nigeria at 50

When I think of Nigeria I think of Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda Adichie, Yakubu Gowon,Murtala Mohammed, Sani Abacha, Ken Saro Wiwa, the Biafran War, Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Aguiyi-Ironsi, poverty, corruption, oil, the Action Group ….. In short, Nigeria is in many respects a contradiction with little to show for half a century of existence as an independent country. One can only hope that the best days for the people of Naija are still ahead of them.

Happy Independence Day to all the Naija People out there!

quick hits

Below are some links that I liked:

Sudan: It was never going to be easy to go separate ways.

Understanding the Mozambican riots.

Jammeh, the delusional Gambian president, is completely out of his mind.

Easterly on Zoellick and being kicked out of the BANK.

Bureaucracy gone mad, why does the UN have some of these agencies?

Documenting America’s non-existent class system.

Because of qualifying exams this weekend, I shall be away till some time after Monday.

fixing somalia

The Kenyan foreign minister has some ideas….

Kenya’s foreign minister said Saturday the millions being spent to fight pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia should be spent instead on helping the country become a functioning state.

Adding that

“Piracy is not born at sea. It’s born on land. And if you are able to patrol and protect your coastline, it’s unlikely that pirates will find a way to the high seas to cause the menace,” Wetangula said. “Instead, what are we seeing? 52 warships patroling … the waters of the Indian Ocean, but piracy is still going on.”

I say it is about time we exorcised the ghosts of black hawk down and meaningfully intervened in Somalia. Such an intervention should be realistic enough to allow al-Shabab those who can monopolize violence to control Mogadishu and surrounding areas in the short term before attempts are made to rebuild a functioning Somali state.

h/t Cyn

reality check

Recently I have been reminded over and over again of the fact that in the sixties South Korea, Ghana, Kenya, the Congo etc had roughly similar per capita GDP (I just started reading economic gangsters and have attended two very interesting lectures by Francis Fukuyama). Assertions of this nature are usually accompanied by accounts of what happened post-60s that made South Korea several times richer than its African counterparts in the present day. But an equally important question to ask is how different pre-60s Korea was from the African countries? (Korea’s long history with some form of organized polity, the nature of Japanese colonization, geographic location near the economic giants Japan and the US, relative importance in cold war politics, etc etc).

These are real issues with real consequences. Briefly stated, the differences between say the Congo and Singapore extend beyond those between Lee Kwan Yew and Mobutu Sese Seko. Pre-independence history and realities (including culture and forms of socio-economic organization) played a significant role in determining the respective trajectories of the  post-independence states of Asia and Africa.

While I am not a believer in historical institutional determinism, I find the reality of findings such as this hard to ignore. The short of it all is that everything is endogenously determined – institutions, quality of leaders, rates of capital accumulation, savings etc etc.

the tusker index

Update: CrossTalk guy (see below) has pointed out that inflation and what not has since raised these prices. The top-end joints – Intercontinental Hotel and the likes – will charge you around Kshs. 300 for a bottle of Tusker. Most Yuppie joints sell the same at Kshs. 200. The recommended retail price is Kshs. 85-90.

Comparatively, out here in Palo Alto, CA a bottle of Tusker at Rose & Crown will set you back by US $5, roughly Kshs. 400.

This past summer while sipping a cold Tusker at the historic Fairmont The Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi (disclaimer: the only reason I was there was because my best friend from primary school is a manager there. I usually prefer cheaper places on Kimathi street) I couldn’t help but wonder if the East African Breweries or Kenyan consumers for that matter kept a tab of how much the various watering holes charge for the machozi ya simba.

Well, thanks to Bankelele, I came across this blog with the Tusker Index.

Pub Location Tusker Price
Swallow One Kahawa West 75/-
Sabina Joy Moi Avenue 80/-
Jam Rescue Outering Road 80/-
Enzogu Bar South B/C 90/-
Capri 7 Jabavu Road, Hurlingham 90/-
Monique Moi Avenue (Next to Sabina Joy) 100/-
The Nairobi Serena Valley Road 220/-
Safari Bar The Intercontinental, CBD 230/-
The Grand Regency Hotel Central Business District 242/-
The Jockey Pub (Hilton Hotel) Central Business District 250/-
The Exchange Bar (Stanely hotel) Kimathi Street. CBD 250/-

The index, although only covering middle class residential areas and big hotels within the CBD, shows a Kshs. 175 variation in the price of a bottle of Tusker. I’ll make sure to take this into account the next time I want one baada ya kazi.

