Georgetown University Hoyas in Tanzania Summer Program

You know you’ve lucked out when your school’s most exciting summer program is in the same country/region as your main research projects.

That was me this summer. Students took Kiswahili classes at the University of Dar es Salaam in the mornings and did research/internships in the afternoon. We also visited Bagamoyo and Zanzibar. And in the last week we topped it all with a visit to Arusha and safari in the Serengeti. While in Dar students stayed with host families (all faculty members) on the UDSM campus.

Here is my students’ summary of their experience:

You’re barreling down a dirt road through the middle of Serengeti in the late afternoon. Wildebeest are flashing by your windows but you’re in a race against the setting sun to get to the lodge before dark, so you keep driving. You feel tired, and also a little bit like you’re in The Lion King; you find yourself humming “The Circle of Life” as you try not to fall asleep. You’re jerked awake by a sudden slam on the breaks; the zebras are crossing the road. You try to wake yourself up. Professor Opalo tells you that, while everyone was sleeping, the car passed by a baby lion. . You find his opportune lack of witnesses suspicious. You resolve to stay awake, but find your mind drifting….

What have you done in the last six weeks? Well, most recently, you went on safari and you came within arms reach of a lioness and a hyena, a warthog and a zebra, an elephant and a wildebeest. Before that, you went climbing on mangrove trees in Zanzibar and visited Oldupai Gorge. You saw thirteenth-century ruins at Bagamoyo, Tanzania’s first capital. But in between all the big days were the equally memorable ordinary ones. And those are the days you’re thinking about right now (note: by now you’re probably at “Hakuna Matata” on your mental soundtrack).

A Day in the Life of a Hoya in Tanzania

6:00AM: It’s still dark outside but you’re already awake with toothbrush in hand so as not to lose your spot in the family line-up for the bathroom. You run downstairs to drink your chai and eat your banana and chapati before you have to leave for school. Then you run back upstairs because you forgot your malarone and back down again and out the door as you shout, “Have a good day!” back to the house girl.

7:00AM: You start your trek to school and pick up your friends at their various host families along the way. If you’re lucky, Baba will pity you as he drives by on his way to work and give you a ride. Otherwise, you continue on the sometimes quiet, sometimes chatty walk and stop every so often to take a picture of the local monkeys. You usually arrive 15 minutes before class starts and sit on the bench in the hallway to wait for Mwalimu to unlock the classroom door. All the professors strike up conversations in Swahili with you as they walk by and you get a little overwhelmed and immediately forget all the Swahili words you’ve learned.

8:00AM: Class starts. You start to remember some of the Swahili words you forgot in the hallway as you try to correctly recall your home address, the directions to your host house, and the name of your SFS major. Professor Opalo shows up and takes your passport but you’re not sure why. You just roll with it.

You can read the whole thing here. 

Non-Georgetown students interested in learning Kiswahili (at all levels) can apply to the program. Application details can be found here.

Also, my students are the very best.

J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy and Economic Development

Hillbilly Elegy has been touted as a the guide to understanding Donald J. Trump’s overwhelming support among working class European-Americans.

It also has important lessons for students of development. Take this excerpt, for example:

Despite its reputation, Appalachia – especially northern Alabama and Georgia to South Ohio – has far lower church attendance than the Midwest, parts of the Mountain West, and much of the space between Michigan and Montana. Oddly enough, we think we attend church more than we actually do. In a recent Gallup poll, Southerners and Midwesterners reported the highest rates of church attendance in the country. Yet actual church attendance is much lower in the South.

This pattern of deception has to do with cultural pressure. In southwestern Ohio, where I was born, both the Cincinnati and Dayton metropolitan regions have very low rates of church attendance, about the same as ultra-liberal San Francisco. No one I know in San Francisco would feel ashamed to admit that they don’t go to church (In fact, some of them might feel ashamed to admit that they do.) Ohio is the polar opposite. Even as a kid, I’d lie when people asked if I attended church regularly. According to Gallup, I wasn’t alone in feeling that pressure.

