Is Africa Rising or Reeling?

This is from Amadou Sy, director of the Africa Growth Initiative at Brookings.

Whether described as “Hopeless,” “Rising,” or “Reeling,” no one can deny that African countries have made substantial gains.  In a recent piece, I argue that “missed in the binary of a hopeless versus a rosy narrative are large disparities among countries in terms of political and economic governance.” So many countries are quickly rising to the top. Countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia (in spite of the regrettable recent internal violence), Kenya (it is ironic that his article is a “Memo from Nairobi”), and Senegal are expected to grow at more than 5 percent this year (IMF, 2016). Yes, not surprisingly, oil exporters will continue to suffer from the lack of diversification of their sources of revenues, and South Africa—a middle-income country—is struggling from self-inflicted wounds.  But even within these countries, some regions and sectors will fare better than others.

Africans are past the debate of whether their countries are hopeless, rising, or reeling. What they want to see is resilient, sustainable, and inclusive growth, and the debate they are interested in is about the actual policies that will generate such outcomes. That is why young Burkinabe, following the example of youth in Senegal, took to the street in Ouagadougou two years ago to stop and reverse attacks against democracy. That is what many Congolese in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are fighting for right now.

Change is inherently destabilizing. So it is kind of amazing that in light of recent hiccups in political and economic development across Africa most analysts have opted to completely ignore the gains that African states have made over the last 25 years. Instead, many have run back to the old tried and tested narrative of a reeling continent plagued by political instability and economic catastrophes.

screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-10-50-20-amTake the example of Ethiopia. You essentially have a country that for a couple of decades has tried a formula of faux ethnic federalism under the domination of the TPLF, the formateur of the EPRDF constellation (see works by my colleague Lahra Smith here and here). For a long time this institutional innovation allowed for a reasonable amount of political stability (remember that Ethiopia was an empire of different peoples for centuries); on the back of which the country has registered pretty impressive economic gains (see here for another perspective). But now those gains have made the initial institutional innovation untenable. Ethiopians are demanding for greater voice for non-TPLF factions. Remember that the key trigger of the recent Oromo Protests was the encroachment on Oromo lands by a rapidly expanding Addis Ababa. Economic development (and the inequalities it has produced) is partially responsible for lowering the perceived costs of political organization in an attempt to revise the rules governing the initial post-Derg political settlement.

The state has pushed back violently against these revisionist political movements, particularly in the Oromo region (see image). A recent state of emergency takes away any pretense of proportionality, meaning Ethiopia is headed for greater shrinkage of political space.

Writing in 2003 Alem Habtu presciently observed that:

Ethnic federalism institutionalized ethnic groups as fundamental constituents of the state. It established them as social categories sharply distinct from the overarching category of citizenship. Many citizens are worried that it might lead to the demise of the state altogether. Thus far, there is no evidence that new ethnic nationalisms have emerged in Ethiopia as a consequence of ethnic federalism, as they did in the former USSR. But it is too early to entirely dismiss their emergence.

…… EPRDF has been undergoing an organizational-cum-ideological crisis since 2001. In a series of party meetings in June 2001, OPDO and SEDPF as well as the five allied regional parties, complained publicly of TPLF/EPRDF “tutelage.” Its crisis was manifested in its employment of Leninist organizational practices while adopting pluralist principles. It may face a great challenge in sustaining the ethnic federal project unless it undergoes ideological and organizational changes. Only time will tell whether it can do so without severely undermining the integrity and political management of the federal structure. If the federal state were to be in grave danger or collapse, the military may once again seize power. But if the latter fractures along ethnic lines, we could witness a Yugoslavia-like scenario. Inasmuch as EPRDF is a coalition, it is different from the Communist party of the USSR or Yugoslavia. The viability and stability of the infant political system is dependent on its flexibility and adaptability [emphasis mine]. Contingent events will shape the outcome of the ethnic federal experiment. In any case, the experiment is politically fragile.

