How to overthrow the Kenyan government in twelve steps

  1. Form a hopelessly fractious political coalition on the back of four years of doing nothing with county governments to demonstrate your chops at transformative governance.
  2. Successfully push for electoral reforms, and then sit on your hands trusting that the system will work.
  3. Engage in all manner of self-sabotage during the campaign period, including failing to push for grassroots voter registration, having a unity message, reaching out to wavering voters, and credibly committing to reform the public sector.
  4. Fail to agree on a common slate of candidates ahead of the election, thereby granting the incumbent party a significant sweep of legislative and county seats.
  5. Fail to prepare for the logistical nightmare of coordinating poll agents across the country, thereby making it possible for the incumbent party to pad results where needed.
  6. Get lucky at the Supreme Court, but without a plan on how to prepare for a fresh election 60 days after the ruling.
  7. Try to push for more electoral reforms and a postponement of the election. When that fails, boycott the re-run presidential election.
  8. Half-heartedly boycott Parliament and other state institutions.
  9. Promise to swear in your presidential candidate as a bargaining tactic, but without a way out of the plan in case the incumbent government calls your bluff.
  10. Meanwhile, stay hopelessly off-message at every turn, and play into the narrative of being a disruptive alliance of sore-loser crybabies that would be no different than the incumbent party at governing.
  11. Sow distrust among your core leadership by failing to share important legislative committee seats in good faith.
  12. Swear in your presidential candidate as “The People’s President” (an office not provided for in the Constitution) as an act of defiance, but with no real public agenda or explanation of the act’s real impact on Kenyans’ lives.

If you do these things, you will cause a COMPLETE FREAKOUT in the Kenyan government. They will shut TV stations. They will scream treason. They will withdraw the security detail of opposition politicians. They will declare you members of a criminal gang. They will risk unnecessarily plunging the country into a security crisis.

They will drop the focus on the president’s potentially transformative Big Four agenda. They will behave like they will be in office for life. They won’t care about the negative precedences they are setting. They will forget that in five years they will be out of office, and might face a less benevolent, but way more competent tyrant that will eat their lunch and dinner.

 

China bugged the African Union headquarters between 2012-2017

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Photo credit: Yours truly (August 2016)

African heads of state thought they were getting a free lunch from China with its offer of a new building to host the African Union.

But it turns out that what they got, instead, was a building that vacuumed African Union secrets to China.

According to the Mail & Guardian:

China built and paid for the African Union’s computer network  but inserted a backdoor allowing it access to the continental organisation’s confidential information.

This is from Le Monde:

At the headquarters of the African Union (AU), in Addis Ababa, elevators still speak Mandarin and the trunks of the plastic palm trees are branded China Development Bank.

In January 2017, the small computer unit of the AU discovered that its servers were strangely saturated between midnight and 2 am. The offices were empty, the activity was dormant, but data transfers were at a peak. A zealous computer scientist then looked into this anomaly and realized that the internal data of the AU were massively diverted. Every night, the secrets of this institution, according to several internal sources, found themselves stored more than 8,000 km from Addis Ababa, mysterious servers hosted somewhere in Shanghai, the Chinese megacity.

A couple of reactions:

  • I am not surprised.
  • Ethiopia must have been complicit in this. Which makes me wonder what the rest of the African Union thinks of their host.

Le Monde reports that the task of safeguarding the AU’s data has been assigned to Algeria.

Since then, the AU has acquired its own servers and declined China’s offer to configure them . On the ground floor of the glass tower, in a room that goes unnoticed, is a data center that focuses much of the information system of the organization. All electronic communications are now encrypted and no longer pass through Ethio Telecom, the public operator in Ethiopia , a country renowned for its cybersurveillance and electronic espionage capabilities. From now on, the highest officials of the institution have foreign telephone lines and more secure applications.

China denies Le Monde‘s findings. So does the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, arguing that China cannot be spying on the African Union because “There is nothing to be spied [on].”

Perhaps he is right.

