Ethics of publishing images of the dead

Yesterday at 3 PM four suspected Al Shabaab gunmen attacked the Dusit complex (14 Riverside) in Nairobi. Initial reports indicate that at least 21 people were killed in the attack. More than 700 people were at the complex at the time and were evacuated.

It is worth noting that yesterday was the third anniversary (15/01/2016) of the El Adde attack (also by Al Shabaab) on a Kenyan military base in Somalia. El Adde was the deadliest attack in Kenyan military history — with at least 141 soldiers reportedly killed.

As the Dusit attack was unfolding, media houses began publishing images from the complex. One image — in a New York Times story — drew the ire of Kenyans for showing two dead men slumped over their seats at a cafe. The Times claimed that this was standard policy.

Kenyans did not buy their explanation. And for good reason. At the very least, the image was insensitive. The two men were easily identifiable by their clothing.

First, it’s one thing to show the image of the dead covered in the streets (the ethics of which are also questionable), and another to show two easily-identifiable dead men slumped over their seats at a cafe. It takes a significant amount of empathy gap to not notice this difference. Second, and more importantly, Kenyans’ demands for respect for victims and their families are valid in their own right. They do not need further validation by what the Times does elsewhere. It is not ordained that what passes for Nice or New York ought to naturally pass for Nairobi. As an institution, the Times ought to have shown that it takes the complaints about the image seriously.

Here is a great explainer on why a lot of Kenyans took particular offense to the Times’ response:

… In the New York Times’ initial story about the event, penned by recently appointed East Africa bureau chief Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura, the photo editors decided to include an image (from the wire Associated Press) that has since spurred not one but two trending hashtags in Nairobi.

Taken at the popular Secret Garden Café tucked away in the compound, the grainy photograph depicts a scene of utter carnage. Two unidentified men’s lifeless bodies are slumped over on their tables, their laptops still next to them. It is a horrific reminder of the indiscriminate nature of terrorist attacks.

… What particularly angered Kaigwa — and many others — is how de Freytas-Tamura responded to the controversy: she reminded her critics that as the reporter, she did not choose the photo, and that people could take their concerns up directly with the photo department. She was factually correct, but to many Kenyans, she displayed an unnerving callousness.

“I think what that tweet showed to people is that they didn’t have someone who listen[ed] to them and empathize[ed] with them,” says Kaigwa. The reporter later deleted the tweet and instead shared the New York Times’ official policy on showing casualties during terrorist attacks.

Underlying the current discussion (and no doubt fueling the expressions of outrage) is, of course, a long history of the Western press being callous about publishing images of dead Africans. And it is in that context that the reaction from Kenyans should be understood. My hope is that this present discussion will force the Times and other media houses to review their guidelines on publishing images of the dead — regardless of their nationality.

Finally, and to echo Nanjala Nyabola, it goes without saying that the Times’ reprehensible editorial choice in this instance should not be used to attack individual journalists or the freedom of the press more generally.

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.

Mobile connectivity in Kenya is at 97.8%

Penetration of mobile phones reached 98 per cent at the end of June, up from 89 per cent during the same month last year, according to the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) statistics.

“As at June 30, 2018, the number of mobile service subscriptions in the country stood at 45.5 million up from 44.1 million reported in March 2018. This also marked an increase of 13.2 per cent when compared to the 40.2 million subscriptions recorded as at June 330, 2017,” said the CA in its latest update. “This has resulted to increased mobile penetration of 97.8 per cent during the subject quarter from 95.1 per cent reported in the preceding quarter.”
The actual number of households with at least one mobile phone is probably 10 percentage points lower than the headline figure. Which is still a very high rate of mobile penetration. For comparison, the gross rate of connectivity in India stood at 65-75% last year.
The challenge for Kenyan entrepreneurs is to think of ways to exploit this potentially lucrative platform (beyond the exciting innovations in financial inclusion).