On balance, it would be inaccurate to claim that Ethiopia is in decline. There are countless stories documenting very concrete gains in the country over the last two decades. Several state-owned enterprises are getting things done, with some — like Ethiopian Airlines — outcompeting their private competitors in the region. The narrative of general decline therefore betrays a singular misconception of how political development works. Did anyone really expect the process of reckoning with the failures of the institutions of ethnic federalism in Ethiopia to be smooth?

Serious students of Ethiopia (and of political development in general) certainly did not.

My own assessment is that this episode will be more of a Tiananmen Square moment for the Ethiopian state, as opposed to what happened in the USSR or Yugoslavia. I hope I am not wrong.


Ethiopian rules Africa’s skies

What can the international community do? Well, now is the time to make it clear to the Ethiopian government that basic respect for human rights will not always be sacrificed on the altar of economic growth. The TPLF leadership must be made to understand that for stability to obtain they must allow for some dispersal of power. They must be reminded of the fact that China’s rise was actually accompanied by significant openings on both the political and economic fronts. Nobody wants to go back to the suffocating and rudderless tin top dictatorship of the Derg.

I’ve always considered binary analyses of a continent of 55 countries as evidence of intellectual laziness. These analyses are nothing but a repackaging of 18th century views of the Continent as a place full of simple peoples, who live simple lives, that can be packaged into simple narratives. As I have tried to show with the Ethiopian case, what is happening in the country is complicated. And it is silly to try and project this onto the rest of the Continent.

All this to say that I agree with Sy. Read the whole thing here.

An East African Geopolitical Dilemma: Which pipeline route makes most sense for Uganda?

Bloomberg reports:

Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 9.34.21 AMKenya is competing with Tanzania to build the pipeline from oilfields in Hoima, western Uganda. It would either traverse northern Kenya’s desert to a proposed port at Lamu, near the border with Somalia, or south past Lake Victoria to Tanga on Tanzania’s coast. A third option would be through the southern Kenyan town of Nakuru.

Tanzanian President John Magufuli said earlier this month he’d agreed with Museveni to route the conduit via his country at a cost of about $4 billion, with funding from Total SA. The Kenyan option favored by Tullow, which has oil discoveries in Uganda and Kenya, may cost $5 billion, according to an estimate by Nagoya, Japan-based Toyota Tsusho Corp.

Uganda is in a rush to get its oil to market. It also wants to make sure that it does not tie its hands in an obsolescing bargain with Kenya. Being landlocked, the country already depends a great deal on Kenya as an overland route for its imports and exports. The pipeline would add to Nairobi’s bargaining power vis-a-vis Kampala.

In an open letter to President Yoweri Museveni, Angelo Izama, a Ugandan journalist (and a friend of yours truly) articulates these concerns and concludes that it is better for Uganda to build the pipeline through Tanzania in order to minimize its political risk exposure:

It is not rocket science that routing both commercial traffic and oil through Kenya would give Nairobi near total influence on economic matters and would, added to Kenya’s already considerable market penetration in Uganda, leave little wiggle-room for unforeseen and some predictable hazards. The Ugandan domestic commercial and industrial community as well as consumers remember well how helpless they were when disruptions followed the Kenyan election of 2007 (even when some of us had urged the government earlier to restock fuel in anticipation of political violence). Many also live with the challenges of a single port to our import-addicted economy and the cost to family fortunes whenever Nairobi pulls bureaucratic red tape. Obviously being landlocked is not a “non-issue” as you framed it in Kyankwanzi. It needs to be placed in a detailed context. I have some reservations over your optimistic take on political and market integration, and that said, clearly having one member, in this case Kenya, within this greater EAC community with more power and influence than the rest is not an advantage to the growth of the community and may in fact prove rather dangerous. This as I recall has been the common fear cited in our neighbourhood about Uganda’s aggressive military spending (to which the Kenyan government responded with its own expenditure in the decade ending 2018).