The juxtaposition is jarring: Religious institutions remain a positive force in people’s lives, but in a part of the country slammed by the decline of manufacturing, joblessness, addiction, and broken homes, church attendance has fallen off. Dad’s church offered something desperately needed by people like me. For alcoholics, it gave them community of support… For expectant mothers, it offered a free home with job training and parenting classes. When someone needed a job, church friends could either provide one or make introductions.

This is not a political book. Instead, it is simply a powerful narration of a story that is often ignored: that America has millions of poor European-Americans, a good number of whom feel economically and culturally isolated from the public sphere. Vance suggests that this feeling of isolation may have been rendered more acute by the ongoing erosion of the idea that European descent ought to be an automatic ticket to material stability and high social status.

I read this book hoping to get an insight into Hillbilly politics, but the key lesson that I came out with is that people organize out of poverty.

Atomization is disorienting. Stable homes, communities, and well-ordered societies make a huge difference for material outcomes from generation to generation.

History teaches us that the only means of inter-generational persistence of material advancement is through stable and resilient organizations — family units, churches, investment clubs, firms, capable and responsive governments, etc.

I highly recommend the book, whether you are interested in American politics or not.

Historian Daniel Magaziner On Paul Kagame’s Visit to Yale

As some of you may know, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame was recently invited to speak at Yale. As expected, a lot of people expressed their outrage, citing Kagame’s deplorable human rights record. One of those present at the talk was Daniel Magaziner, an Associate Professor of History at Yale.

….. I’m only interested in relating what I heard when Mr. Kagame came to Yale. But as a historian, I do have to note that Mr. Kagame’s message sounded awfully familiar. Were Mr. Netanyahu to come to campus, I imagine that he would said something quite similar. We have suffered, we have been wronged. #MindYourOwnBusiness. And here’s the thing: that’s the same message Mr. Verwoerd would have brought to Yale, had we invited him. We have suffered, you have not, you have no standing, #MindYourOwnBusiness. I note this not to say that these men are one and the same. That would be ridiculous. But Verwoerd drew from the well of past suffering to foreshorten history to shut down critiques of reprehensible policies. Benjamin Netanyahu has made an art form of doing the same. And today I heard Paul Kagame charmingly remind an audience of privileged Ivy Leaguers and Americans that their ivory towers are glass houses, and thus that we cannot know the truth, and that we should mind our own business.

Paul Kagame came to my campus today. I did not condemn my university for inviting him and I did not boycott him. Instead I shook his hand and I smiled at him and I thanked him for sharing his thoughts with us. Because I needed to hear him to confirm what, as a historian, I have long suspected – we’ve seen his kind before. And, apologies Mr. Kagame, but you know that – because you correctly condemn my country for minding its own business in April, May and June 1994. People like you are our business precisely because people who tell others to mind their own business tend to be the sorts of people who leave bodies in their wake. And bodies and human suffering are the cursed currency of history, as Paul Kagame’s Rwanda has taught and regrettably continues to teach.

For more read the whole thing at Africa is a Country.

Each April the world gets treated to think pieces weighing the prospects of Rwanda’s impressive recovery since the 1994 genocide. On balance, the ratings have generally tended to be positive.

However, ever since Kagame made it clear that he would hang on to power beyond 2017, the balance has tilted towards a more pessimistic view. This is because most Rwanda watchers know that without an enduring and stable political settlement, all the achievements of the last two decades can come tumbling down in a flash.

What most observers fail to fully appreciate (including yours truly) is that a leadership transition in Rwanda, especially if marked by a sharp discontinuity in the top brass, would be severely destabilizing.

The next question then is when is the optimal time to risk it all? Should Rwanda change its leadership now when the losses arising from instability would be relatively smaller; or should it wait for Kagame’s natural life to run its course when the losses may be bigger?

