Mediocre leadership is the biggest crime against humanity

The saying goes that when the tide runs out you get to know who has been skinny dipping. In the same vein, it is when disaster strikes that you get to know who has mediocre leadership.

The ongoing famine in the Horn of Africa, the worst in 60 years, has exposed eastern African leaders for who they are. The Ethiopian and Eritrean governments for a while even refused to acknowledge the humanitarian catastrophe in their hands. The Kenyan government spokesman would not admit that any Kenyan has died from the famine. Kenya, the region’s biggest economy, is a lesson in the dangers of mediocre leadership: Meteorological warnings from two years ago were ignored; Money for food aid ended up in private bank accounts; and The government lacks any coherent agricultural and food security policies.

And because of it all, this is happening [please pardon the famine porn, but we need to see how REALLY bad things are]. 3.5 million Kenyans face starvation. 11 million in the wider region are affected.

In the last two days I have followed news stories on the situation in northern Kenya. I can only imagine how things are in the epicenter of the famine in Somalia and the Ogaden region of Ethiopia.

A lot of blame has been flying around. According to Jeff Sachs:

“The warning is also clear. The Horn of Africa is the world’s most vulnerable region, beset by extreme poverty, hunger and global climate change, notably a drying and warming of the climate during the past quarter century.”

adding that

“The west has contributed to the region’s crisis through global climate change that victimises the lives and livelihoods of the people of the region.”

In my view, however, the blame squarely lies with the region’s leadership. It is the leaders who have consistently refused to plan ahead, opting instead for palliative measures like food relief with lots of opportunity for graft. Blaming western colonialism, neocolonialism, climate change, etc are nothing but distractions. This problem and many other African problems are for the most part just that, African problems.

That millions of shillings in aid money was stolen, thus endangering millions of lives in northern Kenya, is a moral travesty. To add insult to injury, no one has yet been arrested or charged with the crime. It is Kenyan officials who have sat by and in some instances (in the past and now) even contributed to the endangerment of the lives of 3.5 million citizens of Kenya.

The usual perpetrators of crimes against humanity – warlords and their militia – kill with guns. But corrupt and mediocre civilian leadership continues to decimate millions more through both inaction and well calculated mis-allocation of resources.

Because of the famine 800,000 children in the wider region could die from malnutrition.

Food aid is definitely not a long term solution. But here is how you can chip in to help those affected by the famine.

Explaining academia’s liberal bias

According to the New York Times it is more than just self-selection. There is also screening:

“The tendency of liberals to pursue advanced education isn’t a result of higher I.Q. or less materialism or any such indirect factor,” Dr. Gross told me. He pointed instead to a direct factor: the liberal reputation of the profession since it came of age in the Progressive Era. “The liberalism of professors is explained mostly by self-selection,” Dr. Gross said, arguing that conservatives avoid fields with reputations that don’t fit their self-identity.

But many conservatives insist that a liberal reputation wouldn’t dissuade them from taking a gig with tenure and summers off. The self-selection theory doesn’t satisfy Peter Wood, the president of the National Association of Scholars, a group critical of what it calls liberal bias in academia. Dr. Wood, a political conservative, is a former professor of anthropology and associate provost at Boston University.

….. Dr. Wood wrote. “If it comes down to it, entry can still be impeded through other techniques, the feminist and the multiculturalist vetoes on the faculty search committee being the deadliest as far as conservatives go, although there are others.”

…….. If you were a conservative undergraduate, would you risk spending at least four years in graduate school in the hope of getting a job offer from a committee dominated by people who don’t share your views?

More on this here.

Securing Peace in South Sudan

UPDATE:

The ICG has a good report on the simmering conflicts in Sudan and South Sudan:

The loss of South Sudan has had a profound effect on the NCP, and senior generals led a soft-coup within the party. They have outflanked more pragmatic elements in the NCP who seek a negotiated strategy. Encouraging progress in the post-separation arrangements between North and South was blocked. More importantly, hardliners in Khartoum — including SAF generals — immediately rejected a 28 June framework agreement, which includes a political and a security agreement for Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, facilitated by former South African President Thabo Mbeki and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, and signed by Dr. Nafie Ali Nafie, Co-deputy NCP chairman and a presidential adviser. A few days later, President Omar al-Bashir publicly disavowed the agreement.

