On external interventions to improve village-level governance and development: The DRC Edition

This is from an excellent JDE paper by Humphreys, de la Sierra and der Windt:

We study a randomized Community Driven Reconstruction (CDR) intervention that provided two years ofexposure to democratic practices in 1250 villages in eastern Congo. To assess its impact, we examine behavior in a village-level unconditional cash transfer project that distributed $1000 to 457 treatment and control villages. The unconditonal cash transfer provides opportunities to assess whether public funds get captured, what governance practices are employed by villagers and village elites and whether prior exposure to the CDR intervention alters these behaviors. We find no evidence for such effects. The results cast doubt on current attempts to export democratic practices to local communities.

Here’s a description of the program:

Our study takes advantage of a large UK funded CDR program, called “Tuungane,” implemented by the International Rescue Committee andCARE International in 1250 villages throughout eastern Congo. The program had as a central goal to “improve the understanding and practice of democratic governance ….”

… Over a four year period, the program spent $46 million of development aid, reaching approximately 1250 villages and a beneficiary population of approximately 1,780,000 people. A large share of this funding was used for facilitation and indirect costs, with only $16m, 35% of the total program costs, going directly towards infrastructure. These shares reflect the fact that the main focus of the intervention was institutional change, not the use of existing institutions to deploy development funds.

This very cool paper raises important questions about the role of elites in African development (read it to get a better understanding of the futility of these kinds of “democracy promotion”, too).

It might seem logical to assume that short-circuiting elite power, whether at the local or national level, may lead to accelerated development. However, because a lot of “development” is often elite-driven, an explicit agenda of effective elite disempowerment might actually yield suboptimal outcomes. All else equal, elites are often better organized, better-placed to take risks (on account of having more economic slack), better able to protect their property rights, and routinely deploy the state to further advance their economic interests. $46m in the hands of a powerful and secure elite class might yield jobs in firms that provide economic stability for whole districts. It is also true that less powerful or stable elites are likely to squander it on consumption, quick profit schemes, or stash it abroad.

These observations are not unique to African states.

Overall, when I look at most African states, what I see are a lot of very weak elites lacking social power, constantly unable to bend their societies to their will, and resigned to low-equilibrium forms of  political and economic organization (for example, by being mere middlemen in lucrative global commodity markets). In the case of the DRC, this is true whether one looks at Kabila/Tshisekedi or the leaders of armed groups in the east of the country. The same goes for so-called “traditional” leaders. Throughout the country and in the wider region, such elites lack infrastructural power in profound ways. Importantly for economic development, many often lack the ability to protect their own property rights. Our stylized idea of the nature of societal power relations on the Continent needs some updating. Consider this paragraph:

Eastern Congo is a well-suited environment to examine the adoption of democratic practice in local governance. The state has largely with-drawn from the rural areas of the east and enjoys low legitimacy. Local governance is often described as “captured” by traditional chiefs and vulnerable to corrupt practices by state officials. These features are not unique to the Congo. Multiple accounts suggest that in many Sub-Saharan states, colonial rule used pre-colonial institutions to create “decentralized despots” in ways that are detrimental to development.

topographies.jpgAre local elites in the modal African country this powerful? Is this the sense one gets traveling in rural Ghana or Zambia? Do these (mostly) guys look like they are in charge? As the paragraph notes, “traditional leaders” often lack the means to coerce their constituents (the state is largely absent). Despite Mamdani’s persuasive (Rwanda) story, these are not powerful and unchecked “despots” in the standard sense.

At times Africanist scholarship on state/elite society relations can seem schizophrenic: Africa is the land of “imperial” big men elites who can scarcely project their power on account of state weakness (see here, here, and here). Since the early 1990s, a lot of effort has been put into taming the allegedly imperial political elites in the region. Missing in our analyses and in donor programs have been attempts to understand the structural weakness of these same elites and the attendant consequences. The presence of an erratic and parasitic elite class might be the proximate cause of underdevelopment in the region. However, I would argue that a deeper cause is persistent elite weakness in the region. Catherine Boone’s book (see image) is the best I’ve ever read on African elites’ strategies of power projection in a context of state weakness (Boone is easily the most underrated Comparativist of her generation).