For more on Afro-Chinese relations see here, and here, and here.

Egypt vs Ethiopia: Hydropolitics of the Nile Basin

I just finished reading John Waterbury’s The Nile Basin: National Determinants of Collective Action. The book offers a concise introduction to the politics of international water basins as well as the various points of contention among the riparian states in the wider Nile Basin.

Here’s an excerpt:

All upstream riparians in the Nile basin, including the Sudan share varying degrees of suspicion towards Egypt and Egyptian motives in seeking cooperative understandings. It seemingly follows that Ethiopia could mobilize these fears and occasional resentments into an alliance of upper basin riparians. The British in fact tried to do just that from 1959 to 1961, as Egypt and the Soviet Union jointly pursued the Aswan High Dam project at the expense of the upper basin (p. 86).

Why would upper basin riparians care about how Egypt uses water that flows up north?

As Waterbury explains, this is because of the international norm of Master Principle of appropriation — “whoever uses the water first thereby establishes a claim or right to it” (p. 28). Therefore, Egypt has an incentive to use as much of the Nile waters as possible in order to establish a future right to high volumes of downstream flows. Increasing domestic water consumption makes it easy for Cairo to demonstrate “appreciable harm” if any of the upper riparian states were to divert significant volumes of the Nile’s flows.

This is principle is in direct conflict with the principle of equitable use that also underpins riparian regimes (which are legion, apparently. Read the book). And that is where inter-state power politics come in.

Waterbury accurately predicted the current problem bothering Cairo:

The ultimate nightmare for Egypt would be if Ethiopia and the Sudan overcame their domestic obstacles to development and to examine coolly their shared interests in joint development of their shared watershed in the Blue Nile, Atbara, and Sobat basins. Given Ethiopian and Sudanese regional behavior in the 1990s, Egypt need not lose sleep yet (p. 149).

Well, it is time for Egypt to lose sleep. Big time.

A resurgent Ethiopia is damming the Abbay (Blue Nile) and is likely to divert more of its waters in the future for agricultural projects.

What’s puzzling to me is why Egypt is not interested in cutting a deal right now. Given that Ethiopia is only likely to get economically and militarily stronger with time, why wouldn’t Cairo want to cut a deal under conditions of a favorable balance of power?

An obvious explanation is that Egyptian domestic political concerns make it harder for the government to sign a deal that diminishes claims to the Nile (Sisi doesn’t want to be the one that signed away water rights!) But this problem will only get worse for Egyptian elites, assuming that Egypt will get more democratic with time.

I am not surprised that Ethiopia is playing hardball.

Some quick thoughts on President Uhuru Kenyatta’s new cabinet nominations

Two months after being sworn in for his second and final term, President Uhuru Kenyatta has nominated members of his new cabinet (see list below). Kenyatta also created a new position in government, the office of Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS), which is different than the Principal Secretary (PS) position. Essentially, CASs will be the new assistant ministers as was the case under the old constitution.

The cabinet appointments are underwhelming.

In his second inaugural address, Kenyatta promised to focus on four key areas (the “Big Four”) in his second term. I had therefore expected that appointments would mirror a shift in approach, at least in the key ministries that touch on the “Big Four” areas (manufacturing, agriculture, health, and infrastructure). But Adan Mohamed was retained at Industrialization (he hasn’t been particularly bad. But he hasn’t been bold either). The new CS of health is untested in the docket. Nominations for the agriculture, water, lands, and devolution portfolios are explicit political appointees that will likely be distracted by patronage politics.

James Macharia at transport is probably the only “Big Four” appointment/retention that makes sense considering the president’s stated policy goals.

It would appear that the only recipe for success in the next five years would be for Kenyatta to shield the actual operations of these ministries from most of the Cabinet Secretaries. In principle, it should be possible to create islands of success separate from the messy political economy considerations that informed the structure of the overall cabinet.

The creation of the position of CAS and appointment of politicians to this position will further complicate matters by injecting even more patronage politics into the functions of ministries.