Public Debt in African States

This is from the IMF:

Screen Shot 2018-11-23 at 10.27.45 AMCountries in sub-Saharan Africa accumulated external debt at a faster pace than low- and middle- income countries in other regions in 2017: the combined external debt stock rose 15.5 percent from the previous year to $535 billion. Much of this increase was driven by a sharp rise in borrowing by two of the region’s largest economies, Nigeria and South Africa, where the external debt stock rose 29 percent and 21 percent respectively.

Export growth is not keeping up with rising levels of external debt:

….In 2017, the ratio was largely unchanged from the prior year, at an average of 138 percent. However, this ratio was close to double the average of 70 percent in 2010. Moreover, the average ratio masks wide disparity between countries. At the end of 2017 54 percent of countries in the region had an external debt-to-export ratio over 150 percent, as compared to 28 percent of countries in 2010 and the number of countries where the ratio surpassed 200 percent more than doubled, from 6 countries to 14 countries, over the same period. Most of these countries are ones that benefitted from HIPC and MDRI relief, including Burundi, Ethiopia, Niger, Senegal and Tanzania.

Bond issuance is dominated by a handful of countries:

Bond issuance by sovereign governments and pub- lic-sector entities in the region rose to $27 billion in 2017, a more than fourfold increase over 2016, driven to a large extent by a surge in issuance in South Africa to $19 billion from $4 billion in 2016, 70 percent of bond issuance in the region last year. An important factor was non-resident purchase of bonds issued in the South African domestic market. Bond issuance by other countries in the region totaled $8 billion, a tenfold increase from 2016, reflecting continued investors’ confidence and search for yield. Issuing countries in 2017 were Nigeria ($4.8 billion), Cote d’Ivoire ($2 billion), Senegal ($1.1 billion), and Gabon ($0.2 billion). Nigeria’s $3 billion Eurobond issuance marked the country’s largest such operation to date, and at end 2017, bond issuance accounted for one third of the country’s outstanding external debt.

Overall, while the data suggests that things may not be as bad as they were over the lost long decade (1980-1995), the trends are not encouraging. Total reserves as a share of external debt peaked around 2010 and have been in decline since. Screen Shot 2018-11-23 at 10.54.37 AM

It’s getting easier to do business in Africa

At least according to the World Bank Group:

Sub-Saharan Africa has been the region with the highest number of reforms each year since 2012. This year, Doing Business captured a record 107 reforms across 40 economies in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the region’s private sector is feeling the impact of these improvements. The aver- age time and cost to register a business, for example, has declined from 59 days and 192% of income per capita in 2006 to 23 days and 40% of income per capita today. Furthermore, the average paid-in minimum capital has fallen from 212% of income per capita to 11% of income per capita in the same period.

See the 2019 Doing Business Report here.

Here are some questions from last year on the integrity of the Doing Business Index.

It turns out that life expectancy in the ancient past was longer than you think

This is from Sapiens:

…. People in the past were not all dead by 30. Ancient documents confirm this. In the 24th century B.C., the Egyptian Vizier Ptahhotep wrote verses about the disintegrations of old age. The ancient Greeks classed old age among the divine curses, and their tombstones attest to survival well past 80 years. Ancient artworks and figurines also depict elderly people: stooped, flabby, wrinkled.

This is not the only type of evidence, however. Studies on extant traditional people who live far away from modern medicines and markets, such as Tanzania’s Hadza or Brazil’s Xilixana Yanomami, have demonstrated that the most likely age at death is far higher than most people assume: It’s about 70 years old. One study found that although there are differences in rates of death in various populations and periods, especially with regard to violence, there is a remarkable similarity between the mortality profiles of various traditional peoples.

So it seems that humans evolved with a characteristic lifespan. Mortality rates in traditional populations are high during infancy, before decreasing sharply to remain constant till about 40 years, then mortality rises to peak at about 70. Most individuals remain healthy and vigorous right through their 60s or beyond, until senescence sets in, which is the physical decline where if one cause fails to kill, another will soon strike the mortal blow.

The whole thing is worth reading. Archaeologists figured out the ages of the ancients by digging out buried remains from ancient cemeteries.

