Ugandan seed distributors aren’t adulterating seeds, it’s probably a problem of handling and storage

This is from a new paper by Alicia Barriga and Nathan Fiala in World Development:

Results from the tests showed very high levels of DNA similarity (above 98%) and good performance in general, but highly variable quality in terms of the ability of the seed to germinate under standard conditions. We do not see differences in average outcomes across the distribution levels, though variation in seed performance does increase further down the supply chain.

ugandaseedsThe results of the tests point to potentially important issues for the quality of seeds. The variation in germination suggests that buying a random bag of seeds in this particular distribution chain can matter a lot for farmer’s production. The high rate of seed similarity suggests that the main concern among policy makers and researchers, that sellers add inert or low-quality material to the seeds, is likely not the case, at least for the maize sector in the districts we study. However, given the remoteness of these districts and the lack of any oversight in these areas, we believe the results are likely a lower bound for the country as a whole.

The supply chain analysis suggests that the quality of seed does not deteriorate along the supply chain. The quality is the same, on average, across all types of suppliers after leaving the breeders. However, we observe high variation of seeds’ performance results on germination, moisture, and vigor, suggesting that results are more consistent with issues of mishandling and poor storage of seeds, possibly related to temperature or quality controls, rather than sellers purposefully adulterating seeds. Variation on these indicators is usually associated with mishandling during transportation and storage.

As the authors note in the paper, African governments and their external donors have put a lot of effort in “certification and labeling so as to reduce the possibility of adulteration by downstream sellers”. Obviously, e-labels and systems of verifying seed authenticity in the fight against adulteration are important. But equally important is an understanding of how the seed distribution system works. And that is one of the major contributions of this paper. Corruption is not always the problem.

Read the whole paper here.


Interestingly, Uganda bests both Kenya and Tanzania on productivity in the cereal sector (I made the graph using FAO data). Despite starting off with relatively lower productivity and having gone through civil conflict beginning in the late 1970s, Uganda has since around 2007 clearly separated itself from both Kenya and Tanzania (and appears to have plateaued). Productivity in Kenya peaked in the early 1980s and has pretty much stagnated since. Tanzania’s figures appear to be trending upwards having collapsed in the early 2000s. There is likely an element of soil quality and general aridity involved in these trends. According to the FAO, Kenya and Tanzania use fertilizer at significantly higher rates than Uganda. For comparison, cereal yield in Vietnam is about 2.7 times higher than in Uganda.


How Good Are Datasets on Cropland in African States?

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

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

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

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

Here’s what they did:

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

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

Some Policy Lessons from COVID-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[4] African progressivism needs a reset:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Ugandan cartoonist’s take on the country’s relations with China


The Ugandan president recently leaned on his administration to approve what will arguably be the most expensive road in the world. According to The East African:

In the letter, seen by The EastAfrican, the president directs the minister to stop an on-going procurement process in a move he calls ‘’controlling Uganda’s growing external debt’’ but which technocrats in his government say is likely to deny the country an opportunity to lower the cost of the project.

The road will cost $14.7m per kilometre.

African countries account for over 45.6% of global mobile money activity

This is from Wiza Jalakasi on Medium:

There is nowhere else in the world that moves more money on mobile phones than Sub-Saharan Africa

The region is currently responsible for an astonishing 45.6% of mobile money activity in the world — an estimate of at least $26.8 billion in transaction value in 2018 alone — this figure excludes bank operated solutions.

Mobile money operators like MTN, who also own the mobile network, typically charge in between 0.5–3% for their various digital services, a small price to pay for the convenience and luxury.

The whole thing is worth reading if you want to know about the current state (and future) of mobile money on the Continent.

Boris Johnson in his own words

This rather openly racist guy is now Prime Minister of the United Kingdom:

What a relief it must be for Blair to get out of England. It is said that the Queen has come to love the Commonwealth, partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies; and one can imagine that Blair, twice victor abroad but enmired at home, is similarly seduced by foreign politeness.

They say he is shortly off to the Congo.

No doubt the AK47s will fall silent, and the pangas will stop their hacking of human flesh, and the tribal warriors will all break out in watermelon smiles to see the big white chief touch down in his big white British taxpayer-funded bird. Like Zeus, back there in the Iliad, he has turned his shining eyes away, far over the lands of the Hippemolgoi, the drinkers of mares’ milk. He has forgotten domestic affairs, and here, as it happens, in this modest little country that elected him, hell has broken loose.

It’s hard to not conclude that the average quality of human capital at Number 10 declined a notch today.

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

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

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

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

Read the whole thing.