From a purely administrative standpoint, this looks like a really bad idea.

If all Kenyatta is doing is rewarding politicians for their political support, there are other economically cheaper but more impactful ways of doing so. I wish State House took the science of the industrial organization of public administration more seriously.

Now that this is done, the onus is on the president and his team to make it work. That will not be an easy task. There is bound to be conflict over contracts, bribes, and jobs between CSs and CASs. In addition, by essentially creating multiple principals at the top, the president has saddled state agencies with principal-agent problems that will be hard to solve without a strict allocation of tasks. And this is before we even consider the potentially messy interaction between parliamentary committees and the CSs and CASs. Smart chairs of departmental committees in the National Assembly will play these two against each other and extract bribes like never before.

MPs are not fighting to head these committees out of a sense of public duty.

I wish Nzioka Waita and his team all the best of luck.

Finally, the cabinet has (broadly speaking) good regional balance. The two biggest surprises are the total exclusion of big name politicos from Lower Eastern and the Gideon Moi faction of the Rift Valley from the CS list. At first glance, it appears that Deputy President William Ruto got a good deal with these appointments (see here for background). There are only 6/22 (27%) women on the list, in violation of the constitutional requirement of at least 33%.

Kobia and Juma look well-matched to their portfolios. Mohammed’s move to education looks like a demotion, but her new docket has a bigger budget than Foreign Affairs. Education is a tough docket, but a part of me thinks that she is likely to emerge as the best-performing minister on account of her management skills and incredible work ethic (if, and only if, she can handle the politics of education well).

Here is the list:

1. Margaret Kobia – CS Youth and Public Service.
2. John Munyes – CS Petroleum and Mining.
3. Eugene Wamalwa – CS Devolution.
4. Racheal Omamo – CS Defense. 
5. Monica Juma -CS Foreign affairs.
6. Simon Chergui – CS Water.
7. Keriako Tobiko – CS environment
8. Adan Mohammed – CS Industrialization
9. James Macharia – CS transport
10. Joseph Mucheru – CS ICT
11. Henry Rotich – CS Treasury
12. Fred Matiangi – CS Interior
13. Mwangi Kiunjuri – CS Agriculture
14. Sicily Kariuki – CS Health
15. Rashid Achesa – CS Sports
16. Najib Balala – CS Tourism
17. Amina Mohammed – CS Education
18. Farida Karoney – CS Lands
19. Ukur Yattany – CS Labour
20. Peter Munya – CS EAC
21. Charles Keter – CS Energy
22. Raphel Tuju – CS (without portfolio)

The Politics of the CFA Franc Zone

This is from the Economist:

Where some see an anchor, others see a millstone. To maintain the euro peg, notes Ndongo Samba Sylla, a Senegalese economist, these very poor countries must track the hawkish monetary policy of the European Central Bank. Since the introduction of the euro, income per person in the franc zone has grown at 1.4% a year, compared with 2.5% in all of sub-Saharan Africa.

More on this here.

People like Cameroonian president Paul Biya love the CFA. With good reason.

Yet elites do rather well out of the system, which makes it easier to send wealth abroad. And a weaker currency would increase the cost of imported goods. The only devaluation, in 1994, sparked riots.

How not to teach third graders about “Africa” in 2018

This is from “Anne of Green Mountains” on twitter:

The teaching of “Africa” in this third grade class gets weirder if you compare it to how the same school teaches Europe:

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Zimbabwe President Emerson Mnangagwa at Davos

The full interview is worth watching.

Mnangagwa has interesting theories of democratic transition (elite pacts, negotiated quietly, work) and Zimbabwe-UK relations (female British premiers are better for Zimbabwe than their male counterparts).

I must say I admire his practical approach (at least as stated here) to getting out of Zimbabwe’s political economy logjam of the last two decades.

I am not holding my breath for free and fair elections this year. But at the same time, I think that it is highly unlikely that Zimbabwe will go back to being as unfree as it was in the last two decades of Robert Mugabe’s rule.