The official reason given by Uganda for considering the Tanzania option (see map) is that construction of the Kenyan pipeline would be delayed (due to corruption, expensive land [Kenyans and land!], security threats from al-Shabaab, and the fact that the Lamu Port is yet to be completed).

All these are reasonable concerns.

Plus, it would have been foolish for Uganda not to strengthen its bargaining position by CREDIBLY demonstrating that it is considering BOTH options.

But Uganda must also know that whatever the outcome, this is an obsolescing bargain. Once the pipeline is constructed, it will be at the mercy of the host country government.

It is for this reason that it should seriously consider the kinds of future governments that might be in office in Nairobi and Dodoma/Dar es Salaam.

To this end Ugandan policymakers need to ask themselves the question: Would you rather deal with a government that partially answers to private sector interests and operates in a context of weak parties; or do you want to be at the mercy of a party-state in which some politically-motivated party stalwarts can actually influence official policy?

Understood this way, Uganda’s concern should be about what happens after the deal has been sealed; rather than the operational concerns that have thus far been raised by Kampala.

Notice that Kenya has been able to protect its existing oil pipeline well enough. Rioters may have uprooted the railway in 2007, but that was because they felt that Museveni was supporting their political opponent (Museveni could be more discreet in the future). Also, it is a lot harder to uproot a pipeline buried in the ground. The construction delays due to land issues can also be solved (and in Kenyan fashion, at whatever cost) — notice how fast Kenya is building the new standard gauge (SGR) railway line from Mombasa to Nairobi despite the well documented shenanigans around land compensation (More on this in a World Bank report I co-authored in my grad school days here).

Perhaps more importantly, the Kenyan option is attractive because Kenya also has oil, and will have to protect the pipeline anyway. This scenario also guarantees a private sector overlap between the two countries — in the form of Tullow or whoever buys its stake — that will be in a position to iron out any future misunderstandings.

Tanzania is also an attractive option. The pipeline will be $1 billion cheaper. Because it passes through largely uninhabited land, construction will be speedy. And the port at Tanga is a lot further from the Somalia border than Lamu, and should be easier to protect.

All this to say that the operational concerns raised by Kampala are a mere bargaining tool. These issues can be ironed out regardless of the host country. The big question is what happens AFTER the pipeline is constructed.

And here, I don’t see why Tanzania is necessarily a slam dunk.

The history of the EAC (see here for example) tells us that Kenya tends to subject its foreign policy to concentrated private interests. Tanzania on the other hand has a record of having a principled an ideologically driven (and sometimes nationalist) foreign policy with significant input from well-placed party officials. Put differently, the calculation of political risk in Kenya involves fewer structural veto players than in Tanzania. Ceteris paribus, it seems that it would be cheaper to manage the long-run political risk in Kenya than in Tanzania.

That said, the Tanzania option makes a lot of sense in a zero sum game. As Angelo puts it:

I have some reservations over your [Museveni’s] optimistic take on political and market integration, and that said, clearly having one member, in this case Kenya, within this greater EAC community with more power and influence than the rest is not an advantage to the growth of the community and may in fact prove rather dangerous.

But even this consideration only makes sense in the short run. Assuming all goes well for Tanzania, in the long run the country’s economy is on course to catch up to Kenya’s. Dodoma will then have sufficient political and economic muscle to push around land-locked Uganda if it ever so wishes.

To reiterate, the simple question Museveni should ask himself is: who would you rather negotiate with once the pipeline is built?

I don’t envy the Ugandan negotiators. And they have not helped themselves by publicly stating their eagerness to get their oil to market ASAP.

The OAU is dead, long live the AU

On Friday, the African Union approved draft plans to send troops to the conflict-ridden Burundi even without permission from Bujumbura in what could be a historic move to stop the country’s impending implosion.

The move by the AU Peace and Security Council reached on Friday despite initial opposition from the Burundi delegation invoked a rarely-used clause in AU Constitutive Act.

