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.

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.

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.

On Jumia’s IPO on the NYSE

This is from Quartz:

jumuiaJumia, the largest e-commerce operator in Africa, has today (April 12th) launched its landmark initial public offering (IPO) on the New York Stock Exchange.

The IPO marks a pivotal fork in the company’s journey since first launching operations in Nigeria in 2012 and expanding over time to 14 African countries with businesses across several verticals including food delivery, real estate, logistics, hotel and flight bookings.

The IPO priced the stock at $14.50. On Tuesday it closed at $43.04. Jumia started operations in Nigeria in 2012 but now has big markets in Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, and South Africa. The firm is registered in Germany. South Africa’s MTN remains its largest shareholder.

In my view the most exciting thing about the listing is that it could result in the allocation of significant amounts of capital that is needed to unlock the Continent’s online retail market and link it to the wider world market. According to the FT: 

…. mobile broadband penetration in Africa was 32 per cent, or 399m subscribers, in 2017. This was expected to rise to 73 per cent by 2022, to more than 900m subscribers.

The company said that less than 1 per cent of retail sales in the countries it operated in were conducted online, against 24 per cent in China, a sign of how undeveloped the African online market was.

I also foresee African regulators moving to force Jumia to have more of its operations domiciled on the Continent — both to create jobs and for tax purposes. The company CEO recently erroneously claimed that African countries do not have enough developers to justify the fact that its development office is in Portugal (and headquarters in Germany).

More on this here.

China & Civic Architecture in Africa

China just finished a 150 million Yuan four-year project to build Burundi a new presidential palace in Bunjumbura. This is but one of many installments of China’s ongoing influences on civic architecture on the Continent. The Burundian presidential palace is grand, and sitting on an elevation appears to have been designed to project the occupant’s power. While likely not the best use of that much money in Burundi, it is an important investment in the physical manifestation of Burundian stateness.

Other major civic buildings on the continent funded and (to be) built by China include the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the ECOWAS headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria, and Senegal’s Museum of Black Civilizations in Dakar.

dakarmuseum.jpg

The Museum of Black Civilizations in Dakar, Senegal

Concerns over costs (and espionage) aside, one of the under-appreciated effects of Sino-Africa relations in China’s continuing influence on African architecture. From train stations, to hotels, to high-rise apartment blocks, to libraries, China’s influence is making an indelible mark on Africa’s landscape. At the moment much of this appears to be cut-and-paste jobs with little, if any, African influence. But it is ineluctable that over time many of these foreign designs will be infused with local sensibilities and tastes in the continuing process of architectural evolution on the Continent (no more fake marble and chandeliers please!).

It is fair to say that the state of civic architecture in many African states is wanting. Many civic structures exist as physical embodiments of the malaise afflicting the African state.  The last golden age of public buildings died with the independence generation. The era’s designs focused on function, but also the implicit desire to project state power — Dar es Salaam’s austere public buildings with their long hallways and exposure to the elements (for ventilation) quickly come to mind. The economic crises of the long decade (1980-1995) virtually stalled much of the region’s architectural evolution as far as civic buildings were concerned.

The current iteration of Sino-African relations is changing this. More capitals (sub-national, national and regional) are seeing the construction of civic buildings befitting their stature. The influence of these developments will likely travel beyond their aesthetic impacts on Africa’s architectural landscape. Civic buildings are also monuments to the idea of the state.

 

Aliko Dangote lunches with the FT

This is Pilling in the FT:

As a rule, I don’t get worked up over oil refineries. But the one gradually taking form on 2,500 hectares of swampland outside Lagos, Nigeria’s Mad Max commercial capital, is so big, so audacious and so potentially transformative that it is like Africa’s Moon landing and its Panama Canal — a Pyramids of Giza for the industrial age.

If Aliko Dangote, the billionaire businessman behind what even he calls his “crazy” $12bn project, can pull it off, he will go down as the continent’s John D Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie and Andrew Mellon combined. And once he’s built it, he intends to treat himself to a small indulgence: he’ll buy Arsenal, his favourite football club.

The whole thing is worth reading. Dangote is a fascinating individual with a very interesting life story (are there any bios out there?) This paragraph caught my attention:

There is not enough industrial gas in the whole country to weld everything together, so Dangote will build his own industrial gas plant. There aren’t enough trucks, so he’s producing those in a joint venture with a Chinese company. The plant will need 480 megawatts of power, about one-tenth of the total that electricity-starved Nigeria can muster. You guessed it. Dangote is building his own power plant too.

