On the upcoming elections in Zimbabwe

The latest ICG report says this about the General Elections in Zimbabwe tomorrow: 

A return to protracted political crisis, and possibly extensive violence, is likely, as Zimbabwe holds inadequately prepared presidential, parliamentary and local elections on 31 July. Conditions for a free and fair vote do not exist. Confidence in the process and institutions is low. The voters roll is a shambles, security forces unreformed and the media grossly imbalanced. The electoral commission is under-funded and lacked time to prepare. Concerns about rigging are pervasive, strongly disputed results highly likely. 

More on this here.

On a lighter note, check out this prank from 5 years ago:

[youtube.com/watch?v=ARZgzXv0pY0]

The cost of decentralization in Uganda

This quote from The Independent says it all:

……. In 2010 Bushenyi district was split into five districts. In the 2009/10 financial year, the old Bushenyi had a budget of Shs 1.64 billion for UPE and Primary healthcare (non-wage) of which Shs214 million was for administrative costs.

When it was split, the mother Bushenyi got Shs482 million. Of this, administrative costs were Shs241 million (due to wage increases). Mitooma district got Shs365 million of which administrative costs were Shs201 million; then Rubirizi got Shs198 million of which administrative costs were Shs136 million; Sheema got Shs403 million with administrative costs of  Shs160 million; and Buhweju got Shs175 million of which Shs 126 million went to administrative expenses.

The total central government grant to the “region” of the old Bushenyi remained the same. But the administrative costs now grew from Shs241 million to Shs865 million – that is money diverted from providing public goods and services to citizens to paying the salaries of elites – civil servants and politicians – in these areas.

Theoretically, in an electoral democracy like ours, voters should reject this arrangement in favour of services. Yet a study by the London School of Economics found that whenever a district is created, Museveni’s support increases by 3% in the mother district and 5% in the new.

More on this here.

It’s clear that Museveni’s preferred method of keeping Ugandans (and especially the political elite) happy is not sustainable in the long run. Mr. Museveni does not operate outside the laws of economics, and soon enough he will hit the glass wall of finite resources. Uganda’s rising patronage inflation might soon explode into patronage hyper-inflation (I think most reasonable people would find it insane to have over 70 ministers).

In addition, a crazy number of MPs are broke (the president recently had to step in to stop them from selling their debt to a Chinese firm), and might demand for even thicker brown envelopes or sacks of cash in order to continue playing ball with State House.

The oil in Bunyoro will definitely buy President Museveni time. But for how long, and at what cost?

Going back to pre-2001 “no party” authoritarianism would be a very costly option. The horrors of pre-Museveni Uganda are slowly being archived by time; and can no longer sell among Uganda’s younger generation who might prefer to think of Uganda’s future potential rather than what Museveni saved them from.

All this makes for interesting politics in Uganda ahead of the 2016 elections.

H/T Andrew Mwenda

Are humans hard-wired warriors or just petty murderers?

It is anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon that controversially argued back in 1988 that the supposed extreme violence among the Yanomamo people of Amazonia was an evolutionary trait, and evidence of a primordial human nature that is predisposed to violence. In Chagnon’s study, men who had killed had more wives and offspring than men who had not killed.   

But do humans really have an evolved tendency to form coalitions to kill out-group political communities? And does chronic raiding and feuding characterize life in a state of nature

Writing in Science, Fry and Soderberg answer in the negative:

The findings suggest that MFBS [mobile forager band societies] are not particularly warlike if the actual circumstances of lethal aggression are examined. Fifty-five percent of the lethal events involved a sole perpetrator killing only one individual (64% if the atypical Tiwi are removed). One-person-killing-one-person reflects homicide or manslaughter, not coalitional killings or war. Additionally, 36% of all lethal events occurred within the same local group (62% if the atypical Tiwi are removed), and violence within a local group is not coalitional war. Only 15% of the lethal events occurred across societal lines. Some such events might fall within a definition of war, whereas others might not (such as when shipwreck survivors were killed). Finally, very few lethal disputes were over resources. Overall, a consideration of reasons for lethal aggression reveals that most cases stemmed from personal motives consistent with homicide and, in some cases, family feuds, but much less often with lethal aggression between political communities, or warfare.