And speaking of ancient cemeteries, one has recently been discovered on the shores of Lake Turkana in Kenya. According to the Independent:


pendants and earrings from a 5,000 year old cemetery in Kenya

An ancient cemetery containing the remains of nearly 600 people has been discovered at a site in northern Kenya.

Constructed near Lake Turkana by the simple herders that inhabited the region 5,000 years ago, the Lothagam North Pillar Site, a cavity in the ground was filled with the dead.

The ancient Kenyans then stacked stones and raised large pillars to place on top. Some of them appear to have been sourced from up to a kilometre away, archeologists said. This kind of monumental architecture has previously been associated with societies governed by strict hierarchies such as ancient Egypt.

The original paper on the Turkana discovery is available here. The paper argues that the cemetery represents monumentality absent a social hierarchy:

Lothagam North’s initial creation and final closure required heavy labor, but during the intervening decades or centuries people assembled for hundreds of mortuary rituals that may have involved little toil. This behavior is inconsistent with nascent elites consolidating authority via recurring large-scale construction initiatives. Communal values were emphasized by placing deceased of diverse ages and both sexes in a single location, without spatial or artifactual patterning that would suggest social hierarchies. Near-universal yet idiosyncratic ornamentation also argues against sequestration of resources by a social subset. Absent other evidence, Lothagam North provides an example of monumentality that is not demonstrably linked to the emergence of hierarchy, forcing us to consider other narratives of social change.

How resilient is the Kenyan economy?

The FT has a great special report on investing in Kenya. Highlights include pieces on devolution, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s “Big Four” legacy projects (including an ambitious plan to build 500,000 new homes), and the promises of the tech sector.

Meanwhile, nominal GDP growth is projected to remain respectable, despite sky-high corruption and generalized administrative failures in both the county-level and national governments.Screen Shot 2018-06-28 at 6.28.18 AM.pngAnd here is an excerpt from one of the pieces:

A 2016 report from New World Wealth, an independent South Africa-based research group, found that 8,500 of Kenya’s roughly 48m people controlled more than two-thirds of the country’s wealth.

Highly recommended.

The Scramble for Somalia


The Journal has a great piece on the new scramble for Somalia among regional and global powers:

The maneuvering for territory has drawn a motley crew of actors, including U.A.E. state-owned shipping giant DP World; a Turkish conglomerate owned by the family of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-law; and Navy-SEAL-turned-businessman Erik Prince, who wants to develop a port south of the capital Mogadishu. France and Japan have military bases, and Russian entities are scouting for deals.

Since 2011, a number of regional powers have been in a scramble for political and economic influence in (Southern) Somalia. Many of these foreign engagements have come with serious threats to Somalia’s territorial integrity and the capacity of the Federal Government to effectively influence regional governments.

Kenya has strong relations with Jubaland, and prefers a weak federated Somalia. Ethiopia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are keen on working with the breakaway region of Somaliland. Somaliland, of course, is thriving as a free electoral democracy with functional institutions.

Turkey and Qatar are focused on supporting the Federal Government and investing in Mogadishu and its environs. And Qatar’s Gulf rival, the UAE, is interested in working with the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, against the wishes of the Federal Government.

It is fair to say that the conflicting interests and goals of Somalia’s friends are not helping the wider stabilization effort under AMISOM.

So far Turkey is miles ahead of every other regional powers in terms of economic influence in Mogadishu. This reality is causing a lot of angst among Gulf states eager to cut Qatar, an ally of Turkey, to size.

Turkey and Qatar will likely win this race.

Turkey invested in Somalia early (since 2011) and in a diversified fashion:

Turkish money and aid – delivered directly to key stakeholders in the Somali Federal Government – ingratiated Turkey with local power brokers and provided Ankara with access and power in Mogadishu. What soon followed is Turkish control and management of Somalia’s most lucrative assets, the airport and seaport.

Parallel to these were unilateral rebuilding efforts, offers of scholarships, renovations of hospitals, and the hosting of international conferences about Somalia. These have largely contributed positively to Somalia’s development and yielded the international acclaim and diplomatic clout craved by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his coterie.


Can African states eliminate malaria?