The tenures of Africa’s Amins, Mobutus, and Bongos took the form they did in no small part because these were structurally weak leaders (long leadership tenure is not synonymous with state capacity). Throughout their times in office they did all they could to destroy any and all alternative centers of power (including institutions such as legislatures). Their failures reinforced their respective counties’ two publics problems whose legacy is chronic elite weakness that is obvious for all to see. To this day, very few African countries have stable economic elite classes with easily identifiable immovable assets in-country. Most operate like little more than Olsonian roving bandits.

I am yet to see a clear theory that links greater vertical accountability to state/elite capacity. The historical record suggests that democracy works best in contexts with pre-existing state/elite capacity. In my own work, I’ve shown how strong autocratic legislatures beget strong democratic legislatures.

This is not a defense of autocracy. It is a reminder that the processes of state and political development, while related, often run on separate tracks and should therefore be decoupled in programs such as the one above and in our studies.

Is China Doomed to Fail in Africa?

This is from Wilson VornDick, a commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve, writing in the National Interest: 

It is unclear whether China could handle the financial repercussions of a larger, more systemic default or debt-forgiveness program across the African continent. Seeking relief, debtors to China would likely overwhelm existing mechanisms, like international arbitration, or China-backed forums such as the Export-Import Bank of China , China Development Bank , and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank . More importantly, debt restructuring, recoupment, and, in the more extreme case, seizure may not be viable, reasonable, or sustainable for Chinese interests or presence continent-wide. Just such a dire economic scenario might push China to use its nascent military force to protect or even seize its interests. Looking back at the previous period of Great Power Competition more than a century ago, leveraging military might to force repayment was commonplace. The U.S. military made multiple incursions into Caribbean and South American nations as did the Western powers in Africa and Asia.

It is reasonable to assume that China would have little or no experience in any dire economic contagion across Africa. The one primary example, the take-over of Hambantota Port, was an isolated incident during calmer times, before the financial uncertainty stoked by a slowing global economy or the current U.S.-China trade war. Moreover, the port takeover has now become a watershed moment in Chinese behavior that has attracted significant international scrutiny and ire.

More broadly, VornDick articulates the potential merits (from a U.S. standpoint) of a “Let China Fail in Africa” strategy as part of Washington’s Great Power global competition with Beijing. The whole argument is worth a read.

A glaring omission in VornDick’s analysis, however, is the interests and roles of Africans in this whole game (note that this is a gap in the “China-in-Africa” genre more generally).

chinafricaA key weakness that I see in the “Let China Fail in Africa” strategy is that it vastly underestimates the extent to which Africans will be willing to work hand in hand with China to make the Sino-African relationship work.

China’s forays in Africa is creating complex tapestries of personal and institutional relationships that will become ever harder to undo. For example, in both electoral democracies and autocracies in the region, citizens have come to expect political elites to provide public goods — many of them financed and built by China. Demands for more of the same will likely only get stronger. The desire to secure funding for more public goods will likely push African elites even closer to Beijing. Furthermore, at a time when the U.S. is working hard to signal that Africans are not welcome on its shores, tens of thousands of African students are earning degrees in Chinese universities. Many of these students will probably go back to their respective countries and maintain ties with Chinese business and academic contacts. These kinds of investments in soft power will matter in the long run.

Global diplomacy is not just about crass material interests. It is also about values and shared commitments to respectful mutual cooperation. If African elites become convinced that they are better off bandwagoning with China, they will do so.

And most importantly, having made that choice, they will make specific investments (whether deliberately or not) to make their nations ever more closely allied with China. They will adopt specific technologies. Establish specific market relationships. Acquire specific weapons systems. And yes, more of their students will learn Chinese and go on to earn degrees in China. The closer the military, economic and “soft” ties, the more African elites will be willing to make costly investments in order to ensure that their respective states’ relationships with China work.

