What does it mean to be “tough on crime”?

This is from Alex Tabarrok over at MR:

Our focus on prisons over police may be crazy but it is consistent with what I called Gary Becker’s Greatest Mistake, the idea that an optimal punishment system combines a low probability of being punished with a harsh punishment if caught. That theory runs counter to what I have called the good parenting theory of punishment in which optimal punishments are quick, clear, and consistent and because of that, need not be harsh.

We need to change what it means to be “tough on crime.” Instead of longer sentences let’s make “tough on crime” mean increasing the probability of capture for those who commit crimes.

More on this here.

In my public policy class this semester we read the sad story of Thabo Mbeki’s capture by “dissident” scientists who sold him unconventional policy approaches to South Africa’s AIDS epidemic. The lesson was that we should always be wary of allowing experts too much leeway in deciding actual policy. This means more debate (both among experts and by the public) and routine rigorous evaluation to strengthen the quality of feedback after policy rollouts.

Social Science is awesome. And may the credibility revolution live on. But the world certainly needs more humble social scientists.

Who’s responsible for South Africa’s woes? Zuma or the ANC?

I raised this question in a post last year.

Friend of the blog and Harvard-trained historian Matthew Kustenbauder has this thoughtful response (posted with his permission. Emphases mine).

Hi Ken,

Interesting post on South Africa’s recent rollercoaster and explanations for the economic downturn under Zuma’s presidency.  A few quick comments:

I agree South Africa’s current woes may be attributed to ANC policies, not President Jacob Zuma alone.  Take the issue of land, for example, about which Mr. Mngxitama is as passionate as he is wrong.  As I pointed out previously on this blog, the politics of land redistribution in South Africa are tied to the ANC’s historic decision to support and strengthen traditional authority in the former bantustans.  In short, the ANC forged an alliance with traditional leaders to bolster its negotiating power with the apartheid government in the 1990s and, afterwards, to win elections.  Mozambique served as a cautionary tale: civil war broke out after the socialist liberation government FRELIMO abolished chiefs and traditional forms of authority outright.  The ANC’s entrenchment of traditional chiefs and kings has had a ripple effect across South Africa, creating a drag on the rural economy, locking up productive agricultural land and capital assets, not to mention denying rural people equal justice under the law.

I also appreciate the argument, and agree to a degree, that both Mr. Zuma and Mr. Mbeki are ANC cadres.  When the opposition Democratic Alliance argue that somehow the country was in good hands until Mr. Zuma came along, it is more a political manouver to appeal to the black middle classes, many of whom are embarrased by Mr. Zuma and favoured Mr. Mbeki, than it is a faithful rendering of the historical record.  Thabo Mbeki was, despite his polished veneer, a disaster on many fronts, including but not limited to: unrepentant AIDS denialism, cadre deployment as an ANC policy, racial politics, silencing of internal opposition within the ANC, and a narrative that counterrevolutionary forces lurked within the media. These ideas and practices either began or were ramped up to become de facto party policy under Mr. Mbeki’s presidency.

I disagree, however, that Zuma and Mbeki represent nothing more than two cadres of the same party.  For one thing, the challenges facing South Africa today are different than those during the Mbeki years.  At that time, South Africa still luxuriated in the glow of 1994’s transition to democracy and the Madiba magic of Nelson Mandela had not yet worn off.  Mbeki was a skilled orator with global leadership aspirations, the likes of which have not been seen in South Africa since Jan Smuts was Prime Minister during WWII.  But it is not simply Zuma’s halting English, or his multiple wives, countless offspring, traditionalism, patriarchy, and coziness with Russia, China, and Sudan that make South Africans uneasy.

What is so disturbing – and what Mbeki assiduously avoided – is Zuma’s overt corruption. The most public evidence includes: Nkandla, the Gupta family’s illegal landings at Waterkloof Airforce Base, a prolonged legal battle over spy tapes that implicate him in fraud dating all the way back to his time as Deputy President (for which Mbeki sacked him and Schabir Shaik was found guilty and went to jail), and the most recent dismissal of Nhlanhla Nene for standing in the way of sweetheart SAA and nuclear deals that would have yielded tenders for Zuma’s friends and family.  If Mbeki was a loyal cadre who represented the ANC’s failed policies, Zuma is a loyal cadre who represents the ANC’s descent into patronage, corruption, and jobs for pals hidden behind a façade of election-time slogans, “our glorious struggle history” and “A Better South Africa for All.”  

