The ISIS Files are now available online

Here’s a description:

The ISIS Files provide a unique cross-sectional snapshot of life in Mosul under the Islamic State, spanning doctrinal guidance from its command to the paperwork of its bureaucracy to the notes of students in its classrooms. The picture that emerges from this repository is revealing in both its range and complexity. On the one hand, documents from the Islamic Police and Agriculture departments tell of an organization seemingly obsessed with bureaucracy and institutionalizing every detail of its system of control. On the other, Arendt’s “banality of evil” comes to 6 mind when reading the paperwork of its real estate and zakat (alms tax for the poor) offices, or the bored scribblings of da’wa (proselytization) and military students in the Islamic State’s classrooms (emphasis added). By understanding The ISIS Files as a snapshot of life under the Islamic State’s control, the publications that will accompany each tranche of primary source materials released on the online repository have an important role to play in establishing their historic and strategic context.

There is a lot more here.

Tracking the wealth of South Sudan’s political/military elites

This is from the Sentry Project, which documents the web of corruption and profiteering among South Sudan’s political/military elite:

There are approximately 700 military figures with the rank of general in South Sudan. Nationally, that’s about
three times as many generals as physicians

This report examines the commercial and financial activities of former Army chiefs of staff Gabriel Jok Riak, James Hoth Mai, Paul Malong Awan, and Oyay Deng Ajak, along with senior military officers Salva Mathok Gengdit, Bol Akot Bol, Garang Mabil, and Marial Chanuong. Militia leaders linked to major instances of
violence both before and during the civil war that ended in February 2020—Gathoth Gatkuoth Hothnyang, Johnson Olony, and David Yau Yau—are also profiled here…..

South Sudan’s feuding politicians reached a compromise in February 2020, setting in motion the process of forming the long-awaited transitional government. The political situation remains tenuous as years of conflict have created distrust between leading politicians in the country. As the African Union noted in its investigation of the root causes of the conflict, weakened accountability measures and corruption helped precipitate the country’s descent into civil conflict in December 2013. The 2018 peace agreement contains provisions that call for profound reform of institutions of accountability to curb competitive corruption between senior-level politicians in order to prevent a return to war.

With the transitional government in place, maintaining international pressure will be critical to prevent corruption and elite competition from once again triggering conflict. Much of the legislative framework for combating corruption already exists in South Sudan’s constitution and legal code. For effective implementation and enforcement during the transitional period, and to ensure that lasting peace prevails in South Sudan, international assistance in strengthening capacities and facilitating access to donor funding will be important.

Read the whole thing here.

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.

The world’s largest measles outbreak has killed over 4000 people in the DRC

This is astonishing news:

The world’s largest measles outbreak has killed more than 4,000 people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo this year, according to UNICEF.

The agency found that 203,179 measles cases have been reported throughout the country’s 26 provinces since January, according to UNICEF, including 4,096 deaths. Seventy-four percent of infections and nearly 90 percent of deaths have been children under the age of five.

According to the WHO:

  • Even though a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available, in 2017, there were 110 000 measles deaths globally, mostly among children under the age of five.
  • Measles vaccination resulted in a 80% drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2017 worldwide.
  • In 2017, about 85% of the world’s children received one dose of measles vaccine by their first birthday through routine health services – up from 72% in 2000.
  • During 2000-2017, measles vaccination prevented an estimated 21.1 million deaths making measles vaccine one of the best buys in public health.

The measles outbreak in the DRC is attributable to low immunization rates due to the country’s weak public health infrastructure. According to the UNICEF:

measles.png“We’re facing this alarming situation because millions of Congolese children miss out on routine immunization and lack access to health care when they fall sick,” said Beigbeder. “On top of that, a weak health system, insecurity, community mistrust of vaccines and vaccinators and logistical challenges all contribute to a huge number of unvaccinated children at risk of contracting the disease.”

Two doses of the measles vaccine are recommended and roughly 95 per cent of the population needs to be vaccinated to ensure immunity and prevent outbreaks, according to the World Health Organization.  In DRC, measles immunization coverage was only 57 per cent in 2018.

Emergencies like these are reminders of the unfinished business of state-building in most of the Continent, and not just post-conflict states the DRC.