Given the little that I know about Zimbabwe politics, my biggest surprise during this transition process has been the seemingly moderate levels of institutionalization of ZANU-PF and the military. It looks like the party will survive Mugabe, which is not something one can say about UNIP, or KANU, or NRM, for example.

On productivity: Workers in low-income countries work longer (for less)

You probably knew that already, but here is the data from Bick, Fuchs-Schundeln, and Lagakos in the AER:

This paper builds a new internationally comparable database of hours worked to measure how hours vary with income across and within countries. We document that average hours worked per adult are substantially higher in low-income countries than in high-income countries. The pattern of decreasing hours with aggregate income holds for both men and women, for adults of all ages and education levels, and along both the extensive and intensive margin. Within countries, hours worked per worker are also decreasing in the individual wage for most countries, though in the richest countries, hours worked are flat or increasing in the wage. One implication of our findings is that aggregate productivity and welfare differences across countries are larger than currently thought.Screen Shot 2018-01-24 at 7.57.32 AM

… Our main finding is that average hours worked per adult are substantially higher in low-income countries (the bottom third of the world income distribution) than in high-income countries (the top third). In low-income countries, adults work 28.5 hours per week on average, compared to 19.0 hours per week in high-income countries.

Read the whole thing here (gated). Here is the ungated version.

Unlocking productivity gains is a challenge to policymakers in low-income states:

One implication of our findings is that aggregate labor productivity and TFP differences across countries are larger than previously thought. Moreover, ignoring hours worked also leads to misleading conclusions about the extent of welfare differences across countries. Put simply, residents of the poorest countries are not only consumption poor, but leisure poor as well.

How robust is William Ruto’s plan to succeed Uhuru Kenyatta in 2022?

rutoPresident Uhuru Kenyatta is yet to name his full second term cabinet, 52 days since being sworn in for his second term. According to news reports, the delay might be due to internal wrangles within the Jubilee Party over specific cabinet appointments. While Kenyatta is keen on putting together a cabinet that will help him implement his ambitious legacy projects, Deputy President William Ruto wants a cabinet that keeps the path clear for his stab at the presidency in 2022 when Kenyatta will be term limited.

It seems, at least for now, that the two goals are in conflict.

Formed ahead of the 2017 election, the Jubilee Party was supposed to be a commitment device binding Kenyatta and his supporters to Ruto’s planned bid for the presidency in 2022. The idea was to make the party strong enough at the grassroots to make it impossible for anyone to run and win without pledging loyalty to the party leaders — Kenyatta and Ruto.

Not all of Kenyatta’s elite supporters are on board with this plan.

This raises the question, how robust is Ruto’s plan to succeed Kenyatta? In my view, four factors make the plan almost ironclad:

  1. Kenyatta needs Ruto for the rest of his presidency: Ruto cannot be fired (see the Kenyan constitution). His legislative point man, Aden Duale, is the Majority Leader in the National Assembly. And he has enough votes in the legislature to control the agenda (mainly through veto threats), and to frustrate Kenyatta should the two fall out. That means that even if Ruto loses the fight over specific cabinet appointments, he would likely get a substantial side payment that leaves him financially potent ahead of 2022. Furthermore, while he may not be able to sway every single voter in his core base, there is no reason to believe that Kenyatta would renege on the promise to back Ruto in 2022. No former president wants a successor with an axe to grind.
  2. Ruto has amassed an insurmountable financial lead relative to potential competitors: Besides Raila Odinga, there is no other Kenyan politician with the same level of national appeal and grassroots loyalty to rival Ruto. Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho comes close, but there are structural constraints to his candidacy (he would be a great running mate to Ruto, though). And on top of all this, Ruto has amassed an incredible amount of wealth (or access to it) that will make him the runaway frontrunner in the competition for elite endorsements ahead of 2022. What this means is that Ruto can run in 2022 even without Kenyatta’s support and still win.
  3. Running in 2022 as a victim of Central Kenyan perfidy would likely win Ruto sympathy votes: A constant (and potentially powerful) narrative in Kenyan politics is that voters in Central Kenya (Kenyatta’s backyard) never vote for anyone but their own. If Central Kenyan elites were to spurn Ruto, he could go to the wider Kenyan electorate and make the case that he entered into an agreement in 2013 in good faith but got burned — just like Raila Odinga was burned by Mwai Kibaki, and his father before him by Matiba and Kibaki. With such a strategy, Ruto could engineer a coalition similar to Odinga’s 41 vs 1 coalition of 2007 and easily win the presidency.
  4. If all else fails, Ruto can blackmail Central Kenyan elites by threatening to destabilize the Rift Valley: This is not a far-fetched idea. It is not a surprise that recent pronouncements challenging Ruto’s 2022 candidacy were met with disquiet in Uasin Gishu and Nakuru counties along the same cleavages that defined the post-election violence in 2007-08. It is common knowledge that the alliance between Kenyatta and Ruto in 2013 was one of political expedience, and did not address the economic and social root causes of the violence that erupted in the Rift Valley following the disputed 2007 election. It would only take a few careless statements from people like Gov. Jackson Mandago of Uasin Gishu to cause significant instability in the Rift Valley.