Notice that this finding does not rule out a Hobbesian war of all against all in the state of nature. It just means that inter-communal warfare is not an inherently human thing.

H/T The Economist

Did we count the chickens too soon in Somalia?

May be.

First, the foreign purveyors of peace and stability involved appear to be working at cross-purposes. The US, and presumably the AU, are working for a stable Somalia. Kenya appears to be more concerned with establishing a buffer autonomous state in Jubaland with a capital in Kismayo, even at the expense of souring relations with Mogadishu (I wrote on this more than two years ago here, although my views on Jubaland have since changed). Second, the al-Shabab is regrouping, in part thanks to the activities of the same chaps that were supposed to have wiped them out. 

In August, 2011, a U.S.-backed African peacekeeping mission wrested control of the capital of Mogadishu, helping to deliver a rare respite of calm. It set the stage for the September 2012, election of a new, Western-backed President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. Another key American ally, Kenya, last year joined forces with a Somali clan and seized control of al-Shabab’s principle stronghold, Kismayo.

But those gains are being threatened by rampant corruption within the U.S. backed government’s weak institutions, al-Shabab’s infiltration in the “highest levels” of the Somali government, and continued attacks against targets inside Somali, including a recent deadly strike on a U.N. humanitarian aid compound in Mogadishu.

Even worse, Kenyan forces in Kismayo have clashed with clans loyal to the U.S.-backed federal government while colluding with financial backers of al-Shabab in the lucrative and illicit charcoal trade, enabling the Islamist movement to refill its war chest. “The revenue that al-Shabaab currently derives from its Kismayo shareholding, its … exports and the taxation of ground transportation likely exceeds the estimated U.S. $25 million it generated in charcoal revenue when it controlled Kismayo,” the report stated.

That is Lynch over at FP in an excellent piece on the apparent increase in US involvement in the war in Somalia. 

Also, now you get the charcoal reference in my previous blog post…. Shame on the KDF, if this is true [I need a cure for denial].

Why are Kenyan politicians politicizing the military?

Botswana, Gabon, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe are the only continental sub-Saharan African states to have never experienced military rule. Each country has managed to do so via well orchestrated coup-proofing strategies of ethnic balancing and material payoffs to the men and women with the guns and tanks. 

Kenya, in particular, has perfected this art. Because of its fractious ethnic politics, ethnic balancing within the officer corps has been key to Kenya’s coup-proofing. Kenyatta (who spoke Kikuyu) had a bit of a hard time in the beginning with a Kamba and Kalenjin speakers dominated military but eventually succeeded in having his co-ethnics in key positions. But before he did so he ensured Kikuyu dominance over the paramilitary force, the General Service Unit (GSU) to balance the military. Through the 60s and 70s, Kenyatta ensured that the GSU and police could handle their own against the military in case stuff hit the fan. Moi continued along this path, so much so that for a while in the media the typical accent of a security officer – whether police or military – became an accent from the North Rift. Under Moi the Kenyan army became “Kalenjin at the bottom, Kalenjin at the middle, and Kalenjin at the top.”

Beyond the ethnic balancing, Kenya has also coup-proofed by keeping the generals wealthy and OUT OF POLITICS – at least not overtly. The generals in Kenya are probably some of the wealthiest on the Continent. I went to high school with the son of an Air Force Major General whose family was always taking foreign trips to exotic places and always made a big splash on visiting days. The only estimates I could find are from the 1960s when nearly “two thirds of the military budget went to pay and allowances, most of it to officers.” A lot of them also got free land for cash crop farming and lucrative business deals (some illegal) from the Kenyatta and Moi governments. Keenly aware of West Africa’s junior officer problem following 1981 Moi extended land grants to junior officers as well. 

But despite their importance as leaders of a key national institution, most Kenyans, yours truly included, do not know much about the top generals in the army. The one chief of staff that I remember hearing a lot about in my childhood days was Gen. Mahmood Mohamed, the man who played a big role in quelling the 1982 coup attempt. For the most part I only saw these guys in the media on national holidays when they rode on the president’s Land Rover. 