Andile Mngxitama, booted out of the EFF, and firebrands like him who drone on about the ANC’s errant support of neoliberal policies and the tragedy of Mandela’s compromise during the political settlement period have little appreciation for just how far South Africa has come since 1994. Nor do they grasp the direction in which South Africa must go – and must go soon – to avoid a[n] even more tragic tailspin.

To give just one example, a major problem in South Africa has not been, contra Mr. Mngxitama, that capitalism has been prioritised. Rather, grassroots capitalism has been far too constrained – not just by government overregulation but by monopoly capitalism sheltered by the state.  This is a historical dynamic inherited from the apartheid-era National Party, one that the ANC never addressed, mainly because such arrangements benefitted the ANC so long as they controlled the levers of the state.

The number of state owned enterprises in South Africa – over 700 by the last count – is staggering for a country so small.  Just one, South African Airways, has drained well over $2 billion in bail-outs from state coffers in two decades. The energy sector is even more dire: Eskom, another state owned enterprise, has a near complete monopoly over energy generation and a complete monopoly over its transmission.  Due to a lack of capitalist competition, the country’s electricity supply is not just overly expensive, it is also tightly constrained. Last year South Africans plunged into darkness, and for some time now manufacturers and other industrial electricity consumers have actually been paid by the state to reduce their operations.

The result is that South Africa’s manufacturing sector is less competitive globally and unable to expand to create the jobs so desperately needed at home, where there is a 30% unemployment rate.  There are countless similar examples, where state owned enterprises should have been privatised, or at the very least private companies should have been permitted to enter the market and compete.  What must be remembered, however, is that the country’s economic system, designed by the old National Party, is now controlled by and benefits the African National Congress.

Similarly, in the private sector, too many large companies have a monopoly, making the cost of entry for small companies far too expensive. Government labor regulations and aggressive trade union action ensures that only the largest companies with the deepest pockets can comply and survive. Large private companies – like the mining groups, agro-processing operations, banks, telecommunications companies, and industrial manufacturers – operate with few competitors. Relatively small players in sectors like the textile industry have closed their doors and relocated to countries where labour is more productive, regulations more lax, and costs are cheaper. Too few South African companies can compete globally.

There may be a kernel of truth in Mngxitama’s claims, but his diagnosis is overly simplistic, ideological, and ahistorical.


The OAU is dead, long live the AU

On Friday, the African Union approved draft plans to send troops to the conflict-ridden Burundi even without permission from Bujumbura in what could be a historic move to stop the country’s impending implosion.

The move by the AU Peace and Security Council reached on Friday despite initial opposition from the Burundi delegation invoked a rarely-used clause in AU Constitutive Act.

Article 4(h) of the AU Constitutive Act provides for sending of troops to a member country under circumstances of war crime, genocide or crimes against humanity without that country’s permission.

More on the African Union’s 5000 strong force for Burundi here. The actual AU resolution establishing the African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi (MAPROBU) is available here. Paul D. Williams, an associate professor of international affairs at George Washington University, parses the text of the AU communique here.

This semester I taught a class on intra-Africa IR, mostly looking at economic and security cooperation from 1963 to the present. One of the issues we wrestled with in the class was whether the AU was any different from the OAU, despite the language of Article 4(h). The OAU was notoriously ineffectual in dealing with conflict in Africa, on account of its many non-interference clauses.

Doubts about the AU and its ability to effectively originate an intervention in the face of intra-state conflicts were reinforced by:

(i) its continued commitment to the “equality” of member states (no regional hegemons — like Nigeria, Ethiopia, or South Africa — were given any formal status of first among equals);

(ii) the the deliberate weakening of the Peace and Security Council (PSC) — which has no permanent membership (5 elected for 3 years, 10 for 2 years);

(iv) the fact that the chairmanship of the PSC rotates monthly (by country name alphabetical order), giving any one chair hardly any time to develop the connections required for effective operations of such a sensitive post in a major IO;

(v) the structure of the regional distribution of seats on the PSC which incentivizes a sub-regional logic of seat allocation, as opposed to actual efficiency of the PSC.

It is therefore interesting that 4(h) was today invoked to justify intervention in Burundi, without the direct consent of Bujumbura (Nkurunziza may yet save face by inviting the AU mission under 4(j)).

Also interesting is the fact that the troops will be under the banner of the East African Standby Force (EASF) and not the AU. This will expose the actual operations of the mission to the same EAC politics that I outlined in an earlier post here (for the two of you out there who care to know, the different (sub)regional standby forces actually have formal relationships with the AU, so they are not totally run by the sub-regional RECs but can be seen as a practical first step in the aspirational goal of a continental standby force, someday).

