How to hack a Latin American election

Bloomberg has a fascinating longread on Andrés Sepúlveda, a man who claims that he rigged elections all over Latin America for almost a decade.

Here is an excerpt:

Sepúlveda’s career began in 2005, and his first jobs were small—mostly defacing campaign websites and breaking into opponents’ donor databases. Within a few years he was assembling teams that spied, stole, and smeared on behalf of presidential campaigns across Latin America. He wasn’t cheap, but his services were extensive. For $12,000 a month, a customer hired a crew that could hack smartphones, spoof and clone Web pages, and send mass e-mails and texts. The premium package, at $20,000 a month, also included a full range of digital interception, attack, decryption, and defense. The jobs were carefully laundered through layers of middlemen and consultants. Sepúlveda says many of the candidates he helped might not even have known about his role; he says he met only a few.

His teams worked on presidential elections in Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Venezuela. Campaigns mentioned in this story were contacted through former and current spokespeople; none but Mexico’s PRI and the campaign of Guatemala’s National Advancement Party would comment.

The whole thing, to borrow from Tyler Cowen’s vocabulary, is self-recommending. I am not a Latin Americanist and so cannot vouch for the veracity of the story. But it’s definitely a fantastic read.

And of course, as happens, a multi-country story of this nature is incomplete without casual stereotyping of hackers based on nationality:

For most jobs, Sepúlveda assembled a crew and operated out of rental homes and apartments in Bogotá. He had a rotating group of 7 to 15 hackers brought in from across Latin America, drawing on the various regions’ specialties. Brazilians, in his view, develop the best malware. Venezuelans and Ecuadoreans are superb at scanning systems and software for vulnerabilities. Argentines are mobile intercept artists. Mexicans are masterly hackers in general but talk too much. Sepúlveda used them only in emergencies.

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.

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 7.29.36 PM.png

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.

Portugal Seeks Angolan Investment

The Portuguese once ruled an empire that included Brazil, Angola and Mozambique, among other smaller possessions. But since the loss of empire Lisbon has fared rather poorly. First it was the Brazilians who managed to economically dominate their former colonizers. The Angolans are beginning to also get in the game. Angola is one of the top three oil producers in Africa, and has the third largest economy in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The BBC reports:

Portugal’s prime minister is travelling to oil-rich Angola, which is boosting its investment in its former colonial power caught up in the eurozone debt crisis.

Angolan presidential aide Carlos Maria Feijo said Portugal’s privatisation scheme would be discussed. The International Monetary Fund has ordered Portugal to sell state companies to qualify for a bailout.

Angola’s investments in Portugal have risen sharply in recent years.

The figure in 2009 stood at $156m (£99m), compared to $2.1m in 2002, according to the Portuguese Institute of International Relations and Security (IPRIS), a Lisbon-based think-tank.

Angolan companies own the equivalent of 3.8% of companies listed on Portugal’s stock exchange, from banks to telecoms and energy, it says.

More on this here.

HT Louise Redvers

Effects of Conditional Vs. Unconditional Cash Transfer

Baird, McIntosh and Ozler have an upcoming paper in the QJE investigating the differential impacts of conditional and unconditional cash transfer in Malawi:

Starting with schooling outcomes, we find that although dropout rates declined in both treatment arms, the effect in the UCT arm is 43% as large as that in the CCT arm. Evidence from school ledgers for students enrolled in school also suggests that the fraction of days attended in the CCT arm is higher than the UCT arm. Using independently administered tests of cognitive ability, mathematics, and English reading comprehension, we find that although achievement is significantly improved in all three tests in the CCT arm compared with the control group, no such gains are detectable in the UCT arm. The difference in program impacts between the two treatment arms is significant at the 90% confidence level for English reading comprehension. In summary, the CCT arm had a significant edge in terms of schooling outcomes over the UCT arm: a large gain in enrollment and a modest yet significant advantage in learning.

The paper then gets nuanced:

When we turn to examine marriage and pregnancy rates, however, unconditional transfers dominate. The likelihood of be- ing ever pregnant and ever married were 27% and 44% lower in the UCT arm than in the control group at the end of the 2-year intervention, respectively, whereas program impacts on these two outcomes were small and statistically insignificant in the CCT arm.