In other words, I think it is fair to say that, contrary to arguments made by N’Diaye, for the most part the Kenyan military has historically been fairly professionalized and depoliticized relative to other countries in the neighborhood. There is no evidence to suggest that ethnic balancing has severely interfered with the process of professionalization. Kenyan presidents’ preferred agents for dirty political work have always been the intelligence service, the police and paramilitary units, but never (to the best of my knowledge) the military. Indeed the US and British militaries have had very close technical cooperation with the Kenyan military through training, material assistance and more recently joint operations, resulting in a relatively highly trained force that has for the most part stayed clear of politics.  

But this consensus appears to be slowly eroding. Before the 2013 General Elections the former Prime Minister Raila Odinga accused the military and the intelligence service of colluding with his opponent, Uhuru Kenyatta, to rig the presidential election. And now the heads of the military and intelligence service are reportedly contemplating suing a former aide to Mr. Odinga for defamation. Increasingly, the military is being dragged down to the level of the marionette-esque GSU and Police, perennial hatchet men for whoever occupies State House.

This cannot end well. 

Coup proofing is hard. And the thing with coups is that once the genie is out of the box you can’t take it back. Coups just breed more coups.

This is why the generals must be left fat and happy and in the barracks, or busy keeping the peace (and hopefully not facilitating charcoal exports) in Somalia’s Jubaland State. Do your ethnic balancing and all, but by all means KEEP THEM OUT OF POLITICS (I am glad the current Defense Minister has no political constituency).

The last thing Kenya needs is a Zimbabwe situation in which there is open bad blood between the military and the opposition. 

Plus Kenya, based on its per capita income, ethnic politics, and minimal experience with genuine democratic government, is still not beyond the coup trap to be able to safely play politics with the military. If you doubt me, go find out the last time Brazil, Thailand and Turkey had generals in charge. 

Can ethnic quotas mitigate against negative legacies of ethnic exclusion and conflict?

I examine the consequences of quota-based integration in Burundi’s military after a brutal and ethnically charged civil war. The evidence shows that at the macro level, the new Burundian military operates as a deeply integrated and cohesive institution. This is indicative of the possibility of quota-based integration in difficult settings such as postwar Burundi. At the micro level, evidence from a natural experiment suggests that this cohesion may be undergirded by the fact that integration itself reduced prejudice and caused no apparent increase in ethnic salience among soldiers. This is indicative of the promise of quota-based integration as a strategy for addressing ethnic conflict in this difficult setting.

That is Cyrus Samii in an excellent paper in the August issue of the APSR. Definitely worth a read if you are interested in ethnic politics/conflict and institutions.

Nairobi to Lusaka, Part II

Dar es Salaam is a pleasant town in late June. I had only been there once before, back in 2011 when I stayed for a day and a half to catch the Tazara. I didn’t like it then because of the heat and humidity (humidity is up there with cats – I am allergic – on the list of things I cannot stand). But this time round it was nice, I managed to walk around town marveling at the pillars of concrete and glass that are rising up in every corner of the city. The construction boom puts even Nairobi to shame, enough to make me think that the suggestions that Tanzania may soon eclipse Kenya as the place where all the action is in East Africa are not that far fetched after all (see image and this piece).  Image

My only complaint was that a prime section of the beach front still remains under-utilized, although this might be because of the presidential palace nearby. I hear you can’t drive there at certain times of the day (Stop channeling Mugabe, Bwana Kikwete. Also, let Chadema be). Oh, and I did manage to drive on the Kibaki road. I thought it was a new road, but it is not. Sections of it are actually pretty bad. Apparently, the Tanzanian government is planning an upgrade soon. I also drove past Mwalimu Nyerere’s home. It made me respect the man even more.

I arrived in Dar late on Tuesday night after many hours of travel by bus. On Thursday morning I was scheduled to continue with the second leg of the journey to Lusaka. I was at the bus stop by 5:45 AM, still sleepy. I had stayed up late the previous night, watching the Confederation Cup matches of the day, reading and writing my Saturday column. I fell asleep as soon as I got to my seat.

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Dar’s public housing units. For a moment I thought that the choice of color was meant to discourage applicants. Until I saw the pink public housing headquarters. Some of the units are in really nice parts of town.