Southern Africa has an ambitious plan to eliminate malaria by 2030. According to the FT:

Under the Elimination8 plan, the idea is to end malaria by 2020 in four so-called frontline states where transmission levels are already low — below 10 per 1,000. These are Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland. Four higher-transmission, “second line” countries — Angola, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe, where transmission rates can climb as high as 400 per thousand — have until 2030 to get the job done.

Kenya presents a less sanguine but still somewhat positive story. The country reported 8.3 million cases of malaria in 2018, a decline of 12% from 2012. And out of these cases, 16,000 fatalities were reported. Contrast this with China which in 2017 reported a grand total of 2,672 malaria cases, all of which were due to infections while abroad. China’s population is 1.4 billion. Kenya’s population is 49 million. 40 years ago China reported more than 24 million malaria cases annually.

So how did China do it?

Screen Shot 2018-04-24 at 9.08.41 PM.pngThrough a combination of vector control, human behavioral change (including use of treated bed nets), and treatment. All three approaches are important. For instance, while the malaria mortality rate of 0.09% in Kenya is not super high (thanks to treatment), it still means that each year millions of work hours are lost due to illness. It is also a significant drain on the healthcare system. In addition, while treated bed nets have been shown to save lots of lives, we should still work towards complete elimination of the disease.

And that will require an aggressive form of vector control, something that is glaringly missing from most malaria programs on the Continent.

Interestingly, the international community used to take vector control seriously, which resulted in some significant results (see map):

 In 1955, the UN committed to ending the scourge of malaria. It was optimistic because it thought there were effective tools. The pesticide DDT had been found to kill the mosquitoes that were spreading the disease in US army camps in the Pacific during the second world war. Widespread use of DDT and the drug chloroquine drove malaria out of many countries in the Americas, Europe and parts of Asia.

But it all fell apart. There was no real attempt to tackle malaria in sub-Saharan Africa because it was thought to be too difficult. Elsewhere, elimination fell foul of the problem that has bedevilled all malaria control efforts: resistance of the malaria parasite to drugs and of the mosquitoes to pesticides. Then in 1962, Rachel Carson’s blockbuster Silent Spring was published, alerting the world to the environmental devastation wreaked by DDT. The UN’s malaria eradication plan was officially scrapped in 1969.

The over-correction arising from Carson’s paradigm-shifting findings meant that much of the world was willing to sit on their hands as more than 400,000 people died each year of malaria. The WHO only dabbles in vector control through treated bed nets. Sadly, resistance to its choice of insecticides stood at 81% in 2016.

That translates to over 200 million people infected each year, over 400,000 of whom die.

Even Bill Gates agrees that complete eradication of malaria is the most sustainable solution:

“Eradication is the only sustainable solution to malaria,” Bill Gates said on the release of the report his foundation produced with the UN last September. “The alternative would be endless investment in the development of new drugs and insecticides just to stay one step ahead of resistance. The world can’t afford that approach.”

Is anyone out there investing in research on environmentally-safe insecticides?



The Political Legacy of Kenneth Matiba

In 1988 President Daniel arap Moi overplayed his hand, and set in motion the beginning of the end of KANU’s dominance in Kenyan politics. Ever since the attempted coup of August 1982, Moi had increasingly concentrated power in KANU and in his own hands. First he made Kenya a de jure single party state under KANU and called the 1983 snap election to rid Parliament of critical voices. He then went about strengthening the KANU national office to serve as an enforcer of strict party discipline within and outside of Parliament. KANU became baba na mama, and Kenya a nascent Party State (albeit nothing near what CCM in Tanzania or UNIP in Zambia had accomplished). By the mid-1980s Moi had abandoned all pretenses to the supremacy of parliament, and in 1986 declared KANU to be supreme over bunge. In the same year he removed security of tenure for the Attorney General and Auditor General; and in 1988 leaned on Parliament to remove security of tenure for judges.