Is Somalia’s Al Shaabab better at tax collection than most low-income states?

Most low-income states rely on trade taxes (at borders) rather than on income taxes. A common explanation for this phenomenon is that these states lack capacity to collect income taxes among largely rural populations that rely on subsistence agriculture.

The idea here is that it is easier to collect taxes in economies with large firms that act as fiscal intermediaries. But as it turns out, the case of Al Shabaab — the Somalia-based terror group — shows that it is possible to raise non-trivial amounts of revenue from rural populations.

This is from the Hiraal Institute:

Zakawaat is collected by troops mobilised from different AS departments, assisted by clan elders; they are put into action during the collection season, which is traditionally the month of Ramadan. The starting rate is one camel out of every 25 camels owned and one goat out of every 40 goats. Collection is done uniformly across all the regions in south and central Somalia, including in the districts that AS does not control. Collectors issue receipts to pastoralists; those who lose their receipts are made to pay the taxes again in the next year. This ensures that pastoralists who were away from AS territory during the preceding year do not escape payment of Zakah.

Amounts collected vary by district. For instance, in Bardale in 2017, AS managed to collect 2200 goats and 171 camels. In the area around Mogadishu in the same period, 100 camels and 1500 goats were collected as Zakah. This is a relatively small amount of livestock because the area is mainly inhabited by non-nomadic farmers as it is close to Mogadishu and surrounded by urban areas. Likewise, Zakah collection in Barawe in 2017 was 600 camels and 8000 goats; in Wanlaweyn it was 700 camels and several thousand goats. The livestock is auctioned to ASlinked businessmen at an amount that is generally just below the market rate, at $400-$600 per camel according to the animals’ age and $30 per goat. The districts named above are not controlled by AS, yet the group managed to collect more than $1mn in Zakawaat in those regions in 2017. This would translate, at a conservative estimate, to about $8mn annually from livestock Zakawaat throughout South and Central Somalia.

Revenue leakages are rare:

The financial system is tight, with only one known case of a collector who defected with $2800. The auditors in the districts, who receive the monies from the checkpoints, are rigorously vetted before being employed. They declare all their assets, including land, cars, and cash in the bank. They declare their wealth again after being relieved of their duties; any unaccountable wealth is repossessed.

Auditors, some of whom receive up to $50,000 a month, are unable to defect with the money for a number of reasons. First, they are on 24-hour watch by the Amniyaat: in their offices, there are four known members of the Amniyaat. Additionally, other hidden Amniyaat operatives keep watch of their movements. Moreover, they are relieved of their duties every few months and sent on leave.

Finally, Al Shabaab regularly balances its budget:

The AS tax revenues are estimated in this paper at $27mn while its expenditures are at around $25.6mn. While our estimates are conservative, the group breaks even on its balance sheet every year. This is shown by the fact that the emergency tax collection is not done on a regular basis, and not in every region. On the other hand, the fact that emergency collection is sometimes needed shows that AS profits are not significant and its income is just enough to cover its expenses.

Read the whole thing here.

H/T N. Lidow.

Unrecognized States in Africa

Post-war juridical sovereignty has been hell of a drug. For a region with a lot of weak states and so-called “artificial borders” Africa has seen almost no substantial revision of state boundaries or the creation of new states (and not for lack of irredentist and secession movements…)


Only South Sudan and Eritrea have managed to successfully secede and gain international recognition. Somaliland comes close. And while the Sahrawi Republic is recognized by the African Union, it still lacks robust international recognition. Apartheid South Africa stands out as the only state to voluntarily reorder its geographical integrity by creating new vassal statelets within its domain for its own racist ends.

H/T Paul D. Williams

Memes on State-Led Industrialization

The graph on the right is popular among pop development economists. But it doesn’t tell us what most people think it does.

In addition to experiencing a different form of colonialism than Ghana or India did, receiving lots of Western aid for geopolitical reasons, and having access to markets in Japan and the US, South Korea also had a much longer history of ethnically and socially unified statehood than either Ghana or India before colonization.

