Rwanda’s Kagame on the Social Construction of Ethnicity

This is from an interesting interview with the FT:

During the interview, Mr Kagame says it matters little whether there are real physical differences between Hutus and Tutsis or whether these were arbitrary distinctions codified by race-obsessed imperialists. “We are trying to reconcile our society and talk people out of this nonsense of division,” he says. “Some are short, others are tall, others are thin, others are stocky. But we are all human beings. Can we not live together and happily within one border?” Mr Kagame has taken a DNA test that, he says, reveals him to be of particularly complex genetic mix. The implication, he says, is that he, the ultimate symbol of Tutsi authority, has some Hutu in his genetic make-up.

The transcript is available here. Read the whole thing.

Also, the average Rwandese lives a full six years longer than the average African.

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Ultimately, the sustainability of Kagame’s achievements will depend on his ability to solve an important optimal stopping problem:

The problem, he says of who might succeed him, is preventing someone from “bringing down what we have built”. Above all, he says, he wants to “avoid leaving behind a mess”.

The president insists it was never his intention to stay on, but the party and population insisted. “We are not saying, ‘We want you forever until you drop dead,’” he says, imitating the voice of the people. “We’re only saying, ‘Give us more time.’”


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 Asia Aging Prematurely?

This is from the FT:

China’s working-age population peaked in 2011 but its per capita income was just 20.7 per cent of the US level. Thailand was a little wealthier, at 28.9 per cent, when its working-age share peaked in 2013, but Vietnam was far poorer still, at 10.4 per cent of the US level, when it reached the same point a year later. Malaysia, Indonesia, India and the Philippines are projected to be somewhat better off when they reach peak working-age share, probably between 2020 and 2056, but still some way below the income levels reached in the west, as the third chart shows.

In February of this year, projections by Standard Chartered suggested that, by 2050, the likes of South Korea, Singapore, Thailand and China would have a higher share of pensioners in their population than most developed countries, depicted in the second chart [see below].

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These are pretty sobering figures. Basically (East) Asia’s dependency ratios will quickly begin to look a lot more like what obtains in low-income as opposed to high and upper middle income states. And that means a stagnation or even decline in per capita income.

It will be interesting to see how these countries — most of which have historically been averse to immigration — will deal with this demographic challenge.

In addition to the obvious economic challenges, Asian countries will also have to figure out how to take care of the medical needs of an aging population that will likely be living longer.

More on this here.

Answers to Some of Team Trump’s Questions on Foreign Aid to Africa

A piece in the New York Times highlights some of the Africa-related queries posed by Team Trump to the State Department. Sub-Saharan Africa’s 48 countries get $8b in U.S. aid each year. The average country receives far less than critical U.S. allies like Afghanistan ($5.5 billion), Israel ($3.1 billion), Iraq ($1.8 billion) and Egypt ($1.4 billion).

Here are some answers to Team Trump’s questions.

With so much corruption in Africa, how much of our funding is stolen? Why should we spend these funds on Africa when we are suffering here in the U.S.?

 First of all, corruption is not the biggest impediment to success in the aid business. Often, it is poor planning and execution. And most of the time this tends to be the fault of the donors themselves. Research shows that aid works best when complemented with strong local capacities. This requires knowing what those capacities are, or investing in their long term development.

I would suggest that the administration worries more about planning and execution. How can you make your aid agencies better at identifying and executing on projects? How can you help African countries improve their absorption capacity of aid dollars without too much distortion of their local political economies? How can you move away from projects predicated on good will, and into ones that are anchored on self-interest and value creation?

Africans want jobs. Not handouts. And the 0.2% of the U.S. budget that goes to this region each year can be a powerful tool for shifting incentives in the right direction as a far as job creation is concerned. Want to export more GM cars or carrier air conditioning units to Lagos? Then help create the demand by creating jobs in Lagos.

The new administration should also end the double talk of financing corruption and condemning it at the same time.

screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-2-17-58-pmTake the example of security assistance. If you want to reduce corruption in military procurement, I would suggest that you channel all assistance through the normal appropriation processes in African legislatures. More people will know how much money is going where, thereby increasing the likelihood of greater accountability. The same applies for budget support. Strengthen existing constitutional appropriation processes so that bigger constituencies get to own the aid dollars.

Leaders do terrible things all the time for political reasons, and not because of an inherent failure in moral judgment. Learn to respect and trust your African counterparts. Know their interests. Don’t think and act like it is 1601.

We’ve been fighting al-Shabaab for a decade, why haven’t we won?