Just How Bad is Public Debt in Africa?

Well, public debt in African states is much higher if you take into account their revenue mobilization capacities. The bigger the informal sector, the lower the debt/revenues ratio.

Consider the case of Nigeria (from the FT):

Nigeria’s accumulated government debt is just 18.6 per cent of its annual economic output, one of the lowest levels in the world, implying that its debt burden is more than manageable. But is this a fair reflection of reality?

Using a different metric, the Nigerian government’s gross debt is 320 per cent of its annual revenues, according to figures from Fitch Ratings, one of the highest figures in the world and comfortably above the median of 196 per cent for countries in Africa and the Middle East that are rated by Fitch.

More on this here.

 

Is Civil War in Africa Unique?

Paul Staniland raises important questions in his review of Philip Roessler’s latest book (highly recommended):

I just finished reading Philip Roessler’s excellent book for my graduate Civil War seminar. Already a fan of his 2005 piece on electoral violence, I learned a lot from the new book and highly recommend it. But, just as when reading major work by Will Reno, Reno and Chris Day, Jeremy Weinstein, Paul Collier, Jeffrey Herbst, and others, I had the reaction that “This looks nothing like the places I study.” At least in the stylized world of African politics presented in these projects (I have no idea if this is accurate), Hobbesian insecurity preys on all in the absence of any real institutions, ethnic balancing and calculation dominates any other form of politics, and regimes are held in place by fluid, shifting alignments with “Big Men” rooted in local power bases.

As a result, we get shambolic and weak central regimes prone to either coups or revolts, and rebels easily bought off by patronage or co-optation. Weinstein highlights the inability of ideological rebels to overcome waves of material resources that eliminate discipline or politics, Roessler’s regimes are simply what Skocpol calls an “arena” for political competition between social actors rather than possessing any institutions or interests autonomous from social forces, and Reno’s civil wars (with the exception of “reform rebels”) are simply a grim game of bargaining over patronage between states and insurgents that are more similar than different.

Is Africa that different?

Roessler, indeed, argues that Africa has a “unique institutional structure” in which external conflicts are rare and internal disorder common. If Africa is indeed unique, it is hard to know how arguments rooted in the African context can travel beyond Africa.

Read the whole thing here.

I would argue that there is not a uniquely African civil war story. Weak states everywhere, including in Africa, are gonna weak state.

A more useful analytical delineation is what Staniland suggests:

At minimum, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that research on civil war needs to become at least partially bifurcated into work on its dynamics in very weak states (the representation of African conflicts dominant in the literature, plus Afghanistan and a few others) versus those in medium-capacity states (India, Colombia, Indonesia, Russia, etc) that possess large, centrally controlled conventional an

Think of the Nigerian Civil War between 1967-1970. The Biafra War involved a relatively strong state facing a relatively well-organized and disciplined secessionist army — much in the mold of middle income conflicts. In the same vein, countries like Kenya and Ethiopia have managed to quell rebellions in Mt. Elgon & the south coast, and in the Ogaden, respectively, in ways that would look very familiar to Staniland.

Completely anarchic conflicts involving collapsing states and incoherent hyper-localized rebellions — your stereotypical African conflict, if you will — are a unique historical experience rooted in the states that did really fall apart in the late 1980s to early 1990s (pretty much in the midst of Africa’s continental economic nadir). It is instructive that these states were concentrated in the Mano River region and Central Africa, some of the regions worst affected by the socio-political challenges of Africa’s lost long decade (1980-1995). income

And given recent economic trends in Africa (see image), it is not surprising that conflicts are becoming rarer in Africa (much in line with Fearon and Laitin). I would also expect markedly different kinds of conflicts should they emerge. There is a reason Boko Haram has never posed an existential threat to the Nigerian state, very much in the same way that India’s Maoist rebels are a peripheral matter.

I always remind my students that the Africa they know is more often than not the Africa that existed between 1980 and 1995. We all need to update.

Tyler Cowen Goes to Lagos

MR’s Tyler Cowen (also Professor of Economics at George Mason) recently spent six days in Lagos. Here is what he has to say about Africa’s biggest and most economically dynamic city:

A trip is often defined by its surprises, so here are my biggest revelations from six days in Lagos, Nigeria.

Most of all, I found Lagos to be much safer than advertised. It is frequently described as one of the most dangerous cities on earth. Many people told me I was crazy to go there, and some Nigerian expats warned me I might not get out of the airport alive.