Check out the rest of the report here.

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Texas in Africa makes a compelling argument against arming South Sudan (against potential aggression from Khartoum). She basically outlines three reasons against arming Juba:

  1. Such a move would implicitly side with the SPLM against other domestic armed/opposition groups. The point of concern here is that having just won independence South Susan needs to have a negotiated settlement among all interested groups. The Dinka-dominated SPLM, in particular, ought to credibly share power and resources with the other ethnic/interest groups.
  2. Arming South Sudan would spark an arms race against Khartoum and might lead to a war sooner rather than later.
  3. The West can’t be sure of Juba’s future geopolitical leanings. The same weapons might be used in the future against say America and its allies – AfPak style.

For the most part I agree with Laura. And like her, I am on record as having concerns over the alarmist celebrity diplomacy/mediation effort that has been orchestrated in South Sudan, Darfur and eastern DRC by Prendergast and his buddy Clooney.

In addition, I think that the debate over whether or not to arm Juba forecloses on other options that might also help secure South Sudan. Make no mistake, South Sudan has real domestic and international security challenges that occasionally will require the use of military force. Addressing these security challenges will necessarily require some form of military aid to South Sudan.

Here’s my take:

  1. If South Sudan is to avoid the fate of Zaire/DRC, the pacification of the whole country must happen ASAP. While negotiating with rebel leaders is the best approach, the truth is that in some cases military force might be needed. To that end providing SPLM with the necessary capacity to win the fight against fringe groups that do not want to sit at the negotiating table may be a necessary evil. Yes, we should be cognizant of the fact that there are legitimate internal differences within South Sudan. But we should not legitimize any groups that might want to air those differences using the force of arms. Real democratic competition can only take place in a peaceful environment. Armed challengers to SPLA (the legitimate army of South Sudan) must bear the burden of proving the legitimacy of their grievances. South Sudan’s Savimbis must be deterred. Also, the international community must not be under any illusion that democracy will come soon to South Sudan. It will take a long time.
  2. The arms race between Khartoum and Juba is already underway. The question is not if it will happen but what it will lead to. Furthermore, after “losing” the South and its oil Bashir will be hard pressed for distractions from his domestic woes, especially if the economy of Sudan experiences a sharp decline. Starting a border war with South Sudan would be a welcome distraction. Although arming the SPLA is not the best way to deal with this possibility, an alternative would be to bring in the EAC through a regional defense pact. Uganda, in particular, would be interested in such a deal since it would help reduce its own defense budget. The involvement of Eritrea in South Sudan’s internal conflicts makes the need for a regional security arrangement even more urgent. Most recently the UN accused Eritrea of plotting to bomb an AU meeting in Addis Ababa Ethiopia.
  3. Concerns over Juba’s future geopolitical leanings can be allayed through continued military aid and professionalization. This can be achieved by getting the generals out of politics following the Kenyan model – a combination of awesome perks and professional training – and through greater political and economic integration of South Sudan into the East African Community.

War is nasty and should be the last option. That said, there is a need for genuine debate over how to achieve the twin goals of state monopoly of violence within South Sudan and the deterrence of a trigger-happy Khartoum.

If it were left to me I would quickly move to decouple the SPLM and SPLA as a condition for any military assistance. The last thing the region needs is yet another regime with a fused political and military leadership as is the case in Rwanda and Uganda.

More good news on the fight against AIDS

AIDS researchers, many of whom have been meeting this week in Rome under the auspices of the International AIDS Society, are rightly pleased with the progress they have made. In particular, the use of antiretroviral drugs has not only revolutionised treatment of HIV infection, but also offers the prospect of stopping the spread of the virus. In a matter of weeks, these drugs reduce the number of viruses per millilitre of infected blood from millions to less than 50. That deals with both symptoms and infectivity. Unless a patient stops taking the drugs, or goes on to develop resistance to them, he can expect to live almost as long as an uninfected individual.