Should we be comforted by the fact that perhaps by then the logic of “too much to lose” may kick in, forcing elites to arrive at a stable political settlement without costly losses of life and property?

Will Kagame turn into Seretse Khama, Leopold Senghor, or Julius Nyerere? Or will he become a Museveni? Or even a Mugabe?

I honestly do not know the answers to these questions.

What I do know, though, is that the contemporary autocratic regimes in Rwanda and Ethiopia are qualitatively different from the incorrigibly ineffectual tin pot dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s.

Of course I am open to the possibility that my views are motivated by a need for model non-democratic governments in a region that is increasingly hostile to open electoral democracy. As the leader of the opposition in Ethiopia once told me, sometimes it is hard to argue against electricity and roads.

How to avoid the resource curse, or how Norway spends its $882 billion global fund

This is from the Economist:

This week the “Pension Fund Global” was worth Nkr7.3 trillion ($882 billion), more than double national GDP. No sovereign-wealth fund is bigger (see chart). It owns over 2% of all listed shares in Europe and over 1% globally. Its largest holdings are in Alphabet, Apple, Microsoft and Nestlé, among 9,000-odd firms in 78 countries.

In designing the fund, Norway got a lot right. Its independence is not constitutionally guaranteed, but it is protected as a separate unit within the central bank, overseen by the finance ministry and monitored by parliament. It is run frugally and transparently; every investment it makes is detailed online.

Other funds might copy those structures, but would struggle to mimic the Nordic values that underpin them. Yngve Slyngstad, its boss, says growth came “faster than anyone had envisaged”, and that a culture of political trust made it uncontroversial to save as much as possible. A budgetary rule stops the government from drawing down more than the fund’s expected annual returns (set at 4% a year). The capital, in theory, is never touched. Martin Skancke, who used to oversee the fund’s operations from the finance ministry, attributes the trust the institution enjoys to relatively high levels of equality and cultural homogeneity. It also helps that many rural areas recall poverty just two generations ago.

Consider this your regular reminder that the “resource curse” is not a universal phenomenon. See also Botswana, the United States, Chile, Canada, and Australia.

More on this here.

Political Developments in the DRC

Podcast: Renowned Africanist historian Crawford Young talks with Jason Stearns about politics in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It looks like Joseph Kabila may be able to extend his stay in office at least until 2018. The constitution bars him from being in office beyond 2016.

The decision to extend Kabila’s stay in office is likely the beginning of a bloody phase in the DRC’s political saga. Opposition groups claim that at least 50 people have died since Monday in clashes with the army and police.

Kabila now joins his neighbors Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Denis Sassou Ngwesso of the Republic of Congo as the latest in a small but growing list of African presidents who continue to buck the trend by abrogating constitutional presidential term limits.

This should not come as a surprise to students of political development.

Leadership transitions are notoriously difficult to manage. Especially in relatively shaky states like the DRC. In case it is not obvious, there will not be any easy solutions to the current impasse. Kabila clearly has the support of a sufficient number of elites that want him to stay in power — primarily for their own benefit. Enough that they are willing to send in the troops to kill protesting civilians.

This means that moralizing about Kabila’s disrespect for electoral democracy will not work. It is not just Kabila on the hook here. His domestic elite-level allies and foreign business associates who pillage the DRC’s resources are also on the hook. And they can’t simply be wished away. Furthermore, the ghosts of the Two Congo Wars will likely inform any regional intervention to try and resolve the constitutional crisis. Nobody wants to ignite more killings and instability.

Unfortunately for Congolese people, Kabila and his allies know this. And have revealed that they are willing to blackmail everyone into letting him stay in power.

How to Eliminate Malaria

Sri Lanka is the latest country to be declared malaria free by the WHO.

How did they do it?