A good lesson in this regard is francafrique. The relationship between France and its former colonies in Africa is not winning any awards soon. But for almost six decades African elites have remained committed to the relationship and worked to give the French military free rein in the region and French firms access to vast natural resources. The French state, in turn, has worked to prop up the same elites despite massive economic and political failings.

The point is: China’s failure in Africa (if it comes to pass) is not what will determine the future of Sino-African relations. What happens before any such failure will likely matter more.

Does Tilly travel to the Congo?

As pointed out in numerous studies, juridical sovereignty is a serious impediment to stateness and political development in the DRC. Consider this from Christoph Vogel and Jason Stearns and African Affairs:

The most important belligerent in the Congo is the government itself: a large part of the FARDC’s roughly 130,000 troops are deployed in the Kivus, controlling key mining areas, towns and roads. Yet, it does not behave like a Hobbesian Leviathan, squashing competitors to impose control over territory. Instead, the relationship between the army and armed groups often resembles symbiosis: many armed groups, even those fighting the FARDC, retain close ties with army officers and politicians, who are intent on bolstering their own power bases and protection rackets. Much as during the late Mobutu period, instead of being a liability, ‘weak sovereignty has become a kind of resource, which continues to reproduce the state as a lame but living Leviathan’. This duality also applies to the security services as ‘involuted mechanisms, mainly preoccupied with their own reproduction’, even as they erode their own legitimacy. Such a conceptualization alters rationalist assumptions of civil war, as well as those of most foreign donors, insofar as they imagine a state that wants to defeat its opponents.DQcW0xcUMAATCsmThe Congolese government, however, has shown little interest in ending peripheral wars that do not threaten its survival. This does not make it less rational: it has privileged maintaining patronage networks—some of which incorporate its opponents—over the security of its citizens, and elite survival over institutional reform. Overall, these logics have emerged incrementally as various peace deals and integration efforts created deeply factionalized security services. Kinshasa then decided to use that as a means to distribute patronage and reward loyalty, instead of instilling discipline and monopolizing violence through reform, which could create a backlash within the senior officer corps.

The paper also has some great background details on the international dimension of the conflicts in eastern DRC.

Here’s the explainer for the title of this post.

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.’”

Mineral Assets and Corruption in the DRC: Israeli “businessman” Dan Gertler linked to Och-Ziff bribery convinction

What does Dan Gertler and his business associates think of term limits in the DRC?

This piece from The Globe and Mail has some answers:

The cellphone message from the Israeli businessman was blunt and vulgar: The Canadian mining company must be “screwed and finished totally,” he told an associate as they negotiated a massive bribe to Congolese court officials to guarantee that the Canadian company would lose control of its copper mine.

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President Joseph Kabila and Dan Gertler 

Within hours of that 2008 message, the businessman and his associate had arranged a bribe of $500,000 (U.S.) to judges and other officials in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to court documents released in a U.S. corruption case.

A day later, the Israeli businessman obtained assurances that Congolese officials would ensure the Canadian company would lose its court fight against a local takeover of the copper mine, the U.S. documents say. Then, a week later, the Israeli won majority control of the company and the valuable asset.

The documents were released on Thursday in the settlement of a corruption case against Och-Ziff Capital Management, a U.S. hedge fund that manages $39-billion.

Och-Ziff agreed to pay $412-million in criminal and civil penalties, one of the biggest payments ever approved under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The U.S. documents show the hedge fund paid more than $100-million in bribes to officials in Congo, Libya, Chad, Niger and Guinea – including Congolese president Joseph Kabila – to gain corrupt influence and mining assets.

……. The hedge fund, Och-Ziff, went into partnership with the Israeli businessman and was involved in using intermediaries and business partners to funnel large bribe payments to officials in Congo and other African countries, according to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Och-Ziff was directly involved in financing the businessman’s acquisition of Africo, including his “legal expenses” in the case, the U.S. documents say.

