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

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

Here are some answers to Team Trump’s questions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

I have no idea.

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

I honestly have no idea.

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

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

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

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

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

Tyler Cowen Goes to Lagos

MR’s Tyler Cowen (also Professor of Economics at George Mason) recently spent six days in Lagos. Here is what he has to say about Africa’s biggest and most economically dynamic city:

A trip is often defined by its surprises, so here are my biggest revelations from six days in Lagos, Nigeria.

Most of all, I found Lagos to be much safer than advertised. It is frequently described as one of the most dangerous cities on earth. Many people told me I was crazy to go there, and some Nigerian expats warned me I might not get out of the airport alive.

The reality is that I walked around freely and in many parts of town. I didn’t try to go everywhere or at all hours, and I may have been lucky. Yet not once did I feel threatened, and I strongly suspect that a trip to Lagos is safer than a trip to Rio de Janeiro, a major tourist destination. (In my first trip to Rio I was attacked by children with pointed sticks. In my second I found myself caught in a gunfight between drug lords). Many Lagos residents credit the advent of closed-circuit television cameras for their safety improvements.

So if you’re an experienced traveler, and tempted to visit Africa’s largest and arguably most dynamic city, don’t let safety concerns be a deal killer.

Read the whole thing here.

I have never been to Lagos, and look forward to fixing this in 2017. So far my experience of West African (commercial) capitals is limited to Dakar, Accra, Lome, Conakry, Nouakchott and Monrovia (I like them in that order). Dakar edges Accra only by a whisker, mostly on account of the seascape. I have spent way more time in Accra, and therefore my ranking might also be a function of my knowledge of Accra a little too well.

Accra beats all other cities on food. It has the most variety, and nearly all of the offerings beat the bland stuff that we East Africans consume. The grilled tilapia and banku is unbeatable.

Oh, and I must admit that I have a slight preference for Senegalese jollof. My wife insists that Ghanaian jollof is the best jollof (ahead of both the Nigerian and Senegalese variations). I look forward to sampling Naija jollof so we can finally settle this disagreement.

Variagated Africa: Trends in Economic Performance in Two Charts

This is from the IMF’s Monique Newiak:



In summary:

Non-commodity exporters, around half of the countries in the region, continue to perform well with growth levels at 4 percent or more. Those countries benefit from lower oil import prices, improvements in their business environments, and strong infrastructure investment. Countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Senegal, and Tanzania are expected to continue to grow at more than 6 percent for the next couple of years.

Most commodity exporters, however, are under severe economic strain. This is particularly the case for oil exporters like Angola, Nigeria, and five of the six countries from the Central African Economic and Monetary Union, whose near-term prospects have worsened significantly in recent months despite the modest uptick in oil prices. In these countries, repercussions from the initial shock are now spreading beyond the oil-related sectors to the entire economy, and the slowdown risks becoming deeply entrenched.

It should be obvious, but it bears repeating that there is quite a bit of variation in economic performance across the 55 states on this vast continent.

My personal Africa growth index consists of Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Ghana, Gabon, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Zambia, Angola, and South Africa. And despite ongoing turbulence in a number of the key economies in this basket, I am confident that the turbulence will not completely erase the gains of the last two decades.


How to avoid the resource curse, or how Norway spends its $882 billion global fund

This is from the Economist:

This week the “Pension Fund Global” was worth Nkr7.3 trillion ($882 billion), more than double national GDP. No sovereign-wealth fund is bigger (see chart). It owns over 2% of all listed shares in Europe and over 1% globally. Its largest holdings are in Alphabet, Apple, Microsoft and Nestlé, among 9,000-odd firms in 78 countries.

In designing the fund, Norway got a lot right. Its independence is not constitutionally guaranteed, but it is protected as a separate unit within the central bank, overseen by the finance ministry and monitored by parliament. It is run frugally and transparently; every investment it makes is detailed online.

Other funds might copy those structures, but would struggle to mimic the Nordic values that underpin them. Yngve Slyngstad, its boss, says growth came “faster than anyone had envisaged”, and that a culture of political trust made it uncontroversial to save as much as possible. A budgetary rule stops the government from drawing down more than the fund’s expected annual returns (set at 4% a year). The capital, in theory, is never touched. Martin Skancke, who used to oversee the fund’s operations from the finance ministry, attributes the trust the institution enjoys to relatively high levels of equality and cultural homogeneity. It also helps that many rural areas recall poverty just two generations ago.

Consider this your regular reminder that the “resource curse” is not a universal phenomenon. See also Botswana, the United States, Chile, Canada, and Australia.

More on this here.

