How Many People Died Of The 1918 Spanish Flu in Kenya?

This is the abstract and excerpts from Andayi, Chaves, and Widdowson, a paper focusing on the impact of the Spanish flu on coastal Kenya:

The 1918 influenza pandemic was the most significant pandemic recorded in human history. Worldwide, an estimated half a billion persons were infected and 20 to 100 million people died in three waves during 1918 to 1919. Yet the impact of this pandemic has been poorly documented in many countries especially those in Africa. We used colonial-era records to describe the impact of 1918 influenza pandemic in the Coast Province of Kenya. We gathered quantitative data on facility use and all-cause mortality from 1912 to 1925, and pandemic-specific data from active reporting from September 1918 to March 1919. We also extracted quotes from correspondence to complement the quantitative data and describe the societal impact of the pandemic. We found that crude mortality rates and healthcare utilization increased six- and three-fold, respectively, in 1918, and estimated a pandemic mortality rate of 25.3 deaths/1000 people/year (emphasis added). Impact to society and the health care system was dramatic as evidenced by correspondence. In conclusion, the 1918 pandemic profoundly affected Coastal Kenya. Preparation for the next pandemic requires continued improvement in surveillance, education about influenza vaccines, and efforts to prevent, detect and respond to novel influenza outbreaks.

We noted, that in 1918, the crude death rates and healthcare utilization drastically increased, six- and three-fold, respectively and stayed relatively high until at least 1925. The sharp increase in health care utilization was certainly due to the pandemic and is corroborated by the anecdotal reporting of overwhelmed health systems. The very large majority of these cases would have been in the native population, though we had no data on race. The higher rates of mortality and facility visits after 1918 compared to before 1918 were likely due to improved reporting health facility expansion rather than prolonged pandemic transmission. Equally, it is plausible that several documented outbreaks such as the plague (1920) and smallpox (1925), also contributed to high reported mortality and morbidity in those late years studied. We estimate pandemic mortality from September 1918 to March 1919 to be approximately 25 deaths/1000 population and morbidity at 176/1000 population or an attack rate of 17.6% (emphasis added).

Read the whole (ungated) paper here.

Writing over at The Conversation, Andayi notes that overall the flu might have killed as many as 150,000 people in the Kenya Colony, or 4-6% of the population at the time. The Spanish flu (which actually probably originated in New York) could have killed anywhere between 1-5% of the global population.

The Spanish flu is believed to have come to Kenya with returning veterans who docked in the Mombasa port. The country was still a British colony at the time. In nine months the epidemic killed about 150,000 people, between 4% and 6% of the population at the time.

COVID-19 is nowhere near these mortality rates. The estimates I have seen (which for some reason are for “Africa” and not individual countries) suggest that between 300k and 1.3m people might die of COVID-19 on the Continent (see image with UNECA estimates). Proportionately, that would mean roughly between 12k – 51k Kenyans, or .03-.01% of the population (still absolutely catastrophic figures).


If you know of any country-level estimates please share in the comments.


How Good Are Datasets on Cropland in African States?

A number of papers (on agricultural productivity, conflict, food security, and impacts of climate change, for example) use cropland cover data as controls. How good are these data?

Here’s the abstract of a paper (open access) from Wei and co-authors:

Accurate geo-information of cropland is critical for food security strategy development and grain production management, especially in Africa continent where most countries are food-insecure. Over the past decades, a series of African cropland maps have been derived from remotely-sensed data, existing comparison studies have shown that inconsistencies with statistics and discrepancies among these products are considerable. Yet, there is a knowledge gap about the factors that influence their consistency. The aim of this study is thus to estimate the consistency of five widely-used cropland datasets (MODIS Collection 5, GlobCover 2009, GlobeLand30, CCI-LC2010, and Unified Cropland Layer) in Africa, and to explore the effects of several limiting factors (landscape fragmentation, climate and agricultural management) on spatial consistency.cropland

