What do Ethiopian civil servants know about the districts they serve?

That’s the question asked in a new paper by Daniel Rogger and Ravi Somani.  In a VoxDev writeup of the piece, they find that civil servants are often fairly far off the mark about even basic facts like the size of the districts where they work.  A few key findings:

47% of officials claim that their district’s population is 50% bigger or smaller than it is.

The mean error in estimates of the proportion of pregnant women who attended ANC4+ during the current pregnancy (the ‘antenatal care rate’) was 38% of the benchmark data.

Agriculture officials overestimate the number of hectares in their district that are recorded as used for agricultural purposes by almost a factor of 2.

Why so many misunderstandings?  Part of it apparently has to do with how officials are getting their information.

 We surveyed 1,831 public officials across 382 organisations spanning all three tiers of Ethiopia’s Government.

The most frequently cited source of information for these officials was ‘Formal field visits’, with 63% of officials stating that this was a key source of information. Discussions with frontline colleagues, and informal interactions with colleagues in their organisation were the second and third most cited sources of information, with 51.9% and 45.9% of officials stating their significance respectively.

Only 12.8% of officials state that they use management information systems (MIS) as their primary source of information. Field visits and informal interactions are therefore three times more likely to be in the top three most important sources of information than MIS, and ten times more likely than external media sources.

Two updates on research ethics in post-conflict states

I recently came across two good posts discussing the ethics of relatively well-off, white foreigners carrying out research in post-conflict states in Africa.

At the Africa@LSE blog, Pat Stys and Tom Kirk write about the ways in which white researchers in eastern DRC are sometimes seen as more trusted financial intermediaries than local banks.

Much to our surprise, all eight researchers … asked us to safely store their cash payments until a decent sum had been accrued. We had assumed that irregularly employed researchers would require daily payments for travel in and around Goma…

Admittedly, it was the run up to Christmas, so our researchers and coach were keen to amass lump sums.  Yet, our enquiries also revealed that storing cash with us gave the savers a measure of ‘plausible deniability’ when those in their networks, including close family members, inevitably came asking for loans or loan repayments. For others, we were simply a safer place to keep money than the available, yet widely distrusted, alternatives such as banks or relatives.

The undeniable truth that we are both white also meant, therefore, we were assumed to have enough money to pay the savers back at short notice. Discussion of this common practice encouraged the researchers to ask Tom how much money he keeps hidden from his partner, to which the disbelieved answer was, of course, none.

At From Poverty to Power, David Mwambari and Arthur Owor discuss the ways in which foreign researchers’ access to funding puts local researchers at a disadvantage.

The industry of knowledge production is rarely regulated in conflict or post-conflict contexts. Local or national governments are fragile or non-existent and therefore aid agencies, humanitarian organizations, local non-governmental organizations, individual academics or consultants regulate the payment to the service providers.  If rules do exist, researchers rarely adhere to them beyond filling out bureaucratic forms. The person with the money, usually the outside senior researcher, not only sets the standards and determines what questions are asked but also determines how money will be used, who is paid for what, and how much they receive. …

International experts in most cases are paid by aid agencies, they are put up in good hotels, and often have contracts that secure their jobs. As the colleague from Bangladesh mentioned, their assistants rarely have any paperwork or even a reference letter to show that they took part in producing this information, let alone a project title to put on their CV.

98% of Somalia’s money supply is counterfeit

A Somali man holds a wad of tattered 1000 shilling notes

Worn out Somali shillings, via the Daily Nation

Somalia lacked any central governance from 1991, when Siad Barre’s regime collapsed, to 2004, when a relatively weak transitional government was established.  The government shed its “transitional” title in 2012, but still struggles to project authority outside of Mogadishu.

One casualty of this set of weak and contested governance structures has been the money supply.  New notes haven’t been issued since 1991, and the IMF estimates that 98% of the currency in circulation is counterfeit.  In practice Somalis have largely got around this by switching to mobile money.

The country is now looking for currency specialists to help it issue new shilling notes.  If you know someone who fits the description in Nairobi, let them know!

What do we know about air quality in Nairobi?

A road packed with buses in central Nairobi

Packed streets at rush hour in downtown Nairobi (via the New York Times)

I went down a bit of a rabbit hole on Nairobi air quality the other weekend, after I went for a long bike ride, and ended up chugging up a steep hill alongside a matatu emitting black smoke directly into my face.  I wanted to know if I could pick specific areas or specific times of the week when it would be safer to ride.  (Research suggests that the health benefits of cycling probably outweigh the costs of pollution exposure in all but the most polluted cities, but I’m still not keen on breathing in matatu exhaust.)

What I found is that there’s a strong consensus that Nairobi’s air quality is poor, but very limited data about variations in air quality by neighborhood or time of day.  An MIT project shared data from five locations around the city collected from 2016 – 2017, and found that timing of the highest levels of pollution varied significantly between sites.  (Thus, no possibility of making a uniform recommendation like “avoid cycling in the afternoon” across the city.)

Three graphs showing pollution by time of day in Kibera, St Scholastika, and the United Nations in Nairobi

What about real-time data? offers data from two sensors in Kilimani and Kitisuru.  They’re currently suggesting that the air quality index is around 54 by US standards, which stands for “moderate pollution with mild impacts on extremely sensitive groups.”  However, these are also relatively wealthy neighborhoods that don’t see much traffic from buses and trucks, which tend to be the worst polluters.  We clearly can’t extrapolate from this to the whole city.

Another project called sensors.AFRICA is supposed to be launching an air quality monitoring network with 22 sensors across the city.  However, they don’t appear to be operating yet.  In short, Nairobi has a lot of work to do to provide adequate real-time data on its air quality.

The politics of oil under-extraction in the DRC

A map of oil blocks in western DR Congo and Angola

The DRC’s known oil reserves along the Atlantic Coast (via EnerGulf Resources)

According to a recent Quartz Africa article by Patrick Edmond and Kristof Titeca, the DR Congo could be sitting on oil reserves of up to 20 billion barrels.  This would make the country the second-biggest petrostate in Africa, after Nigeria with 37 billion barrels in reserves.  However, only a tiny fraction of that oil has actually been found, and none of it extracted yet.

Why isn’t the DRC keen to cash in on this bounty?  There are obvious logistical challenges in a country which barely maintains its road network.  But there are also political economy issues at play.  As Edmond & Titeca note,

The main reason [the government has actively and passively blocked oil development] is that doing so would take time and investment, while political careers in the Congo are short and unstable. Moreover, those in power are also aware that such sources of revenue could end up in opponents’ hands or might have to be extracted in a politically-hostile part of the country. In terms of regime security, it is simply safer not to develop the sector. In this situation, the oil sector is not there to be developed, but to serve as a political reward for regime loyalists.