How to Eliminate Malaria

Sri Lanka is the latest country to be declared malaria free by the WHO.

How did they do it?

According to the New York Times:

In 2000, outside the rebel-controlled areas in the northeast, malaria cases began dropping as the government, with donor help, deployed a mix of indoor spraying, bed nets, rapid diagnostic kits and medicines that combined artemisinin, an effective treatment, with other drugs.

The government also screened blood samples drawn — for any reason — in public clinics and hospitals for malaria infection, and officials established a nationwide electronic case-reporting system.malariaeradication

In war-torn areas, the disease retreated more slowly, although the Tigers often cooperated with malaria-control teams because their villages and fighters also suffered.

Nonetheless, in a population of 20 million, it took years to get rid of the last few hundred annual cases. Most were soldiers and itinerant laborers, often from India, who worked in remote slash-and-burn farming areas and in logging and gem-mining camps.

Someone tell African policymakers that bed nets and behavior change are not enough.

Every other region of the world appears to be willing and able to combine vector (mosquito) control with other strategies of containing malaria with success (and enthusiastic donor support). But for some reason mosquito control is still lagging in Africa, even in otherwise strong and stable states. In some instances this has been due to environmental concerns while in others it has been due to the misplaced priorities of public health officials, donors, development agencies, and academic researchers.

The result:

About 3.2 billion people – nearly half of the world’s population – are at risk of malaria. In 2015, there were roughly 214 million malaria cases and an estimated 438 000 malaria deaths. Increased prevention and control measures have led to a 60% reduction in malaria mortality rates globally since 2000. Sub-Saharan Africa continues to carry a disproportionately high share of the global malaria burden. In 2015, the region was home to 89% of malaria cases and 91% of malaria deaths. 

214 million malaria cases amount to lots and lots of lost productivity. Also, losing one Miami every year in deaths is simply unacceptable.

More on this here. 

Nigeria has a shockingly tiny government

These are figures from an IMF Article IV country report in April of this year:

Screen Shot 2016-08-30 at 11.22.55 AM.png

The one thing that jumped at me from this table was how little(as a share of total national output) the Nigerian public sector spends. The government barely takes in 10% of GDP in revenues; and spends between 11-12%. Also, for a country at its level of development (and with an economy of its size), Nigeria is weirdly debt free (relatively speaking).

You may be thinking that these figures must exclude state government expenditures — and you are wrong. The 11-12% figure is inclusive of state government expenditures.

In my view, this is a PFM smoking gun on the distortionary effects of oil dependence. Nigerian policymakers appear to be sated with the little revenue they are consuming (as a share of GDP) from the oil sector.

For a comparative perspective, take a look at Kenya’s numbers:

Screen Shot 2016-08-30 at 11.36.28 AM.png

The Kenyan government gobbles up about a fifth of GDP in revenues, and spends about a quarter. The Nigerian government only takes in a tenth of GPD and spends just a little over a tenth. In addition, the Kenyan government’s debt/GDP ratio is twice Nigeria’s.

General government spending as a share of GDP within the OECD ranges from 33.7% in Switzerland to 58.1 in Finland. The OCED debt/GDP ratio average is 90%.

Back in grad school I took Avner Greif’s economic history class in which he emphasized the importance of organizations for economic development. Societies, big and small, organize out of poverty — by building and maintaining socially-attuned institutions that lower transaction costs. The scope and intensity of organizational capacity therefore matters for economic development (For more see here). It takes a well ordered state.

And from these two tables, it is fair to say that the Nigerian state is underperforming relative to its organizational potential. Perhaps it’s time more people in Abuja started reading Alexander Gerschenkron (however dated this might be).



Is Brexit good or bad for Africa?

Writing in Foreign Policy, Alex de Waal is certain that Brexit is terrible for African countries, and that “[e]verything from the economy to peacekeeping missions will suffer.”

The damage to British interests is significant, but the losses for [African countries] could be greater still. In campaigning to leave the European Union, Minister for Africa James Duddridge argued that Britain would be able to forge stronger ties with the continent if it were unencumbered by EU inefficiencies in aid and trade. Perhaps if Duddridge had a blank slate on which to construct a new Africa policy, he could do better than Britain’s existing one, which is part bilateral and part multilateral through the EU.farage But no policy is ever built on a blank slate, and surveying the post-Brexit political wreckage, he is now faced with a salvage job that will involve decoupling Britain from numerous EU-led peace and development initiatives and renegotiating dozens of trade deals. Even deftly managed by Duddridge or his successor, the Brexit will leave Britain with a fraction of the influence it currently wields in Africa.

