Scientists may have discovered the cure for Ebola, trials in the DRC show

This is from the FT:

Two anti-Ebola drugs have proved so effective they will be rolled out to all patients in the Democratic Republic of Congo, raising the prospect of a potential cure for the deadly disease. In a trial conducted since November, more than 90 per cent of patients survived when they were treated early enough with one of the two drugs, scientists said. Under normal circumstances, some 70 per cent of people infected with the virus die. In the latest outbreak in Congo, the second worst in history, some 1,800 people are known to have died out of about 2,800 infected.

The success builds on the lifelong work of a Congolese doctor:

muyembeThe two drugs, called REGN-EB3 and mAb114, attack the Ebola virus with antibodies, preventing the virus from entering cells. They build on a treatment developed by Dr Jean-Jacques Muyembe, director of Congo’s National Institute for Biomedical Research, who has helped lead the fight against Ebola for four decades.

Dr Muyembe, 77, was recently put in charge of the Congo’s response against the Ebola outbreak, which has taken place in the east of the vast central African country where lawlessness and lack of trust in authorities has hampered the response.

Here is Dr. Muyembe-Tamfum’s WHO profile.

Incidentally, Dr. Muyembe-Tamfum “was part of the research team that investigated the first known outbreak of Ebola virus disease in 1976.” He earned his medical degree from the University of Lovanium in Kinshasa (1969), and PhD in virology from the University of Leuven in Belgium (1973). He was appointed dean of the Faculty of Kinshasa University Medical school in 1978.

Here is his Wikipedia page.

And here is another profile in the Lancet from 2015.

On external interventions to improve village-level governance and development: The DRC Edition

This is from an excellent JDE paper by Humphreys, de la Sierra and der Windt:

We study a randomized Community Driven Reconstruction (CDR) intervention that provided two years ofexposure to democratic practices in 1250 villages in eastern Congo. To assess its impact, we examine behavior in a village-level unconditional cash transfer project that distributed $1000 to 457 treatment and control villages. The unconditonal cash transfer provides opportunities to assess whether public funds get captured, what governance practices are employed by villagers and village elites and whether prior exposure to the CDR intervention alters these behaviors. We find no evidence for such effects. The results cast doubt on current attempts to export democratic practices to local communities.

Here’s a description of the program:

Our study takes advantage of a large UK funded CDR program, called “Tuungane,” implemented by the International Rescue Committee andCARE International in 1250 villages throughout eastern Congo. The program had as a central goal to “improve the understanding and practice of democratic governance ….”

… Over a four year period, the program spent $46 million of development aid, reaching approximately 1250 villages and a beneficiary population of approximately 1,780,000 people. A large share of this funding was used for facilitation and indirect costs, with only $16m, 35% of the total program costs, going directly towards infrastructure. These shares reflect the fact that the main focus of the intervention was institutional change, not the use of existing institutions to deploy development funds.

This very cool paper raises important questions about the role of elites in African development (read it to get a better understanding of the futility of these kinds of “democracy promotion”, too).

It might seem logical to assume that short-circuiting elite power, whether at the local or national level, may lead to accelerated development. However, because a lot of “development” is often elite-driven, an explicit agenda of effective elite disempowerment might actually yield suboptimal outcomes. All else equal, elites are often better organized, better-placed to take risks (on account of having more economic slack), better able to protect their property rights, and routinely deploy the state to further advance their economic interests. $46m in the hands of a powerful and secure elite class might yield jobs in firms that provide economic stability for whole districts. It is also true that less powerful or stable elites are likely to squander it on consumption, quick profit schemes, or stash it abroad.

These observations are not unique to African states.