The results show that total crop-land area for Africa derived from GlobeLand30 has the best fitness with FAO statistics, followed by MODISCollection 5. GlobCover 2009, CCI-LC 2010, and Unified Cropland Layer have poor performances as indicated by larger deviations from statistics. In terms of spatial consistency, disagreement is about 37.9 % at continental scale, and the disparate proportion even exceeds 50 % in approximately 1/3 of the countries at national scale.We further found that there is a strong and significant correlation between spatial agreement and cropland fragmentation, suggesting that regions with higher landscape fragmentation generally have larger disparities. It is also noticed that places with better consistency are mainly distributed in regions with favorable natural environments and sufficient agricultural management such as well-developed irrigated technology. Proportions of complete agreement are thus located in favorable climate zones including Hot-summer Mediterranean climate(Csa), Subtropical highland climate (Cwb), and Temperate Mediterranean climate (Csb). The level of complete agreement keeps rising as the proportion of irrigated cropland increases. Spatial agreement among these datasets has the most significant relationship with cropland fragmentation, and a relatively small association with irrigation area, followed by climate conditions. These results can provide some insights into understanding how different factors influence the consistency of cropland datasets, and making an appropriate selection when using these datasets in different regions. We suggest that future cropland mapping activities should put more effort in those regions with significant disagreement in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Here’s what they did:

…. we compared the spatial agreement of cropland to assess the consistency of five datasets in the same location. These datasets were overlapped to generate a new composite map revealing whether and where the original datasets agreed on the same locations (Yang et al., 2017). Pixels of the composite map were assigned values ranging from 0 to 5. The highest value 5 represents the complete agreement, where all five datasets were consistent in cropland identification for a pixel. As the value decreases, spatial consistency between these crop-land datasets decreases. The lowest value with value 1 means that only one dataset identifies the pixel as cropland.cropland_cover

The best consistency of five datasets occurs in Egypt, with the complete agreement value of 47.86 %, while the highest disagreement is in Western Sahara, whose spatial disagreement is 91.08 %.

Some Policy Lessons from COVID-19

It’s has been illuminating watching African governments respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some lessons I have gleaned from their responses. For those interested, the IMF has a neat summary of county-level policy responses.

[1] We need a lot more descriptive studies of African economies:

COVID-19 was slow to spread in African states (a reminder of the Continent’s isolating from global transportation networks. The first concentrated cases were in Egypt, largely among tourists on Nile cruises). But once cases started appearing across the Continent, governments rushed to implement policies that were eerily similar to those being implemented in wealthier economies. Complete lockdowns, tax breaks, business loans, and interest rate cuts were first to be announced. Cash transfers followed, but even then from the standard purely humanitarian perspective and not as part of a well-thought out, politically-grounded and sustainable policy response. Forget that African economies are (1) largely agrarian and rural; and (2) highly “informal” (i.e. under-served and under-regulated). How do you implement a lockdown when 80% of your labor force is dependent on daily earnings and cannot stock up on food for days? And how do you tell people “wash hands regularly” when the vast majority of your population lacks access to reliable running water? Do African states have the capacity to sustainably deliver cash transfers to needy households throughout this crisis?

In short, African states’ policy responses to the pandemic so far are an urgent reminder of the enormous gaps that exist between knowledge production, policymaking, and objective realities in the region. Now more than ever, there is a need for socially and politically relevant knowledge production. To bridge these gaps, African governments should invest in making their economies more legible. Such investments should target better data collection as well as the establishment of strong academic departments with expertise in political economy and economic history, in addition to other economics subfields. There is absolutely no way around this.

For instance, what do we know about recovery patterns after recessions in different African countries? How will the current shutdown impact rural livelihoods? African states cannot afford to continue making policy from positions of ignorance, or to outsource economic thinking and policymaking. Collect the data. Analyze the data. Have the results inform policy.

Such efforts will go a long way in helping craft domestic narratives and counter-narratives of socio-economic transformation, and hopefully entrench reality-based policymaking, in addition to putting an end to ahistorical and apolitical policymaking. Policymakers must understand that their economies are not simply Denmark waiting to happen. 

[2] African governments should strengthen their policy transmission mechanisms: 

One of biggest mistakes in the history of economic thought was the invention of the notion of “formal” and “informal” economic sectors. This arbitrary distinction continues to blind African policymakers, and limits their abilities to craft transformative policies. In most African countries, governments fixate on minuscule “formal” sectors, and spend billions of dollars attracting mythical foreign investors to create “formal” sector jobs (and in the process subsidize transfer pricing and the creation of very costly enclave economies). Meanwhile, the same governments ignore “informal” and agricultural sectors, despite the fact that in most countries they typically account for significant shares of output (see images) and upwards of 80% of the labor force.