And over at Africa is a Country Grive Chelwa notes that:

The one obvious channel through which Brexit could affect economies in Africa is if it triggers a recession in the UK. A recession might affect trade and investment between the two regions. The Bank of England thinks a recession might very well be on the cards. A study reviewing all studies that have estimated the likely economic impact of Brexit found: “GDP losses for the UK in the range of 10% or more [could not] be ruled out in the long run.”

How much trade takes place between the UK and Africa? Not much, it turns out. Combining data from the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) for 2014, the latest year for which we have comparable data, we calculated that exports from Africa to the UK represent about 5% of Africa’s total exports. Africa is more worried about a slowdown in China, its biggest trading partner by far.

…. The UK doesn’t have the same influence on the continent that it did decades ago. And Brexit will be further proof of that. If the UK sneezes Africa will … well Africa will say “bless you” and move on.

On balance, I agree with Chelwa. It appears that with regard to the UK-Africa relationship, the Brits stand to lose more than Africa as a unit following Brexit. This is for the following reasons:

  1. Lacking the amplifying effects of the EU, UK influence in Africa will be diminished. This is bad for the UK, but not necessarily so for African states. Notice that the UK’s security objectives in Somalia or elsewhere on the Continent have not suddenly changed following the Brexit vote. We should disabuse ourselves of the notion that the UK involvement in these theatres of conflict is out of pure benevolence. It is largely to protect British interests (tourists, MNCs, aid workers, other tied aid, etc). Those interests have not suddenly changed with Brexit. Is a post-Brexit UK better off with a stable Somalia? I think so. Viewed this way, what Brexit has done is not to change British interests in Africa but to increase the UK’s transaction costs in catering to those interests. The Brits may invest less in specific peacekeeping operations, but their self-interest dictates that they will not suddenly close the taps on these investments.
  2. A diminished UK diminishes Europe, which may reduce Europe’s leverage vis-a-vis African countries. This outcome could cut both ways. On the one hand, it may exacerbate the moral hazard problem faced by African leaders by allowing them to play different European powers off each other (why invest in good governance if Europe is always at the ready to help if things go south?) But on the other hand, a weaker Europe may be less willing to bail out African leaders all the time. This might force these leaders to take their jobs seriously, thereby improving the welfare of their citizens. 
  3. It is not clear that decoupling UK aid from the rest of Europe will necessarily lead to the UK cutting its aid budget. In fact, the opposite might prove true. Going its own way may force the UK to put more aid pounds into projects in the region than it currently does under a joint EU aid budget. Again, increased transaction costs may mean the UK spending more money than it currently does in Africa, which is good for African economies. Plus the UK is likely to find itself needing to make up for the lost amplifying effects of the EU with more aid pounds.
  4. A recession in the UK may prove contagious. This would be bad for the world economy, and Africa would not be an exception. That said, I don’t think economic turbulence in Africa would necessarily lead to the conflicts of the early 1990s. With a few glaring exceptions, most African countries would be able to withstand a global recession without collapsing. We saw this during the Great Recession.
  5. The world is learning a lot about democracy by observing the challenges it currently faces in the West. Suddenly, corrosive ethnic politics is not exclusive to poor countries. “Leaders” like Donald J. Trump and Boris Johnson are not things that only happen in Zimbabwe or Nicaragua. These data points will serve to demystify democracy as a system of governance, and refocus global attention on what really makes democracy work — a stable intra-elite consensus coupled with reasonably sufficient responsiveness to the electorate (down with the fetishization of elections!!!) This will be a valuable lesson for Africa and other developing regions of the world. The ongoing sociopolitical troubles in the West are bound to liberate the worldview of leaders and other elites in the Global South, and will empower them to mold their own societies in their own image, instead of trying to turn them into Denmarks. The often-misrepresented “European mystique” has lost its shine. And this is a good thing for the world.

This is not to say that Africa’s economies will be able to weather Brexit without any non-trivial hiccups. South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya are probably the most exposed (in that order). Other African economies will be exposed to the extent that economic troubles in the UK lead to a global recession (the gold exporters might even benefit…)

And Western security policies and support for missions in Somalia and across the Sahel may face short-term uncertainties. But these experiences will not necessarily be catastrophic (on the security front, America will most likely steady the ship).

In fact, I tend to think that the long-run impact of these experiences will be positive. English speaking African economies will have incentives to diversify their export destinations away from the UK. African countries will have more leverage vis-a-vis the UK and (a fractured) Europe (and the US). And the lessons from the political upheavals in the West will serve to liberate Global South elites to mold their own societies in their own image and in a manner that respects sociopolitical realities in their specific contexts.