Overall, when I look at most African states, what I see are a lot of very weak elites lacking social power, constantly unable to bend their societies to their will, and resigned to low-equilibrium forms of  political and economic organization (for example, by being mere middlemen in lucrative global commodity markets). In the case of the DRC, this is true whether one looks at Kabila/Tshisekedi or the leaders of armed groups in the east of the country. The same goes for so-called “traditional” leaders. Throughout the country and in the wider region, such elites lack infrastructural power in profound ways. Importantly for economic development, many often lack the ability to protect their own property rights. Our stylized idea of the nature of societal power relations on the Continent needs some updating. Consider this paragraph:

Eastern Congo is a well-suited environment to examine the adoption of democratic practice in local governance. The state has largely with-drawn from the rural areas of the east and enjoys low legitimacy. Local governance is often described as “captured” by traditional chiefs and vulnerable to corrupt practices by state officials. These features are not unique to the Congo. Multiple accounts suggest that in many Sub-Saharan states, colonial rule used pre-colonial institutions to create “decentralized despots” in ways that are detrimental to development.

topographies.jpgAre local elites in the modal African country this powerful? Is this the sense one gets traveling in rural Ghana or Zambia? Do these (mostly) guys look like they are in charge? As the paragraph notes, “traditional leaders” often lack the means to coerce their constituents (the state is largely absent). Despite Mamdani’s persuasive (Rwanda) story, these are not powerful and unchecked “despots” in the standard sense.

At times Africanist scholarship on state/elite society relations can seem schizophrenic: Africa is the land of “imperial” big men elites who can scarcely project their power on account of state weakness (see here, here, and here). Since the early 1990s, a lot of effort has been put into taming the allegedly imperial political elites in the region. Missing in our analyses and in donor programs have been attempts to understand the structural weakness of these same elites and the attendant consequences. The presence of an erratic and parasitic elite class might be the proximate cause of underdevelopment in the region. However, I would argue that a deeper cause is persistent elite weakness in the region. Catherine Boone’s book (see image) is the best I’ve ever read on African elites’ strategies of power projection in a context of state weakness (Boone is easily the most underrated Comparativist of her generation).

The tenures of Africa’s Amins, Mobutus, and Bongos took the form they did in no small part because these were structurally weak leaders (long leadership tenure is not synonymous with state capacity). Throughout their times in office they did all they could to destroy any and all alternative centers of power (including institutions such as legislatures). Their failures reinforced their respective counties’ two publics problems whose legacy is chronic elite weakness that is obvious for all to see. To this day, very few African countries have stable economic elite classes with easily identifiable immovable assets in-country. Most operate like little more than Olsonian roving bandits.

I am yet to see a clear theory that links greater vertical accountability to state/elite capacity. The historical record suggests that democracy works best in contexts with pre-existing state/elite capacity. In my own work, I’ve shown how strong autocratic legislatures beget strong democratic legislatures.

This is not a defense of autocracy. It is a reminder that the processes of state and political development, while related, often run on separate tracks and should therefore be decoupled in programs such as the one above and in our studies.

The Future of Tax Administration?

Low-income states struggle to collect taxes. And with low fiscal capacity comes the inability to spend any money on vital public goods and services. Take Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy. The country struggles to collect income tax, and heavily relies on revenues from oil (58.1% of revenues in 2018) and indirect taxes. Nigeria also spends precious little on its people. In 2018, general public expenditures added up to a paltry 10.9% of GDP (believe it or not, Nigeria is a libertarian paradise!). In comparison, public expenditures in Kenya amount to about a quarter of GDP. In 2018, income tax accounted for 47.9% of Kenya’s total tax revenue haul.

The demand for public expenditures will only continue to rise as African countries get richer. Overall, government expenditures as a share of GDP tend to rise with income. For instance, in 2017 the expenditures among OECD states ranged from a low of 26% of GDP in Ireland to 56.4% in France. It goes without saying that any future increases in government spending in countries like Nigeria will require ever more efficient means of tax collection. But such moves will likely be hampered by the illegibility of taxpayers.

Enter Russia. According to the FT, Moscow is pioneering real time tax administration:

taxrusStanding in front of a huge video wall, Mikhail Mishustin, head of the tax service, prepares to show off its capabilities. “Where did you stay last night?” he asks. When I reply, his staff zoom in on a map to Hotel Budapest on the screen. “Did you have a coffee?” His staff then click on the food and drink receipts in the hotel from the previous evening. “Look, it sold three cappuccinos, one espresso and a latte. One of those was yours,” Mr Mishustin declares triumphantly. He was right.