Who said intra-African IR is boring (or does not exist)?

Also, watch out for a draft paper on the politics of intra-Africa IR soon…

On Zumaphobia and the policy failures of the ANC

A lot has been written about Jacob Zuma’s failures as president of South Africa, most recently his odd decision to fire his widely respected finance minister, Nhanhla Nene. Zuma replaced Nene with an unknown ANC MP, David van Rooyen, only to replace van Rooyen with former finance minister Pravin Gordhan after intense pressure from the media and the markets.

Sources indicate that Mr. Nene was fired for holding the line on fiscal discipline.

Much of the analysis so far has focused on President Jacob Zuma — his increasing personalization of power within the ANC, corruption, and even his private life.

But in an interesting piece Andile Mngxitama questions this Zuma-centric narrative, instead focusing attention on wider policy failures within the ANC. Mngxitama argues (correctly, I believe) that:

Both Mbeki and Zuma are ANC cadres through and through and it’s the party policy that determines what they do. Zuma has not strayed from the ANC policies and no one has yet made this claim in any meaningful way. So, if it’s not policy that is the problem, how do we judge Zuma’s performance?

The main problem is that his detractors fundamentally agree with the ANC policies and they have therefore chosen to find fault with Zuma the man and thereby rob us of a useful analysis of why things are falling apart. A shift from Zuma to policy would also show that his presidency is a product of policy; the template for things to fall apart was designed by his predecessors.

Zuma’s sin, which has been missed by the analysts, who are too driven by “Zumaphobia”, is that he has not been able or willing to halt the downward spiral, which is essentially a byproduct of ANC policies. The main policy plank of the ANC since it took over in 1994 has been correctly described as neoliberalism – the privileging of capitalism as the driver of society.

The implications of this policy direction are to increasingly remove the state from society and the economy and allow the profit motive to determine who gets what service. The state privatises assets and those it keeps are similarly managed as if they are capitalist entities.

The piece at times sounds anti-market. But don’t let that distract you from its succinct understanding of the political economy challenges facing South Africa.

In 2008 the ANC recalled then President Thabo Mbeki. There is no reason to believe that President Jacob Zuma has totally eclipsed the party machinery. Indeed this has been made clear by his quick retreat after the brazen attempt to weaken the finance ministry.

Recent events in South Africa suggest that the party of Mandela is no longer(if it ever was) the voice of the people. But this outcome cannot be pinned on Zuma. The party elite, including Zuma, largely remain hostage to the post-apartheid political settlement. Meanwhile, the country’s deplorable economic indicators are adding fuel to the fire that is the Economic Freedom Fighters (which is increasingly sounding more and more mainstream and in tune with the frustrations not just of South Africans, but younger Africans in general north of the Limpopo). On a recent tour of London the EFF leader, Julius Malema, held meetings with CEOs of companies with interests in South Africa — a signal that these companies appreciate the potency of his message of economic freedom.

Zuma may be a one-term president

Back when he dislodged Thabo Mbeki South African President Jacob Zuma promised that he would only serve one term. But having tasted the power of the presidency, he now wants a second term. His bid, however, has not been well accepted within the ANC.

Although it is common knowledge that the much-married Zuma wants a second term he has remained equivocal on the issue, at one point saying “I never said I would serve one term and I have never said that I would want two terms”  (The New Age reported on Wednesday, June 8th).

The Africa Confidential reports:

Zuma’s main rivals, Tokyo Sexwale and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, are trying to fix it so that Motlanthe would be a one-term president, Sexwale would be his deputy and Paul Mashatile, Gauteng’s provincial leader and Premier, would be ANC national chairman. They may offer a deputy presidency to Lindiwe Nonceba Sisulu, the Defence Minister and Zuma’s ally. Sisulu and Sexwale, however, do not get along.

An anti-Zuma tirade erupted from the General Secretary of the Congress of SA Trade Unions, Zwelinzima Vavi, who said there is leadership paralysis in the ANC and warned that the country is in danger of ‘imploding’. He criticised Zuma’s ‘doublespeak’ on economic issues.

More on this here.

Securing Peace in South Sudan


The ICG has a good report on the simmering conflicts in Sudan and South Sudan:

The loss of South Sudan has had a profound effect on the NCP, and senior generals led a soft-coup within the party. They have outflanked more pragmatic elements in the NCP who seek a negotiated strategy. Encouraging progress in the post-separation arrangements between North and South was blocked. More importantly, hardliners in Khartoum — including SAF generals — immediately rejected a 28 June framework agreement, which includes a political and a security agreement for Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, facilitated by former South African President Thabo Mbeki and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, and signed by Dr. Nafie Ali Nafie, Co-deputy NCP chairman and a presidential adviser. A few days later, President Omar al-Bashir publicly disavowed the agreement.