Overall, despite the current impasse over cabinet appointments, Ruto’s political position remains very strong. To weaken him, Kenyatta would have to take overt steps — such as allowing his elite allies to form a different party than Jubilee — which would come with immense political costs (especially in parliament). Kenyatta’s hands are tied on this matter. Furthermore, why would he spend the next five years building a legacy that would be jeopardized by his failure to honor the 2013 deal with Ruto?

People often compare Ruto to former President Daniel arap Moi who remained loyal to Jomo Kenyatta and quietly waited in line until Kenyatta died in 1978. I disagree. On the specific matter of succession politics, I like to think of Ruto as a latter day Tom Mboya, the overtly ambitious KANU Secretary General who was murdered ahead of the 1969 General Election after which he would have been in pole position to succeed Kenyatta. Like Mboya, Ruto has, from the beginning, been very clear about what he wants and what he is willing to do to achieve it. And all indications are that this time will be different.

The Case for Term Limits, Angola Edition

The erasure of Jose Eduardo dos Santos’ 38-year rule in Angola appears to be accelerating. Angola does not have executive term limits, but Eduardo dos Santos finally stepped down as president in late 2017.

On Wednesday his successor, Joao Lourenço, removed replaced his son (Jose Filomeno dos Santos) as head of Angola’s $5b sovereign wealth fund. This follows the sacking of Isabel dos Santos (Africa’s wealthiest woman) as head of the country’s state oil company last year. President Lourenço has also moved to replace key security chiefs in sub-Saharan Africa’s third largest economy and second biggest oil producer.

When Eduardo dos Santos said he’d retire I was skeptical. The anointment of his defense minister, Joao Lourenço, as his successor (while retaining position atop the ruling party) did little to change my mind. But like in Mozambique and Zambia before it, the mere change of guard in Angola appears to have initiated a process of elite churn that is accompanied by a dismantling of the old order (at the very least within the ruling party).

Now, there is no guarantee that this will lead to normatively desirable outcomes (such as better governance and service delivery in Angola). Change for its own sake is only good up to a point. But it is a testament to the political importance of term limits. Regular leadership turnover is a nice way of ensuring that no single interest group or ruling cabal completely dominates a country’s political economy.

Relatedly, I am not a close watcher of Angola but recent events have led me to update my view of the level of institutionalization of MPLA. For a long time I thought that it was just an electoral/patronage SPV for Eduardo dos Santos. But news events seem to suggest that its powers transferred almost intact to Joao Lourenço (I could be wrong of course).

 

What is the “Rwanda Model” of development?

Here’s Nic Cheeseman’s summary:

Instead of sitting back and waiting for foreign investors and the “market” to inspire growth, the new administration intervened directly in a process of state directed development. Most notably, his government kick started economic activity in areas that had previously been stagnating by investing heavily in key sectors. It has done so through party-owned holding companies such as Tri-Star Investments.