This is the future of tax administration — digital, real-time and with no tax returns. The authorities receive the receipts of every transaction in Russia, from St Petersburg to Vladivostok, within 90 seconds. The information has exposed errors, evasion and fraud in the collection of its consumption tax, VAT, which has allowed the government to raise revenues more quickly than general Russian economic performance.

The new system is directed more at shopkeepers than oligarchs. Russia still scores poorly on international league tables of corruption, being ranked only 138 out of 180 on the Transparency International corruption perceptions index, with concerns including cronyism, a lack of independent media and a biased judiciary. But reducing tax evasion among ordinary Russians and highlighting corrupt tax officials have helped raise revenues and clean up the system.

Reasonable people should worry about the potential misuse of these government powers. But remedies to this problem must be tempered with an understanding of the deep structural barriers to poverty alleviation caused by low fiscal capacity (not to mention a weakened fiscal pact between citizens and their governments).

If no taxation without representation is true, then no representation without taxation must also be true.

Finally, as correctly noted in the FT piece, technology cannot fix the problem of tax avoidance by the politically-connected. If Russia’s system catches on in low-income countries, it will most likely be effective in widening the tax base among diffused average taxpayers. The hope then would be that higher levels of tax compliance among average taxpayers will create political pressure for the same from the big fish.

Mosquitoes May Have Killed up to 54 Billion Humans Over 200 Millennia

How about this for perspective:

Mosquitoes are our apex predator, the deadliest hunter of human beings on the planet. A swarming army of 100 trillion or more mosquitoes patrol nearly every inch of the globe, killing about 700,000 people annually. Researchers suggest that mosquitoes may have killed nearly half of the 108 billion humans who have ever lived across our 200,000-year or more existence.

mosquitoThe author of the piece is Timothy C. Winegard, author of the forthcoming book The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator.

Each year, about 400,000 people die of malaria alone, with another 300,000 dying from other mosquito-borne diseases.

It is worth noting that the failure to eliminate malaria globally is primarily a function of state weakness.

A third of Quakers worldwide are Kenyan

This is in article from 2016:

There are about 300,000 Quakers in the world, and over one-third of them live in Kenya. While the amount of constituents there is growing by the day, numbers in the West (the United Kingdom and United States, in particular) have nosedived in recent years, some 25 percent from 1972 to 2002, according to the Friends World Committee for Consultation.

Kenyan Quakers are just getting started. They’ve seen their yearly meetings grow with the help of evangelism, new churches and services that appeal to a younger, more mainstream Christian crowd. Churches have brought in bands, adopted praise and worship, experimented with vestment and even started evangelizing on the radio and in the street. “We question how things were done traditionally and try to look at things from an African perspective,” says Pastor Khaemba.

The religion has a long history in Kenya. Three American Quakers first arrived on the coast of the country in 1903 before taking the train to Kisumu, a town along the shores of Lake Victoria in the West. Thanks to a good entente with the British government who gave them land and a stable political environment, the Quaker community thrived and began to spread, setting up a number of centers in Nairobi. According to a number of pastors, the reasons for its success lay in an approach that focused on economic development and education, rather than evangelism. Today, there are more Quakers in Kenya than in any other country in the world.

And even within Kenya, Quakers tend to be concentrated in the west of the country on account of the fact that the first missions were established there.

According to this paper, the mission in Kaimosi (Vihiga County) was actually established in 1902:

friendsThe Friends African Mission (FAM) of Quakers, which established a station at Kaimosi in 1902, was quite different from most of the other early missions in Kenya; it was founded and maintained by Americans. The American Friends are evangelical Quakers (they do not follow the silent worship of British or East Coast American Friends) from the mid-west ‘bible belt’, from a background of rural small farmers with strong precepts of self-sufficiency and practicality. From its establishment on 1000 acres of freehold forest land in the reserve, it had an ‘Industrial Mission’ that sought to inculcate the values and practices of the prairie homesteader among its trainees. These values were essentially anti-urban and anti-modernization, but with a strong element of racial superiority, as suggested by Willis Hotchkiss, one of the founders of the Kaimosi mission:

Generally speaking it does not take long sojourn in a town to spoil any Native …. They have added to their original sin a lot of organised sins, not crude savage sins, but cultivated civilised sins …. The general demoralisation is accelerated by the beer hall and the dance parlour …. In the heated atmosphere of these foul dens, so far removed from the open air environments of his savage games, his life is cankered to the core …. Added to all these devastating effects which have suddenly crashed into his life there is the moving picture show. Hollywood has poured a lecherous stream of filth into the world, and these child races have been quick to appreciate it. [Hotchkiss was writing in 1937].

The paper documents the manner in which Quaker missionaries (despite their abhorrent views of their congregants) were pioneers of technical education in Kenya. The anti-urban posture, coupled with their lukewarm approach to regular education, might explain the American Quakers’ limited success at conversion in the wider Lake Basin region (at least in comparison with the Catholics in Yala or the Church Mission Society in Maseno).

A good read on potential US responses to ever-deepening Africa-China relations

This is from Aubrey Hruby, one of the sharpest minds on Africa-US business relations:

For American companies to compete properly in African markets, the administration needs to take a broader look at capital flows into African markets and the diversifying forms of Chinese commercial engagement. This report argues for a broadening of the competitive lens beyond infrastructure and seeks to provide a more comprehensive framework for examining China’s commercial interests in Africa. It presents two models through which policy makers can understand recent developments in the region. The first describes the G2G nature of Chinese infrastructure financing, summarizing the mechanisms by which Chinese state-owned enterprises typically secure contracts, and contrasts it with the government-to-business (G2B) structure of US development finance. Secondly, the brief analyzes US investment in African markets across capital flows, and notes the rising competition from Chinese firms in each category.

Read the whole thing here.

Here is Hruby talking with Eric & Cobus on The China in Africa Podcast.

Nigeria’s President Buhari sets himself up for failure in second term

This summary of Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari ‘s cabinet picks says it all:

With an extra five members, stuffed with party loyalists and an average age of 60, President Muhammadu Buhari‘s new ministerial team cannot be accused of exuding dynamism or imagination. Announced two days after about a dozen people were killed in the capital when Shiite protestors clashed with armed police, the composition of the new government reinforced the sense of a lack of executive urgency as the country’s national security crisis was spiraling out of control.

The list reinforces the view that President Buhari’s second term will blike his first: tortuously slow decision-making, a reluctance to sanction bad performance in the security services or in the ministries, personal loyalty trumping competence and a tolerance for politicians facing serial corruption charges.

…. The youngest nominee at 46 – five years older than France’s current president – is Ali Isa Ibrahim Pantami (Gombe), a world class technology expert and trained Imam who has led the National Information Technology Development Agency since 2016.

The median age in Nigeria is 17.9 years (which is not to say that cabinet ministers should be in their twenties).

The problem with having such an old cabinet is that ministers are likely to employ equally old lieutenants, with the outcome being that everyone in government ends up being either too tired to put in the much needed work or too busy with their personal “businesses”.

The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely one of leadership.

Boris Johnson in his own words

This rather openly racist guy is now Prime Minister of the United Kingdom:

What a relief it must be for Blair to get out of England. It is said that the Queen has come to love the Commonwealth, partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies; and one can imagine that Blair, twice victor abroad but enmired at home, is similarly seduced by foreign politeness.

They say he is shortly off to the Congo.

No doubt the AK47s will fall silent, and the pangas will stop their hacking of human flesh, and the tribal warriors will all break out in watermelon smiles to see the big white chief touch down in his big white British taxpayer-funded bird. Like Zeus, back there in the Iliad, he has turned his shining eyes away, far over the lands of the Hippemolgoi, the drinkers of mares’ milk. He has forgotten domestic affairs, and here, as it happens, in this modest little country that elected him, hell has broken loose.

It’s hard to not conclude that the average quality of human capital at Number 10 declined a notch today.