……. there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon. To deal with dormant viruses several researchers are taking what sounds like a counterintuitive approach. They are trying to wake the viruses up and so boost, rather than reduce, the amount of active HIV in a patient’s body. Their reasoning is that the now-active viruses will either kill the cells they are in (and thus themselves) or encourage the immune system to attack those cells.

That is the Economist in its latest issue. For more on the details of the state of AIDS research go here.

The Economist’s optimism is supported by empirical data. According to the Vancouver Sun:

HIV patients in Uganda who are receiving regular treatment can expect to live a near-normal lifespan, Canadian researchers have suggested in the world’s first large-scale study to examine HIV patients’ life expectancy in Africa.

After studying 22,315 patients who were using combined antiretroviral therapy (cART), scientists from the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS along with experts at the Universities of British Columbia and Ottawa found that with early initiation and access to regular treatment, those infected with HIV were living about two-thirds of a normal lifespan.

More on this here.

 

quick hits

Mau Mau veterans allowed to sue the UK government for atrocities committed during Kenya’s independence rebellion. The court might have just opened a pandora’s box for a whole lot of lawsuits.

Kim on the ongoing protests in Malawi. Kenya’s Daily Nation reports that at least 12 people have died in the protests over the last two days.

Pardhan on the limits of the NGO movement in global development.

Some cool graphics showing the cellular connection map of the US.

The US will, after all, be sending humanitarian aid to Al-Shabab controlled areas suffering the ongoing famine in Somalia. I hope this does not turn into a farcical repeat of Ethiopia in the 1980s. Back then food aid was used as a weapon of war by both government and Meles Zenawi’s rebel forces.

Lastly, remember Glencore? The firm that has been involved in not so clean mineral deals in the DRC? Well, they are now in South Sudan. I hope Juba doesn’t go this route. You can’t stay clean while playing with someone covered in mud.

Talking real development

It is an upper-middle-class, industrialized-country fiction to romanticize life on a small farm. Economic development and food security lie in industrialized agriculture, and this is why I continue being interested in agricultural value chains. My thinking on this has also been reinforced by my recent reading of Jane Jacobs’ The Economy of Cities, in which she posits that agricultural development came as a consequence of urbanization, and not the other way around.

That is Marc on his blog here.

Reading Marc’s post reminded me of my beef with anti-poverty development as it is currently practiced. For instance, the humanitarian instincts behind giving poor slum dwellers loans to start businesses may be noble, but the impact of these projects are ambiguous (Not forgetting the recent trends in Venture Capital firms making money from high interest rates on the poor).

Such projects, for the most part, serve little more than giving the poor comfort in their poverty. Yes, there are a few success stories, but for the vast majority life remains precariously close to abject destitution. Self-employment is a risk that should not be forced on those at the very bottom of the economic ladder in developing countries.

Such palliative measures should never distract from the main task of long-term job creation.

The growing disillusionment with the long-term developmental effects of micro-finance should force development experts to think of creative alternatives.

What could be an alternative?

Well, for starters it might be more beneficial to boost the capacity of banks to give loans to mid-size businesses that have the technical and managerial capacity to scale up their operations and thus create more jobs. Corporate finance in most of the developing world has no “middle class.” Nearly all the players are big firms. Mid-size firms simply cannot keep up with the high interest rates and collateral requirements. Yet these are the firms that have the potential to grow and create more jobs.

This move smells of trickle down economics, but it is not. Poverty alleviation requires massive amounts of job creation. Making the poor self-employed distracts from the bigger problems of non-industrialization and lack of formal-sector jobs.

It is also bad for political development because it provides Hirschman’s exit option for millions of economically disaffected citizens of the developing world.

Check out Blattman’s blog on a related post on NGO activism in the developing world.

Guinea’s Alpha Conde attacked

President Alpha Conde, Guinea’s first elected president since independence, appears to have survived a coup attempt in the early hours of Tuesday. Mr. Conde’s residence was hit by rocket fire in what appears to have been a coup attempt.

The latest turn of events makes one wonder if Paul Collier’s rather crazy unorthodox proposals might be worth a shot. [Collier, among other recommendations, proposes an international guarantee of sorts that democratically-elected governments that remain true to proper governance will be protected from the army and other armed thugs that might want to overthrow them.]