The bus left the station promptly at 6:15 AM. Tanzania is huge. From Dar es Salaam to the Tunduma border is about 931 kilometres. The drive to the Zambian border took a total of 16 hours.

As I said in the previous post on this trip, I regretted taking the bus. If you want to travel overland between Dar and Lusaka, take the train. It is a million times more pleasant. There is a restaurant and a bar (that serves Tusker) on the train. There are bathrooms. And you have a bed. Plus the train is just slow enough that you can read and truly appreciate the empty Tanzanian countryside.

But the trip wasn’t all gloomy. The scenery was still enjoyable. Sections of Tanzania are quite hilly, with amazing views of cliffs and rivers and rock formations. At some point past Iringa I saw what seemed to be the biggest tree plantation in the world. For miles and miles all I could see were rows and rows of trees. And when there were no trees there were rows and rows of sisal. Someone is making bank off the land in that part of the country.

Also, western Tanzania is a lesson on how hard it is to achieve economic development in the context of a sparsely populated country. Such situations make it impossible to reach everyone with the grid and water pipes. Either the government has to wait for demographics to work its magic (again, see figure above – and be sure to check out this story on the Africa-driven demographic future of the world) or provide smart incentives to accelerate the process of urbanization.

For those who went to high school in Kenya, journeying by land through Tanzania reminded me of Ken Walibora’s Siku Njema. I felt like I was retracing the steps of Kongowea Mswahili. Some day I would like to go back and spend some time in Morogoro and Iringa. By the way, Siku Njema is by far the best Swahili novel I have ever read (which reminds me that it has been eight years since I read a Swahili novel. Suggestions are welcome, preferably by Tanzanian authors). It is about time someone translated it into English for a wider audience.

We reached Tunduma some minutes past 10 PM. The border crossing to Nakonde on the Zambian side was closed. Some passengers on the bus left to rent out rooms for the night. I decided to tough it out on the bus with the crew and a few other guys. Desperate for something warm to eat, I had chicken soup and plain rice for dinner. The “restaurant” reminded me of the place in Tamale, Ghana where Vanessa and I got food poisoning two months earlier. But I was desperate. I quickly ate my hot soup and rice and hoped for the best.

ImageI crossed the border early in the morning on foot. The bus had to wait in line for inspection and to pay duty for its cargo (It is at this point that I learned that the bus was actually going all the way to Harare in Zimbabwe). I am usually very careful with money changers, but perhaps because of my tiredness and lack of sleep the chaps in Nakonde got me.

If you ever cross to Nakonde on foot wait until you are on the Zambian side to exchange cash at the several legit forex stores that line the streets.

The bus finally got past customs at noon (on Friday). In Nakonde we waited for another two hours for more passengers and cargo.

I took the time to get some food supplies. Lusaka was another 1019 kilometres away. 

By this time I was dying to have a hot shower and be able to sleep in a warm bed. It was cold. Like serious cold. And Lusaka was still another 14 hours away.

I slept lightly through most of the 14 odd hours. In between I chatted with two Kenyan guys that were apparently immigrating to South Africa, with little more than their two bags. They said that this was their second attempt. The previous time they found work in Lusaka and decided to stay for a bit before going back to Nairobi. They were part of the bulk of passengers from Nakonde who were going all the way to Harare. Apparently, this is the route of choice for those who immigrate from eastern and central Africa into South Africa in search of greener pastures.

Before it got dark we saw several overturned trucks on the road. I slept very lightly, always waking up in a panic every time the driver braked or swerved while overtaking a truck just in time to avoid oncoming traffic. My only source of comfort was the fact that the driver was a middle aged man, most likely with a family to take care of and therefore with a modicum of risk aversion.

I arrived in Lusaka at around 4 AM, more than three days and 2871 kilometres since leaving Nairobi.

I said goodbye to my two Kenyan countrymen and rushed out of the bus as soon as I could. On the way to my hotel I couldn’t stop thinking how much I would like to read an ethnography of the crew of the bus companies (and their passengers and cargo) that do the Dar to Harare route.