We need to pay more attention to subnational variation

This is from Marshall Burke and Apoorva Lal:

Using these data across all African countries, we calculate that 43% of the overall variation in asset wealth is  countries, and nearly a quarter is  states within countries. This number is even higher if we focus on just sub-Saharan Africa — 65%. Similar numbers have been found for other outcomes, including child health. These within-country differences are starkly apparent in the corresponding map, which shows how wealth estimates change when country-level averages are disaggregated down to the state and then district level.subnational

 

Do Gulf States have too much influence in Eastern Africa’s capitals?

That is the question that   and  ask over at Foreign Affairs. Here’s an excerpt:

Faced with expanding Iranian influence, the destabilizing precedent of the Arab Spring, and a shrinking American security umbrella, Crown Princes Mohammed Bin Zayed and Mohammed Bin Salman have sought to radically transform their countries’ relationships with their neighbors across the Red Sea. In 2015, the UAE established a military base in Eritrea, from which the Saudi-Emirati alliance has waged war in Yemen—often relying on Sudanese troops and paramilitaries for ground operations. The UAE is now building a second military base in Somaliland’s port of Berbera while the Saudis are planning their own military facility in neighboring Djibouti. Both countries have also expanded their commercial ties to the Horn, and provided large cash infusions to Sudan and Ethiopia. A major goal of these efforts is to align the Horn states with the Saudi-Emirati axis against Iran, Qatar, and Turkey. To that end, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi find it useful to protect the region’s autocratic regimes, because the Gulf states’ interests don’t always align with popular opinion in the Horn. In Sudan, for example, the government has supported the Saudi-Emirati intervention in Yemen despite vocal criticism from across the Sudanese political spectrum.

The Horn’s two most important African-led bodies have quietly but persistently set themselves against the region’s emerging Gulf-led order. The African Union and an East African regional bloc known as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, or IGAD, seek to craft a regional order that rests on the sovereignty and collective security of African states. The commitment to democracy within these institutions remains weak, as evidenced by the many authoritarian leaders in their ranks, but the organizations do embrace norms of constitutional governance and civilian supremacy in politics far more than the leaders of the Gulf states.

Read the whole thing.

 

 

Nigerians of Guangzhou: Institutional Adaptation in a Foreign Land

This is an old piece that is nonetheless fascinating:

Large-scale Nigerian migration to China began in the aftermath of the 1980s Deng Xiaoping reforms, which opened China to the international community. The first wave of Nigerian migrants to China arrived in the late 1990s.

…. The Nigerian community in China has elected officials who preside over matters affecting their members. The post of ‘President General’ is an elected position, in line with a Constitution that gives anyone holding office term limits of two tenures. As of March 2016, the President General had completed the tenure of his predecessor who stepped down and another election was planned towards the end of the year. The President General organizes the community, ensuring that safety, representation and support are accessible. The Nigerian migrant community is also made up of sub-communities between which the President General solves power imbalances.

….. There is an informal justice system within the Nigerian community in China that facilitates dispute resolution at a micro level—which, practically, the Chinese government cannot enforce due to the clandestine existence of many individuals. In my interview with Mr. T (not real name), he stated that the Nigerian community has a task force that handles policing on behalf of the community.

The justice system is presided over by executives (judges) who settle cases brought before them. According to a member of the community, the judges are elected and not appointed. They are often people well respected within and outside the community; as a result, people obey their directives.

Read the whole thing here.

How quickly can you regrow a forest?

Apparently, 20 years.

Here’s evidence from Brazil:

reforestation….. Salgado was to take over his family’s sprawling cattle ranch in Minas Gerais—a region he remembered as a lush and lively rainforest. Unfortunately, the area had undergone a drastic transformation; only about 0.5% was covered in trees, and all of the wildlife had disappeared. “The land,” he tells The Guardian, “was as sick as I was.”