I believe that local horse-trading should always be given a chance before the internationals fly in to impose agreements on feuding factions. But when local factions have fought each other to a stalemate – as is the case in Chad, Central African Republic, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Somalia – it might be time for the international community to provide a helping hand. Millions of civilians should not be left to suffer simply because a few men cannot strike a stable deal. The interventions will be nuanced and complicated and messy – so I can’t spell out the terms here – but simply sitting back and watching is not an option.

Simply stated, the men with guns in Guinea are irresponsible.

Guinea is also a budding narco-state. I would not be surprised if the latest attack on the president is linked to the emerging drug problem in west Africa. It is common knowledge that the son of the immediate former president of Guinea, Ousmane Conte, has/had ties with the drug trade. President Joao Vieira of Guinea-Bissau and the country’s top military officer were killed in 2009 in what was rumored to be a drug-related feud.

Mr. Conde was elected in a run off with 52% of the vote. Two years earlier in 2008 the army carried out a coup following the death of the country’s second president, the late Lansana Conte. Mr. Conte himself came to power in a coup following the death of Guinea’s firebrand founding president Sekou Toure. Many hailed the generals’ decision to return to the barracks in 2010 as a new turn in Guinean politics. They were wrong.

The BBC reports that a former army chief, Nouhou Thiam, has been arrested in relation to the Tuesday morning attack.

African Writing

Every summer when I travel back home I make sure to peruse the latest issue of Kwani? – the literary magazine co-founded by Binyavanga Wainaina.

That is why I was a little disappointed and challenged by the caustic review the Economist gave his latest book One Day I Will Write About This Place. I have ordered the book and I hope it gets here before I leave for Nairobi next month.

The Economist review, in part, says:

Mr Wainaina should not have been encouraged to write in the form of a memoir. He is not the only one to suffer from this. Too many African writers are co-opted by the American creative-writing scene only to be reduced by prevailing navel-gazing. Separately, much of the African writing culture that remains on the continent, including Kwani?, is propped up with cash from the Western donors that African writers purport to excoriate.

Beyond Wainaina’s latest book, the review raises important questions about African writing and intellectual production in general. Half a century of mediocre leadership and almost universal failure across the continent has left many an African writer with little else to write about but poverty, disease, civil war or the blissful survival of these maladies.

But as the Economist review dares to ask: Is it about time African writers and intellectuals began to look ahead? Is it time everyone stopped looking at the past and current problems and focused on the future and how to get there? Is the culture and mentality of merely “staying afloat” a disease that only affects the African political class or is it widespread among the general populace?

Check out the comments on the Economist’s review for further takes on Binyavanga’s book.

You can also read a more favorable review here.

The EAC needs a defense pact

UPDATE: The Government of South Sudan has barred people of Somali origin from entering the country by road for “security reasons.” This wrongheaded move has created an awkward situation since not all people of Somali origin are from Somalia. In Kenya, for instance, a good chunk of the long haul transport sector is run by Kenyans of Somali origin.

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The Ugandan government recently went on a $1 billion shopping spree for six fighter jets. The deal, which almost broke the bank, made a significant dent on Uganda’s forex reserves. Many, while acknowledging the risks that might have motivated the purchase, have questioned the wisdom of spending that much money on six jets.

For those not in the know, the key motivation for Museveni’s purchase was a desire to project military power in the region for two key reasons:

Firstly, in order to create a market for Ugandan light industries – cooking oil, soap, etc – Kampala has had to project military power to help in the pacification of pockets of eastern DRC and northern Uganda/South Sudan. These markets are crucial because they create jobs in Uganda, allowing Museveni some room as he continues to preside over Uganda’s decline into a dysfunctional police state.

The second reason was Museveni’s desire for military grandeur in the region. Kigali and Khartoum are not in the best of terms with Kampala. Museveni is probably suspicious of a potential Odinga presidency in Kenya. For these reasons, the Ugandan military establishment – the real rulers of Uganda – might have wanted to ensure that non of their neighbors are in a position to bully them in the near future.