1988 was also the year of the infamous Mlolongo elections. Ahead of the KANU primaries, Moi (through KANU) abolished the secret ballot and decreed that voters should queue behind their preferred candidates. This was an attempt to intimidate voters into selecting pro-Moi legislators. But in a sign of KANU’s weakness at the grassroots level, District Commissioners still had to rig out popular candidates whose lines were visibly the longest. The backlash against the Mlolongo election caused irreparable damage to the elite consensus that had (very tenuously) underpinned single party rule in Kenya since the death of President Jomo Kenyatta in 1978.

Screen Shot 2018-04-15 at 3.39.42 PM.pngAmong those targeted by Moi in 1988 was Kenneth Matiba, a wealthy former Civil Servant, executive at East African Breweries, and M.P. for Mbiri (later renamed Kiharu) Constituency in Murang’a District since 1979. In order to defend his seat, Matiba went as far as hiring a helicopter and cameramen to take pictures and video evidence of the length of this queues, just in case the District Commissioner declared his opponent the winner. Matiba saved his seat, against his perennial opponent Julius Gikonyo Kiano, but would be out of government and then parliament in less than a year.

In September 1988 KANU held its branch elections. Matiba was vying for the position of Chairman of the Murang’a branch against Joseph Kamotho, MP for Kangema. Following brazen rigging, in which Matiba lost his own home area, the District Commissioner declared Kamotho the winner. Matiba disputed the result, forcing Moi to order a repeat of the poll. But Matiba and his supporters boycotted the repeat election, citing a lack of faith in the local Provincial Administration officials who doubled as KANU election officials.

Then on December 9, 1988 Matiba did the unthinkable: He resigned from the Cabinet as Minister of Transport and Communications. This was the first time since 1966 that a Kenyan Cabinet Minister had resigned. It was also a direct insult targeted at Moi, who was scheduled to receive international guests the next day to celebrate his first decade in power (“Moi Day” was created on the same day).

The move made Matiba a marked man. He was promptly expelled from KANU which resulted in the loss of his parliamentary seat. But these moves only served to strengthen Matiba’s cause for freer electoral politics in Kenya. In the words of Gibson Kamau Kuria:

Matiba was a kind of reluctant reformer… he did not have issues with the system until the excesses of mlolongo in 1988. Up until then, he was part of the authoritarian government. The important thing about him, however, is that he had a sense of decency. He got converted to the cause of pluralism. Kenya had reached a stage where it was contravening Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “everyone has a right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.” Mlolongo was a negation of all that.

Screen Shot 2018-04-15 at 7.57.23 PM.pngMatiba then joined forces with intellectuals, church leaders, and politicians who were calling for a return to multiparty politics. For his efforts he was detained on July 4 1990 as he and other opposition leaders prepared for the first Saba Saba (July 7th) rally at Kamukunji grounds in Nairobi. While in detention he was tortured, suffered a stroke on May 26th 1991, and was only allowed treatment a week later. He spent the next 11 months receiving treatment in London before his triumphant return to Nairobi on May 2, 1992 (see image). Matiba never fully recovered from the stroke, and in 2017 was awarded $9.5m in damages after a successful suit against the Kenyan state.

Moi would later acquiesce to both domestic and international pressure and allow for constitutional amendments to reintroduce multiparty politics in December 1991.

Was the end of  KANU’s single party rule inevitable even without Matiba’s efforts?

Perhaps. Besides Matiba, there were several other leading lights in Kenya’s opposition movement capable of bringing down the proverbial Mugumo tree — men and women like Oginga Odinga, Bishops Alexander Muge and Henry Okullu, Paul Muite, Gitobu Imanyara, Martin Shikuku, Gibson Kamau Kuria, James Orengo, Kijana Wamalwa, Kiraitu Murungi, Raila Odinga, Charity Ngilu, Martha Karua, and Wangari Maathai, among others. As single party regimes fell all over the Continent between 1990 and 1994 like dominos, so would have KANU’s single party dominance.

However, Matiba’s important legacy is that he was the first prominent insider to publicly ditch KANU and Moi. Because of his actions Moi went from appearing to be completely in charge in 1988 to fighting for his political life in 1992.