And here is CrossTalk, a new blog I am reading which, in the words of the author, will “fight stupidity in Kenya and Kenyans”

the mdgs

Since everyone is currently talking about the MDGs and how they may or may not be achieved on time here is a nice piece from Bill Easterly.

According to an Oxfam study, eliminating US cotton subsidies would “improve the welfare of over one million West African households – 10 million people – by increasing their incomes from cotton by 8 to 20 per cent”.

I may not always agree with Bill but I think his basic approach to development is spot on. Just like in most human endeavors (politics, economics, sports) systems based on human goodwill are bound to fail while those based on self-interestedness thrive. There is no magic bullet in development, but there is definitely a better approach than is currently being employed. Lets not forget that aid is supposed to eventually lead to self-reliance.

It is already clear that the goals will not be met by their target date of 2015. One can already predict that the ruckus accompanying this failure will be loud about aid, but mostly silent about trade. It will also be loud about the failure of state actions to promote development, but mostly silent about the lost opportunities to allow poor countries’ efficient private business people to lift themselves out of poverty.

Bono has a slightly less realistic more hopeful take on the progress towards achieving the MDGs.

democracy, development and the rule of law

This is the title of a class that I am a TA  (the joys of graduate school…) in this term. I am excited to be a part of the class. It is jointly taught by, in the words of Stoner-Weiss, the dean of democracy: Larry Diamond, and Kathryn Stoner-Weiss herself. Guest lectures will include presentations by Francis Fukuyama of the end of history fame among other high profile academics (It is at times like these that I get reminded that choosing academia was the right choice).

Larry  and Kathryn are big on democracy and its evolution in the last two decades, especially in the developing world, so expect some posts reflecting on this subject. The Spirit of Democracy Lives on!

kabogo, mbuvi and wanjiru win seats

Former assistant minister Bishop Margaret Wanjiru staved off a spirited challenge from Maina Kamanda to regain her Starehe seat in a hotly contested by-election. In other by-elections in the wider Nairobi area Kabogo of Juja beat business tycoon Thuo to win the Juja parliamentary seat while Mbuvi of Makadara beat Reuben Ndolo and immediate former MP Dick Wathika. The three by-elections were occasioned by court rulings that nullified results from the 2007 general election. As is typical of most by-elections, there was very low turnout with only 44%, 43% and 35% of the registering voters bothering to show up in Makadara, Juja and Starehe respectively.

More on this here

frantz fanon in the white house?

Interesting stuff from American Politics….

Former speaker of the US House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, echoed an article in Forbes magazine by the nutjob D’Souza  which claimed that Obama’s philosophy and worldview is viewed by an anti-colonial mentality inherited from his father – along with his father’s other non-stellar traits.

Which sort of makes you wonder about Newt’s opinion on colonialism. People like Newt should be made to understand that the anti-colonial movement was not inherently anti-European. It was anti-repression and against blatant abuse of basic human rights. It just so happened that the abusers were people from Europe. It would have been just as justified if it were Swiss people rebelling against colonizers from Vanuatu.

reading the federalist papers

I am ashamed that it has taken me this long to finally begin reading the Federalist Papers (having watched the latest episode of mad men I have no better study break from preparing for my qualifying exams). My favorite so far is Federalist No. 10 (who’s punchline is that we should not try to stop factions from forming but rather try to mitigate their effects). In it James Madison gives a compelling defense of liberty, regardless of its consequences:

Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment (sic) without which it instantly expires. But it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.