Article 4(h) of the AU Constitutive Act provides for sending of troops to a member country under circumstances of war crime, genocide or crimes against humanity without that country’s permission.

More on the African Union’s 5000 strong force for Burundi here. The actual AU resolution establishing the African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi (MAPROBU) is available here. Paul D. Williams, an associate professor of international affairs at George Washington University, parses the text of the AU communique here.

This semester I taught a class on intra-Africa IR, mostly looking at economic and security cooperation from 1963 to the present. One of the issues we wrestled with in the class was whether the AU was any different from the OAU, despite the language of Article 4(h). The OAU was notoriously ineffectual in dealing with conflict in Africa, on account of its many non-interference clauses.

Doubts about the AU and its ability to effectively originate an intervention in the face of intra-state conflicts were reinforced by:

(i) its continued commitment to the “equality” of member states (no regional hegemons — like Nigeria, Ethiopia, or South Africa — were given any formal status of first among equals);

(ii) the the deliberate weakening of the Peace and Security Council (PSC) — which has no permanent membership (5 elected for 3 years, 10 for 2 years);

(iv) the fact that the chairmanship of the PSC rotates monthly (by country name alphabetical order), giving any one chair hardly any time to develop the connections required for effective operations of such a sensitive post in a major IO;

(v) the structure of the regional distribution of seats on the PSC which incentivizes a sub-regional logic of seat allocation, as opposed to actual efficiency of the PSC.

It is therefore interesting that 4(h) was today invoked to justify intervention in Burundi, without the direct consent of Bujumbura (Nkurunziza may yet save face by inviting the AU mission under 4(j)).

Also interesting is the fact that the troops will be under the banner of the East African Standby Force (EASF) and not the AU. This will expose the actual operations of the mission to the same EAC politics that I outlined in an earlier post here (for the two of you out there who care to know, the different (sub)regional standby forces actually have formal relationships with the AU, so they are not totally run by the sub-regional RECs but can be seen as a practical first step in the aspirational goal of a continental standby force, someday).

Who said intra-African IR is boring (or does not exist)?

Also, watch out for a draft paper on the politics of intra-Africa IR soon…

Brazil is officially the 2nd biggest black country, after Nigeria

The Guardian reports:

For the first time since records began black and mixed race people form the majority of Brazil’s population, the country’s latest census has confirmed.

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Distribution of Mixed-Race Brazilians

Preliminary results from the 2010 census, released on Wednesday, show that 97 million Brazilians, or 50.7% of the population, now define themselves as black or mixed race, compared with 91 million or 47.7% who label themselves white.

The proportion of Brazilians declaring themselves white was down from 53.7% in 2000, when Brazil’s last census was held.

But the proportion of people declaring themselves black or mixed race has risen from 44.7% to 50.7%, making African-Brazilians the official majority for the first time.

“Among the hypotheses to explain this trend, one could highlight the valorisation of identity among Afro-descendants,” Brazil’s census board, the IBGE, said in its report.

According to the census, 7.6% of Brazilians said they were black, compared with 6.2% in 2000, and 43.1% said they were mixed race, up from 38.5%.

Ethiopia is the third biggest. With about 94 million people.

On Autocracy and Famines: The Disturbing Case of Ethiopia’s EPRDF

VOA reports:

“Regarding the impact on economic growth, the drought-affected areas are peripheral and pastoral communities in the southern and eastern parts of the country,” Finance Minister Abdulaziz Mohammed told Reuters in an interview.

Normally, those parts of the country contribute not more than 5 percent to our GDP. On the other hand, we expect harvest to be more this year.

Abdulaziz said the government will not divert funds from other projects in its budget to deal with the drought.

“The government has immediately responded to the humanitarian crisis and so far we have been able to control the impact of the drought,” he said. “But we have not yet diverted any resource from our development projects. We have been doing it from our own reserves. We don’t expect any diversion.”