While most of Museveni’s militarism is inspired by a mentality from a bygone era, I find Kampala’s fears against Khartoum as legitimate grounds for a regional defense pact. It is an open secret that Khartoum will try as much as it can to destabilize the new government of South Sudan (and by extension the wider region). And they have a few options:

  • They can foment civil war within South Sudan – there are a lot of disgruntled armed bands within South Sudan who might decide to take their chances with Khartoum; Remember that even Riek Machar, the current vice president of South Sudan, formed a Khartoum-backed splinter group (SPLA-Nasir) that fought Garang’ back in the early 1990s.
  • They can use armed groups in the wider central African region – including Kony’s LRA and the plethora of roving bandits in eastern DRC to engineer insecurity in South Sudan. Khartoum has used the LRA against SPLM in the past.
  • They can invade in an all out war. This option is the riskiest because of its potential to generate international opprobrium. But remember that Ethiopia and its secessionist former province Eritrea fought a bloody war that generated nothing but “stern” warnings from the UN and the wider international community. The US even armed Ethiopia because it needed Addis Ababa to fight its war in Somalia.
  • Lastly, they can use non-conventional tactics. Terrorism is slowly growing in the wider east African region. So far Eritrea has been the biggest state sponsor of terror in the region – mostly aimed at Ethiopia in the Ogaden, Oromo land and Somalia. The involvement of Ugandan and Burundian troops in Somalia has created even more enemies for these groups. There is no reason to believe that Khartoum would not use these same groups to destabilize South Sudan, if for nothing then as a survival tactic for a beleaguered Bashir administration that will forever be blamed for having lost the South’s oil.

Needless to say, an unstable South Sudan is bad for the region. Period.

The proliferation of small arms is already a major problem in the areas bordering the Ilemi triangle and eastern Uganda. That instead of sticks pastoralists have to roam around with AK-47’s says it all. More conflict in South Sudan will only make a really bad situation even worse. The potential for proxy wars within the region would also be an unnecessary drain on limited resources. Because of various interests in Juba, an aggression by Khartoum against South Sudan will definitely be met with reaction in one form or another from Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda.The conflict will definitely be regionalized. Lastly, Eritrea’s bad habit of supporting terrorists should not be permitted to catch on. Khartoum must know that if it tries this dirty tactic it will be met by more than just resolutions from the AU, IGAD or the UN.

Which is why I think that the EAC should have a robust defense pact. War should have to be a last resort. But that does not mean that the East African Community should not prepare for such an eventuality, if it arise.

That way, no single country will be burdened with the task of buying all the necessary hardware needed to keep Khartoum deterred.

Such a plan would face significant challenges, of course – key among them the fact that the region’s armies are non-professionalized. A functional defense pact would require near total civilian control of the army. Only Kenya and Tanzania come close to this in the EAC. Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda are dominated by their respective armies. Burundi can’t even win against rebels within its territory and remains a militarized tin pot dictatorship. And Ethiopia, if it were to join, is still dominated by the remnants of the rebellion that ousted Mengistu.

These challenges aside, it might be worth a try. Such a pact might even help professionalize and de-politicize the officer corp in the region’s armed forces.

And the biggest winner if this were to happen is MORE regional trade.

Emperor Bokassa’s madness immortalized at the UN Plaza in San Francisco

Emperor Bokassa (of the Central African Republic/”Empire”) ranks high among Africa’s worst dictators. For his coronation as emperor of the Central African Empire he spent half the national budget (with the assistance of the French, of course).

This afternoon I once more encountered his colossal error which remains immortalized at the UN Plaza in San Francisco.

The potato beats Maize, and most other Old World staples

The price of maize in Kenya and the rest of east Africa has hit the roof. The wider Horn of Africa region is currently experiencing its worst drought in 60 years, with thousands of refugees streaming into Kenya from Somalia every week.

10 million people in the wider Horn of Africa region are at risk. Kenya is already planning on opening a third refugee camp (besides Dadaab and Kakuma) to accommodate Somali refugees fleeing the famine.

Africa is the last major world region yet to experience a green revolution. Subsistence agriculture, in my view, is the culprit. Governments in the region must seriously come up with plans to consolidate and commercialize agriculture asap.