Check out the rest of the report here.


Texas in Africa makes a compelling argument against arming South Sudan (against potential aggression from Khartoum). She basically outlines three reasons against arming Juba:

  1. Such a move would implicitly side with the SPLM against other domestic armed/opposition groups. The point of concern here is that having just won independence South Susan needs to have a negotiated settlement among all interested groups. The Dinka-dominated SPLM, in particular, ought to credibly share power and resources with the other ethnic/interest groups.
  2. Arming South Sudan would spark an arms race against Khartoum and might lead to a war sooner rather than later.
  3. The West can’t be sure of Juba’s future geopolitical leanings. The same weapons might be used in the future against say America and its allies – AfPak style.

For the most part I agree with Laura. And like her, I am on record as having concerns over the alarmist celebrity diplomacy/mediation effort that has been orchestrated in South Sudan, Darfur and eastern DRC by Prendergast and his buddy Clooney.

In addition, I think that the debate over whether or not to arm Juba forecloses on other options that might also help secure South Sudan. Make no mistake, South Sudan has real domestic and international security challenges that occasionally will require the use of military force. Addressing these security challenges will necessarily require some form of military aid to South Sudan.

Here’s my take:

  1. If South Sudan is to avoid the fate of Zaire/DRC, the pacification of the whole country must happen ASAP. While negotiating with rebel leaders is the best approach, the truth is that in some cases military force might be needed. To that end providing SPLM with the necessary capacity to win the fight against fringe groups that do not want to sit at the negotiating table may be a necessary evil. Yes, we should be cognizant of the fact that there are legitimate internal differences within South Sudan. But we should not legitimize any groups that might want to air those differences using the force of arms. Real democratic competition can only take place in a peaceful environment. Armed challengers to SPLA (the legitimate army of South Sudan) must bear the burden of proving the legitimacy of their grievances. South Sudan’s Savimbis must be deterred. Also, the international community must not be under any illusion that democracy will come soon to South Sudan. It will take a long time.
  2. The arms race between Khartoum and Juba is already underway. The question is not if it will happen but what it will lead to. Furthermore, after “losing” the South and its oil Bashir will be hard pressed for distractions from his domestic woes, especially if the economy of Sudan experiences a sharp decline. Starting a border war with South Sudan would be a welcome distraction. Although arming the SPLA is not the best way to deal with this possibility, an alternative would be to bring in the EAC through a regional defense pact. Uganda, in particular, would be interested in such a deal since it would help reduce its own defense budget. The involvement of Eritrea in South Sudan’s internal conflicts makes the need for a regional security arrangement even more urgent. Most recently the UN accused Eritrea of plotting to bomb an AU meeting in Addis Ababa Ethiopia.
  3. Concerns over Juba’s future geopolitical leanings can be allayed through continued military aid and professionalization. This can be achieved by getting the generals out of politics following the Kenyan model – a combination of awesome perks and professional training – and through greater political and economic integration of South Sudan into the East African Community.

War is nasty and should be the last option. That said, there is a need for genuine debate over how to achieve the twin goals of state monopoly of violence within South Sudan and the deterrence of a trigger-happy Khartoum.

If it were left to me I would quickly move to decouple the SPLM and SPLA as a condition for any military assistance. The last thing the region needs is yet another regime with a fused political and military leadership as is the case in Rwanda and Uganda.

jacob zuma: why crash so soon?

Update: President Jacob Zuma agrees that he fathered a child out of wedlock with the 39 year-old daughter of one of his friends. Mr. Zuma is 67. In his statement the President said that he had done the “cultural imperative” of admitting to having fathered the child. A few suggestions for Mr. Zuma and those around him:

– having three wives is bad enough. Concentrate on the job. South Africans are looking up to you

– please fire your communications director. You are really bad with PR

– you are embarrassing the entire Continent. Not just yourself and your immediate family but the entire Continent. The whole 700 million of us.

The BBC reports that Jacob Zuma may have fathered a love child last year. The South African president just recently got married for the fifth time (he has three wives). He is estimated to have about 20 children. Recently when confronted about his rather colorful matrimonial situation Mr. Zuma shot back with the claim that anybody who was against polygamy was a cultural bigot.This is total horse manure. Mr. Zuma should know that culture is not static and that an attack on his wayward habits is not an attack on Zulu culture.