Reading the Torah in Abuja, and how the Talmud Became a Bestseller in South Korea

This is from The Economist:

In Abuja, the capital, there are at least four small communities of Igbo-speakers that have opened synagogues. (Jews joke that every town needs at least two so that members can hold a grudge, and refuse to attend one of them.) In one, on the outskirts of the city, there is a gospel lilt to the songs: members taught themselves to read Hebrew and then had to make up the tunes, says one…..

It might seem odd that people would sign up to join a small faith whose members have suffered centuries of oppression. Yet Uri Palti, Israel’s ambassador to Nigeria, reckons there are more than 40 such communities across the country. Daniel Lis, an academic, thinks there may be thousands of Nigerians who practise Judaism. Millions more of the Igbo tribe (sic) believe that they are descended from biblical Israelites. Across Africa as a whole there may be thousands more self-declared Jews. One community in eastern Uganda, the Abayudaya, adopted the faith almost a century ago. Its rabbi was recently elected the country’s first Jewish member of parliament.

And this is from the New Yorker:

About an hour’s drive north of Seoul, in the Gwangju Mountains, nearly fifty South Korean children pore over a book. The text is an unlikely choice: the Talmud, the fifteen-hundred-year-old book of Jewish laws. The students are not Jewish, nor are their teachers, and they have no interest in converting. Most have never met a Jew before. But, according to the founder of their school, the students enrolled with the goal of receiving a “Jewish education” in addition to a Korean one.

When I toured the boarding school last year, the students, who ranged in age from four to nineteen, were seated cross-legged on the floor of a small tentlike auditorium. Standing in front of a whiteboard, their teacher, Park Hyunjun, was explaining that Jews pray wearing two small black boxes, known as tefillin, to help them remember God’s word. He used the Hebrew words shel rosh (“on the head”) and shel yad (“on the arm”) to describe where the boxes are worn. Inside these boxes, he said, was parchment that contained verses from one of the holiest Jewish prayers, the Shema, which Jews recite daily. As the room filled with murmurings of the Shema in Korean, the dean of the school leaned over to me and said that the students recited the prayer daily, too, “with the goal of memorizing it.”

Both are pretty interesting reads. Definitely worth your time.

Some key facts about Chinese lending to African states (new dataset)

Deborah Brautigam and collaborators are about to release a much-anticipated dataset on Chinese loans to African states. Details on the launch event at SAIS here.

And here are some key facts:

  • Who gets the Lion’s share of the Dragon’s loans?  Angola received 25% of all Chinese loans to Africa between 2000 and 2015, almost all of them backed by Angolan oil.
  • Bloomberg and Fitch, take note: Did China Eximbank really lend more than the World Bank in Africa? SAIS-CARI data shows cumulative 2001 to 2010 China Eximbank loan to Africa amount to only US$27.2 billion, not your figure of US$67.2 billion. The World Bank is still a larger lender than China Eximbank.
  • What do Chinese loans pay for in Africa? Transportation. Between 2000 and 2014, transportation received the largest share: US$23.6 billion worth.
  • What are the biggest Chinese loan-financed infrastructure projects in Africa? No. 1: Kenya’s Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway Phase I, funded by US$3.6 billion worth of Chinese loans; No.2: Ethiopia’s Addis-Djibouti Railway, funded at US$2.5 billion. Both were signed in 2013.

Data Problems Everywhere

This is from the Economist:

GOVERNMENT statisticians shun the limelight, which only ever finds them when things go awry. So it is with India’s national bean counters, who are struggling to convince the world that an economy with idle factories, sagging exports and ailing banks grew by 7.5% in 2015, as their models purport to show. Ever since a new methodology for calculating GDP was adopted last year, India has appeared to be the world’s fastest-growing big economy, outpacing China. But scepticism about the data is growing even faster.

… Investors, at any rate, roundly disbelieve India’s growth figures. Nevsky Capital, a hedge fund, cited dodgy data from India, among other places, as a reason to shut up shop at the start of the year. Even the government’s own chief economic adviser has admitted he is sometimes flummoxed by the data. A cottage industry has sprung up to cater to the sceptics, blending various indicators of economic activity to produce new gauges of growth.

Such home-brewed statistics have been common in China for some time: Li Keqiang, now the country’s premier, admitted as a provincial governor that he all but ignored “man-made” economic statistics in favour of hard-to-fiddle data such as railway-cargo volumes, electricity consumption and loans made by banks. The Economist began publishing a “Keqiang Index” when his habits became known in 2010.

Ambit Capital, a broker based in Mumbai, now computes its own “Keqiang Index” for India, which implies a real growth rate of 5.4%. Economists at HSBC, a bank, think 5.9-6% is closer to the truth.

More on this here.