Having upwards of 70% of people dependent on subsistence agriculture is simply not sustainable. Period. To paraphrase Adam Smith, specialization determines the extent of the market AND the complexity and size of the economy. [italicized text mine]

As the region mulls over its agriculture and food policy it might help to consult Nunn and Qian’s new paper in the latest QJE. The paper makes the argument that the potato beats most of the Old World staples as far as a balanced supply of nutrients and calories is concerned (p. 604-5).

Maize is unable to rival potatoes in terms of nutrients or calories. It produces significantly fewer calories per acre of land. Moreover, humans are unable to subsist on a diet that is too con- centrated in maize. Significant consumption of maize is associated with pellagra, a disease caused by niacin deficiency. The effects of pellagra include skin, digestion, mental disorders, and, if un- treated, eventual death. The disease was first observed in the 1730s in Italy and even today continues to affect poor populations with diets that rely too heavily on maize. A second adverse effect of a corn-heavy diet is protein deficiency (Messer 2000a).

Sweet potatoes are also nutritious and produce similar amounts of calories per acre of land as potatoes, but they differ from potatoes in two important ways. First, the archaeological evidence suggests that sweet potatoes, transported by Polynes- ians, reached the Old World long before the European discovery of the New World. For many countries in our sample, their impact would have been felt as early as 1000 (Hather and Kirch 1991). Second, a close substitute to the sweet potato, the yam, already existed in the Old World (O’Brien 2000). Yams are broadly simi- lar to sweet potatoes in terms of both nutritional content and the requirements for cultivation. Many regions that were suitable for cultivating sweet potatoes had already cultivated yams when the former were introduced.

The New World staple, cassava, which is also called manioc or yuca, also provides abundant calories. But its deficiency in pro- tein and other important nutrients causes it to be a less “complete” food than potatoes (Cock 1982). In addition, because cassava con- tains toxic cyanogenic glycosides (e.g., cyanide), failure to properly prepare cassava causes konzo, a neurological disease that causes paralysis.

Talk of unintended consequences…

Judging from the NY Times coverage of the 1917 episode, legislators paid little attention to the implications of mandating a ceiling.  They focused instead on Treasury Secretary McAdoo’s request for a higher borrowing limit so as to fund an expensive war effort.  The ceiling was created to empower, not rein in, Treasury (prompting a failed effort to create a congressional  committee to oversee Treasury’s actions).  Similarly, the creation of the aggregate ceiling in 1939 reflected congressional deference to Treasury, granting the department flexibility in refinancing short term notes with longer term bonds.  As the Senate floor debate makes clear, senators viewed the move as removing a partition in the law that hampered Treasury’s ability to manage the debt.

……. This seems to be a case of the often unintended consequences of institutional design.   That is, we can’t always understand why we have a particular institution or practice by looking only at its contemporary usage.  Moreover, institutions crafted in a specific context to solve a particular problem often prove sticky, taking on new significance once politicians discover new ways to exploit them.  The often unintended consequences of institutional design will likely be central to any broader explanation of the evolving politics of the debt limit.

That is Sarah writing on the Monkey Cage blog.

I was struck by this post because I picked up Pierson’s Book – Politics in Time – today and couldn’t put it down. I highly recommend it for those of you out there interested in the temporal dynamics of institutional design and development.

Also, I just discovered this (in Pierson, 2004 p. 41): Stockman Reagan adviser in 1981 said of Social Security refrom that he didn’t want to waste “a lot of political capital on some other guys problem in the year 2010.” He was only one year off.

Links I liked

I just discovered Chri’s Blog on Madagascar and other Africa-related issues.

For those with a flavor of finance and capital markets and the political economy of development be sure to read Frontier Markets.

Germany is on the hunt for the UN security council seat in Africa.

And lastly, Justice – Uganda style:

Vice president upsets the president during tenure, president fires vice after election. Former vice gets accused of corruption. President declares former vice innocent, but leaves the matter up to the “independent” Inspectorate of Government. Here’s a quote from the president:

“What I know is that there was a power struggle between Bukenya and some businessmen but I found no merit in the case. But since the Inspectorate of Government is an independent body, let them investigate thoroughly.”

Yeah right.