Then, his wife Lélia had an idea: they should replant the forest. In order to support this seemingly impossible cause, the couple set up the Instituto Terra, an “environmental organization dedicated to the sustainable development of the Valley of the River Doce,” in 1998. Over the next several years, the Salgados and the Instituto Terra team slowly but surely rebuilt the 1,754-acre forest, transforming it from a barren plot of land to a tropical paradise.

Now a Private Natural Heritage Reserve, hundreds of species of flora and fauna call the former cattle ranch home. In addition to 293 species of trees, the land now teems with 172 species of birds, 33 species of mammals, and 15 species of amphibians and reptiles—many of which are endangered. As expected, this rejuvenation has also had a huge impact on the ecosystem and climate. On top of reintroducing plants and animals to the area, the project has rejuvenated several once dried-up springs in the drought-prone area, and has even positively affected local temperatures.

forestcover

Here is the Guardian story.

Perhaps there is hope for countries like Nigeria (see graph) to eventually reverse the deforestation trends across the Continent over the last five decades.

Urbanization might help in the medium-to-long term, although its effects will be moderated by what happens to agricultural productivity. Climate change will matter, too. Finally, Kenya and Ethiopia provide suggestive evidence that the Continent’s ongoing population explosion might not decimate its forests after all. On Nigeria, it would be interesting to determine if the decline in forest cover is due to population growth or climate change effects in its central and northern regions.

The Ethiopia-Somalia War of 1977

In the past week Somalia has found itself in diplomatic tiffs with both Kenya and Ethiopia. The Kenyan government recently denied entry to Somalian public officials on diplomatic passports — perhaps to pressure Somalia to drop claims over possibly hydrocarbon rich waters in the Somali Sea. In return, Somalia urged donors and the development community to not hold meetings in either Nairobi or Addis, and instead consider Mogadishu or other regional capitals. And in Ethiopia, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a map that included Somalia as part of Ethiopia (it also did not include South Sudan and the Sahrawi Republic).

greatersomaliaSomalia’s problems with its more powerful neighbors are not new. Both Nairobi and Addis have always looked at Somalia as a threat to their territorial integrity on account of their substantial ethnic Somali populations and on-and-off nationalist claims over all of “Greater Somalia” (see map). As such, both are currently working to ensure that a strong unitary state does not emerge in Mogadishu. In the 1960s Kenya fought irredentists in its Somali-speaking northeast. At the time Nairobi accused Mogadishu of supporting the irredentists.

Ethiopia, too, fought Somalia in the Ogaden in the late 1970s. Cuba, the Soviet Union, and South Yemen backed Addis (the OAU was also on Ethiopia’s side). Iran, Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia vowed to back Mogadishu were Ethiopia to invade Somalia’s territory.  In many ways the Ogaden War began the end of Siad Barre’s regime and Somalia’s eventual state collapse in the early 1990s (and arguably also set the Derg regime on its way to collapse). This great post recounts the dynamics of the war:

This blog post is intended to highlight the history of a short, but nonetheless bloody inter-state conflict which cost the lives of over 12,000 soldiers on both sides. The two opposing sides were well-equipped for manoeuvre warfare, and had been trained and equipped by the superpowers. That capacity for major combat operations (MCO) has been recorded by the historian Gebru Tareke, the most authoritative scholar of this conflict, quoting an Ethiopian veteran of this war who stated that ‘if one were to combine the Ethiopian air force and the Somali tank units, one would have created Africa’s dream army’. The Ethiopian-Somali War of 1977-1978 provides an example of non-Western MCO outside that continues to be worthy of wider consideration and analysis. It also had catastrophic consequences which continue to destabilise the region as a whole.

……On the eve of the Somali invasion of the Ogaden Barre’s forces were outnumbered on paper by their adversaries, having 25,000 troops (in one commando, 9 mechanised and 5 infantry battalions) facing 51,000 soldiers (in 3 infantry divisions, a mechanised battalion and an airborne battalion). However, Ethiopian combat power was dissipated by a series of insurgencies (most notably the Eritrean revolt), while military morale was further undermined by the purges and executions of the officer corps instigated with Mengistu’s ‘Red Terror’. The Ethiopians had a slight advantage with artillery and air power (6 field batteries to 4 Somali ones, and one bomber and three fighter/ground attack (FGA) squadrons to one bomber and 2 FGA squadrons), but were outnumbered in armour, as the SNA had 6 battalions of Soviet-supplied T-54/T-55 tanks to Ethiopia’s two battalions of US-made M-41s and M-60s. The mismatch between the two sides – and the preparatory guerrilla campaign by the WSLF – accounts for the immediate successes of the Somali onslaught in the summer of 1977.

