Scholarship updates for African students and researchers for December 2019

I’ve just added almost two dozen new opportunities to my lists of MA and PhD scholarships and post-docs and research funding for African researchers.  Check out the new listings below, and the full lists at the links above.

I’m not affiliated with any of these scholarship programs, and can’t answer questions about them or provide personalized scholarship advising.

Decolonizing knowledge at the Burundi Research Network


Place de la Révolution, Bujumbura

The Africa at LSE blog has a great write-up of the recent meeting of the Burundi Research Network, which was held in Nairobi.  While it might seem surprising that it wasn’t in Bujumbura, this was still an improvement over previous meetings, which were all held in Belgium.  Some key points:

Extensive knowledge about Burundi is a fruit of the colonial enterprise, predominantly written by Western scholars. The decolonisation of knowledge hence challenges Westerners to recognise how Burundian or African scholars contribute to epistemic frameworks, with the aim of decentralising and decolonising knowledge produced about Burundi not only theoretical but pragmatic.

Since the first BRN conference in 2015, to which only a few Burundians were able to attend and contribute, the network made progress in opening this space to Burundian scholars, comprising 42 of the 52 authors selected to present their work. With immigration politics in Europe increasingly exclusionary and travel costs disproportionate (if not extortionate), organising a conference in Nairobi facilitated access for Burundians.

When I was writing my MA thesis on Burundi back in 2011, I noted that all of the literature that I was able to find on the country in English was by foreigners.  I’m sure I missed a lot by not looking for works in French or Kirundi, of course.  Anyway, it’s great to see more support for Burundian researchers here.

Interesting academic articles for November 2019

Here’s what I’ve been looking forward to reading lately.

Sam Hickey, Tom Lavers, Jeremy Seekings, and Miguel Niño-Zarazúa, eds.  2019. The Politics of Social Protection in Eastern and Southern Africa.  UNU-WIDER.

The Politics of Social Protection in Eastern and Southern Africa challenges the common conception that [social protection] has been entirely driven by international development agencies, instead focusing on the critical role of political dynamics within specific African countries. It details how the power and politics at multiple levels of governance shapes the extent to which political elites are committed to social protection, the form that this commitment takes, and the implications that this has for future welfare regimes and state-citizen relations in Africa. It reveals how international pressures only take hold when they become aligned with the incentives and ideas of ruling elites in particular contexts. It shows how elections, the politics of clientelism, political ideologies, and elite perceptions all play powerful roles in shaping when countries adopt social protection and at what levels, which groups receive benefits, and how programmes are delivered.

Rumman Khan, Oliver Morrissey, and Paul Mosley.  2019.  “Two Africas? Why Africa’s ‘growth miracle’ has barely reduced poverty.”  RePEc discussions papers 2019 – 08.

Growth improved substantially in most countries in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) since 1990, but poverty in SSA as a whole has fallen by about a third, compared to by half or more in other developing regions. While some countries have had little or no success in reducing poverty, many have had significant achievements. The paper argues that inter-country differences, traceable to colonial experience, are crucial to understanding this varied SSA performance. This is based on a distinction between relatively labour-intensive ‘smallholder’ colonial economies and capital-intensive ‘extractive economies’ exporting minerals and plantation crops. Because of the more equitable income distribution and African political inclusion generated in smallholder economies, at independence they were in a better position than extractive economies to translate growth into poverty reduction. Since the 1990s (when poverty data are available) the distinction in terms of poverty reduction can be observed. The empirical analysis estimates the growth elasticity of poverty using various specifications, some including inequality. There are two key robust findings: i) smallholder economies significantly outperform extractive economies in poverty reduction; and ii) growth rates do not differ on average between the two groups, but the growth elasticity of poverty is higher in smallholder economies.

Michael Clemens, Helen Dempster, and Kate Gough.  2019.  “Promoting New Kinds of Legal Labour Migration Pathways Between Europe and Africa.”  Center for Global Development.

As Europe’s working-age population continues to decline, sub-Saharan Africa’s is rapidly increasing. Many of these new labour market entrants will seek opportunities in Europe, plugging skill gaps and contributing to economies in their countries of destination. To make the most of these movements, the new European Commission should create and promote new kinds of legal labour migration pathways with more tangible benefits to countries of origin and destination; pilot and scale Global Skill Partnership projects between Europe and sub-Saharan Africa and within Africa; and be a positive voice for migration within Europe, promoting the benefits from migration and ensuring they are understood.

Sohela Nazneen.  2019.  “How Do Leaders Collectively Influence Institutions?”  Developmental Leadership Program.  