The failure to adequately serve and regulate “informal” and agricultural sectors leaves African policymakers with a set of very blunt tools when it comes to these sectors. How will African governments ensure that SMEs are not completely wiped out by this crisis? How will farm-to-market systems weather the logistical problems caused by large-scale shutdowns? What will be the impact on food prices?

It makes little sense to lower SME taxes or incentivize bank lending to SMEs if the vast majority of SMEs neither pay taxes nor borrow from banks. “Informal” sector workers are typically also not plugged into any skeletal social safety nets that may exist, such as health insurance or pension schemes.

For example, “[i]n Senegal one 2016 government/Millennium Challenge Corporation study found [that] only 15 companies pay up to 75% of the state’s tax revenue.”

Moving forward, African countries need to jettison the “formal” vs “informal” sectors distinction. As the primary source of employment, the “informal” and agricultural sectors deserve a lot more public investments targeted at both broader market creation (domestic and international) and productivity increases. Such investments would give governments important policy levers during both good and bad times. 

The fact of the matter is that agriculture and SMEs are the mainstays of African economies. It is about time that African states’ economic policies and budgeting reflected that reality. Failure to do so will continue to severely limit the efficacy of policy interventions, and leave governments wasting scarce resources attracting investments with very little multiplier effects in their economies.

[3] Elite complacency in Africa is about to get a lot more expensive: 

One need not be wearing a tinfoil hat to see the many ways in which African leaders continue to act like colonial “Native Administrators”. Some do not even pretend to care about aspiring to govern well-ordered societies. For almost six decades the global state system has accommodated elite mediocrity in Africa. During this period, the collusion between African and non-African elites in the pilfering of the region’s resources was balanced with aid money and other forms of support. 

That is changing. Western elites and publics have began to question the utility of foreign aid. Forgetting that the aid is what buys elite-level African alliances, they have come to expect loyalty from African states as a pre-ordained birthright. Many Western countries have also seen significant deterioration in the quality of their political leadership in the recent past, thereby exposing them to a range of domestic crises that will likely distract them into the medium term. China, the other major global player, is not ready to step into the void. 

And so African elites will be forced to step up. What do you do when, after decades of presiding over abominable public health systems that are totally dependent on the generosity of foreigners, you cannot get on a plane to seek medical care abroad? And how do you deal with a pandemic that hits the entire globe at once?

It is no secret that the Global Public Health architecture was built to police and contain disease outbreaks in low-income countries. This has allowed African governments to routinely globalize their public health emergencies and therefore get away with poor governance and lack of dependable healthcare systems.

The combination of an inward orientation of the “international community” and likely recurrence of truly global pandemics will mean that African states will have to build robust and sustainable domestic healthcare systems. It will no longer be a given that the American CDC or the WHO will swoop in with solutions. Under these conditions, failure to plan will likely lead to mass deaths in African states. 

[4] African progressivism needs a reset:

As Toby Green documents in A Fistful of Shells, modern African progressivism (defined as working towards broad-based transformative change) has a long history — going back to the 18th century. Men like Usman dan Fodio reacted to what they perceived to be elite complacency and moral depravity by organizing and seizing power. However, it is fair to say that the postcolonial variant of  progressivism in the region has run out of steam. In nearly every country, it has become permanently oppositionist and anti-establishment. Life out of power has infused it with a streak of expressive performativity that is increasingly divorced from the political and economic realities in the region, and sorely lacking in intellectual rigor (there are exceptions, of course). Arguably, the Thomas Sankara administration (with warts and all) was the last truly progressive administration in the region.

It is about time that African progressivism focused not just on criticizing those in power, but also on developing viable political programs that can win power. This will require organization, political education and communication that resonates with mass publics, genuine openness to knowing “the realities on the ground”, and a dose of principled ideological promiscuity pragmatism. The habit of waiting for perfectly enlightened voters and politicians under perfect institutional conditions effectively concedes the fight to the region’s shamelessly inept water-carriers. 

After 60 years in power, Africa’s ruling elites have become perhaps the most complacent lot in the world. Their destruction of higher education and the region’s intelligentsia in the 1970s allowed them to limit the role of ideas in politics and policymaking. It also helped that they found willing “apolitical” development partners in the “international community.” Even the most “progressive” among them care more about their countries’ rankings in the World Bank’s “Doing Business Index” than in the state of their “informal” and agricultural sectors. 