According to the New York Times:

In 2000, outside the rebel-controlled areas in the northeast, malaria cases began dropping as the government, with donor help, deployed a mix of indoor spraying, bed nets, rapid diagnostic kits and medicines that combined artemisinin, an effective treatment, with other drugs.

The government also screened blood samples drawn — for any reason — in public clinics and hospitals for malaria infection, and officials established a nationwide electronic case-reporting system.malariaeradication

In war-torn areas, the disease retreated more slowly, although the Tigers often cooperated with malaria-control teams because their villages and fighters also suffered.

Nonetheless, in a population of 20 million, it took years to get rid of the last few hundred annual cases. Most were soldiers and itinerant laborers, often from India, who worked in remote slash-and-burn farming areas and in logging and gem-mining camps.

Someone tell African policymakers that bed nets and behavior change are not enough.

Every other region of the world appears to be willing and able to combine vector (mosquito) control with other strategies of containing malaria with success (and enthusiastic donor support). But for some reason mosquito control is still lagging in Africa, even in otherwise strong and stable states. In some instances this has been due to environmental concerns while in others it has been due to the misplaced priorities of public health officials, donors, development agencies, and academic researchers.

The result:

About 3.2 billion people – nearly half of the world’s population – are at risk of malaria. In 2015, there were roughly 214 million malaria cases and an estimated 438 000 malaria deaths. Increased prevention and control measures have led to a 60% reduction in malaria mortality rates globally since 2000. Sub-Saharan Africa continues to carry a disproportionately high share of the global malaria burden. In 2015, the region was home to 89% of malaria cases and 91% of malaria deaths. 

214 million malaria cases amount to lots and lots of lost productivity. Also, losing one Miami every year in deaths is simply unacceptable.

More on this here. 

South Sudan: A runaway kleptocracy or a gradual evolution towards statehood with an encompassing interest?

The Sentry, a project co-founded by George Clooney and John Prendergast, has a nice report that details corruption at the highest levels of the South Sudanese government.

How do President Kiir’s children afford to live in such apparent luxury? Corporate records for Combined Holding Limited (CHL), a South Sudanese holding company incorporated in February 2016, provide one clue. These records reveal basic information about the company: the date of incorporation, names of shareholders, their contact information and a copy of their passport. One of CHL’s shareholders is a 12- year-old child with the surnames “Salva Kiir Mayardit” whose passport lists his occupation as “Son of President.” But, this hardly makes this child unique among members of President Kiir’s immediate family.

In total, The Sentry found that at least seven of President Kiir’s children have held stakes in a wide range of business ventures, especially in the extractive and financial sectors. Corporate filings obtained by The Sentry show that South Sudan’s first family appears to be active in the country’s oil and mining industries. Another document obtained by The Sentry, dated June 26, 2015, indicates that Thiik Kiir—the president’s 28-year-old son—owned 35 percent of Nile Link Petroleum. Adocument filed in 2014 lists Mayar Kiir—Thiik’s 29-year-old brother whose passport also confirms he is the president’s son—as owner of half of Oil Line & Hydrocarbons Limited, with the remaining shares held by three Kenyan businessmen.

A document dated May 25, 2015, lists Mayar Kiir as a 50 percent shareholder in Specialist Services Co. Ltd., a company that describes itself as being involved in “oilfield services and petroleum supply.” Another document indicates that Adut Salva Mayar, the president’s daughter, has owned shares of Rocky Mining Industries Limited. Yet another document reports that Anok Kiir, President Kiir’s 29- year-old daughter, has held a 45 percent stake in CPA Petroleum. And, according to another corporate record, Winnie Salva Kiir, the president’s 20-year-old daughter, held an 11 percent stake in Fortune Minerals & Construction. The same document indicates that, as of March 2016, the three largest shareholders of Fortune Minerals are Chinese investors.

You should read the whole thing here.

You’d be interested to know that Salva Kiir and Riek Machar live screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-4-55-03-pmonly a short drive from each other in Nairobi, Kenya.