Donations offered to address crisis

Earlier this week, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced a donation of $97 million for Ethiopia to help feed more than 8 million people in need of aid because of the drought.

Addis Ababa knows that America will pick up the slack. America needs the Ethiopian military’s help in fighting its enemies in the Horn. A pretty happy marriage. Screw those peripheral Ethiopians contributing less than 5% of GDP. All 8 million (or roughly one Switzerland) of them. They are only 8.5% of Ethiopia’s total population, anyway.

Plus EPRDF is so popular it has 100% of the seats in Parliament.

More on this here.

Africa’s looming debt crises

The 1980s are calling. According to Bloomberg:

Zambia’s kwacha fell the most on record after Moody’s Investors Service cut the credit rating of Africa’s second-biggest copper producer, a move the government rejected and told investors to ignore…..

Zambia’s economy faces “a perfect storm” of plunging prices for the copper it relies on for 70 percent of export earnings at the same time as its worst power shortage, Ronak Gopaldas, a credit risk analyst at Rand Merchant Bank in Johannesburg, said by phone. Growth will slow to 3.4 percent in 2015, missing the government’s revised target of 5 percent, Barclays Plc said in a note last week. That would be the most sluggish pace since 2001.

The looming debt crisis will hit Zambia and other commodity exporters hard. As I noted two years ago, the vast majority of the African countries that have floated dollar-denominated bonds are heavily dependent on commodity exports. Many of them are already experiencing fiscal blues on account of the global commodity slump (see for example Angola, Zambia and Ghana). This will probably get worse. And the double whammy of plummeting currencies and reduced commodity exports will increase the real cost of external debt (on top of fueling domestic inflation). I do not envy African central bankers.

Making sure that the looming debt crises do not result in a disastrous retrenchment of the state in Africa, like happened in the 1980s and 1990s, is perhaps the biggest development challenge of our time. Too bad all the attention within the development community is focused elsewhere.

What roughly $470m of borrowed money gets you in Nigeria vs Ethiopia

Ethiopia and Nigeria both borrowed roughly the same amounts of money from China’s EXIM Bank for massive infrastructure investments. The former sought to transform its capital’s transit system with a light rail ($475m); the latter tried to boost security in its capital by installing security (CCTV) cameras ($470m).

The outcomes of the two projects are an indication of what will be the impact of China’s ongoing infrastructure projects in much of SSA. Some countries because of the specificities in their domestic political economy are using borrowed money to deliver on actual tangibles — dams, power lines, stadia, housing projects, railway lines, roads, et cetera (corruption plays a role, but projects get completed). Yet others are accruing loans (albeit on concessionary terms) simply to treat the cash injections in the same manner that political elites have treated windfalls from mineral resources in decades past.

Ethiopia just opened its new light rail system in Addis. Nigeria’s CCTV project was a major flop. Of course this fact was not lost on a section of Nigerians on twitter:

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Kenya: Five Things About Al-Shabaab and the Somalia Question

Early Thursday morning militants from the al-Shabaab terror group stormed Garissa University College in Kenya and killed at least 147 students. The second worst terror attack in Kenya’s history lasted 13 hours and was made excruciatingly horrific by the fact that many of the victims remained in communication with their loved ones until the very last moments. Unbearable images of young students laying dead in their own pools of blood in classrooms will forever be etched in Kenyans’ memories. The attack echoed the September 21, 2013 Westgate Mall terror attack that killed 67 people. After Westgate many Somalia analysts insisted that such daring missions were the kicks of a dying horse, and cited successes by AMISOM and AFRICOM in taking back territory from al-Shabaab and decapitating the organization through drone strikes against it leadership.