……….. Our findings show that UCTs can improve im- portant outcomes among such households even though they might be much less effective than CCTs in achieving the desired behav- ior change.

Check it out here.

The decline of odious ODA?

The Economist has a piece outlining the paradox of Indian overseas development assistance (to the tune of 11 billion over the next 5-7 years). With figures from the CIA factbook I have calculated that about 300 million indians live below the poverty line. The Economist piece also touts the emergence of middle income donors, especially among the BRICs.

In this world Europeans and Americans no longer dominate aid. China is the biggest source of investment in Africa and the Gates Foundation is as important as many donor governments (and much more innovative). Private capital flows to Africa outstrip aid flows, contradicting an old justification that aid is necessary because investors hold back.

For the poorest, the new donors are more important because Western aid is shrivelling. Congress is proposing to chop American aid by a fifth. Brazil is giving more to the Somali famine than Germany, France and Italy combined. There are exceptions: Britain and Australia promise to boost aid spending. But they seem like a last hurrah of Western generosity.

Adding that:

In this new world the justification for aid and the behaviour of donors must change. For India and others, it is far from clear why the government should send aid abroad when it has so many poor people at home. No doubt, aid will be defended as a boost to global influence. The risk for India is that, just like the West did in the 1960s, it will pour money into grand projects which fail—and encourage bad government.

I disagree with this latter assessment. It is not aid per se that caused the epic governance problems facing most of the low-income countries of the world. Sure it stunted the co-evolution of accountable government and domestic revenue generation. But the biggest failure of aid was what it was spent on.

Aid being highly fungible meant that most of the money wound up in the private accounts of venal leaders and gun-runners.

Things have since changed a bit. For instance, China’s resources-for-infrastructure deals can be a model for Aid 2.0 (this no doubt needs some tweaking too, as this damaging expose on Sino-Angolan oil deals shows). Plus this time the infrastructure investments are different. In an earlier period most of the investments were overtly white elephant projects (like Moi’s infamous hydro-electric dam in Turkwel). Most of the current projects are in roads, telecoms, and to some extent agriculture – investments that will have a much bigger impact because of their broader reach.

You can find a related earlier post here.

TP Mazembe beat Brazil’s Internacional 2-0

Many of you may not know TP Mazembe, the reigning African club champions. The Lubumbashi (DR Congo) club surprised soccer football enthusiasts the world over by beating Brazilian champions Internacional in the world club championship semi final. They will play either the European champions Inter Milan or Seongnam Ilhwa of Korea in the final. This is the first time that an African side has reached the finals of a major international football tournament.

Check out both goals here.

Quick hits

If I were the president of the DRC, I would be seriously researching how Charlemagne did it (the medieval King ruled over a land mass the size of the DRC), how Brazil did it (their green revolution was a success) and how Vietnam is doing it (some people call it little China). I can bet my grad school stipend for next quarter that the younger Kabila has no local brain trust (who needs one if the Brussels boys can jet in and out of Kinshasa with copious amounts of “advice” on development??). The lets-just-stay-afloat-with-foreign-aid paradigm that informs governance in Africa is a guarantee that 50 years from now Africa will still be the poster child for bad governance and socio-economic underdevelopment.

Also, I just discovered a blog by The Bank’s chief economist for Africa region. Check it out (via Blattman).

Lastly, Wronging Rights has a post on the series of post by Texas in Africa on how social science works.

frustrations of the african intellectual

William Easterly on Aid Watch captures the frustrations of African intellectuals and their continued neglect by both the aid industry and their home governments.

African intellectuals continue to be on the periphery of the discourse on African socio-economic development. The independence leaders jailed, killed or exiled many of them, leading to fifty years of disastrous misrule and general mediocrity from Dakar to Mogadishu, Khartoum to Jo’burg. The current crop of autocrats and pretend-democrats did not learn a thing from the last half-century and continue to opt for career poverty-voyeurs development experts from donor countries instead of their own people who may have greater incentives to see their homeland match the achievements of the newly emerging states of Brazil, India and China.