Combined with the careful management of agriculture, these policies generated economic growth of around 8% between 2001 and 2013. Partly as a result, the percentage of people living below the poverty line fell from 57% in 2005 to 45% in 2010. Other indicators of human development, such as life expectancy and literacy, have also improved.

Cheeseman rightfully cautions against copying the Rwanda model:

Shorn of the internal and external political control required to make it work, the application of the Rwandan model elsewhere would generate very different results.

Extending the control of the ruling party over the economy is more likely to increase graft and waste than to spur economic activity. And efforts to neutralise opposition parties are likely to be strongly resisted, leading to political instability and economic uncertainty.

What this means is that if other countries on the continent try to implement the Rwandan model, the chances are that they will experience all of its costs while realising few of its benefits.

Read the whole thing here.

Cheeseman argues that the RPF’s total political monopoly is a necessary condition for the observed bureaucratic discipline in Rwanda. While this might be true, I am curious about what conclusions we might arrive at if we drop the assumption that Rwanda’s is a system of “developmental patrimonialism”.

What if we were to see it as just bureaucratic developmentalism (infused with good old crony capitalism)? Are there lessons on the industrial organization of the Rwandese state that are transferable to Malawi or Sierra Leone?

For more on neopatrimonialism and development in Africa check out this important paper by Thandika Mkandawire.

Lemons and the Origins of the Sicilian Mafia

This is in the Journal of Economic History:

In this article, we study the rise of the Sicilian mafia using a unique dataset from the end of the nineteenth century. The main hypothesis is that the growth and consolidation of the Sicilian mafia is strongly associated with an exogenous shock in the demand for lemons after 1800, driven by James Lind’s discovery on the effective use of citrus fruits in curing scurvy. Given Sicily’s already dominant position in the international market for citrus fruits, the increase in demand resulted in a very large inflow of revenues to citrus-producing towns during the 1800s. Citrus trees can be cultivated only in areas that meet specific requirements (such as mild and constant temperature throughout the year and abundance of water) guaranteeing substantial profits to relatively few local producers. The combination of high profits, a weak rule of law, a low level of interpersonal trust, and a high level of local poverty made lemon producers a suitable target for predation. Neither the Bourbon regime (1816–1860), nor the newly formed government after Italian independence in 1861 had the strength or the means to effectively enforce private property rights. Lemon producers, therefore, resorted to hiring mafia affiliates for private protection and to act as intermediaries between the retailers and exporters in the harbors

The bigger lesson here is that the presence of wealth in a context of weak organizations (including firms, social organizations/networks, states, etc) is likely to result in the emergence of sub-optimal forms of property rights protection (which, of course, is one of the core claims of the resource curse literature).

Gambeta’s book on the mafia is a classic. From what I remember Gambetta has some great sociological and economic analyses of the mafia’s private protection racket.

Read the whole paper here.

On the age of borders

Happy New Year!

I am back from research leave. And will be blogging again.

To kick off 2018, check out this map with ages of present-day borders across the world. Across the continent, southern African and coastal West Africa have the oldest borders.

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Just from eyeballing the data, there seems to be a correlation between border age and (elite) political instability. There might also be a strong neighborhood effect of the (regional) average border age. Finally, the average border age on the Continent does not seem to be much higher than in other (post-colonial) regions of the world. This raises important questions about the usefulness of the artificiality of borders as a driver all sorts of outcomes that interest social scientists.

Ultimately, all borders are artificial and a function of technology and state capacity (and may be time). Humans can now blast through or fly over mountains (the Carthaginians trekked them with elephants).

Technology and state capacity have similar effects on the realized political effects of population geography. Think of how poorly United States would score on the Herbst index of favorable vs unfavorable population geography. Now imagine Guatemala with the size and population geography of the United States.

For more on this subject see this new paper by Goemans and Schultz (2017) on the politics of territorial claims in Africa.