As I have noted here and here, the DRC is a cherished playground for thieves foreign investors who do not give a rats behind about the political, institutional, and economic consequences of their actions.

That said, Gertler would be advised to talk to Benny Steinmetz. There is a precedent of a change in leadership leading to repossession of a fraudulently obtained concession.

Kabila will not be in power in Kinshasa forever.

More on the Och-Ziff story here.

Political Developments in the DRC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why isn’t the East African Community doing more on Burundi?

The situation in Burundi is deteriorating, fast.

Armed-forces-in-Burundi-340x230There are strong signs of ethnic violence. More than 300 people have been killed since President Pierre Nkurunziza successfully violated term limits to stay in office for a third term early this year. The ensuing violence has forced over 220,000 to flee the country, while scores remain displaced internally. Over the last week alone more than 80 people have been murdered in what is increasingly looking like a civil war rather than mere civil unrest met with heavy-handed repression. The African union has used the word “genocide” in reference to the Burundian situation.

For a background on the current Burundian crisis see here, here, here and here.

So given the clear evidence that things are falling apart in Burundi, why isn’t the East African Community (EAC) doing more to de-escalate the situation?

The simple answer is intra-EAC politics (which serve to accentuate the body’s resource constraints).

The EAC is a five-member (Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda) regional economic community (REC) that is arguably the most differentiated REC in Africa. Based in Arusha, Tanzania, it is a relatively robust institution replete with executive, legislative and judicial arms.

Like is the case for most African RECs, the EAC member states conceded precious little sovereignty to Arusha. For example, the  EAC treaty does not directly empower the REC to intervene in a member country even in cases of gross violations of human rights (like is currently happening in Burundi). So far regional cooperation within the EAC has mainly focused on economic issues that do not pose substantial threats to sovereignty. It is for this reason that the EAC has avoided any kind of direct intervention in Burundi to end what is a singularly political crisis — both within Burundi and at the regional level.

That said, Article 123 of the EAC treaty provides a loophole for intervention.

The Article stipulates that the purpose of political cooperation among EAC member states is to, among other things: (i) strengthen the security of the Community and its Partner States in all ways; and (ii) preserve peace and strengthen international security among the Partner States and within the Community. In my view these clauses mandate the EAC to protect both the internal security of Burundi as well as intra-EAC security.

It is important to note that so far the norm has been to treat vagueness in African REC treaties as a call to inaction. But vagueness also provides willing interveners with a fair amount of latitude over interpretation. Furthermore, since 2000 the trend within African RECs has been to dilute the infamous OAU non-intervention clauses (see the AU treaty, for example) especially with regard to security matters.

It is not hard to see how the conflict in Burundi poses a clear and present danger to both Burundi’s internal security as well as peace and security within the EAC.

We know from history that an all out civil war in Burundi would threaten the security of the region. Burundi’s ethnic make up roughly mirrors that of Rwanda. Ethnic conflict in Burundi would inevitably elicit an intervention from Rwanda, thereby regionalizing the conflict (with an almost guaranteed knock on effect in eastern DRC). In addition, even though Kagame may not be a fan of Nkurunziza, he lacks the moral authority to criticize him given recent moves to scrap term limits in Rwanda.

If Rwanda (overtly) intervenes in Burundi, it is not clear which side Tanzania — a critical player — would take (especially because of the implications for the stability of eastern DRC). Kigali and Dodoma do not always see eye to eye. In addition, the new Tanzanian president, John Magufuli, is not particularly close to his Kenyan counterpart on account of his closeness to Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga. This may limit the possibility of collective action on Burundi by the EAC’s two leading powers.