Following Garissa, it might be time to reconsider this persistent narrative and overall Somalia policy in the Eastern African region. Here are my thoughts:

Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 9.51.35 AM1. Regional powers do not want a powerful central government in Mogadishu: Since independence several governments in Somalia have espoused a dream of re-uniting all the Somali lands and peoples in eastern Africa (under “Greater Somalia,” see map). That includes parts of Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, and more recently the breakaway regions of Somaliland and Puntland. A strong central government in Mogadishu would most certainly revive this old irredentist dream, despite the fact that the irredentist dreams of Somalia’s pre-Barre governments and the costly wars with Ethiopia (and proxy wars with Kenya as well thereafter) were the beginning of the end of stability in Somalia. Nairobi and Addis are acutely aware of this and that is part of the reason Kenya has for years maintained a policy of creating an autonomous buffer region in southern Somalia – Jubaland. The problem, however, is that a weak Mogadishu also means diffused coercive capacity and inability to fight off breakaway clans, militias, and terror groups like al-Shabaab.

The situation is complicated by the fact that Ethiopia and Kenya do not see eye to eye on the question of Jubaland. Addis Ababa is worried that a government in Jubaland dominated by the Ogaden clan could potentially empower the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), a separatist Somali insurgent group it has fought in its southeastern Ogaden Region.

2. The African Union and its regional partners do not have a coherent game plan for Somalia: To a large extent, African governments fighting under AMISOM are merely carrying water for Western governments fighting jihadist elements in Somalia. The West pays and provides material and tactical support; and the West calls the shots. Ethiopia and Kenya have some room to maneuver, but overall policy is driven by AFRICOM and the Europeans. The lack of local ownership means that African troops, especially the Kenyan and Ugandan contingents, are in the fight primarily for the money. Kenyan generals are making money selling charcoal and smuggling sugar (the UN estimates that al-Shabaab gets between US $38-56m annually from taxing the charcoal trade). The Ugandans are making money with private security contracts dished out to firms with close ties to Museveni’s brother. Only the Ethiopians appear to have a clear policy, on top of the general international goal of neutralizing al-Shabaab so that they do not attack Western targets.

What kind of settlement does Kenya (and Ethiopia) want to see in Somalia? (See above). What does the West want? What do Somalis want? Are these goals compatible in the long run?

3. The internationalization of the al-Shabaab menace is a problem: Western assistance in fighting al-Shabaab and stabilizing Somalia is obviously a good thing. But it should never have come at the cost of unnecessary internationalization of the conflict. Al-Shabaab has been able to get extra-Somalia assistance partly because it fashions itself as part of the global jihad against the kafir West and their African allies. Internationalization of the conflict has also allowed it to come up with an ideology that has enabled it to somehow overcome Somalia’s infamous clannish fractionalization (although elements of this still persist within the organization). Localizing the conflict would dent the group’s global appeal while at the same time providing opportunities for local solutions, including a non-military settlement. AMISOM and the West cannot simply bomb the group out of existence.

4. Kenya is the weakest link in the fight against al-Shabaab: Of the three key countries engaged in Somalia (Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda), Kenya is the least militarized. It is also, perhaps, the least disciplined. According to the UN, Kenyan troops are engaging in illegal activities that are filling the coffers of al-Shabaab militants (charcoal worth at least $250 million was shipped out of Somalia in the last two years). Back home, Nairobi has allowed its Somalia policy to be captured by a section of Somali elites that have other agendas at variance with overall national policy. The Kenya Defense Force (KDF) risks becoming a mere pawn in the clannish struggles that straddle the Kenya-Somalia border. It is high time Nairobi reconsidered its Somalia policy with a view of decoupling it from the sectional fights in Northeastern Province. The first step should be to make the border with Somalia real by fixing customs and border patrol agencies; and by reining in sections of Somali elites who continue to engage in costly fights at the expense of ordinary wananchi. The government should adopt a strict policy of not taking sides in these fights, and strictly enforce this policy at the County level.

