Tyler Cowen Goes to Lagos

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

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

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

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

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

Read the whole thing here.

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

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

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

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Atta Mills, President of Ghana, is dead

The BBC reports:

Ghana’s President [John Atta Mills], who was suffering from throat cancer, has died in the capital, Accra.

A statement from his office said the 68-year-old died a few hours after being taken ill, but did not give details.

Vice President Dramani Mahama is due to be sworn in as the new president.

Ghana is scheduled to hold general elections later this year. With the passing of Mr. Mills it is unclear who will become the ruling party’s presidential candidate (more on this soon).

More on this here, here and here.

On (the now shattered) Malian Democracy

Update:

Mutineers in Mali have appeared on national television to announce the overthrow of the “incompetent” government of President Amadou Toumani Toure. More on this here.

Also, I must hand it to Jay Ulfelder over at dart-throwing chimp for nailing it on Mali’s coup risk in 2012.

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What started as a mutiny in Mali on Tuesday night appears to have degenerated into a coup. Mali was due to hold elections on April 29th 2012. Since (re)democratization in the early 1990s Mali has routinely been cited as a case of democratic consolidation despite seemingly insurmountable odds (poor HDI scores, etc.). The current developments, however, raise serious questions with regard to whether the Malian political and military elite have wholly bought into the idea of settling their battles for power and influence at the ballot.

Furthermore, existing evidence (see below, part of an ongoing research project) paint a picture not of consolidation but of a cycling of over-sized coalitions that are prone to executive control and manipulation. The non-existence of stable elite coalitions (as appears to be the case in the stylized comparative case of Ghana) is a recipe for elite political instability as we are currently witnessing.

Oversize coalitions in government under electoral democracy are not a sufficient condition for elite political instability, but they are definitely a sign that things might not be right.

The idea here is that stable coalitions create room for self-enforcing arrangements among elites by raising actors’ audience costs. A regular cycling of over-size coalitions flies in the face of all of this – resulting in near-permanent first mover advantage and incentives for those left out to use extra-constitutional means to gain power.

The proximate cause of the mutiny and eventual (attempted) coup in Mali might have been a confluence of weak state coercive capacity and the resurgence of the Tuareg rebellion in the north of the country (fueled by weapons from Libya); but one cannot rule out the significance of the enabling structural conditions.

This is a data point on coups in Africa that I rather did not have.

The complex problem of slavery in Mauritania, a response

This is a guest post by Mauritania (and the broader Sahel) expert and  friend of the blog Erin Pettigrew (PhD Candidate, Stanford University)

A response to John D. Sutter over at CNN.com

I’ve been working in Mauritania on and off for the past eight years and this issue of ‘slavery’ is still one I am struggling to fully understand. I certainly cringe every time I see a young black child working in someone’s home, whether they be Black or Arab, in Mauritania and these relationships of work and pay are rarely clear to me. Likewise, one’s clan and lineage affiliations are sometimes difficult to sort out and this is what people use most to justify the history and current reality of exploitative labor practices. The extreme economic inequalities in Mauritania play a large part in the preservation of these relationships. And the role of government and then outside intervention in all of this? Here, I am very hesitant to comment.
The article itself reminded me a lot of Fabien’s critique of how Africanists tend to deny any sense of coevalness to their objects of study. The overly-dramatic descriptions of a “Mauritania [that] feels stuck in time in ways both quaint and sinister” and an “isolated environment” were, to me, problematic. Mauritania is neither isolated from the world, nor stuck in time. These relationships of labor, race, religion, and gender continue to change and are very much tied to developments in the Middle East and the rest of NW Africa. There are prominent Hratine politicians (take the current Vice-President or a long-time diplomat/journalist whose family has become very wealthy in their region through trade and land sales), academics, and activists, a sign of some kind of social shifting. Yet, I’ve also talked to Mauritanians who have visited these villages inhabited by those of slave origin and the conditions they describe and neglect by the over-arching tribal structures are dismal.