And then there is Uganda. President Yoweri Museveni is currently the designated mediator in the Burundian negotiation process. But he is currently preoccupied in his bid to win an nth term in office (who’s counting?) His legitimacy as a mediator is seriously in question on account of his political record back home. Recall that the proximate cause of the current crisis in Burundi was Nkurunziza’s decision to violate term limits. Museveni scrapped term limits in 2005 and has systematically squeezed the Ugandan opposition into submission through heavy handed tactics that are direct violations of human rights.

Sadly for Burundians, the current state of inter-state relations within the EAC is strongly biased against any robust intervention to stop the violence that is increasingly becoming routine. Nkurunziza knows this, and will likely try to make an end run on his perceived political opponents before the wider international community begins to pay closer attention.

Lastly, the other possible interveners — the  UN and the EU — are also not likely to intervene in Burundi any time soon, despite the country’s heavy dependence on foreign aid. Europe is hobbled by the ongoing refugee crisis and the war on ISIS. As for the UN, it increasingly launders its interventions through region or sub-regional IOs (see for example AMISOM in Somalia, under the AU). This kind of strategy requires a willing regional partner, something that is lacking in the case of the EAC (or the AU for that matter).

In the next few weeks there will probably be attempts at mediation and calls for a ceasefire. But my hunch is that things are likely to get much worse in Burundi in the short term.

Some Africanist inside baseball

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Quick thoughts on presidential term limits and the political crisis in Burundi

The president of Burundi is about (or not) to join the list of African leaders who have successfully overcome constitutional term limits in a bid to hang on to power. Currently (based on observed attempts in other African countries and their success rate) the odds are roughly 50-50 that Mr. Pierre Nkurunziza will succeed. The last president to try this move was Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso who ended up getting deposed by the military after mass protests paralyzed Burkina’s major cities.

Successful term limit extensions have so far happened in Burkina Faso (first time), Cameroon, Chad, Djibouti, Gabon, Guinea, Namibia, Togo, and Uganda. Presidents have also tried, but failed, to abolish term limits in Burkina Faso (second time), Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Zambia. Countries that are about to go through a term limit test in the near future include Angola, Burundi, Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Liberia, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone. Heads of State in Benin, Cape Verde, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Sao Tome e Principe, Tanzania, and Namibia (after Nujoma) have so far obeyed term limits and stepped down at the end of their second constitutional terms.

To the best of my knowledge only Sudan, The Gambia, Equatorial Guinea, and Eritrea have presidential systems without constitutional term limits. Parliamentary systems in South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Ethiopia, and Botswana do not have limits, although the norm of two terms exists in Botswana and South Africa (and perhaps soon in Ethiopia?).

So what we see in the existing data is that conditional on *overtly* trying to scrap term limits African Heads of State are more likely to succeed than not (9 successes, 6 failures). However, this observation doesn’t tell us anything about the presidents who did not formally consider term limit extensions. For instance, in Kenya (Moi) and Ghana (Rawlings), presidents did not initiate formal debate on the subject but were widely rumored to have tried to do so. So it’s probably the case that presidents who are more likely to succeed self-select into formally initiating public debate on the subject of term limit extension, thereby tilting the balance. And if you factor in the countries that have had more than one episode of term-limited presidents stepping down, suddenly the odds look pretty good for the consolidation of the norm of term limits in Sub Saharan Africa.

I wouldn’t rule out, in the next decade or so, the adoption of an African Union resolution (akin to the one against coups) that sanctions Heads of State who violate constitutional term limits.

So will Nkurunziza succeed? What does this mean for political stability in Burundi? And what can the East African Community and the wider international community do about it? For my thoughts regarding these questions check out my post for the Monkey Cage blog at the Washington Post here.

Correction: An earlier draft of this post listed Zimbabwe as one of the countries without term limits. The 2013 Constitution limits presidents to two terms (with a minimum of three years counting as full term (see Section 91).

On Bad Roads (in pictures)

Even presidents get stuck on bad roads when it rains. Here is President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The DRC has a landmass of 2,267,048 sq km, and 2,794 km of paved roads.