Shortly after the SNA crossed the frontier in force on 13thJuly 1977, both they and the WSLF conquered 90% of Ogaden. The Ethiopians were routed, and on 12thSeptember 1977 the strategically-vital town of Jijiga fell to the invaders. Mengistu’s forces managed to keep a toe-hold on Northern Ogaden, thwarting an SNA/WSLF attack on Dire Dawa on 17thAugust, whilst defending Harar from a series of Somali/insurgent onslaughts from September 1977 to January 1978. Like Josif Stalin in the first months of Operation Barbarossa, Mengistu responded to battlefield setbacks by arraigning and executing both officers and soldiers for cowardice and incompetence. However, the Ethiopian dictator also rallied his people with patriotic appeals to defend the homeland against the Somali aggressors, and like the French Jacobins in the 1790s he raised a militia of ill-trained but fervent fighters who provided the manpower which enabled the professional military to hold Dire Dawa and Harar, and then subsequently reconstitute its depleted ranks. An external attack allowed Mengistu to overcome the internal revolutionary turmoil he had fuelled, temporarily unifying his people against an external enemy.

In addition to the fascinating military history of the Ogaden War, the post has this interesting tidbit about Soviet and Cuban designs in the Horn and southern Arabia:

Barre’s failure to gain US support was compounded by the rupturing of Somalia’s alliance with the Soviet bloc. Moscow and Havana had hoped that a ‘progressive’ Ethiopia and Somalia could form a Federation with another Marxist-Leninist state, the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY), and both Leonid Brezhnev and Fidel Castro were infuriated by the Somali dictator’s demands for the secession of the Ogaden as a precondition. Moscow came to the conclusion that in political, economic and demographic terms Ethiopia counted for more than Somalia, and the latter’s isolation from the OAU provided an additional incentive to back Mengistu. Furthermore, the Soviets concluded that after the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s turn towards the West, the USSR needed for reasons of prestige to bolster its newest ally in North-East Africa. In late September 1977 the PDRY sent two battalions of troops to Ethiopia, and two months later the USSR commenced a massive sea and airlift of arms to Mengistu’s regime. Barre responded by denouncing his friendship treaty with the USSR on 13thNovember 1977, and by expelling Soviet and Cuban military advisors from Somalia. This proved to be a catastrophic mistake on his part.

Soviet and Cuban military assistance eventually proved decisive in helping Addis regain control over the Ogaden. Read the whole thing here.

Also, the Battle of Jijiga needs to be made into a movie.

Finally, it is worth noting that the decades-long fears in Nairobi and Addis about a strong unitary state in Somalia will continue to hamper efforts to stabilize Somalia. While Ethiopian and Kenyan troops continue to serve as peacekeepers in Somalia, both countries’ medium term goals (the achievement of peace and stability) are at variance with their long-term strategic objectives (to keep Mogadishu too weak to mount any credible challenge to their respective territorial integrity). At the moment these dual goals are aligned with the interests of some of Somalia’s elites who want a federal system of government with decentralized security powers.

However, it is unclear if formalized warlordism will result in lasting peace.

 

The disaster that is Kenya’s new “competency-based”curriculum

This is from Business Daily:

….. a Grade Two student at a private primary school in Kiambu County, gets upset every evening that his father, Joseph Mutiga, returns home without a printer.

His homework involves printing assignments almost on a daily basis, and his dad has promised him that he will buy a colour printer to make it easier for him to deliver on the assignments.

print outs must be done in full colour.

The Mutiga household’s story is replicated in most Kenyan households that have school going children in Grade Three and below, who are undertaking the new Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC).