Until recently Mr. Zuma had exceeded expectations. His cabinet appointments (i thought) signaled his pragmatism. He stayed clear of the incendiary demagoguery that characterizes the ANC’s youth wing leader, Julius Malema. Even the media had warmed up a bit to the man who had to wiggle out of corruption and rape charges to become president. For a moment I thought that Mr. Zuma was going to be the nice blend of populism and realistic politicking that had so much eluded the intellectually aloof Thabo Mbeki. South African land reform, a fairer redistribution and creation of wealth (through a more transparent BEE and faster job creation), a reduced crime rate, etc etc seemed somewhat doable because the core of his base was the working class. But as is fast becoming apparent, it appears that the man has decided to let his personal life interfere with his job. I hope this latest incident will embarrass the ANC enough for the party to ask Mr. Zuma to go easy on the distractions and concentrate on his job.

Update: This is the last thing that SA and its ailing economy needs. The tabloid-like headings are soiling the SA presidency.

mbeki’s legacy

Partial results of Thabo Mbeki’s beetroot response to the South African AIDS epidemic are out. Life expectancy in South Africa declined between 1990-2007 (from 62 to 50). It is expected to decline even further over the next few years. Read more about this here.

It is worth noting that the new South African administration took an about-turn from Mbeki’s bizarre AIDS policy, as was articulated by his health minister. The South African Ministry of Health has on its website an HIV and AIDS and STI strategic plan designed to tackle the HIV problem. Over 5 million South Africans, out of a total population of 49.3 million, are infected.

zuma may turn out to be ok

Jacob Zuma, the man poised to be South Africa’s next president, has been getting a lot of bad press. This much married man has had to deal with pages after pages of news concerning his corrupt past and his adventures with the South African justice system. The truth be said, he is not a clean man. Where there is smoke, there is fire, and in Zuma’s case there is just way too much smoke for there not to be a flame.

That said, the fact is that he is going to be president of South Africa and by virtue of that become the most powerful man in Africa. I would like to join the few editorial pages out there who in the past week have indicated possible positives of a Zuma presidency. I am not convinced the man is as blindly populist as he wants the South African masses to believe. He is a calculating politician. He knows that he needs a viable South African economy just as much as he needs the masses to sing and dance in his name. It is no coincidence that he matches every populist statement of his with a reminder that he does not intend to radically change South Africa.

But I am not concerned with South African domestic issues. My concern is what a Zuma presidency will mean for the Southern African region and the Continent. And on this front I am hopeful. Eager to please the international community, I think that Zuma might just be the man to bring real change to Zimbabwe and some sort of sanity to the African Union. His predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, was too professorial to deal with the half-wits that run most of the Continent. Most of them did not take his (Mbeki’s) calls for an African Renaissance seriously. But Zuma, being a man of the people, might just be the one that charms them into seeing the light and actually changing the way they run their countries.Wishful thinking? Perhaps.

South African Elections

On the 22nd of April South Africans will go to the polls to elect their new president. There are no prizes for guessing who the winner will be. Everyone expects Jacob Zuma, a man facing corruption charges, to win easily. Despite the much hyped challenge from Cope, a party of ANC dissidents, the ANC with its immense ‘struggle movement capital’ will still win a healthy majority in the South African parliament.

zumaAs I have indicated before, I am not particularly enthusiastic about Zuma’s forthcoming presidency. The much-married man has a predilection for buffoonery. He is a known populist who may mishandle South Africa’s sluggish transition from the insanity of apartheid. Perhaps most worrying is his corruption record. The last thing South Africa needs in these hard economic times is a president who sends the message that it’s OK to be corrupt, as long as you have the right political connections.

That said, it is almost ineluctable that the Continent will have its leader in Jacob Zuma after the April elections. And because of that we are left with no alternative but to search for any positives that might come out of it. For starters, Zuma’s lack of formal education and the accompanying intellectual arrogance may make him more predisposed to alternative views – especially when it comes to the AIDS situation in South Africa (Mbeki strangely refused to admit the link between HIV and AIDS).

Secondly, given that he is coming in with little international legitimacy, he may feel compelled to do the right thing about Africa’s dictators and their many human rights abuses. Lastly, even his populism might be a plus. No sane person would disagree that South Africa NEEDS land reforms. Zuma may just be the one to do it, unlike the Mbeki-ist moderates who instead have chosen to focus on empowering middle class Black South Africans while forgetting the landless masses.

Let’s wait and see……..