There is less (ethnic) favoritism in the allocation of public sector jobs in Kenya and Uganda than you might think

This paper from LSE’s Rebecca Simson in African Affairs goes against a lot of my priors:

The unfair distribution of public sector jobs is a common grievance in many societies, but arguably more so in ethnically polarized ones. Using census data from Kenya and Uganda, two countries with a history of ethnic conflict, this article examines how public employment is allocated in multi-ethnic societies by studying the correlates of holding public sector jobs. The results demonstrate that the public services of Kenya and Uganda are first and foremost comprised of educational elites with considerably higher average levels of educational attainment than across the labour forces at large. However, when education is controlled for, highs-killed women and candidates from less developed districts are more likely to work for the state than others. As a result, public sector jobs are more equitably distributed along gender, regional and ethnic lines than education alone would predict. I hypothesize that formal policies to promote regional equity in the provision of basic services in combination with affirmative action measures are contributing to creating comparatively inclusive public services.

public sector workers

Interestingly, the article finds Moi’s presidency in Kenya to be an outlier:

With one exception, the presidency of Daniel Arap Moi in Kenya, there is little evidence of an employment advantage for coethnics of past or current presidents.

You can read the whole paper here.

Along with neopatrimonialism, ethnicity has become a catch-all explanation for everything in Africa. It is great that more and more scholars are interrogating the data on these concepts, and in so doing uncovering patterns that go against some of our most entrenched beliefs about the nature of politics in the region.

Of course region-specific levels of education attainment are endogenous. But one would think that they are sticky enough to make these results interesting. At a minimum, this is a call for a more careful description of baseline conditions against which to measure ethnic favoritism in Africa’s public sectors.

Trends in trade and influence in Africa

Here are some interesting figures from the Center for Strategic & International Studies. Between 2010 and 2017 trade between African states and China rose from $91.2b to $165.4b. For the U.S. total trade volume contracted from $80.3b to $36.7b (admittedly some of this driven by declining oil prices). All major Western countries saw a decline in their trade volume with the Continent.

trade trendsGermany is the only major Western country that saw its trade volume with African states increase over the same period.

These figures also underscore the recent narrowing of the Red Sea – with Gulf states pushing for ever closer ties with African governments. A lot of focus has been on the geopolitical aspects of this shift (with Qatar and Turkey jostling for influence vs Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states). But as the trade data suggest, trade is also an important feature of the evolving Afro-Arabia relations.

Overall, it is likely that African states’ economic policies and regulations, as well as votes at the UN, will shift to reflect the changes in the strength of the Continent’s trade links.

More on this here.

Japan is trying to stem the decline of its economic influence on Continent with a new joint insurance product with African Trade Insurance Agency and a Saudi bank. The U.S. is about to launch the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation.


Former US Ambassador to Kenya lobbying to stop South Sudan war crimes court

This is from Foreign Policy:

The South Sudanese government hired Gainful Solutions Inc., a California-based lobbying group, for a two-year contract worth $3.7 million to boost ties between South Sudan and Trump administration. As one part of the overall contract between the South Sudanese government and the lobbying group, Gainful Solutions will push to “Delay and ultimately block establishment of the hybrid court envisaged” under a 2018 peace deal between the government, led by President Salva Kiir, and his longtime rival, opposition figure Riek Machar.

Gainful Solutions is run by Ranneberger, U.S. ambassador to Kenya, speaks at news conference in Nairobi, a former career U.S. diplomat who served as ambassador to Kenya from 2006 to 2011, and the lobbyist Soheil Nazari-Kangarlou. Constance Berry Newman, a former senior State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development official under the George W. Bush administration, is also named a consultant on the project for a $5,000 fee, according to public disclosure filings from the Department of Justice.

The U.S. government is funding the process (through the African Union) of setting up the court, to the tune of $4.8m.

Here is Human Rights Watch on the court:

The Hybrid Court for South Sudan, set out in the country’s 2015 and 2018 peace deals, could be an important way to hold perpetrators to account for horrific abuses committed in a conflict characterized by unlawful killings, torture, enforced disappearances, rape and sexual violence, and destruction of property. More than four million have been forced to flee their homes.

The court, which would bring together judges and prosecutors from South Sudan and across Africa, is urgently needed to curtail impunity for serious crimes that continue to fuel a cycle of violence in the country. As Human Rights Watch has documented, the country’s domestic court system is not prepared to handle such sensitive, complex cases.

In 2014, the African Union undertook an unprecedented Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan, detailing the serious crimes committed by all parties to the conflict. And since the 2015 peace deal was signed, the AU Commission has been trying to secure approval from the South Sudanese authorities for the initial steps required for the hybrid court’s creation.

Everyone is rightfully outraged. More than 400,000 have died since South Sudan descended into civil war and millions more were displaced.

These revelations also highlight the many challenges the court is likely to face if and when it is eventually set up. South Sudanese political elites (on both sides of the post-2014 conflict) are not particularly keen on facing justice for atrocities committed against civilians and armed actors. It is also unclear if Juba’s friends in Kampala, Nairobi, or Addis have any incentive to inject yet another variable into the ongoing efforts to establish a modicum of stability in South Sudan.