While it is true that notions of race do dominate the political, economic, and cultural landscape here and this article, perhaps more than others recently published in the American media (see recent articles in the Atlanta Constitution and Atlantic Monthly), attempts to address some of the complexity of this history, I still found it lacking some nuance and historical depth. I can’t really expect otherwise, since 8 days in Mauritania is hardly enough time to really engage in deep conversation about the issue. Is it really that “incredible” that the “nuances of a person’s skin color and family history determine whether he or she will be free or enslaved?” Skin color and lineage have been and are powerful markers of identity in West Africa (see Bruce Hall’s recent book on this topic) so it’s not surprising that these would persist as important means of discrimination.

In its attempts to simplify these markers, the article glosses over the fact that Hratine (Black Moors…these terms are actually synonymous) came from (Black) Halpulaar, Soninke, Wolof (who also had their own slave practices, raiding, and castes), but mostly Bambara linguistic groups before they existed as this distinct group with a history of labor and unclear lineage. And it’s very clear that Wolof and Soninke still discriminate strongly against those of slave origin in their own communities. The article also argues that the reason the French abolition of slavery didn’t hold was due to the vastness of the desert but, if one looks at colonial-era documents, it’s very clear that the French did very little to enforce their 1905 law abolishing slavery in West Africa. They feared upsetting their relationship with powerful Bidan (White Moor) leaders if they enforced these laws and, in most cases, they allowed these exploitative relationships and the trade itself to continue. This was not because of the geography of the region since they certainly established new tax and educational systems, but because they were too concerned with the political consequences of disciplining their ‘allies’ in the region.

As a researcher in Mauritania, I must say that I and another researcher here were both deeply troubled by the “hidden” agenda of these reporters. Conducting research in Mauritania is already difficult enough, with government officials very worried about the political nature of any American’s presence, but reporting like this only adds to Mauritanians’ fears about the “real” agenda of Americans roaming around in their country. And the question of what one can do? Here, I’m really at a loss. There are many local organizations working on this issue (SOS, l’IRA, etc.) so the best answer would be to get in touch with them and see what they advocate for action. The reality is that exploitative labor with inadequate pay, however one wants to call it, does exist in Mauritania and most often relies upon this group of Arabophone black Africans called “Hratine”.

Africa’s budding narco-states?

UPDATE:

The Kenyan Prime Minister just admitted to the presence of drug money in Kenyan politics. Huge. Also, check the UNODC’s drug trafficking patterns for East Africa.

Also, does anyone out there have a copy of the report on drug trafficking in Kenya? Care to share?

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I have written before about the growing problem of drug-trafficking that is creating new problems for already fragile African states.

Of note is the fact that the problem is not just limited to the usual suspects – weak or failing states – but also extends to countries that most would consider to have it together, like Ghana, South Africa and Kenya.

According to Reuters, “cocaine moves through West Africa” while “heroin transits through the eastern part of the continent.”

The most alarming thing about this new trend is that in most of these African countries drug-trafficking happens with the consent of those in government.

For instance, in Guinea the son of former president Conte was for a long time a leading drug kingpin. In Guinea-Bissau President Vieira’s and Gen. Na Waie’s deaths in March of last year were a result of drug-related feuds. In Ghana President Atta Mills has lamented that the drug lords are too powerful to rein in. In Kenya, a woman (rumored to be) close to the president and other elites have been linked to the drug trade. Indeed on June 1st President Obama listed a sitting Kenyan Member of Parliament (Harun Mwau) as a global drug kingpin.

In South Africa former Chief of Police, Jackie Selebi, was jailed for 10 years in 2010 on drug charges. More recently the wife of the South African Intelligence Minister (Sheryl Cwele) was found guilty of having connections to the illicit trade. In 2009 a Boeing 727 crashed and was later set ablaze by suspected drug traffickers in Mali. The plane is believed to have been a drug cargo plane from Latin America destined for Europe. Other African states whose drug connections have also come to light include The Gambia (where rumors abound that President Jammeh is himself involved in the trade in drugs and arms in collusion with the Bissauian army) and Mozambique (H/T kmmonroe). You can find related news stories here and here.