Well, for a number of reasons. Kenya, Ethiopia, the U.S., and the other TTCs are working at cross-purposes. The first best option would be to strengthen Mogadishu as the center of a strong unitary state. But no one wants that. Not the Somalian elites running the state-lets that make up the federal state. Not Kenya — whose goal seems to be no more than creating a buffer stable region in Jubaland. Not Ethiopia — whose elites are more concerned about Pan-Somalia irredentism and their own domestic politics. And certainly not the TTCs — who are largely in it for the money and other favors from Washington and Brussels. The second best option would probably be to localize the Al-Shabaab problem and then strengthen the Somali state-lets so that they can be able to fight the group. However, by globalizing the “war on terror” the U.S. has largely foreclosed this option. Also, Mogadishu would not want to cede too much military power to the states.

All to say that the U.S. cannot win the fight against al-Shabaab, certainly not by raining fire from the air.

Somalians, with some help from their neighbors, are the best-placed entity to win the war. But for this to happen, all actors involved — and especially Ethiopia and Kenya — must have an honest discussion about both short-term and long-term objectives of their involvement, and the real end game.

Most of AGOA imports are petroleum products, with the benefits going to national oil companies, why do we support that massive benefit to corrupt regimes?

Again, you should not approach this problem from the perspective of a saintly anti-corruption crusader. Moralizing from the high mountains is boring, and does not solve anything. I thought the Trump Team would be into dealing with the world as it is. Appeal to the specific interests involved. Think creatively.

It turns out that public finance management is a lot harder than most people think. Don’t expect people to be honest and patriotic. Help design PFM systems that are robust to the worst of thieves.

Here, too, I would suggest a move towards mainstreaming resource sector transactions into the normal appropriation processes. For instance, the administration can introduce greater transparency in the oil business, and create stronger links between oversight authorities in the host countries and the American firms involved. This will not end corruption, but it will serve to disperse power within the oil producing countries. And that would be a good thing.

Also, a quick reminder that AGOA involves more than just oil. Africa’s tiny textiles sector benefits too. Doing more to develop this sector would create tens of thousands of jobs, thereby reducing aid dependence.

We’ve been hunting Kony for years, is it worth the effort?


The LRA has never attacked U.S. interests, why do we care? Is it worth the huge cash outlays? I hear that even the Ugandans are looking to stop searching for him, since they no longer view him as a threat, so why do we?

I have no idea.

May be this has been used as a way of maintaining ties with the Ugandan military in exchange for continued cooperation in central Africa and in Somalia? May be it is a secret training mission for the U.S. military in central Africa?

I honestly have no idea.

Is PEPFAR worth the massive investment when there are so many security concerns in Africa? Is PEPFAR becoming a massive, international entitlement program?

PEPFAR has saved millions of lives. And I would argue that it is probably America’s most important investment in soft power across Africa.

I would suggest a few modifications, though. The new administration should think creatively about how to use PEPFAR dollars to strengthen African public health *systems* in a manner that will allow them to provide effective care beyond HIV/AIDS. Malaria and GI diseases kill way more people. These need attention, too.

How do we prevent the next Ebola outbreak from hitting the U.S.?

By strengthening public health systems in countries that are likely to experience Ebola outbreaks.

Quick Thoughts on President Donald J. Trump and U.S. Foreign Policy in Africa

The Republican Party will, for the first time since 2006, control all branches of government. That means that the only institutional speed bump faced by Republican policymaking will be parliamentary rules in the Senate. But even then there is nothing to stop Republicans from going nuclear and rewriting the rules with a view of limiting the Democratic Senators’ capacity to stall the legislative process. If we’ve learned anything from the last eight years is that the more unconventional and anti-institutionalist wing of the Republican party has a lot of power.

Which means that the institutional expression of American politics over (at least) the next two years will depend A LOT on moderate institutionalists within the Republican Party.

So what does this mean for U.S. foreign policy in Africa?

  1. Power Africa, PEPFAR, AGOA, MCA, and other aid initiatives are likely going to be on the chopping block. There will likely be a lot of money for security, but those will largely be channeled through AFRICOM and may not be so great at achieving the same outcomes as the normatively preferable non-security development assistance.
  2. U.S. Exports to Africa may also see a decline. The Republicans do not like the EXIM Bank. The EXIM Bank helps finance U.S. exports to Africa. In theory President Trump might see the EXIM Bank as good for U.S. companies like Boeing. But this will only make sense if Boeing is still able to compete with Airbus after “it brings the jobs back home” (quick aside, Airbus is in Europe, where the French and the Germans will vote soon, so there is that….)
  3. Democracy promotion will see a rollback. President Trump is likely to go back to the old-fashioned purely interest-based engagement with foreign governments. This will be a sucker punch against democracy activists everywhere. Expect more term limit violations. The so-called democratic recession may finally arrive.
  4. A few gold producing countries — Ghana, South Africa, Tanzania and others — will benefit from the rush to gold occasioned by (hopefully) short-term economic uncertainty. Other commodity producers will be hit hard by global economic uncertainty. I would really hate to be the Finance Minister of Nigeria, Zambia, or Angola right now.
  5. Lastly, U.S. foreign policymaking through the IMF, the World Bank and the UN will be less stable. All the potential picks to head the State Department are on record as being not too enthusiastic about these multilateral institutions.