Moral outrage alone will not move the needle. The court’s success will depend on how much pivotal actors within IGAD are willing to lean on Machar and Kiir.

As far as lobbying in Washington, DC goes, this is yet another reminder that even weak states like South Sudan are not passive members of the international system. While their options are limited on account of their position in the hierarchical structure of the state system, they still have agency and have a variety of tools at their disposal through which they can influence the behavior of much more powerful states. See also here.

East African Community Facts of the Day

This is from Charles Onyango-Obbo in The EastAfrican:

eactrade.pngIn the year 2000, Ugandan exports to Rwanda were worth $9 million. By the 2017/2018 financial year, this figure had shot up to $197 million, against imports of $20 million, giving it a surplus of $177 million, despite the icy relations currently prevailing.

In the same period, in a reversal of fortune, Uganda for the first time registered a $122 million trade surplus with Kenya, with exports worth $628 million and imports worth $505 million.Though Uganda hardly invests any serious money in agriculture, the country is now the EAC’s bread basket.

Kenyan business people travel as far as the remote parts of western Uganda to villages whose names they can’t pronounce, and put a deposit on food crops before they are harvested. None of this happens as a result of state policy, but rather the invisible hand of integration. The magic happens in that “invisible” East Africa.

Despite the circular firing squad that is the relationship between East Africa’s heads of state, the economic incentives for ever greater integration in the EAC remain strong.

Next in line to join might be the DRC. Then perhaps Somalia. Ethiopia might be interested, too.

Why does Al Shabaab target Kenya?

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

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

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

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

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


The wonder that is Chinese growth

Below is an amazing illustration of shifts in the sizes of leading global economies:

For more on China see here, here, here, and here. This reminded me of this graphic from Carlos Lopes, former head of the UNECA:Dr3w9PhW4AAnCGU

All that happened in just 36 years. Time is on Africa’s side. If (and that’s a big IFF) African elites can get their act together. As shown in the graph below, the lost long decade (1980-1995) was particularly brutal for African economies — but it was a temporal dip and not a permanent feature of African economies.income

It is also worth noting that in 1980 African states and China were not at the same level of institutional development. By that time China had already accumulated centuries of coherent stateness — which made it possible for elites to optimally allocate human and capital resources in ways that produced the growth miracle.

Here is a good nuanced take on trends in economic growth and development on the Continent.

Mamdani on the African University

Ugandan scholar Mahmood Mamdani has an excellent piece in the LRB on the African University. Here are excerpts:

On the state of affairs:

The African university today is still very much what it was from the start: a colonial project with a monolingual medium of instruction, framed in terms of a European ‘universalism’ from which a large majority of the colonised were excluded.

On language (channeling Ngugi wa Thiong’o — an idea that keeps growing on me with age…):


Makerere University

Is there an intellectual mode of reasoning we can describe as African, in the way Mazrui spoke of a ‘French’ or a ‘Western’ mode of reasoning? Not an ancestral or genetic mode, obviously, but one which weaves together a set of discourses communicated in a common language that presupposes – or suggests – an intellectual community with a long historical formation. Language is our first obstacle here. Most of those of us who have come out of colonialism speak more than one. The languages of colonialism are inevitably languages of science, scholarship and global affairs. Then there are the languages of colonised peoples – languages whose growth was truncated by colonialism. Our home languages remain folkloric, shut out of the world of science and learning, high culture, law and government. There are exceptions. In East Africa, Kiswahili is the language of popular interaction, culture, and official discourse, also the medium of primary and secondary schooling, but not of university education. At East African universities, it has the status of a foreign language, with departments of Kiswahili studies. It is not the bearer of a scientific or a universal philological tradition.

Finally, on decolonizing the university:

What would it mean to decolonise a university in Africa? The East African experience suggests that one answer would be the opposite of what is happening in American and British universities: reducing the cost of a university education, by state grants and subsidies, to make it more inclusive. In the first place, therefore, fees would have to fall. I was at the University of Cape Town from 1996 to 1999; in the years that followed – the heyday of South Africa’s independence – fees began rising. In the second place, there would have to be multilingual projects designed to provide Westernised education in several languages and to nurture non-Western intellectual traditions as living vehicles of public and scholarly discourse in those languages. This is not a demand for a revivalist project, but a call to include the languages of popular discourse, which in South Africa would mean centres for the study of the Nguni and Sotho languages and traditions (the opposite of area studies), and translation units, carrying the best academic literature – global, regional and South African – back and forth between the new linguistic centres and the older faculties. Broadening the referential world of African universities means competence in the languages which embody non-Western traditions.

Read the whole thing here. Mamdani serves a great narrative on the intellectual history of East Africa.

In reaction to Mamdani Chris Blattman makes important points in this thread.

Also, let’s bring Transition back to life.