Clearly, this is a real problem that if not nipped in the bud has the potential of growing to Mexican proportions, especially considering the already low levels of state capacity in most of Africa.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy also addresses this issue in their newly released report:

In just a few years, West Africa has become a major transit and re-packaging hub for cocaine following a strategic shift of Latin American drug syndicates toward the European market. Profiting from weak governance, endemic poverty, instability and ill-equipped police and judicial institutions, and bolstered by the enormous value of the drug trade, criminal networks have infiltrated governments, state institutions and the military. Corruption and money laundering, driven by the drug trade, pervert local politics and skew local economies.

A dangerous scenario is emerging as narco-traffic threatens to metastasize into broader political and security challenges. Initial international responses to support regional and national action have not been able to reverse this trend. New evidence suggests that criminal networks are expanding operations and strengthening their positions through new alliances, notably with armed groups. Current responses need to be urgently scaled up and coordinated under West African leadership, with international financial and technical support. Responses should integrate
law enforcement and judicial approaches with social, development and conflict prevention policies – and they should involve governments and civil society alike.

mbeki’s take on the ivorian crisis

Ouattara’s victory over Gbagbo in Cote D’Ivoire is quickly generating winner’s remorse. The coalition of disparate rebel forces that united to oust Gbagbo is already breaking apart. Just this past week Ibrahim Coulibaly, a rebel commander, was killed after he refused to obey Ouattara’s order to disarm his units. Mr. Ouattara himself is facing the sisyphean challenge of cleaning up the mess from the decade long civil war and the recent onslaught on Abidjan amid economic decline and divisions within his own coalition. Supporters of Mr. Gbagbo are also not yet into the idea of having the northerner running the show. Over 40% of Ivorians, most of them southerners, voted for Gbagbo.

In the wider region, many see the heavy French involvement in the whole situation as suspect. Thabo Mbeki, the former president of South Africa, had this to say in a piece posted on the FP website:

France used its privileged place in the Security Council to position itself to play an important role in determining the future of Côte d’Ivoire, its former colony in which, inter alia, it has significant economic interests. It joined the United Nations to ensure that Ouattara emerged as the victor in the Ivorian conflict.

This addressed the national interests of France, consistent with its Françafrique policies, which aim to perpetuate a particular relationship with its former African colonies. This is in keeping with remarks made by former French President François Mitterand when he said, “Without Africa, France will have no history in the 21st century,” which former French foreign minister Jacques Godfrain confirmed when he said: “A little country [France], with a small amount of strength, we can move a planet because [of our]…relations with 15 or 20 African countries…”

Mbeki has a point.

That said, I don’t totally buy into the idea that the West, or any other outsider for that matter, should keep out of Africa’s affairs. Isolationism (caused by the great sand wall that is the Sahara) has not served Africa well in the past. Africa needs more trade and involvement  in international politics. Both acts necessarily require international involvement in Africa.

So to the likes of Mbeki I say, the trick is not to require the West or East or even the Emerging South to benevolently stay out of Africa’s business. Rather, African states should develop their own capacities to deal with the reality of world politics: Strong states will always prey on weak ones. If you do not want to be preyed upon, you have to get your act together. Stephen Waltz in his seminal work titled Theory of International Relations writes:

Weakness invites control; strength tempts one to exercise it, even if only for the “good” of other people.

The problem of exploitative international involvement in Africa is sustained primarily by the persistence of inept kleptocratic leadership in the region.

To go ahead and grant these dictators immunity from international pressure would be a most undesirable outcome. People like Idriss Deby, Paul Biya, Theodore Obiang, among others, should not be given space. Dictators do not have internal affairs.

It is a pipe dream to continue nurturing and protecting mediocre leadership all over Africa while expecting the strong nations of the world to benevolently keep off. It is the mismanagement of Africa by its leaders that creates fertile grounds for self-interested international preying involvement by the likes of France – with disastrous consequences for the local populations.


the African Union and its problems

The just concluded AU summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia had two key problems to address: the political crisis in Ivory Coast and the legal battles involving six Kenyans who face charges at the ICC. So far the continental body appears to have failed on its attempts to address both problems.