Scholars of democratization processes have long emphasized the importance of intra-elite splits in autocratic regimes as catalysts of transition. Seen in this light, Matiba’s resignation from Cabinet was important in that it forced Moi to react in ways that only accelerated further defections from his government and KANU. In quick succession he lost his Vice President Josephat Karanja, former Vice President Mwai Kibaki, KANU Chairman Peter Oloo Aringo, and Minister Njoroge Mungai. These defections, inspired in part by the considerable wealth and economic independence of those involved, were as clear a sign as any of open elite rebellion against Moi’s rule, and forced him into accepting term limits and multiparty electoral politics. Moi would later survive the 1992 (with 36.4% of the vote) and 1997 (40.6%) elections amid opposition division, but was forced to step down in 2002 in observance of term limits.

As Kenya mourns Kenneth Stanley Njindo Matiba (1932-2018), his legacy will endure forever as the ultimate insider who nonetheless took significant risks against Moi’s autocracy. His personal sacrifices created space for many of the freedoms that Kenyans enjoy today.

Lala salama Bwana “Let the People Decide!”, a true hero of Kenya’s Second Liberation.




What exactly is China up to in Africa?

Leading Afro-Chinese relations scholar Deborah Brautigam has a great piece over at the Washington Post:

On Chinese imported labor in Africa:

Surveys of employment on Chinese projects in Africa repeatedly find that three-quarters or more of the workers are, in fact, local. This makes business sense. In China, textile workers now earn about $500 a month — far more than workers in most African countries. Chinese investors flocking to set up factories in low-cost countries like Ethiopia are not thinking about importing Chinese workers. Like U.S. and European factory owners who moved their factories to China in past decades, Chinese firms are now outsourcing their own manufacturing to cheaper countries.

On Chinese loans to African states:

… In Africa, we found that China had lent at least $95.5 billion between 2000 and 2015. That’s a lot of debt. Yet by and large, the Chinese loans in our database were performing a useful service: financing Africa’s serious infrastructure gap. On a continent where over 600 million Africans have no access to electricity, 40 percent of the Chinese loans paid for power generation and transmission. Another 30 percent went to modernizing Africa’s crumbling transport infrastructure.

On alleged Chinese land grabs:

… the total amount of land actually acquired by Chinese firms was only about 240,000 hectares: 4 percent of the reported amount.

I like to remind my students of the qualitative difference of the “Chinese model” of resource exploitation in Africa.

Previously, Exxon, Elf and other Western resource sector firms would pay African leaders in cash, most of which wound up in Swiss banks, property in southern France, and various tax havens outside the Continent. This was, if you will, the “Western model” of resource exploitation in Africa.

afrobarometerEnter the Chinese. Their model is to pay for resources both in cash and in kind. African leaders still get cash that they can stash abroad. But they also get roads, railways, stadia, hospitals, water works, among other infrastructure investments. And more recently Chinese firms have begun to invest in actual factories — most notably in Ethiopia. It is no wonder that a majority of Africans have a favorable view of China (see image).

Some of these projects produced sub-standard structures (in the recent past the quality has gone up). And the level of indebtedness of African states as a result should concern every sane person. But this arrangement is orders of magnitude better than useless capacity building workshops and janus-faced democracy promotion on the back of rapacious pillaging with little public investments to show for it.

Finally, the inability of African states to negotiate reasonable deals with Beijing is on African political and economic elites. The Chinese have every right to rationally push for the best deals they can get. And if they are smart, they will also work to avoid future defaults by not overstepping their bounds.

To paraphrase a Mozambican diplomat at a recent event here on campus, Africans are too smart to allow themselves to be recolonized by the Chinese.

Kenya trade fact of the day

This is from the prospectus issued by the Kenyan Treasury ahead of its $2b eurobond issue in late February.

Africa is the largest market for Kenya’s exports, accounting for 40.7 per cent. of total exports in 2016, and 37.7 per cent. in the nine months ended 30 September 2017. The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (“COMESA”) remained the dominant destination of exports, accounting for approximately 72.5 per cent. of the total exports to Africa and 30 per cent. of total exports in 2016.