It’s not all doom and gloom though.

On balance, Republican foreign policymakers may actually achieve better outcomes than Democrats in Africa (as I think is the case over the last two decades). Less moralizing, they may focus on hard-nosed self-interested engagements — via trade for example — that are, on balance, good for Africans. Less handholding may even force African governments to realize that they are on their own, especially as Europe recedes inward as well. It may also force reformist pockets on the Continent to focus on feasible solutions to general problems of political and economic underdevelopment that are consistent with their domestic political economies; rather than constantly chasing aid dollars and euros. Such developments would actually enhance political development in such African states.

Even the potential escalation in the global rivalry between US and China (and possibly Russia) might be good for Africa. Everyone is gonna need allies in their corner for fights at the UN (of course conditional on African policymakers being strategic, rather than acting as mere water carriers for global powers).

Of course the wildcard in all of this is whether the right people will step up to the plate and agree to serve in a Trump administration.

Here at the Africanist Perspective the official line is that if asked to serve, and if you have the knowledge and expertise, please go ahead and join the administration. President Donald Trump’s Secretary of State and head of USAID will need you.

U.S. allies around the world need you.

Demography is Destiny (or why two heads are better than one)

Bradford DeLong has a fantastic blog post on the relationship between population size and economic growth and development. He writes:

In Kremer’s model, population will grow and eventually population will be high enough that research and development will proceed fast enough to push income per capita high enough to trigger the demographic transition and thus break the Malthusian proportional link between resources and technology on the one hand and population on the other. After that link is broken, economic growth will predominantly take the form not of Malthusian increases in population but rather Industrial Revolution and Modern Economic Growth increases in living standards and labor productivity.

The breakthrough to an Industrial Revolution, Modern Economic Growth, and our present prosperous global post-industrial economy is therefore baked into the cake. It is an all-but-inevitable event in human history produced by the simple fact that when it comes to generating useful ideas two heads are better than one: “the fundamental nonrivalry of technology as described by Paul Romer (1986)…”

DeLong then tests an alternative theory in which the economic takeoff of WENA countries after 1750 could have been a fluke, and concludes that the British industrial revolution at most saved the world 150 years — that is, “if you take the association between global populations and global economic growth back before the British Industrial Revolution seriously, as a causal relationship.

The whole post is worth reading. The empirical bits are clear and easy to follow. See also here.

In my Political Economy of Development class I make sure that my students understand the relationship between demography and human development — (i) the impact of demography on state development; and (ii) the impact of state development on markets and economic growth and development. To that end I often use these three illustrations.

Up until the mid 1990s tiny Europe had more people than all of Africa. In the next 30 years Africa’s population will grow by about 800 million people. By 2050 the Continent is projected to have 2 billion people; and half of the children being born in the world will be African. There is no reason to believe that the African experience after these demographic changes will not follow established correlations between population size, state development, and technological change.

The top 20 best countries to invest your money in Africa

This is according to the latest Ernst & Young’s Africa Attractiveness Report (2016). Kenya is ranked 4th. Ahead of Tunisia, Mauritius, and Botswana. You just need to spend a few hours in Nairobi, or the other 46 county headquarters, to understand why. While economic inequality remains to be a huge (political) challenge, it’s hard to argue against the structural transformations underway in the Kenyan economy.

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More on this year.

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.

This is the dumbest paragraph by Thomas Friedman you’ll ever read in your life

You can learn everything you need to know about the main challenges facing Africa today by talking to just two people in Senegal: the rapper and the weatherman. They’ve never met, but I could imagine them doing an amazing duet one day — words and weather predictions — on the future of Africa.

The title of his column in “Out of Africa: Part III.”

You can’t make this stuff up.

Younger Me: 18th century European views of Africa and Africans are sticky. This means that occasionally, even educated sophisticates like Friedman (especially as they get older), can let slip horse manure like this.

Current Me: This is racism masquerading as stylistic hyperbole. For an uncomfortably high proportion of Americans — whether educated or not, in media houses or in the seminar room — Africa is a simple place with simple people facing simple problems that require simple solutions. Africa is just different in every dimension imaginable.

Very few of these people ever updated since reading Joseph Conrad.

In order to know about Africa’s future, you don’t need to talk to someone with a sophisticated understanding of the Senegalese economy (or for that matter, Africa’s other 53 economies). Just talk to the rapper and the weatherman. Or some dude in Kibera. Or a warlord somewhere in Eastern Congo. And then pepper your story with some quotes from WENA (Western Europe, North America, and the Antipodes) diplomats.

Think about it. At least two college-educated people at the New York Times looked at this and let it through.

Also, there is a way to have an intelligent conversation about climate change in Africa without always tying it to conflict and migration to Europe.

H/T Matina Stevis.