At Lusaka Hotel that morning I had the best shower I had had in a very long time. And slept well past check out time. I had two months of fieldwork and travel in Zambia to look forward to.

Are large cities bad for dictators?

How does redistributive policy affect the survival of authoritarian regimes? I argue that redistributive policy in favor of cities, while temporarily reducing urban grievances, in the long-run undermines regime survival by inducing urban concentration. I test the argument using cross-national city population, urban bias, and nondemocratic regime survival data in the post-WWII period. The results show that urban concentration is dangerous for dictators principally by promoting collective action, that urban bias induces urban concentration,and that urban bias represents a Faustian bargain with short-term benefits overwhelmed by long-term costs.

That is Jeremy Wallace in a new paper in the JoP. The full article (pdf) is here.

H/T War of Ideas.

Pockets of California amid sub-Saharan Africa?

Rant and rave alert. 

As an undergrad at Yale I took several classes in which professors, TAs and fellow students would casually say things that insinuated that all of Africa (read sub-Saharan Africa) was a cross between a hospice, a giant slum and a war zone. Let’s just say that it all made me a little bit uncomfortable, and sometimes forced me to over-compensate in discussions and with papers and homework. I was particularly disappointed in my professors for not knowing any better. It probably also played a big role in my choice to pursue a career as an academic in the social sciences. 

The quote below reminded me of those episodes:

Despite considerable economic growth and increasing self-confidence as a major global player, modern India is a disaster zone in which millions of lives are wrecked by hunger and by pitiable investment in health and education services. Pockets of California amid sub-Saharan Africa, sum up Sen and Drèze.

It’s one thing when an ignoramus who imagines Kenya to be a town in South Africa that does a mean giraffe barbecue says something nasty about an entire region and its people. But it’s quite another when it comes from a college professor or from people that you expect to know better. 

For instance, when we say California, are we talking Palo Alto or East Palo Alto? I must add here that because it is Sen (my beloved author of The Idea of Justice), may be he meant the “median Californian experience” vs the “median African experience” as opposed to simply comparing Palo Alto with Kibera. May be.

I admire Prof. Sen. Very much.  But I would like to register my disappointment over this offending line. The full article in the Guardian is actually quite illuminating regarding inequality in India. 

If you ever teach a class or write a book or newspaper article or give a talk, please know that it is not kosher to use the word Africa as short hand for everything that you imagine to be wrong with this world. Always remember that part of your audience might include real flesh and blood Africans. Spare us the awkwardness. Please. 

The decline of Economic History at MIT

What is the cost of not having economic history at MIT? It can be seen in Acemoglu and Robinson, Why Nations Fail (2012). This is a deservedly successful popular book, making a simple and strong point that the authors made originally at the professional level over a decade before (Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson, 2001). They assert that countries can be “ruled by a narrow elite that have [sic] organized society for their own benefit at the expense of the vast mass of people” or can have “a revolution that transformed the politics and thus the economics of the nation … to expand their economic opportunities (Acemoglu and Robinson, 2012, pp. 3-4).”

The book is not however good economic history. It is an example of Whig history in which good policies make for progress and bad policies preclude it. Only transitions from bad to good are considered in this colorful but still monotonic story. The clear implication is that if countries can copy the policies of English-speaking countries, they will prosper. No consideration is given to Britain’s economic problems over the past half-century or of Australia’s relative decline for a century.

That is Peter Temin writing about the story of Economic History at MIT in the 20th century. For more click here (H/T Greg Mankiw).

Also, to be honest, one of the reasons I am into development (and the politics around it) is because of my fascination with economic history. I wish more development practitioners and theorists alike cared a little bit more about economic history. At the very least, looking at how things really actually worked out in the past serves to temper the urge to completely fall for the latest fad within the development industry. 

What explains voter turnout inequality across the world?

We find that in countries with a high degree of bureaucratic capacity (i.e. ability to tax the rich), the wealthy turn out at higher rates than the poor. Consistent with our theory, we find that the turnout of the poor is largely unaffected by bureaucratic capacity. This finding is robust to a variety of measures of state capacity. We also provide evidence for an additional implication of our theory. If turnout rates amongst the wealthy are driven by their potential tax exposure, it ought to be the case that where redistributive politics on a tax-and-transfer dimension are salient, the rich turn out to vote at higher rates than the poor. We show that where the rich and the poor support different political parties, the rich turn out to vote at higher rates. We also provide evidence that likely confounds, reverse causation, and social desirability bias in reported turnout cannot account for the patterns we find in the data.