The European Union continues to be Kenya’s second largest export market, accounting for 21.0 per cent. of total exports in 2016 and 21.6 per cent. in the nine months ended 30 September 2017. Exports to the European Union declined by 3.7 per cent. in 2016, with exports from the United Kingdom and Germany, two of the top three destinations of Kenya’s exports within the European Union, declining by 7.6 per cent. and 5.2 per cent., respectively, in the same period. In addition, a large portion of foreign tourists visiting Kenya are from Italy, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom, which accounted for a combined 38.2 per cent. of departing tourists in 2016.

A decline in demand for exports to Kenya’s major trading partners, such as the European Union or COMESA countries, or a decline in tourism receipts, could have a material adverse impact on Kenya’s balance of payments and economy.

Over the last five years intra-Africa trade as a share of total trade in the region has risen from less than 12% to about 18%. With the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area this figure will jump to over 25%, and will likely grow faster over the next four decades as the African population explodes to over 2 billion people.

Read the while thing here.

More on the apparently *transient* effects of unconditional cash transfers

Berk Ozler over at Development Impact has a follow up post on GiveDirectly’s three-year impacts. The post looks at multiple papers analyzing results from the same cash transfer RCT in southwestern Kenya:

First, on the initial studies:

On October, 31, 2015, after the release of the HS (16) working paper in 2013, but before the eventual journal publication of HS (16), Haushofer, Reisinger, and Shapiro released a working paper titled “Your Gain is My Pain.”  In it, they find large negative spillovers on life satisfaction (a component of the psychological wellbeing index reported in HS 16) and smaller, but statistically significant negative spillovers on assets and consumption. The negative spillover effects on life satisfaction, at -0.33 SD and larger than the average benefit on beneficiaries, imply a net decrease in life satisfaction in treated villages. Furthermore, the treatment (ITT) effects are consistent with HS (16), but the spillover effects are not. For example, the spillover effect on the psychological wellbeing index in Table III of HS (16) is approximately +0.1, while Table 1 in HRS (15) implies an average spillover effect of about -0.175 (my calculations: -0.05 * (354/100)). There appear to be similar discrepancies on the spillovers implied for assets and consumption in the HRS (15) paper and HS (16). I am not sure what to make of this, as HRS (15) is an unpublished paper – there must [be] a good explanation that I am missing. Regardless, however, these findings of negative spillovers foreshadow the three-year findings in HS (18), which I discuss next.

Then on the three-year findings:

As I discussed earlier this week, HS (18) find that if they define ITT=T-S, virtually all the effects they found at the 9-month follow-up are still there. However, if ITT is defined in the more standard manner of being across villages, i.e. ITT=T-C, then, there is only an effect on assets and nothing else.

… As you can see, things have now changed: there are spillover effects, so the condition for ITT=T-S being unbiased no longer holds. This is not a condition that you establish once in an earlier follow-up and stick with: it has to hold at every follow-up. Otherwise, you need to use the unbiased estimator defined across villages, ITT=T-C.

To nitpick with the authors here, I don’t buy that [….] lower power is responsible for the finding of no significant treatment effects across villages. Sure, as in HS (16), the standard errors are somewhat larger for across-village estimates than the same within-village estimates. But, the big difference between the short- and the longer-term impacts is the gap between the respective point estimates in HS (18), while they were very stable (due to no/small spillovers) in HS (16). Compare Table 5 in HS (18) with Appendix Table 38 and you will see. The treatment effects disappeared, mainly because the differences between T and C are much smaller now, and even negative, than they were at the nine-month follow-up.

And then this:

If we’re trying to say something about treatment effects, which is what the GiveDirectly blog seems to be trying to do, we already have the estimates we want – unbiased and with decent power: ITT=T-C. HS (18) already established a proper counterfactual in C, so just use that. Doesn’t matter if there are spillovers or not: there are no treatment effects to see here, other than the sole one on assets. Spillover estimation is just playing defense here – a smoke screen for the reader who doesn’t have the time to assess the veracity of the claims about sustained effects.

Chris has a twitter thread on the same questions.

Bottom line: we need more research on UCTs, which GiveDirectly is already doing with a (hopefully) better-implemented really long-term study.