It is time to infuse African leadership with new thinking and moral foundations of social contracts. Only then will the region’s states be in a position to build the necessary resilience to weather emergencies like COVID-19, and provide necessary conditions for Africans to thrive at home and abroad.

Fiscal capacity in African states

This is from The Economist:

Government revenues average about 17% of GDP in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the IMF. Nigeria has more than 300 times as many people as Luxembourg, but collects less tax. If Ethiopia shared out its tax revenues equally, each citizen would get around $80 a year. The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo is so penurious that its annual health spending per person could not buy a copy of this newspaper.

… Since the 1980s governments have followed an IMF-inspired recipe: slashing trade taxes, reducing top rates on personal and corporate income, and embracing value-added tax. Data from the OECD for 26 African countries show that over half of their tax revenues come from taxes on goods and services. Only a quarter comes from personal income tax and social-security contributions (about the same as in Latin America, but much less than in the rich world). From 2008 to 2017 the ratio of tax receipts to GDP rose by 1.5 percentage points, but in many countries this was offset by falls in non-tax revenues, such as fines, rents and royalties from resource extraction.

Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy, collects less than 10% of GDP in taxes.

Of course taxation shouldn’t be an end in itself. It must be accompanied with effective provision of public goods and services. Overall, weak state capacity is the most significant barrier to both political and economic development on the Continent.

Read the whole thing here.

State Capacity Erosion in Ethiopia

This is from Maggie Fick, reporting for Reuters:

Rahmat Hussein once inspired fear and respect for the watchful eye she cast over her Ethiopian neighborhood, keeping files on residents and recommending who should get a loan or be arrested.

Now she is mocked and ignored.

Her fall – from being the eyes and ears of one of Africa’s most repressive governments to a neighborhood punchline – illustrates how Ethiopia’s once ubiquitous surveillance network has crumbled.

… Stacked on top of Rahmat’s kitchen cabinet in the town of Debark, 470 km (290 miles) north of Addis Ababa, are a dozen bulging folders detailing the lives of 150 neighbors: who has money troubles, who has HIV, who is caring for an orphan and who is hosting a stranger.

One of the consequences of the recent democratic opening in Ethiopia under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali has been the curtailment of the state’s surveillance apparatus.


Emperor Haile Selassie (Credit, CNN)

While this is certainly welcome (there is a reason agents like Ms Hussein inspired fear and respect), it still raises the question of what will replace the state’s reach in Ethiopian society. While oppressive and at times murderous, the autocratic surveillance system was also an important source of the state’s infrastructural power. The EPRDF used it to mobilize Ethiopians for agricultural extension services, registration of births and deaths, immunization campaigns, etc. Throwing the baby out with the birth water could mean that, in the interim, the Ethiopian state will get weaker as it democratizes.

This is already apparent. The weakening of the federal government’s local reach that began in 2015 has over the last two years made it very difficult for the federal government to contain violence in the country’s ethno-states. Beyond the potential rise in violence, continued erosion of state capacity may handicap Ethiopia’s ability to implement its ambitious development agenda.

Can the EPRDF/TPLF state and administrative structure be democratized and turned into a system of developmentalist “revolutionary” self-government? Perhaps.

But all indications are that the centre will respond to the increasingly centrifugal forces in the states with more centralization and top-down imposition of order. Any calm in Oromia will likely be replaced with disquiet in Tigrinya and Somali. Adding to the centre’s challenge is the fact that it will be impossible to reverse the entrenchment of Ethiopia’s federal character (to borrow a Nigerian phrase).

The silver lining in all this is that the nature federation in Ethiopia, including the existence of state-level security forces, provides a structural barrier to a return to extreme forms of top-down autocratic rule like existed under the Derg or the Emperor.


Why has economic growth reduced poverty in some African states but failed in others?

This is from an excellent paper by Rumman Khan, Oliver Morrissey and Paul Mosley:

Between 1990 and 2012, for most of the developing world, poverty has halved or more than halved except in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The simple poverty headcount fell from about 60% to 15% in East Asia; 50% to 25% in South Asia; 20% to 10% in Latin America; but only from 57% to under 43% in SSA (Beegle, Christiaensen, Dabalen and Gaddis, 2016: 21- 22). This is despite more than a decade of impressive growth in SSA, averaging 5-6 per cent per year since the late 1990s (Devarajan, 2013: S9). Some countries did (almost) halve poverty, such as Ghana (McKay and Osei-Assibey, 2017) and Uganda (Kakande, 2010), and many achieved significant reductions. In contrast, populous countries such as South Africa and Nigeria, on the available evidence, have not achieved significant poverty reduction.