In the Ivory Coast, Mr. Gbagbo’s camp has already declared that the five person panel formed by the AU is dead on arrival unless Burkinabe president, Compraore is dropped. The Daily Nation reports:

The president of Burkina Faso, named on a high-level African Union panel tasked with settling Cote d’Ivoire’s leadership crisis, is “not welcome” in this country, a top ally of strongman Laurent Gbagbo said here yesterday.

And in Kenya, the political football involving the setting up of a credibly clean local judicial system to try perpetrators of the 2007-8 post election violence diminished the prospects of a deferral from the UN Security Council. Kenya must guarantee that it will try the suspects for the ICC to consider a deferral. It does not help that the appointment of high members of its judiciary, including the chief justice, the attorney general and the director of public prosecutions has already been soiled by political grandstanding.

ouattara won, but gbagbo determined to latch on to power

The Ivorian electoral commission declared Alassane Ouattara, the northern candidate, as the winner of the presidential runoff held on Sunday. Ouattara got 54.1% of the vote. Incumbent Laurent Gbagbo disputed the results and had the country’s constitutional court reject the pronouncement. His supporters contend that there were significant irregularities in three regions in the north of the country.

Gbagbo (left) and Ouattara

UN and other mission observers declared that the election globally reflected the will of the people of Cote d’Ivoire. The BBC reports that the country’s military has sealed the borders amid rising tension and confusion over the political stalemate in the country. Mr. Gbagbo has been president since 2000.

For the sake of institutionalism the international community should not allow Mr. Gbagbo to remain in power. His 10-year tenure has not done much in terms of healing relations between the two halves of the country that fought the 2002-04 civil war. The fact that even his incumbency advantage could not help him beat Ouattara signals his general incompetence and the mass’s disaffection with his rule.

Cote d’Ivoire has a population of 21 million people, 49% of whom live in urban areas. Life expectancy in the country is a dismal 56 years. Only 48% of Ivorians  age 15 and over are literate. Ivorians’ per capita income is US $1700 and 68% of them depend on agriculture for livelihood. 42% of Ivorians live below the international poverty line of $2 a day.

Cote d’Ivoire is the world’s largest producer and exporter of cocoa beans and a significant producer and exporter of coffee and palm oil. Because of the political risk in the country Cocoa for March delivery climbed $110, or 4 percent, to $2,868 in New York.

crucial elections in west africa

The Ivorians have a runoff election tomorrow while the Guineans (Guinea-Conakry) get to find out who will be their president on December 2nd.

The Ivory Coast is still trying to recover from the disastrous turmoil and civil war that visited her following the death of founding president Houphouet Boigny. The civil war split the country in two, with the southerners (actually just nationalist Abidjanites) accusing most northern politicians of being foreigners. Among the said “foreigners” is the challenger in tomorrow’s election, Alassane Ouattara. Mr. Ouattara hopes to unseat Mr. Laurent Gbagbo who has been in power since 2000.

In Guinea the loser in the runoff went to the supreme court to challenge the results. The country is one of the more unstable places on the continent with a military that is lacking in discipline professionalism.

Out of the many trouble spots in West Africa at the turn of the century, Guinea (Conakry), Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast and Niger are the main laggards slowing down the region’s match towards political stability, irrespective of regime type.

sad sad story

A while back I posted something on Sierra Leone’s shocking maternal mortality stats. This week TIME magazine has this sad piece on Mamma Sessay, an 18 year old Sierra Leonean woman who died during childbirth. The images could have been a little bit more respectful (there is a little too much poorism involved for my liking) but the message gets home: Giving birth is still a most dangerous undertaking for the vast majority of women on the Continent.

Kudos to outfits like this one that work to save the lives of women on the Continent. Stories like Mamma’s are a grim reminder of how much still needs to be done to lower maternal mortality rates in the less developed regions of the world. Educating more women is the obvious long-term solution – statistics abound on how education decreases fertility and maternal mortality rates while increasing the quality of childcare. More urgently, however, is the need to improve pre-natal care and eradicate anachronistic cultural practices that allow men to marry 14 year old girls (the late Mamma was 14 when she got married).