The idea that the leaders of South Sudan are stealing state resources left, right, and centre is totally abhorrent. Tens of thousands have died since the resumption of civil conflict. Millions are in dire need of humanitarian aid.

The international community has its work cut out for it. South Sudan lacks a functional state apparatus. It is yet to get to the point of stationary banditry.

Which is why I think that it would be misguided to presume that the key problems with South Sudan are endemic corruption or the lack of “good governance.”

Should we really expect the president of a (struggling) oil producing 5-year old state to make $60,000 a year and not dip into state coffers once in a while? After all, Kiir’s *perceived* peers are likely not some low-level bureaucrats here in DC but other leaders of the world and the Davos crowd. This is not to say that if Kiir were paid more he would necessarily be less corrupt. The point is that I am not particularly shocked that Kiir and his collaborators in the pillaging of South Sudan want and have acquired the same material comforts that most leaders in the world have.

The historically inclined might even argue that this is South Sudan’s enclosure movement.

Should one take that view, then the solution to the current problem would not be the *relative* impoverishment of the South Sudanese putative “upper class,” but investments in the expansion of this social category so that there is sufficient intra-elite accountability across the different socio-cultural groups in the country. The strategy of integrating rebel leaders into the SPLA could have served this purpose, but the downside is that it incentivized the proliferation of warlordism in the hope of being bought off by Juba.

Perhaps one of the most important questions to ask about South Sudan is how the international community can help Kiir and his henchmen invest their (ill-gotten) wealth in Juba instead of Nairobi or Kampala.

If left alone, South Sudan will likely remain to be a runaway kleptocratic failed state instead of gradually moving towards a stable state with sufficient coercive powers.

The student of the political economy of institutions in me is somewhat convinced that horizontal intra-elite accountability is probably the best way out for South Sudan (if they can establish intra-elite political stability to begin with). The hope that vertical accountability through regular “free and fair” elections will help keep a globalized elite running a fractious post-conflict state honest and accountable is phantasmic. At the moment the domestic audience costs for engaging in corruption are very low for Kiir and other elites, and will likely stay that way for the foreseeable future.

And don’t even mention “political will.” There are no “good” leaders in the world. Just properly incentivized individuals.

Again, definitely read the report.

Interesting Somalia fact of the day

This is from the Economist:

Even if elections pass off well, it is unclear that they will deliver much legitimacy. One problem is that the entire process is dominated by diaspora Somalis. Some 55% of MPs have foreign passports, and while Mr Mohamud [the president] himself has never lived abroad, almost all of his advisers are either British or American Somalis. They are not always popular.

Also, here’s a primer on Somalia’s upcoming legislative and presidential elections.

The 2016 elections will have a bigger selectorate (14,025 delegates) than in 2012 (only 135 elders), but is still far from the global norm of universal suffrage. This is probably a good thing, for now.

Population trends and the potential for a demographic dividend in Africa

Bloom, Kuhn, and Prettner write:

We assess Africa’s prospects for enjoying a demographic dividend. While fertility rates and dependency ratios in Africa remain high, they have started to decline. According to UN projections, they will fall further in the coming decades such that by the mid-21st century the ratio of the working-age to dependent population will be greater than in Asia, Europe, and Northern America. This projection suggests Africa has considerable potential to enjoy a demographic dividend. Whether and when it actually materializes, and also its magnitude, hinges on policies and institutions in key realms that include macroeconomic management, human capital, trade, governance, and labor and capital markets. Given strong complementarities among these areas, coordinated policies will likely be most effective in generating the momentum needed to pull Africa’s economies out of a development trap.


Dependence Ratios Across Different Regions


“The International Community”


It is one of those silly unspoken truths.

Conventional wisdom also holds that only these countries have national interests. Everyone else just does what these mostly WENA countries asks them to do.

For more on this subject see herehere, and here.

H/T Adam Johnson.