Here is a summary of the mechanisms involved from Bockstette, Chanda and Putterman (2002):

A longer history of statehood might prove favorable to economic development under the circumstances of recent decades for several reasons. There may be learning by doing in the ways of public administration, in which case long-standing states, with larger pools of experienced personnel, may do what they do better than newly formed states. The operation of a state may support the development of attitudes consistent with bureaucratic discipline and hierarchical control, making for greater state (and perhaps more broadly, organizational) effectiveness. An experienced state like China seems to have been capable of fostering basic industrialization and the upgrading of its human capital stock even under institutions of government planning and state property in the 1960s and 1970s, whereas an inexperienced state like Mozambique sowed economic disaster when attempting to pursue similar policies a few years later. Such differences may carry over to a market setting — contrast, for instance, the late 20th century economic development of Japan and South Korea, modern countries with ancient national histories, with that of the Philippines, a nation that lacked a state before its 16th century colonization by Spain.

State-building under ISIS

The New York Times has an interesting piece on everyday instances of stateness under ISIS. From the article, it appears that in addition to its macabre coercive powers, Al-Baghdadi’s caliphate managed to develop significant levels of infrastructural power and  bureaucratic capacity. Below are some examples.

On the provision of public goods and services and regulation of social life:

ISIS built a state of administrative efficiency that collected taxes and picked up the garbage. It ran a marriage office that oversaw medical examinations to ensure that couples could have children. It issued birth certificates — printed on Islamic State stationery — to babies born under the caliphate’s black flag. It even ran its own D.M.V.

On differentiation from the Iraqi government:

The documents and interviews with dozens of people who lived under their rule show that the group at times offered better services and proved itself more capable than the government it had replaced.

On being able to graft itself atop preexisting administrative structures:

Screen Shot 2018-04-05 at 8.11.12 AM.pngThey also suggest that the militants learned from mistakes the United States made in 2003 after it invaded Iraq, including the decision to purge members of Saddam Hussein’s ruling party from their positions and bar them from future employment. That decree succeeded in erasing the Baathist state, but also gutted the country’s civil institutions, creating the power vacuum that groups like ISIS rushed to fill.

A little more than a decade later, after seizing huge tracts of Iraq and Syria, the militants tried a different tactic. They built their state on the back of the one that existed before, absorbing the administrative know-how of its hundreds of government cadres. An examination of how the group governed reveals a pattern of collaboration between the militants and the civilians under their yoke.

On extractive capacity and revenue source diversification:

One of the keys to their success was their diversified revenue stream. The group drew its income from so many strands of the economy that airstrikes alone were not enough to cripple it.

Ledgers, receipt books and monthly budgets describe how the militants monetized every inch of territory they conquered, taxing every bushel of wheat, every liter of sheep’s milk and every watermelon sold at markets they controlled. From agriculture alone, they reaped hundreds of millions of dollars. Contrary to popular perception, the group was self-financed, not dependent on external donors.

….. It was daily commerce and agriculture — not petroleum — that powered the economy of the caliphate.

Read the whole thing here.

On the age of borders

Happy New Year!

I am back from research leave. And will be blogging again.

To kick off 2018, check out this map with ages of present-day borders across the world. Across the continent, southern African and coastal West Africa have the oldest borders.

Screen Shot 2018-01-02 at 11.11.18 AM.png

Just from eyeballing the data, there seems to be a correlation between border age and (elite) political instability. There might also be a strong neighborhood effect of the (regional) average border age. Finally, the average border age on the Continent does not seem to be much higher than in other (post-colonial) regions of the world. This raises important questions about the usefulness of the artificiality of borders as a driver all sorts of outcomes that interest social scientists.

Ultimately, all borders are artificial and a function of technology and state capacity (and may be time). Humans can now blast through or fly over mountains (the Carthaginians trekked them with elephants).

Technology and state capacity have similar effects on the realized political effects of population geography. Think of how poorly United States would score on the Herbst index of favorable vs unfavorable population geography. Now imagine Guatemala with the size and population geography of the United States.

For more on this subject see this new paper by Goemans and Schultz (2017) on the politics of territorial claims in Africa.