5. Kenya will continue to be the weakest link in the fight against al-Shabaab: Of the countries in Somalia Kenya is the only democracy with a government that is nominally accountable to its population and an armed force with a civilian leadership. This means that:

(i) Generals can run rings around State House and its securocrats: Unlike their counterparts in Uganda and Ethiopia, the Kenyan generals do not have incentives to internalize the costs of the war in Somalia. The cost is mostly borne by the civilian leadership. They are therefore likely to suggest policies that primarily benefit the institution of the military, which at times may not be in the best interest of the nation. And the civilian leadership, lacking expertise in military affairs, is likely to defer to the men in uniform. The result is makaa-sukari and other glaring failures.

(ii) Kenyan internal security policies are subject to politicization: With every al-Shabaab attack (so far more than 360 people have been killed) Kenyans have wondered why Ethiopia, which is also in Somalia and has a large Somali population, has remained relatively safe. My guess is that Ethiopia has done better in thwarting attacks because it has a coherent domestic security policy backed by unchecked coercion and surveillance of potential points of al-Shabaab entry among its Somali population.

Now, Kenya should not emulate Ethiopia’s heavy-handed tactics. Instead, focus should be on an honest assessment of how internal security policies in Mandera, Garissa, Wajir, Kwale, Kilifi, Mombasa, Nairobi, and elsewhere are playing into the hands of al-Shabaab. What is the best way to secure the “front-line” counties that border Somalia? What is the role of local leaders in ensuring that local cleavages and conflicts are not exploited by al-Shabaab? How should the security sector (Police and KDF) be reformed to align its goals with the national interest? What is the overarching goal of the KDF in Somalia and how long will it take to achieve that goal? How is the government counteracting domestic radicalization and recruitment of young Kenyan men and women by al-Shabaab?

These questions do not have easy answers. But Kenyans must try. The reflexive use of curfews and emergency laws, and the blunt collective victimization of communities suspected to be al-Shabaab sympathizers will not work.

I do not envy President Uhuru Kenyatta: Withdrawing from Somalia will not secure the homeland. Staying the course will likely not yield desired results given the rot in KDF and the internal politics of northeastern Kenya. Reforming the police and overall security apparatus comes with enormous political costs. A recent shake up of security chiefs and rumors of an impending cabinet reshuffle are signs that Kenyatta has realized the enormity of the insecurity situation in the country (and overall government ineffectiveness due to corruption). But will Kenyans be patient and give him the benefit of the doubt? Will the president be able to channel his laudable nationalist instincts in galvanizing the nation in the face of seemingly insurmountable security threats and ever more corrupt government officials?

Meanwhile 2017 is approaching fast, and if the situation doesn’t change Mr. Kenyatta might not be able to shrug off the title of “Goodluck Jonathan of the East.”

For the sake of Kenyan lives and the Jamuhuri, nakutakia kila la heri Bwana Rais.

The Anatomy of Tax Evasion in Africa

Africa Confidential has a great piece analyzing leaked documents from PwC, the professional services firm, showing the various arrangements that enable multinational companies to evade taxes in Africa. You can read the whole piece here (gated).

  • One of the measures PwC advised multinationals to take was to create a wholly-owned Luxembourg-based subsidiary which would hold the rights to intellectual property used by the rest of the group. The rest of the group would then pay licensing fees to the Luxembourg-based subsidiary which, by agreement with the authorities, would be granted tax relief of up to 80%……
  • A second tax avoidance mechanism simply involved the companies becoming incorporated in Luxembourg. In 2010, Luxembourg concluded an agreement with several companies of the Socfin (Société financière) agribusiness group, which was founded during the reign of Belgian King Leopold II by the late Belgian businessman Adrien Hallet. The companies chose Luxembourg as their base and made an agreement under which their dividends were subject to a modest 15% withholding tax, a lower figure than those in force where their farms are located (20% in Congo-K and Indonesia, 18% in Côte d’Ivoire).

The art of hiding profits

Altogether, Socfin subsidiaries in Africa [in Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, and Cameroon] and Indonesia produced 123,660t. of rubber and 380,770t. of palm oil in 2012. The combined turnover of its main African subsidiaries reached €271 mn. in 2013. The list also includes the 100%-owned Plantations Socfinaf Ghana Ltd. (PSG) and Socfin-Brabanta (Congo-Kinshasa). Socfin also holds 88% of Agripalma in São Tomé e Príncipe and 5% of Red Lands Roses (Kenya).