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What can be done to increase road access in the DRC? Big projects like this will definitely help. But a big accelerator of the process will probably be urbanization. Kinshasa is the second largest city in Sub-Saharan Africa, after Lagos. Many of you probably have never heard of Mbuji Mayi, a city of about 1.7 million people (Other big cities in the DRC include Lubumbashi, Kisangani, Bukavu, and Kananga, and Tshikapa).

The projected rapid urbanization rate in Africa, and much of the developing world, is often depicted as a disaster waiting to happen (largely due to poor infrastructure and lack of jobs). But urbanization can also be seen as an opportunity to take advantage of economies of scale to provide public goods at a lower cost. It might even have a positive impact on agricultural productivity – by creating reliable concentrated markets in urban areas and possibility through greater levels of land consolidation to take advantage of scale. That said, governments will still have to build major highways linking cities, and farms with markets.

RIP Tabu Ley (1937-2013)

The Rhumba legend Tabu Ley has passed on. For Kenyans of my generation his songs are a reminder of a childhood marked by our parents’ great love of Congolese music (dominated by Tabu Ley and Franco Luambo Makiadi). Back then Kinshasa seemed like the most fun place on the planet (and probably is/was, as I have never been) and a bustling centre of cultural production. We didn’t know what the songs were about, but we knew the lyrics (or what we imagined them to be). I particularly grew to love “Muzina.”

[youtube.com/watch?v=J2GCPUArIwI]

 

The 2013 Resource Governance Index

The 2013 Resource Governance Index (published by the Revenue Watch Institute) is out. The top performing African countries include Ghana, Liberia?, Zambia and South Africa, with partial fulfillment. The bottom performing countries are Equatorial Guinea, Zimbabwe, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique.

The 58 nations included in the report “produce 85 percent of the world’s petroleum, 90 percent of diamonds and 80 percent of copper.” Ghana, where we are doing some evaluation  work on extractive sector transparency initiatives, is the best performing African country on the list. Image

More here. 

And in related news, The Africa Progress Report was released last week. The report details the massive loss of revenue by African governments through mismanagement – either by commission and/or omission – of extractive resources. For instance:

The report details five deals between 2010 and 2012, which cost the Democratic Republic of the Congo over US$1.3 billion in revenues through the undervaluation of assets and sale to foreign investors. This sum represents twice the annual health and education budgets of a country with one of the worst child mortality rates in the world and seven million pupils out of school.

The DRC alone is estimated to have 24 trillion dollars worth of untapped mineral resources.

The most bizarre case of resource management in Africa is Equatorial Guinea, a coutnry that is ranked 43rd on the global per capital GNI index but ranks 136th on the Human Development Index (2011).

Below is a map showing flows related to Africa’s vast resources:

RESOURCE-MAP

US Africa Policy, A Response

This is a guest post by friend of the blog Matthew Kustenbauder responding to a previous post.

On the question of human rights guiding America’s foreign policy in Africa, I agree with you; it shouldn’t be the first priority. The US needs a more pragmatic development diplomacy strategy, which would help African countries develop just as it would help American businesses thrive.

But I disagree with your characterization of Hillary’s position in this respect. Here’s Secretary Clinton’s own words:
“Last year I laid out America’s economic statecraft agenda in a series of speeches in Washington, Hong Kong, San Francisco, and New York. Since then, we’ve accelerated the process of updating our foreign policy priorities to take economics more into account. And that includes emphasizing the Asia Pacific region and elevating economics in relations with other regions, like in Latin America, for example, the destination for 40 percent of U.S. exports. We have ratified free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama. We are welcoming more of our neighbours, including Canada and Mexico, into the Trans-Pacific Partnership process. And we think it’s imperative that we continue to build an economic relationship that covers the entire hemisphere for the future.” 
“Africa is home to seven of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies. People are often surprised when I say that, but it’s true. And we are approaching Africa as a continent of opportunity and a place for growth, not just a site of endless conflict and crisis. All over the world, we are turning to economic solutions for strategic challenges; for example, using new financial tools to squeeze Iran’s nuclear program. And we’re stepping up commercial diplomacy, what I like to call jobs diplomacy, to boost U.S. exports, open new markets, lower the playing field – level the playing field for our businesses. And we’re building the diplomatic capacity to execute this agenda so that our diplomats are out there every single day promoting our economic agenda.” 