It is no wonder that most Americans (at least those that I have interacted with in New Haven and out here in Palo Alto) have such a deep-seated respect for the founding fathers.

africa is not a country

The Economist reports on a project hatched to rebrand sub-Saharan Africa. Nobody can dispute the need to revamp the image of the Continent to make it be more than just about warring Congolese, corrupt Nigerians, or starving Ethiopians. That said, I am not too excited about the idea of packaging the entire continent as one brand for the following reasons:

1. This effort creates incentives for free-riding. Reforming is hard and therefore Chad will not reform if it can get away with attracting marginal investments because a reforming Central African Republic, through the neighborhood effect, has given it a better image.

2. It is the same Africa-is-one-country paradigm that denies the better performing states in Africa foreign investment and good press. Giving the whole continent a single brand does not solve this problem. Each African country should own up to its failures and not be given incentives to hide under an African umbrella.

For instance, ONLY South Africa deserves to bask in the glory of having hosted a successful World Cup tournament. Chad, CAR, Niger, Somalia, the DRC, etc,  had nothing to do with it. In the same vein, only Botswana, Kenya, Rwanda, Malawi and other reforming African states should tout their respective successes. It is by highlighting these countries’ competencies, without diluting them with the others’ mediocrity, that the image of the Continent will be improved.

happy democracy day!!

Without taking a stand on which brand of democracy should be practiced around the world (I just know that I like the things that are supposed to come with democracy like the rule of law and responsive government) I would like to wish you all a happy democracy day. Here’s a message I just got from NDI:

NDI wishes you a happy International Day of Democracy, an annual global celebration of human rights, the rule of law and other principles that unite democracies around the world. This day, Sept. 15, was designated by the United Nations to reaffirm the universality of democratic values and recognize the aspirations of people around the world to have a say in how they are governed and make free choices about how they live their lives.

goodluck jonathan announces his candidacy on facebook

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has announced that he shall be running for president in next year’s general election, according to a post on his facebook page. Apparently the good sir takes social media seriously:

While some observers were surprised that Mr Jonathan had used Facebook to announce his candidacy, he said in July that comments on his page had influenced him in overturning his ban on the national football team . . . . . . . . . “People may scoff, but we take the interactions seriously, we track the [Facebook] feedback,” a presidential adviser told the Reuters news agency.

It will be interesting to see how the rank and file of the PDP reacts to this announcement. Under the party’s implicit North-South agreement the next president has to come from the North. Mr. Jonathan is a southerner.

blair commission on african poverty recommends more billions in aid

The Blair Commission set up to find British solutions to African poverty has recommended that the Continent get more billions in aid. There is no doubt that Africa needs all the money it can get, aid cynics’ criticisms notwithstanding. But that money, if it ever comes, should come with new ideas.

Perhaps for a change the money slated for development programs should be channeled as credit to the nascent African middle class. I have previously criticized pro-poor development initiatives for their habit of merely keeping the poor afloat (Think of your average mother of six selling vegetables in a generic African slum). What Africa and its development partners need to do is channel the little development money it has in releasing the talent and aspirations of the middle class to create more jobs. This is not to slight Africa’s poor for lack to talent. It is a mere acknowledgment of the fact that it is the middle class that oftentimes has the education and connections to grow their small start-ups into businesses that create even more jobs.

And in other news, Kenya has struck commercially viable gold. The hunt for oil and gas in the north and north east of the country is still on. One hopes that all the exploration craze will be accompanied by an even greater craze when it comes to investing in Kenya’s human capital.

And yeah, I appreciate the irony in writing about foreign aid and Africa’s vast mineral wealth at the same time.

senegalese court bans using children to beg

The Times reports that a court in Senegal has declared a long held practice by Marabouts of using children to beg  illegal.

“The bowls are sometimes no more than old tin tomato cans; the children, some as young as 4, are often barefoot, and they spend perilous hours on the streets and sidewalks, weaving in and out of traffic in their torn, filthy T-shirts. When they return to their rudimentary living quarters in the evening, they must turn their coins over to the marabouts, or face severe punishment. Not infrequently, newspaper headlines on a back page announce the crushing of a little talibé in traffic”

Using children to beg is a habit that is widespread on the Continent. In many towns and cities you will find children – some as young as  a few months old – next to a bowl with a cardboard writing stating one problem or another.

Of course merely banning the act like the Senegalese court has will not solve the problem, a better social safety net for mothers will, but it is a step in the right direction.