The reality is that I walked around freely and in many parts of town. I didn’t try to go everywhere or at all hours, and I may have been lucky. Yet not once did I feel threatened, and I strongly suspect that a trip to Lagos is safer than a trip to Rio de Janeiro, a major tourist destination. (In my first trip to Rio I was attacked by children with pointed sticks. In my second I found myself caught in a gunfight between drug lords). Many Lagos residents credit the advent of closed-circuit television cameras for their safety improvements.

So if you’re an experienced traveler, and tempted to visit Africa’s largest and arguably most dynamic city, don’t let safety concerns be a deal killer.

Read the whole thing here.

I have never been to Lagos, and look forward to fixing this in 2017. So far my experience of West African (commercial) capitals is limited to Dakar, Accra, Lome, Conakry, Nouakchott and Monrovia (I like them in that order). Dakar edges Accra only by a whisker, mostly on account of the seascape. I have spent way more time in Accra, and therefore my ranking might also be a function of my knowledge of Accra a little too well.

Accra beats all other cities on food. It has the most variety, and nearly all of the offerings beat the bland stuff that we East Africans consume. The grilled tilapia and banku is unbeatable.

Oh, and I must admit that I have a slight preference for Senegalese jollof. My wife insists that Ghanaian jollof is the best jollof (ahead of both the Nigerian and Senegalese variations). I look forward to sampling Naija jollof so we can finally settle this disagreement.

Nigeria has a shockingly tiny government

These are figures from an IMF Article IV country report in April of this year:

Screen Shot 2016-08-30 at 11.22.55 AM.png

The one thing that jumped at me from this table was how little(as a share of total national output) the Nigerian public sector spends. The government barely takes in 10% of GDP in revenues; and spends between 11-12%. Also, for a country at its level of development (and with an economy of its size), Nigeria is weirdly debt free (relatively speaking).

You may be thinking that these figures must exclude state government expenditures — and you are wrong. The 11-12% figure is inclusive of state government expenditures.

In my view, this is a PFM smoking gun on the distortionary effects of oil dependence. Nigerian policymakers appear to be sated with the little revenue they are consuming (as a share of GDP) from the oil sector.

For a comparative perspective, take a look at Kenya’s numbers:

Screen Shot 2016-08-30 at 11.36.28 AM.png

The Kenyan government gobbles up about a fifth of GDP in revenues, and spends about a quarter. The Nigerian government only takes in a tenth of GPD and spends just a little over a tenth. In addition, the Kenyan government’s debt/GDP ratio is twice Nigeria’s.

General government spending as a share of GDP within the OECD ranges from 33.7% in Switzerland to 58.1 in Finland. The OCED debt/GDP ratio average is 90%.

Back in grad school I took Avner Greif’s economic history class in which he emphasized the importance of organizations for economic development. Societies, big and small, organize out of poverty — by building and maintaining socially-attuned institutions that lower transaction costs. The scope and intensity of organizational capacity therefore matters for economic development (For more see here). It takes a well ordered state.

And from these two tables, it is fair to say that the Nigerian state is underperforming relative to its organizational potential. Perhaps it’s time more people in Abuja started reading Alexander Gerschenkron (however dated this might be).

 

 

Is Brexit good or bad for Africa?

Writing in Foreign Policy, Alex de Waal is certain that Brexit is terrible for African countries, and that “[e]verything from the economy to peacekeeping missions will suffer.”

The damage to British interests is significant, but the losses for [African countries] could be greater still. In campaigning to leave the European Union, Minister for Africa James Duddridge argued that Britain would be able to forge stronger ties with the continent if it were unencumbered by EU inefficiencies in aid and trade. Perhaps if Duddridge had a blank slate on which to construct a new Africa policy, he could do better than Britain’s existing one, which is part bilateral and part multilateral through the EU.farage But no policy is ever built on a blank slate, and surveying the post-Brexit political wreckage, he is now faced with a salvage job that will involve decoupling Britain from numerous EU-led peace and development initiatives and renegotiating dozens of trade deals. Even deftly managed by Duddridge or his successor, the Brexit will leave Britain with a fraction of the influence it currently wields in Africa.

And over at Africa is a Country Grive Chelwa notes that:

The one obvious channel through which Brexit could affect economies in Africa is if it triggers a recession in the UK. A recession might affect trade and investment between the two regions. The Bank of England thinks a recession might very well be on the cards. A study reviewing all studies that have estimated the likely economic impact of Brexit found: “GDP losses for the UK in the range of 10% or more [could not] be ruled out in the long run.”