The authors note that the effects of growth on poverty reduction across Africa has been bimodal. And this is their explanation:

povertyTo explain variation within SSA in poverty reduction, we consider aspects of colonial experience associated with the emergence of differing potential for redistributive policies to emerge after independence. Following the approach of Myint (1976) and others, we classify SSA countries into two groups according to the economic strategies used by the colonial authorities, using pre-independence data on factors such as inequality, land ownership by Europeans and political participation by Africans (the process is detailed in Appendix A, with validation by cluster analysis). In smallholder production economies, African agricultural smallholders had economic and some political participation. In contrast, extractive production economies dominated by foreign-owned mines and large-scale farms fostered the emergence of an elite politics characterised by urban bias and capital-intensive production technologies. During the colonial period African economies became clustered around a bimodal structure, which provided better opportunities to the poor in countries whose production was based on the development of labour-intensive smallholder exports than in countries whose growth strategy was based more on capital-intensive mines and large farms. We then test if the growth elasticity of poverty differs between these two groups of countries, using available (PovcalNet) poverty data since 1985, noting that mean growth rates for the two groups were very similar. The analysis shows that the smallholder group significantly outperformed the extractive group, smallholder experience is a significant predictor of poverty reduction, and inclusion of other potential explanatory variables does not alter the conclusion.

I recommend you read the whole paper (including the very rich appendix).

Africa-China Fact of the Day

This is from the South China Morning Post:

The number of students globally joining Chinese universities surged sixfold in the 15 years to 2018, rising from 77,715 in 2003 to 492,185 last year, according to the Chinese Ministry of Education.

Over the same period, the number of African students in Chinese higher-education institutions increased an astounding fortyfold, jumping from about 1,793 in 2003 to 81,562, last year, according to the Chinese education ministry’s statistics.

With that increase, Africa had the most students in China of any region after Asia, which sent 295,043 students to Chinese universities last year.

Do Gulf States have too much influence in Eastern Africa’s capitals?

That is the question that   and  ask over at Foreign Affairs. Here’s an excerpt:

Faced with expanding Iranian influence, the destabilizing precedent of the Arab Spring, and a shrinking American security umbrella, Crown Princes Mohammed Bin Zayed and Mohammed Bin Salman have sought to radically transform their countries’ relationships with their neighbors across the Red Sea. In 2015, the UAE established a military base in Eritrea, from which the Saudi-Emirati alliance has waged war in Yemen—often relying on Sudanese troops and paramilitaries for ground operations. The UAE is now building a second military base in Somaliland’s port of Berbera while the Saudis are planning their own military facility in neighboring Djibouti. Both countries have also expanded their commercial ties to the Horn, and provided large cash infusions to Sudan and Ethiopia. A major goal of these efforts is to align the Horn states with the Saudi-Emirati axis against Iran, Qatar, and Turkey. To that end, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi find it useful to protect the region’s autocratic regimes, because the Gulf states’ interests don’t always align with popular opinion in the Horn. In Sudan, for example, the government has supported the Saudi-Emirati intervention in Yemen despite vocal criticism from across the Sudanese political spectrum.

The Horn’s two most important African-led bodies have quietly but persistently set themselves against the region’s emerging Gulf-led order. The African Union and an East African regional bloc known as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, or IGAD, seek to craft a regional order that rests on the sovereignty and collective security of African states. The commitment to democracy within these institutions remains weak, as evidenced by the many authoritarian leaders in their ranks, but the organizations do embrace norms of constitutional governance and civilian supremacy in politics far more than the leaders of the Gulf states.

Read the whole thing.



How quickly can you regrow a forest?

Apparently, 20 years.

Here’s evidence from Brazil:

reforestation….. Salgado was to take over his family’s sprawling cattle ranch in Minas Gerais—a region he remembered as a lush and lively rainforest. Unfortunately, the area had undergone a drastic transformation; only about 0.5% was covered in trees, and all of the wildlife had disappeared. “The land,” he tells The Guardian, “was as sick as I was.”