The Secret to Autocratic Success (The Example of China)

This is from The Economist:

Even so, Mr Xi’s authority remains hemmed in. True, his position at the highest level looks secure. But among the next layer of the elite, he has surprisingly few backers. Victor Shih of the University of California, San Diego, has tracked the various job-related and personal connections between the 205 full members of the party’s Central Committee, which embodies the broader elite. The body rubber-stamps Mr Xi’s decisions (there have been no recent rumours of open dissent within it). But the president needs enthusiastic support, as well as just a show of hands, to get his policies—such as badly needed economic reforms—implemented. According to Mr Shih, the president’s faction accounts for just 6% of the group. That does not help.

Admittedly, this number should not be taken too literally: it is difficult to assign affiliations to many of the committee’s members. Doubtless, too, many members who are not in Mr Xi’s network support the president out of ambition or fear. Still, Mr Xi can rely on remarkably few loyal supporters in the Central Committee because he did not choose its members. They were selected at the same time he was chosen as party leader in 2012, a process overseen by the dominant figures of that period, Mr Hu and the long-retired Mr Jiang.

Most people who laud China’s autocratic success conveniently choose to ignore two important facts:

  1. That China’s rulers, at least since the late 1970s, have not been totally unaccountable. The country is a dictatorship by committee. And a large committee at that. It is not a personalist one man show.
  2. The the Chinese party-state works tirelessly to reduce the cost of compliance among its citizens — through conscious state building, coercion, and public services.

What this means is that in order to replicate China’s autocratic success, would be little Chinas must invest in both state capacity and intra-elite accountability (perhaps by building strong, institutionalized parties).

Absent this, what you are likely to get are mediocre petty tyrants running disorganized non-states with infant mortality rates straight out of the 16th century.

Elite Political Stability and Development: The Case of Europe

Alex Lee of Rochester and Avi Acharya of Stanford write:

During the Middle Ages, most European polities operated under a norm that gave only the close male relatives of a deceased monarch a clear place in the line of succession. When no such heirs were available, succession disputes were more likely, with more distant relatives and female(-line) heirs laying competing claims to the throne. These disputes often produced violent conflicts that destroyed existing state institutions and harmed subsequent economic development. Given these facts, we hypothesize that a shortage of male heirs to a European monarchy in the Middle Ages has a deleterious effect on levels of development across contemporary European regions ruled by that monarchy. We confirm this hypothesis by showing that regions that were more likely to have a shortage of such heirs are today poorer than other regions. This finding highlights the importance of the medieval period in European development, and shows how a sequence of small shocks can work in combination with both institutions and norms in shaping long-run development trajectories.

……. Our main empirical finding demonstrates the path dependent effects of the uneven nature of state development in medieval Europe arising due to the availability of male heirs. We show that regions of Europe that were ruled by medieval monarchs who had an abundance of male heirs are today richer than other regions. We are also able to trace our effects over time by showing that urban density in each century between 1300 and 1800 was higher in regions that had an abundance of male heirs. In addition, we show that an abundance of male heirs also decreased the frequency of internal wars and coups during the Late Middle Ages, and we find that contemporary economic development is negatively correlated with the frequency of these medieval wars and coups.

Forget the sweeping comparisons between England and the rest (esp France) that is common in works about economic development in Europe. This paper offers lots of great insights about the mechanics of statebuilding (and institution building) and the impact on economic development.

The linking of medieval European political realities to economics outcomes in 2007-2009 still requires a tighter justification. But the general insights in the paper about elite-level conflict and institution-building are spot on.

The paper is a reminder that our obsession with vertical accountability (mostly elections) as a means for institution-building is patently misguided. Much of the action takes place at the elite-level, hence the need to focus on horizontal accountability (as yours truly does….)

As they say, the paper is self-recommending.

H/T Andy Hall.

Rwanda, 20 Years On

Caution: This is not an apology for President Kagame and his autocratic tendencies that have resulted in carnage and death in the DRC, Rwanda and elsewhere.

At a conference last year a US State Department official told a group of us that Rwanda was so polarizing that even at the Consulate in Nairobi the DRC crowd did not get along well with the Rwanda crowd.

It is not surprising why that might have been the case, or why the present analysis on the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the 1994 genocide remains polarized.