How much trade takes place between the UK and Africa? Not much, it turns out. Combining data from the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) for 2014, the latest year for which we have comparable data, we calculated that exports from Africa to the UK represent about 5% of Africa’s total exports. Africa is more worried about a slowdown in China, its biggest trading partner by far.

…. The UK doesn’t have the same influence on the continent that it did decades ago. And Brexit will be further proof of that. If the UK sneezes Africa will … well Africa will say “bless you” and move on.

On balance, I agree with Chelwa. It appears that with regard to the UK-Africa relationship, the Brits stand to lose more than Africa as a unit following Brexit. This is for the following reasons:

  1. Lacking the amplifying effects of the EU, UK influence in Africa will be diminished. This is bad for the UK, but not necessarily so for African states. Notice that the UK’s security objectives in Somalia or elsewhere on the Continent have not suddenly changed following the Brexit vote. We should disabuse ourselves of the notion that the UK involvement in these theatres of conflict is out of pure benevolence. It is largely to protect British interests (tourists, MNCs, aid workers, other tied aid, etc). Those interests have not suddenly changed with Brexit. Is a post-Brexit UK better off with a stable Somalia? I think so. Viewed this way, what Brexit has done is not to change British interests in Africa but to increase the UK’s transaction costs in catering to those interests. The Brits may invest less in specific peacekeeping operations, but their self-interest dictates that they will not suddenly close the taps on these investments.
  2. A diminished UK diminishes Europe, which may reduce Europe’s leverage vis-a-vis African countries. This outcome could cut both ways. On the one hand, it may exacerbate the moral hazard problem faced by African leaders by allowing them to play different European powers off each other (why invest in good governance if Europe is always at the ready to help if things go south?) But on the other hand, a weaker Europe may be less willing to bail out African leaders all the time. This might force these leaders to take their jobs seriously, thereby improving the welfare of their citizens. 
  3. It is not clear that decoupling UK aid from the rest of Europe will necessarily lead to the UK cutting its aid budget. In fact, the opposite might prove true. Going its own way may force the UK to put more aid pounds into projects in the region than it currently does under a joint EU aid budget. Again, increased transaction costs may mean the UK spending more money than it currently does in Africa, which is good for African economies. Plus the UK is likely to find itself needing to make up for the lost amplifying effects of the EU with more aid pounds.
  4. A recession in the UK may prove contagious. This would be bad for the world economy, and Africa would not be an exception. That said, I don’t think economic turbulence in Africa would necessarily lead to the conflicts of the early 1990s. With a few glaring exceptions, most African countries would be able to withstand a global recession without collapsing. We saw this during the Great Recession.
  5. The world is learning a lot about democracy by observing the challenges it currently faces in the West. Suddenly, corrosive ethnic politics is not exclusive to poor countries. “Leaders” like Donald J. Trump and Boris Johnson are not things that only happen in Zimbabwe or Nicaragua. These data points will serve to demystify democracy as a system of governance, and refocus global attention on what really makes democracy work — a stable intra-elite consensus coupled with reasonably sufficient responsiveness to the electorate (down with the fetishization of elections!!!) This will be a valuable lesson for Africa and other developing regions of the world. The ongoing sociopolitical troubles in the West are bound to liberate the worldview of leaders and other elites in the Global South, and will empower them to mold their own societies in their own image, instead of trying to turn them into Denmarks. The often-misrepresented “European mystique” has lost its shine. And this is a good thing for the world.

This is not to say that Africa’s economies will be able to weather Brexit without any non-trivial hiccups. South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya are probably the most exposed (in that order). Other African economies will be exposed to the extent that economic troubles in the UK lead to a global recession (the gold exporters might even benefit…)

And Western security policies and support for missions in Somalia and across the Sahel may face short-term uncertainties. But these experiences will not necessarily be catastrophic (on the security front, America will most likely steady the ship).

In fact, I tend to think that the long-run impact of these experiences will be positive. English speaking African economies will have incentives to diversify their export destinations away from the UK. African countries will have more leverage vis-a-vis the UK and (a fractured) Europe (and the US). And the lessons from the political upheavals in the West will serve to liberate Global South elites to mold their own societies in their own image and in a manner that respects sociopolitical realities in their specific contexts.

