest paid in Africa. Indeed, the 222 members of the August House make more than US senators do in a year. Quite a job they have.

All they have to do now is do their job right. According to a Parliamentary Powers Index the Kenyan parliament has a score of 31%. The same score as Mauritania and Zimbabwe and lower than places like Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast. Even the Sierra Leonean parliament did better than Kenya on this index. This index is not the final word on parliamentary performance, but Marende and his team could be doing a better job. A stronger committee system, better laws, more transparency of parliamentary procedures and less sleaze could be good places to start.

A higher score on the index is clearly correlated with better government, with members of the OECD up top. Wake up Marende and Co.

Due credit to: M. Steven Fish and Matthew Kroenig, The Handbook of National
Legislatures: A Global Survey (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009)

sunday editorials that I liked

As usual, Mutahi Ngunyi has a provocative piece in the Sunday Nation. I am sort of sympathetic to his idea of ethnic suicide (by which he means dumping ethnic identities and what they stand for) – I was in Eldoret and Timboroa for two days this summer and saw with my own eyes the fruits of ethnic hatred. The short-term operationalization of the idea may be problematic though. To make Kenyans out of Luos and Kikuyus and Kalenjins will take time. Because of this the process of “ethnic suicide” ought to take place sub-consciously, for if it is “managed” the end results or the process itself may be nasty.

Gitau Warigi pours some cold water on Bethuel Kiplagat’s TJRC. I like his argument. I am always baffled by how much we spend on such useless commissions only to be rewarded with “classified reports” issued to the president.  Philip Ochieng‘ has an interesting piece on ethnicity and politics in Kenya. I wonder how many politicians read his column… And Kwendo Opanga just gave me one more reason to think that Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka is as misguided as ever. This is not to say that the alternatives to Mr. Musyoka in the post-Kibaki dispensation are any better. Woe unto Wanjiku.

And in other news, is this legitimising crime or what?

where are the african governments in this debate?

I am a regular reader of Bill Easterly’s Aid Watch blog. I like his skepticism with regard to the efficacy of aid in the developing world. But every time I read something by him I am always left wondering; what do African finance ministers’ think? I would appreciate having some opinions from the people he keeps writing about – because otherwise he is no better than the WB or IMF clowns who conduct their business from a distance without local input. Easterly’s solutions-based approach could do with a little bit of input from third world government officials.

a case of gross state incompetence?

Amos Wako should resign. Together with Keriako Tobiko. I used to think that the latter was dedicated to true justice but it turns out that he is also beholden to powerful individuals within Kenya’s upper class and emerging thuggish new upper class.

All I have to say is that this is a sign of gross state incompetence.

Who will stand for justice and the rights of Wanjiku? Have we gone too far into this culture of impunity that murderers are set free right in front of our eyes because of their connections?

But then again, who am I kidding? Is it not the government of Kenya that has a number of high ranking cabinet ministers who planned and financed the killing of ordinary Kenyans early last year? When will it dawn on Wanjiku that she is on her own?

lessons not learned

It has been 25 years since the 1984-85 Ethiopian famine that inspired Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to write the song do they know it’s christmas?

The Ethiopian government is marking the anniversary in the most appropriate way: by appealing for food aid from the international community to assist the more than 6.2 million of its citizens who are faced with starvation sans food aid. Yes, over the last 25 years the government of Ethiopia has not been able to put in place systems to guarantee its people food security. It is almost like 1985 never happened. Agriculture  (which is dominated by coffee) accounts for over 40% of GDP and makes up 60% of Ethiopian exports (CIA factbook). Now, I am no expert on agricultural economics or on Ethiopia per se but I am willing to bet a few hundred shillings that Addis must be favoring cash-cropping over basic food security. I guess it is just a lot easier to tax coffee exports than peasant agriculture – especially if you have an expensive autocratic system to maintain.

I say food aid should be conditioned on Meles Zenawi loosening his grip on power. Just like food aid during the last famine helped prolong the civil war at the time (see Alex de Waal), giving Zenawi food aid without any preconditions will just continue to perpetuate the very system that has been unable to guarantee food security for Ethiopians. Sen’s beliefs on autocracies and famines are partly true. Ethiopians continue to have these cycles of famine because Addis does not have to listen to the average peasant in Afar.

This does not mean that we should heartlessly sit back and watch millions of people die. No, those that can should assist as many people as is possible. However, while at it, the international community should insist on fairer government in Addis. It doesn’t have to be about regime change through elections or those other democratic stuff. All is needed is a guarantee of the chance for average Ethiopians to live decent lives without having to worry about major famines every decade or so.

celebrating kenyatta day

Macharia Gaitho has a rather hard hitting editorial piece in the Daily Nation today. His rather utopian idealization of the revolutionary Kenyan peasantry aside (they are very complicit in the creation of the mess that is Kenya today), I think he raises some serious questions that the country – and especially the ruling class – needs to revisit as it celebrates Kenyatta Day.

Happy Kenyatta Day!!

There is no worthy ex-president in Africa, at least not this year

The Mo Ibrahim award goes to no one this year. The award is intended for former African presidents that have shown good leadership by peacefully relinquishing power and then doing some good after that (mediating a conflict or facilitating dialogue over disputed elections and what not). It’s a $ 5 million award for the first ten years outside of office, followed by $ 200,000 every year for life. Yes, African presidents have to be bribed to relinquish power.

But why aren’t they giving up?

Crude back of the envelope calculations reveals that the answer lies in the macro-economics of these countries. For example, in Uganda, the interest rate is slightly less than the inflation rate (at least according to the central bank website). Which means that if you put your money in the bank or invest it in treasury bills you will not be making much in the long-run.