If one just looks at the improvements made in advancing human welfare since President Paul Kagame and the RPF took power (see graph, data from the World Bank) it is hard not to arrive at the conclusion that ordinary Rwandese are unambiguously better off. The country is the least corrupt in the region and has also been consistently ranked top in the ease of doing business. But there is also the side of the Kigali government that most reasonable people love to hate: the murderous meddling in the DRC and the oppression and occasional murder of dissidents at home and abroad. Those who admire what President Kagame has done tend to emphasize the former, while his critics tend to emphasize his autocratic tendencies which have made Rwanda the least democratic country in East Africa (see below, data from Polity). Many wonder if the post-1994 achievements are sustainable enough to outlast President Kagame’s rule.

So is Mr. Kagame a state-builder or your run of the mill autocrat whose achievements will vanish as soon as he relinquishes power?

ImageIn my view, I think that Rwanda is the best success story of state-building in Africa in the last 20 years. I also think that this (state-building) should be the paramount consideration for those who care about the Rwandese people and want to help them achieve greater freedoms. The fundamental problem in states like CAR, Sierra Leone or Liberia has never been the insufficiency of democracy. Rather, it has been the problem of statelessness. The contrast between Rwanda and Burundi is instructive (see both graphs, the two are neighbors with similar ethno-political histories. Rwanda has historically had a stronger state, though. See here and here). Despite the latter being the second most democratic state in the region, it has consistently performed the worst on nearly all human development indicators. Part of the reason for this is that Burundi remains a classic papier mache state confined to Bujumbura and its environs.

May be I am too risk averse. But I am scared stiff of anything that could lead to a recurrence of the horrors of the early 1990s stretching from the Mano River region to the Horn. As a result I am always skeptical of activism that takes state capacity (including coercive capacity) for granted.

With this in mind, the fight against autocratic rule in Rwanda should not come at the expense of the state-building achievements of the last 20 years. The international community and those who genuinely care about Rwandese people should be careful not to turn Rwanda into “democratic” Burundi in the name of democracy promotion. Interventions will have to be smart enough to push President Kagame and the ruling elite in the right direction, but without gutting the foundations of political order in Rwanda.

Absent a strong state (even after Kagame), the security dilemmas that occasioned the 1994 “problem from hell” would ineluctably resurface.

Lastly, I think the level of discourse in the “Rwanda Debate” could be enhanced by the extension of the privilege of nuance to the case. For example, if all we focused on were drones killing entire families at weddings in Yemen or the horror that is the South Side of Chicago we would probably get mad enough to ask for regime change in Washington. But we don’t. Because people tolerate the “complications and nuance of American politics.” The same applies to less developed countries. Politics is complicated, everywhere. And those who approach it with priors of good-or-bad dichotomies are bound to arrive at the wrong conclusions. One need not be a Kagame apologist to realize the need for a delicate balance in attempts to effect political change in Kigali.

Before you hit the comment button, notice that this is neither an apology nor an endorsement of autocracy in Rwanda. It is a word of caution regarding the choices outsiders make to accelerate political change in Rwanda.

Tyranny is not the panacea to underdevelopment. But neither is stateless democracy.

For background reading on the 1994 genocide in Rwanda see Samantha Power’s Problems From Hell; Mahmood Mamdani’s When Victims Become Killers; and Philip Gourevitch’s We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families.

On the virtues of Tammany Hall?

Tammany Hall — shorthand for the faction that controlled Manhattan’s Democratic Party for most of a 150-year period — has a well-deserved place in the annals of urban misgovernment in the United States. It stole elections, it intimidated political antagonists, and it shook down contractors and vendors. It produced the very face of political corruption, William M. Tweed, known to friend and foe as “Boss.” And it was at best indifferent to the grievances of African-Americans and, later, Hispanics in New York.

But there’s more to the story. Tammany Hall’s leaders delivered social services at a time when City Hall and Albany did not. They massaged justice at a time when the poor did not have access to public defenders. And they found jobs for the unemployed when the alternative was hunger and illness.

……..Tammany Hall certainly was guilty of many of the offenses arraigned against it. But those flaws should not overshadow Tammany’s undoubted virtues. The machine succeeded not simply because it could round up votes. It succeeded because it was unafraid of the grunt work of retail politics and because it rarely lost touch with its voters.

That is Terry Golway, author of a forthcoming book on Tammany Hall, writing in the New York Times

As I keep saying, the factory where time and circumstance build state capacity and accountable democratic government is a nasty place.


Somalia: Police Development as State Building?