Reading the Torah in Abuja, and how the Talmud Became a Bestseller in South Korea

This is from The Economist:

In Abuja, the capital, there are at least four small communities of Igbo-speakers that have opened synagogues. (Jews joke that every town needs at least two so that members can hold a grudge, and refuse to attend one of them.) In one, on the outskirts of the city, there is a gospel lilt to the songs: members taught themselves to read Hebrew and then had to make up the tunes, says one…..

It might seem odd that people would sign up to join a small faith whose members have suffered centuries of oppression. Yet Uri Palti, Israel’s ambassador to Nigeria, reckons there are more than 40 such communities across the country. Daniel Lis, an academic, thinks there may be thousands of Nigerians who practise Judaism. Millions more of the Igbo tribe (sic) believe that they are descended from biblical Israelites. Across Africa as a whole there may be thousands more self-declared Jews. One community in eastern Uganda, the Abayudaya, adopted the faith almost a century ago. Its rabbi was recently elected the country’s first Jewish member of parliament.

And this is from the New Yorker:

About an hour’s drive north of Seoul, in the Gwangju Mountains, nearly fifty South Korean children pore over a book. The text is an unlikely choice: the Talmud, the fifteen-hundred-year-old book of Jewish laws. The students are not Jewish, nor are their teachers, and they have no interest in converting. Most have never met a Jew before. But, according to the founder of their school, the students enrolled with the goal of receiving a “Jewish education” in addition to a Korean one.

When I toured the boarding school last year, the students, who ranged in age from four to nineteen, were seated cross-legged on the floor of a small tentlike auditorium. Standing in front of a whiteboard, their teacher, Park Hyunjun, was explaining that Jews pray wearing two small black boxes, known as tefillin, to help them remember God’s word. He used the Hebrew words shel rosh (“on the head”) and shel yad (“on the arm”) to describe where the boxes are worn. Inside these boxes, he said, was parchment that contained verses from one of the holiest Jewish prayers, the Shema, which Jews recite daily. As the room filled with murmurings of the Shema in Korean, the dean of the school leaned over to me and said that the students recited the prayer daily, too, “with the goal of memorizing it.”

Both are pretty interesting reads. Definitely worth your time.

The State of Sub-National Government in Nigeria (Public Finance is Hard)

This is from the March Africa Research Institute (ARI) report on the state of sub-national government in Nigeria:

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 6.33.32 PMA federal structure, whose prime objective was to maintain security by curbing regional and ethnic influence, does not foster development. Despite receiving about half the national revenue – a sum of N2.7 trillion in 2014 (US$13.5 billion at current official exchange rate) – state governments fail to provide the services that could materially improve the lives of tens of millions of Nigerians. The 2015 United Nations Human Development Index ranked Nigeria 152nd out of 187 countries. State authorities are not accountable to citizens, state institutions are weak and corruption is endemic. The 774 LGAs – the most proximate form of government for most Nigerians – have all but ceased to function. Furthermore, groups armed by or linked to state governors have been responsible for the most deadly outbreaks of violence of the past decade: ethnic clashes in Plateau state, conflict in the Niger Delta and the Boko Haram insurgency.

… If oil were at US$20 a barrel, at 2014 budget levels only three states would be able to cover their recurrent costs with recurrent revenues: Lagos, because it generates substantial revenues internally and depends less on federal transfers; Kano, because of the amount the state receives in federal transfers due to the large number of local government areas; and Katsina, because the overhead and personnel costs are very low compared to other states.

And on Lagosian exceptionalism:

…. to raise tax revenues from various sources, including property, required a promise of benefits; and to make it sustainable those benefits had to be delivered to taxpayers. Federal funding resumed in 2007, but taxes still produce 60% of Lagos’s revenue. Its IGR, about N300 billion (US$1.5 billion) in 2014, is equivalent to the combined IGR of 32 of Nigeria’s 35 other states.4

Reliance on IGR made the Lagos state government more accountable to its electorate, who in turn became more aware of their right to judge its performance. Under Tinubu’s protégé and successor, Babatunde Fashola, crime was reduced, the environment improved, roads were built and the transport system expanded. Prompt action to contain a possible outbreak of Ebola in 2014 demonstrated governmental competence. Now that Fashola is a federal minister, many expect Nasir el-Rufai in Kaduna state, in the north-west, to earn the reputation as Nigeria’s most praiseworthy state governor. Elected in 2015, el-Rufai moved quickly to close the state’s commercial bank accounts; eliminate “ghost workers” from the payroll by introducing digital ID for the civil service; concentrate resources on infrastructure, transport and public services; and ensure that LGAs receive their correct share of funding.

The report is definitely worth a look. You can find it here.