Now assuming Museveni expects to live for 30 years after he retires, my back of the envelope calculations reveal a present value of only $ 22 million from the Mo Ibrahim award. This is probably change compared to what the big man in Kampala (well, now in Entebbe –  it’s close to the airport for easy escape in case stuff hits the fun) can make every year for the next 30 years if he stays in power. For instance, assuming that Uganda’s economy will grow at an average of 2% over the 30 years and that Museveni takes away 0.1% of the country’s GDP of 34.23 b (at PPP), then the man will have a present value of 25 m. Notice that 25>22, and by the way 0.1% is a very conservative estimate.

So it could be that what Mo needs to attract more contenders willing to relinquish power is more money. $5 million for 10 years and then $200,000 per year for life thereafter is simply not enough.

Alternatively, instead of just giving the ex-presidents the money, it should come with a guarantee that the Mo Ibrahim Foundation will help them invest the money in the international markets. This way, their frame of reference will not be the potential returns in their domestic economies  – which may not add much value to the award money – but the more lucrative international markets.

guinea-bissau has no prisons??

IRIN reports that Guinea-Bissau has no prisons. Yes, seriously. A “sovereign” state in 2009 has no formal prisons. According to the US State Department the Guinea-Bissau government detains suspects in make-shift detention centres and military bases.

Don’t you wish it was 1894 and it was still cool to move into Bissau and change things a bit? How does the international system sit back and pretend that Guinea-Bissau, as currently constituted, is a viable state? The number one function of the state should be to protect its citizens – from both foreign aggressors and internal thugs. A state that has no prisons is clearly sending a very loud signal that it cannot perform its basic function and in effect should be game, if only it was still 1894.

of african IDPs

I could not miss the irony. African leaders will be gathered in Kampala, Uganda (19th – 23rd Oct.) to come up with a mechanism to protect the more than 11 million internally displaced people (IDPs) on the Continent. IRIN touts this as a landmark move. But I beg to ask the question: Is anyone asking these leaders what is causing this internal displacement in the first place? Couldn’t we all be better off if the kleptocrats who run the Continent were not into stealing elections, emptying their national treasuries, marginalizing segments of their populations and in extreme cases committing acts of genocide? Wouldn’t it be cheaper to not have IDPs in the first place?

i still don’t get how the church justifies this

The Catholic Church, among other churches, continues to be opposed to birth control measures that also help in the prevention of AIDS. This is such a disappointment. Millions of people have died from the disease since its emergence in the 1980s. Currently there are more than 20 million infected people on the Continent, and 11 million orphans as a result of HIV-related deaths. Clearly this is a situation that calls for a rethink of the Church’s policy on the use of condoms.

This is separate from the abortion debate. This is about disease prevention. I find it hard to reconcile church teachings of love with the heartless condemnation of millions to their graves. Now, individuals can make their own decisions regarding whether to engage in unprotected sex or not. But I also think that it matters if their priest or pastor tells them to do so. As long as the church is against AIDS prevention (yes, refusal to allow condom use amounts to being against AIDS prevention) government efforts to tame the disease will continue to founder.

It is easy for moralists perched up in far off places to dictate to their faithfuls on the Continent that they should not use birth control or protect themselves against AIDS. But African governments should know better than to stand by and let this be. They are the ones who are losing hundreds of thousands of teachers, doctors, engineers, civil servants and most importantly PARENTS every year. Millions of children are left orphaned and therefore a burden to the state. Rome or the evangelical churches will never have to deal with the losses that these governments have to deal with as a result.

There is a huge disconnect between the church and the realities on the ground on the Continent. The fact of the matter is that people are having sex outside of wedlock. The church (and even the state) should have good reasons to worry about this (the concern here being the hordes of unplanned pregnancies, especially among teenagers). But the best way to deal with it is not to preach abstinence and then pretend that people will listen. Governments and the church should be aggressive with ALL preventive measures. Once the disease is down to negligible levels then perhaps we can revive the moralizing crusades. Now is simply not the time.

what ali ben bongo owes gabon

His father ruled Gabon, an oil and timber rich nation of 1.4 million, for 42 years. The elder Bongo passed away this year and was succeeded by his son Ali Ben after a disputed election. Nobody really expected things to turn out otherwise.

That said, one hopes that Ali Ben will feel the need to make things a bit better for the hundreds of thousands of Gabonese who continue to be shut out of the wealth from oil and timber. Gabon is Africa’s fourth largest oil producer and its second largest timber producer. During Omar Bongo’s 42 year presidency most of this money ended up in private bank accounts – the late president was the subject of an investigation involving Citibank, where he held millions of dollars in a private account.

I don’t have much on the younger Bongo. He seems like a non-starter. If we are to believe the BBC the only notable thing he said after being sworn in as president yesterday was that he wants renewal within the Gabonese elite. May be by this he means more social mobility. The VOA quoted him to have said that he plans to end corruption and injustice – one wonders where he was during his father’s failed 42-year presidency (apologies, the WSWS was the only place I could find a history of the guy). I would have wanted to hear him say something about oil and timber and redistribution of Gabon’s national wealth. I mean, how hard can it be to run a nation of 1.4 million? With all that oil wealth Gabon could give Botswana a run for its money.

Ali Ben owes Gabon a lot. His father stole from the country. He now has a chance to make up for it by putting the nation on the path to decency. This is not too much to ask, is it?

this has got to have been the most stupid law ever

You can stop wondering what Nigerian law-makers had in mind when they passed this law.

And in other news, Luis Moreno-Ocampo the Argentine chief prosecutor of ICC is due in Kenya in the next few weeks. Watch this space. This is gonna be interesting, both from a comparative politics and international relations perspective.