That is Kimuli Kasara and Pavithra Suryanarayan of Columbia [h/t monkeycage] in a paper explaining global variation in turnout rates by income. In a roundabout way the paper speaks to the factors that enhance democratic stability. Low state capacity (in this case with regard to tax collection) is bad for democratic stability because, among other things, it denies young democracies the stabilizing effect of the middle and upper classes in the democratic process thereby making them continue to behave like autocracies (Did you know that autocracies in Latin America redistributed land more than democracies?) It also takes away the taxation-based implicit contract between the voter and the state, thereby giving politicians a free hand to do as they wish with public resources.

In related news, following the US Supreme Court decision on the Voting Rights Act Rebecca Onion at Slate posted a nice piece on the original literacy tests in Louisiana that were designed to keep minorities away from the polling stations. Interesting stuff. I wonder what the average score would be if the tests covered all voting age Americans…

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So Tanzanians drink more than Kenyans?

Kenyans pride themselves in their ability to consume machozi ya simba (lion’s tears) and have a good time, more so than their regional neighbors, especially the polite Tanzanians to the south. But the data, at least between 2003-05, says something different. Kenyans drink the least in the EAC (which is a testament to the strong conservative undercurrents in Kenyan society despite the outward liberalism that we (almost exclusively Nairobians) all like to wear on our sleeves).

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Source: The Economist
It is also in Kenya that there is an anti-drinking law forbidding the sale of alcohol before 5 PM on weekdays and 2 PM on weekends and after 11 PM. Of course the law is almost never enforced and seems to only benefit the police whenever they need extra cash from bar operators. That said, sections of Kenyan society have a serious drinking problem that the government continues to ignore at enormous social and economic cost. Incidentally, like all good Commanders in Chief, ours is no stranger to booze, although he must’ve ditched the habit now that he is lives in the House on the Hill.

Are some Guinean government officials idiots, criminals or both?

This was an extraordinary windfall: B.S.G.R. had paid nothing up front, as is customary with exploration licenses, and at that point had invested only a hundred and sixty million dollars. In less than five years, B.S.G.R.’s investment in Simandou had become a five-billion-dollar asset. At that time, the annual budget of the government of Guinea amounted to just $1.2 billion. Mo Ibrahim, the Sudanese telecom billionaire, captured the reaction of many observers when he asked, at a forum in Dakar, “Are the Guineans who did that deal idiots, or criminals, or both?”

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Source: WSJ Online

That is Patrick Keefe in a long but fantastic piece in the New Yorker detailing the web of corruption that characterizes resource sector deals on the Continent. It is an account of mining executives so daring that they even sign contracts on kickback.

The villains the piece are not just the mining executives but also government officials who are too lazy to even do the required due diligence to ensure that, at the very minimum, they get a “fair value” in kickbacks from the companies to which they readily mortgage their countries.

The answer to Mo Ibrahim’s question above lies in the quote below:

During our meeting in the whitewashed building, I asked Touré how it made him feel to learn of such allegations about former colleagues. He paused. “The feeling of shame,” he said at last. “Because, finally, what they have got personally—let’s say ten million U.S. dollars, twelve million U.S. dollars—what does that amount to? Compared with the lives of the whole country?” The lights in the room suddenly shut off, and the air-conditioner powered down. He didn’t seem to notice. “I don’t think that it is tolerable or acceptable from the investors,” he continued. “But I’m more shocked by the attitude and the behavior of the national decision-makers” [Note: the new president of Guinea has been waging a war against shady deals from past administrations]

As I have complained before, something needs to be done about the way African states deal with multinationals in the resources sector (beginning with getting the skill set of government workers in the responsible ministries to match those of the oil company reps).

Also, every time I read such stories I can’t help but think, where are the African Beny Steinmetz’s? When will the African political class transition from being petty brokers to actual investors in their own resources?