Then, his wife Lélia had an idea: they should replant the forest. In order to support this seemingly impossible cause, the couple set up the Instituto Terra, an “environmental organization dedicated to the sustainable development of the Valley of the River Doce,” in 1998. Over the next several years, the Salgados and the Instituto Terra team slowly but surely rebuilt the 1,754-acre forest, transforming it from a barren plot of land to a tropical paradise.

Now a Private Natural Heritage Reserve, hundreds of species of flora and fauna call the former cattle ranch home. In addition to 293 species of trees, the land now teems with 172 species of birds, 33 species of mammals, and 15 species of amphibians and reptiles—many of which are endangered. As expected, this rejuvenation has also had a huge impact on the ecosystem and climate. On top of reintroducing plants and animals to the area, the project has rejuvenated several once dried-up springs in the drought-prone area, and has even positively affected local temperatures.


Here is the Guardian story.

Perhaps there is hope for countries like Nigeria (see graph) to eventually reverse the deforestation trends across the Continent over the last five decades.

Urbanization might help in the medium-to-long term, although its effects will be moderated by what happens to agricultural productivity. Climate change will matter, too. Finally, Kenya and Ethiopia provide suggestive evidence that the Continent’s ongoing population explosion might not decimate its forests after all. On Nigeria, it would be interesting to determine if the decline in forest cover is due to population growth or climate change effects in its central and northern regions.

China & Civic Architecture in Africa

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

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


The Museum of Black Civilizations in Dakar, Senegal

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

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

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


Why does Al Shabaab target Kenya?

Ngala Chome, PhD candidate at Durham University, has a great review of Al Shabaab recruitment and attacks in Kenya since 2011, and why the group has been able to stage a lot more attacks in Kenya (96.4% of recorded attacks between 2008-16) relative to other troop contributing countries engaged in Somalia (see map):

Screen Shot 2019-02-03 at 10.50.23 AM.pngKenya may have suffered these attacks since it is considered a key ally of the West. But why is Al-Shabaab (an Al-Qaeda affiliate) targeting Kenya more than it is other countries in the region, such as Ethiopia and Uganda, which also have close ties with the West and have fought Al-Shabaab in Somalia? To what extent does Al-Shabaab attack Kenya for the reasons it publicly gives? Will Al-Shabaab, for example, stop targeting Kenya if the Kenya Defence Forces pulled out of Somalia?

…. The Global Terrorism Database (GTD) recorded 14 more attacks before September 2011, and then 49 in 2012, 35, in 2013, 80 in 2014, 42 in 2015, and 45 in 2016. While the GTD is yet to provide figures from 2017, existing evidence shows that of the 302 trans-border attacks perpetrated by Al-Shabaab from 2008-2016, 3 occurred in Ethiopia, 5 in Uganda, 2 in Djibouti and 291 in Kenya. Brendon Cannon and Dominic Pkalya, in a recent article, have argued that beyond sharing a border with Somalia, Al-Shabaab targets Kenya more than other frontline states because of the opportunity spaces linked to Kenya’s international status and visibility, its relative free and independent media that widely publicizes terrorist attacks, a highly developed and lucrative tourism sector that provides soft targets, expanding democratic space and high levels of corruption. In sum, these variables play into Al-Shabaab’s motivations and aid planning and execution of acts that aim to fulfil the group’s quest to survive – as it losses more ground in Somalia – by maintaining its relevance on the global stage.

Read the whole thing here. For more on the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISON), Paul D. William’s new book looks fascinating (I haven’t read it yet).

For a broader understanding of the dynamics driving insurgency in the Horn, check out Michael Woldemariam’s Insurgent Fragmentation in the Horn of Africa: Rebellion and its Discontents and Inside Al-Shabaab by Harun Maruf, Dan Joseph and Christopher Anzalone.


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.

Here’s why African states value their economic and political ties with China

This is from an excellent essay by  in Foreign Policy:

…. when former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson raised a cautionary alarm for Africans to be wary of Chinese predatory investments just a few months ago, his lecturing tone did not go over well. Many African leaders reacted negatively to the underlying assumption that they were not qualified to figure out profitable from predatory investments on their own.

Sierra Leonean President Julius Maada Bio rebuked the warning as misguided, saying, “We are not fools in Africa. … At difficult times, when we needed help most, China was there for us.”