The curriculum, which is set to replace the 8-4-4 system that was criticised for being too theoretical and exam-focused, has won admirers and critics in equal measure.

A small home colour printer costs about Sh10,000, which Mr Mutiga says is a new item on his budget. He is also contemplating installing a home internet connection that will add about Sh2,500 to his monthly budget.

Critics, including the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut), have however warned that the new curriculum will entrench inequalities where only children of the rich and middle class families will afford to provide their children with the relatively expensive learning materials.

Public schools, and especially those in rural areas and urban slums, are most affected as their student populations cannot afford the materials required for the new curriculum. In Kirinyaga County, Jerry Mworia says his son previously brought home class assignments that only required him to use a pencil and a book. After the new curriculum took effect, he is now regularly required to buy items that are not stocked in his neighbourhood shops such as modelling clay.

“I had to make a two-hour round trip to Kerugoya, the nearest place I could find plasticine (a brand of modelling clay). I bought a kilogramme for Sh150.

Kenya’s CBC is a caricature of isomorphic mimicry. Teachers are not ready. Parents are not ready. The government is not ready. It all sounds like a sophomore project gone awry.

Yet millions of Kenyan pupils will be subjected to this disaster of a policy. It is not hard to see how the new system will worsen class-based differences in education outcomes. The curriculum is totally divorced from the lived experience of the vast majority of Kenyans.

Now it would be one thing if the Kenyan government had the capacity to pull it all off. However, the government merely implemented what “consultants” and “advisors”, many of whom obviously had very little local knowledge, suggested. It has done precious little to prepare the country for the policy.

Most reputable education professionals in Kenya oppose the shift.

The textbooks are a disaster. Teachers have not been trained.

Add this to the list of failed “development” projects that are completely divorced from the objective realities of their intended beneficiaries.

Roll-out of the curriculum has taken off poorly, especially in public schools that do not yet have books and other learning materials. Teachers in some public schools were yet to get instruction kits as of late last week. “From the CBC training, we are required to take videos, pictures and in some lessons use the television as a teaching tool, but we do not have any of the supporting equipment and books at my school,” said Mrs Jackline Mueni, a Grade Three teacher in a public school.

Recall that it is the same Uhuru Kenyatta administration that came up with the hair-brained idea to give a laptop to every Standard One pupil. The plan was later shelved, after reality set in.

The clock is ticking on the CBC.

 

There is less (ethnic) favoritism in the allocation of public sector jobs in Kenya and Uganda than you might think

This paper from LSE’s Rebecca Simson in African Affairs goes against a lot of my priors:

The unfair distribution of public sector jobs is a common grievance in many societies, but arguably more so in ethnically polarized ones. Using census data from Kenya and Uganda, two countries with a history of ethnic conflict, this article examines how public employment is allocated in multi-ethnic societies by studying the correlates of holding public sector jobs. The results demonstrate that the public services of Kenya and Uganda are first and foremost comprised of educational elites with considerably higher average levels of educational attainment than across the labour forces at large. However, when education is controlled for, highs-killed women and candidates from less developed districts are more likely to work for the state than others. As a result, public sector jobs are more equitably distributed along gender, regional and ethnic lines than education alone would predict. I hypothesize that formal policies to promote regional equity in the provision of basic services in combination with affirmative action measures are contributing to creating comparatively inclusive public services.

public sector workers

Interestingly, the article finds Moi’s presidency in Kenya to be an outlier:

With one exception, the presidency of Daniel Arap Moi in Kenya, there is little evidence of an employment advantage for coethnics of past or current presidents.

You can read the whole paper here.

Along with neopatrimonialism, ethnicity has become a catch-all explanation for everything in Africa. It is great that more and more scholars are interrogating the data on these concepts, and in so doing uncovering patterns that go against some of our most entrenched beliefs about the nature of politics in the region.

Of course region-specific levels of education attainment are endogenous. But one would think that they are sticky enough to make these results interesting. At a minimum, this is a call for a more careful description of baseline conditions against which to measure ethnic favoritism in Africa’s public sectors.