One of the problems, however, is that the pragmatic approach articulated by the Secretary doesn’t trickle down through the bureaucracy. This is especially true, ironically, of the State Department’s primary development diplomacy arm, USAID, which has a deeply entrenched culture of being anti-business. It’s a huge problem, and part of the reason why American foreign policy in Africa has been so slow to adjust to new economic realities.

Security drives US Africa Policy

Security drives US Africa Policy

Academics schooled in all the latest development orthodoxies but lacking the most basic understanding of economic or business history have flocked to USAID, so that the suggestion that American economic interests should guide development policy – making it a win-win for Africa and America – is anathema. It’s also why the Chinese are running all over the US in Africa.

As a prominent economic historian recently remarked in the Telegraph, “While we [Western governments] indulge our Victorian urge to give alms to the Africans, Beijing is pumping black gold.” And this is just it. As long as the US approaches Africa as a beggar needing to be saved and not as a business partner worthy of attention, both sides will continue to lose out.

In this respect, what Africa does not need is another “old Africa hand” steeped in conventional development ideas and old dogmas about what’s wrong with Africa and why the US must atone for the West’s sins. For this reason alone, John Kerry – not Susan Rice – probably stands a better chance, as the next Secretary of State, at putting American foreign policy toward Africa on a more solid footing.

– Matthew Kustenbauder is a PhD candidate in history at Harvard University.

Capital flight continues to plague poor nations

According to the Center for International Policy:

“Exactly 10 times the $100bn spent on aid and debt write-offs by rich countries is siphoned out of developing countries, with corporations responsible for 60 per cent of that figure through a web of trusts, nominee accounts and the flagrant mispricing of goods to escape tax………

Cracking down on tax havens and the evasion of taxes by some of the world’s biggest companies is seen as the ‘missing link’ in the poverty alleviation agenda.”

This got me thinking, perhaps naively, why it is that rulers (i.e. presidents and their entourage, most of whom fuel capital flight) in the Global South cannot secure their own property rights.

It makes sense that Mobutu and Co. (perhaps the worst pilferers ever) did not invest in Zaire (presently the moribund DRC) and so siphoned (or allowed allied firms to do so) billions abroad because the country lacked attractive investment options, mostly because of weak property rights. But it is also true that throughout his over three decades in power he and his buddies were perhaps the best placed Zaireans to secure their own property rights. Why didn’t they do it?

The quick answer might be that they had a very limited subjective time horizon and lived in constant fear of coups.

Most of the arguments out there stop here. Time horizon is king. Limited time horizons are bad for long-term investment. Yada yada yada.

But shouldn’t we also expect that after say 10 years in power a leader or elite group updates and realizes that may be they are there to stay, and start laying the foundation for local use of stolen wealth? Some certainly have – Kenya’s Moi and his henchmen come to mind.

The reasons for these leaders to invest locally are legion. The state of the roads, hospitals (think of say Ugandan elites who have to fly to Kenya or South Africa for medical care), insecurity (in Kenya MPs have been attacked by armed robbers), schools, etc etc in these places make it such that an average person in say Palo Alto enjoys a much higher standard of living than some of the wealthier people in the Global South.

What is the point of living in Kinshasa with billions in Europe, and with only one life to live? At what point does it make sense to use some of the money to improve the living standards (even in the most selfish way) in the place where one actually lives?

At the very least, don’t these guys mind the very dusty roads to their residences?

PS: The local use of wealth is, of course, relative. Even Chinese leaders, despite their massive domestic investments, still stash money abroad where property rights are more secure.