  • A third mechanism involves cross-border lending within a group of companies. Companies registered in Luxembourg are exempt from tax on income from interest.

According to the Thabo Mbeki High Level Panel report between 1980 and 2009 between 1.2tr and 1.4tr left Africa in illicit flows. These figures are most likely an understatement. Multinationals, like the ones highlighted by Africa Confidential, accounted for 60% of these flows.

Alex Cobhan, of the Tax Justice Network, has a neat summary of the various components of illicit financial flows (IFFs) and how to measure them. He also proposes measures that could help limit IFFs, including: (i) eliminating anonymous ownership of companies, trusts, and foundations; (ii) ensuring that all bilateral trade and investment flows occur between jurisdictions which exchange tax information on an automatic basis; and (iii) making all multinational corporations publish data about their economic activity and taxation on a country-by-country basis.

Alex Cobham blogs here.

Working With the Grain in Development

I finally got to reading Brian Levy’s Working With the Grain. It is easily the most underestimated development book of 2014, and should be read alongside William Easterly’s Tyranny of Experts (which it both complements and pushes back against). Like Easterly, Levy worked at the Bank and has insightful case studies and anecdotes from South Korea, to Ethiopia, to Bangladesh, among other countries. The book’s main thrust is that approaches to interventionist development policy ought to internalize the fact that:

… Successful reforms need to be aligned with a country’s political and institutional realities. For any specific reform, an incentive compatible approach begins by asking, who might be the critical mass of actors who both have standing and a stake in the proposed arrangements – and so are in a position to support and protect them in the face of opposition? [p. 142-3]

From a policy perspective, Levy tackles the relationship between governance, regime types, and development head on. How do you deal with the Biyas, Kagames or Zenawis of this world if you deeply care about [both] the material aspects of human welfare – roads, hospitals, schools, electricity, etc., [and] political freedoms and inclusive institutions?

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Levy’s answer is that development experts should work with the grain, focusing on incrementally solidifying past gains in specific agencies and issue areas, instead of engaging in epic battles against ill-defined and equally poorly understood “bad institutions” and evils like “corruption.” He aptly points out that you do not need the full set of the “good governance” bundle in order to continue chugging along on the path to economic prosperity.

In other words, we don’t have to put everything else on pause until we get the institutions right (or topple the bad guys). It is not an all or nothing game. His argument is persuasive (“good governance” has failed as a prescriptive remedy for underdevelopment), albeit at the cost of casting the immense toll of living under autocratic regimes as somewhat ineluctable on the road to economic prosperity. But at least he dares to challenge conventional approaches to governance reform that have at best failed, and at worst distracted governing elites from initiatives that could have worked to improve human welfare in developing countries.

As I read the book I wondered what Levy might think of the current state of development research. We are lucky to live in an age of increasing appreciation for evidence-based policy development, implementation, and evaluation. However, the resulting aura of “objectivity” in development research often leaves little room for politics, and its inefficiencies and contextual nuances. Sometimes the quest for generalizability makes us get too much into the weeds and forget that what is good for journal reviewers seldom passes the politicians’ (or other influential actors’) incentive compatibility test, rendering our findings useless from their perspective.

It is obvious, but worth reiterating, that the outcomes we can quantify, and therefore study, do not always overlap with the most pressing issues in development or policies that are politically feasible.

Perhaps this is a call for greater investment in public policy schools (not two-day capacity building workshops) in the developing world that will train experts to bridge the gap between academic development research and actual policy formulation and implementation (talking to policymakers makes your realize that this gap is wider than you think). Linking research findings to actual policy may sound easy, but you only need to see a “policy recommendations” section of a report written by those of us in the academy to know that it is not.