The expansion of Confucius Institutes across Africa is another part of the push worth engaging with. With more than 50 Confucius Institutes teaching Chinese language, as well as the Communist Party’s version of Chinese history and culture, more and more Africans have the chance to study Chinese and travel to China on cultural scholarships. In 2015, approximately 50,000 African students attended Chinese universities, compared with 40,000 in the United States and the United Kingdom. Elementary and middle schools in several African countries are now offering Mandarin as a foreign language.

I highly recommend that you read the whole thing.

H/T Judd Devermont

Are Metros Overrated?

This is from a story in The Guardian:

The ITDP bemoans Africa’s obsession with metros. Lagos in Nigeria – the largest city in the world without a functioning mass transit system – has been trying to build a metro since the 1980s. In the latest of many incarnations, the project was supposed to begin operations in 2012 at a cost of $2.4bn (£1.9bn). Six years after the supposed start date, construction is “nowhere near complete”, says Kost.

Abidjan, the economic capital of Ivory Coast, began construction of a metro last year. The French-financed and -built line is projected to carry 500,000 passengers a day at a cost of $1.7bn. Dar es Salaam’s bus system, by contrast, has capacity for 400,000 people and cost less than a 10th of that – about $150m.

Addis Ababa in Ethiopia opened a Chinese-built and -operated light rail line last year at a cost of $475m. Shenzhen Metro Group has a deal to run it for the first five years.screen shot 2019-01-09 at 4.03.54 pm“With a metro, an international firm will often just parachute in its own system,” says Kost. “Bus rapid transit allows existing stakeholders to get involved. That’s what we did in Dar es Salaam and what we’re planning in Nairobi, where the bus bodies will be built in the city and local operators will look after tickets, fare collection and IT. It’s good for the development of the local economy.”

Regular readers know that I have a bias for Kost’s argument. Read the whole thing here.

H/T Dina Pomeranz.

How can African governments increase their bargaining power vis-a-vis China?

Folashade Soule has answers.

First, a reminder that African governments are not uniformly bad at negotiating with China:

….when you look closely at what happens on the ground, some African countries are much better at negotiating with the Chinese than others. Railway projects in East Africa appear to be a good example. In Kenya, the Standard Gauge Railway is the largest infrastructure project since independence from Britain in 1963. China Eximbank provided most of the finance for the first phase – 472 kilometres of track between Nairobi and Mombasa – at a cost of US$3.2 billion.

In neighbouring Ethiopia, an electric train line from Addis Ababa to Djibouti, which is also Chinese-financed, opened two years ago. The cost for this more expensive type of railway was US$3.4 billion – for 756 kilometres. Kenya claims that its railway cost more for reasons like the terrain and the need to carry higher volumes of cargo. At the same time, however, many believe other issues to have been at play – including failures around the negotiation process.

Second, there are Soule’s suggested remedies:

Involve everyone: When all relevant government departments are involved in a negotiation, it does take longer. The process is more coherent, however, and the resulting project is less likely to breach national regulations.

Empower negotiators: The Chinese often adopt a take-it-or-leave-it approach. In many cases, Africans are not confrontational enough in return. They don’t appreciate that China has a surplus of domestically produced materials they are seeking to offload, for example. Wiser negotiators will play China off against other countries seeking to finance infrastructure projects on the continent, such as South Korea or the United Arab Emirates.

Keep the public onside: China tends to be popular in Africa – more so than the US in around 60% of countries on the continent. Yet the public also see negatives: many think Chinese products are poor quality, while there is a growing perception that dealing with China tends to favour Chinese labourers.

Increase knowledge: African governments are still relatively new to dealing with China; they should take every opportunity to share lessons with one another. There is a role for African universities here. They should set up more centres of Asian studies to close the gap in information and knowledge.

I fully agree.

While it is true that China has geopolitical ambitions in Africa, a lot of Chinese infrastructure plays in Africa are commercial in nature. It is in China’s interest that these projects succeed. That means that African governments could get better deals (in terms of value for money) by doing their homework (on Chinese politics and commercial and institutional architectures) before chasing the money. Similarly, public opinion presents a potential bargaining chip — (the threats of ) transparency and robust public participation should force Beijing’s hand in settling for better deals (from the perspective of African governments). 

All this, of course, is predicated on the assumption that African elites get loans from China to finance infrastructure projects; as opposed to dreaming up projects in order to get loans that then find their way into private bank accounts. 

Read the whole thing here.

H/T Zainab Usman.