International and local power brokers see police as indicators of legitimacy and international recognition, but the international community’s vision of police development as state building is undermined by Somali politicians, officers, and businessmen sharing a political and entrepreneurial under- standing of the police role. The picture is further nuanced by influential Somalis who regard many of the structures and skills associated with Western policing as desirable, even as they manipulate the values and procedures promoted in its name.

The propensity of donors to see police development as a tool for not only state building, but also social engineering is marked. But so is the pragmatic response of Somalis. Officers in Somaliland and Puntland take what they value, manipulate what they can use, and subvert approaches that offend the sensibilities of their conservative society. Meanwhile, the SPF’s primary concern is to acquire the heavy weapons, vehicles, fuel, and communications equipment it needs to survive today.

Somalia’s experience shows that formality is not required for the governance associated with state building, but relative security and stability are, and there are limits to the role police can play in facilitating this: Somalia remains dangerously insecure. That the three forces are subject to the un- predictability that dependence on local power brokers and international funding introduces suggests that success depends on balancing local security levels and politics against international imperatives in a way that goes beyond current conceptions of state-based governance.

That is Alice Hills in a paper on policing in Somalia in the current issue of African Affairs.

Does Chris Blattman hate state capacity?

The simple answer is NO. The long answer is below.

Blattman’s latest post decries Bill Gates’ (and much of the development community’s) focus on data gathering, and may I add, strengthening of statistics departments. He writes:

I would like to see better GDP numbers–who wouldn’t?–but it’s hard for me to see the constraint on development this revelation would relieve, and why it’s anywhere close to the top ten constraints poor countries face.

The problem with those of us in the development complex, be we academics or Presidents or foundations or NGOs, is we want the world nicely ordered with levers to pull and a dashboard to monitor. And so we put a lot of energies into levers and dashboards and monitors.

I think of poverty and political powerlessness in terms of constraints and frictions–the limitless host of things, little and big, that made it more difficult to run a business profitably or turn a profit or invent a new product or get your kid educated or select the leader who serves your interests. States and institutions and norms and technology and organizations reduce these frictions and relieve these constraints. That is the fundamental driver of development. This is the basic logic behind almost every theory of development in your textbooks, from growth models to poverty traps to everything in between.

Blattman is right that improving the capacity of statistics departments will not do much to alleviate poverty now (although as I write this in the basement of a government library in Nairobi I can’t stop thinking that stats departments need to do more). At the same time however, I would be wary of an outright dismissal of the need for better data gathering by governments, for two reasons.

Firstly, at the core of state capacity is the ability to make legible (depite Scott’s observations) the terrain over which the state claims to have dominion. Strong states are those that know your home address, the number of children you have and how much money you made last year. When governments have the capacity to get better GDP data, they will also know how many kids died or were not immunized last year, etc etc. And perhaps more importantly, they will be able to know how much you made last year and how they can get a bigger share of it. As Besley and Persson have argued, there is a strong case to be made for the centrality of public finance to development. Poor countries have small tax bases yes, but tax evasion in these countries still denies national treasuries lots of cash. And it is not just a question political will. Low capacity plays a role. Imagine trying to implement an income tax in a country of about 20 million adults but where under 4 million are in formal employment and can have their taxes withheld.

Secondly, Blattman seems to be making an argument for the private sector as a key part of greasing frictions that stifle development (which is true). But the private sector initiatives he cites can only flourish when there is strong state monitoring (with reliable data) in the background. Credit bureaus need a strong and enforceable regulatory framework. Otherwise no one will believe their credit reports. Freedom of (government) information laws are cool, but such information must first exist, and in reliable format. In other words stats departments must do their job well.

Lastly, good data also make for more informed politics. Kenya, for instance, could do with more disaggregated GDP data – by counties or lower – as it attempts to implement a devolved system of government and revenue allocation.

All this to say that when states have a handle on how much is produced, they will know how and where to get their share. And the more they demand a bigger share, the more the people will demand some of it to be returned as public goods (and these can also include reliable information that would be accessed via freedom of information laws). Yes, GDP data was invented post-WWII when some countries were already winning against poverty for decades. But even before that the more successful states were the ones that were better at information gathering. Flying blind is simply not an option for states.