How do leaders collectively influence institutions? This question lies at the heart of understanding how actors influence positive change. Social scientists have attempted to answer it from different perspectives. Broadly, these either emphasise the role of actors (both the individual leader and collective bodies) and how they act and what strategies they use, or focus more on how structures and institutions (i.e. rules of the game) define contextual boundaries and create specific opportunities and incentives for actors to behave in specific ways. These two perspectives reveal important aspects of how and why actors engage in collective processes of change. However … unpacking how leaders and coalitions engage in collective processes of change requires a deeper and nuanced understanding of what factors and conditions influence the decisions taken and strategies used by leaders and coalitions at different stages along the lifecycle of reform. Collective processes of change have three interlinked stages: 1) collective formation—when leaders focus on forming collectives and maintaining group cohesion; 2) legitimation—when leaders and coalitions are concerned with framing and justifying their demands and strengthening their position to make claims; and 3) securing institutional change—when the focus is on using different strategies to negotiate an outcome for the constituencies they claim to represent.

Rajeev Dehejia, Cristian Pop-Eleches, and Cyrus Samii.  2019.  “From Local to Global: External Validity in a Fertility Natural Experiment.”  NBER working paper 21459.

We study issues related to external validity for treatment effects using over 100 replications of the Angrist and Evans (1998) natural experiment on the effects of sibling sex composition on fertility and labor supply. The replications are based on census data from around the world going back to 1960. We decompose sources of error in predicting treatment effects in external contexts in terms of macro and micro sources of variation. In our empirical setting, we find that macro covariates dominate over micro covariates for reducing errors in predicting treatments, an issue that past studies of external validity have been unable to evaluate. We develop methods for two applications to evidence-based decision-making, including determining where to locate an experiment and whether policy-makers should commission new experiments or rely on an existing evidence base for making a policy decision.

Caitlin Tulloch.  2019.  “Taking intervention costs seriously: a new, old toolbox for inference about costs.”  Journal of Development Effectiveness.

This paper examines a new set of average cost data from a large international NGO, finding that costs for the same intervention can vary as much as twenty times when scale or context is changed. Despite this challenge to the generalisability of cost estimates, a high proportion of the variation can be explained by observable program and contextual characteristics. Binary questions about whether cost estimates are externally valid do not provide a useful framework for wider inference; instead, researchers can gain analytical traction if they study what factors cause the costs of specific interventions to change, and by how much.

Support the Mawazo Institute this Giving Tuesday

The hashtag Giving Tuesday

Today is Giving Tuesday, and I’d love to ask all my readers to consider supporting the Mawazo Institute.  From 2018 – 2019, we provided over $40,000 in research grants to rising female scholars from East Africa, like Peris Ambala of Kenyatta University.  With support from our PhD Scholars program, Peris pursued her research on the spread of Ebola-type viruses across East Africa, seeking to determine whether the virus had traveled from the DRC to Kenya.  Our whole Nairobi office was relieved to hear her conclusion that the virus isn’t present in Kenya at the moment!

A Kenyan woman in a white lab coat and blue gloves scrapes a sample off a microscope slide
Peris at work in the lab

Even a small donation can go a long way in helping us support up-and-coming female scholars across East Africa.  For example, you could cover:

  • Travel costs to collect data in rural areas ($25)
  • Basic scientific equipment like sterile gloves and pipettes ($50)
  • Statistical software for data analysis ($100)
  • Three-day training workshop on research methods ($200)

You can donate by credit card or M-Pesa at our donation page.  Mawazo is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, and all donations are tax-deductible for US donors.  We’re so grateful for all your support!


Cracks in the Congolese coalition

Joseph Kabila shakes hands with Félix Tshisekedi, who is wearing a red, blue and orange sash tied around his chest

Kabila (L) and Tshisekedi (R) in July 2019, via the BBC

The coalition between DRC president Félix Tshisekedi and ex-president Joseph Kabila has never been very secure.   Tshisekedi was declared president in January 2019 in a transparent case of electoral fraud, largely on the basis that he promised to share power with Kabila’s party.  Parliament and the cabinet are both dominated by Kabila’s allies, and Kabila still has vast business holdings and effective control of the military.

Now cracks are starting to emerge in the coalition.  Tshisekedi’s supporters have never been happy about Kabila’s control of government appointments — one of the only secure types of employment in a country with virtually no formal employment prospects.  Earlier this month, RFI reported that both sides burned effigies of the other’s leader.

Tshisekedi appears to be trying to carve out more space for himself by creating a series of parallel government agencies which are attached directly to the presidency, rather than to existing ministries.  More background from the Congo Research Group:

Luc Gerard Nyafe, l’un des ambassadeurs itinérants du chef de l’État, prend la défense de l’initiative présidentielle. En coulisses, l’homme d’affaires fait partie de ceux qui ont « conseillé » Félix Tshisekedi à garder un « œil direct » sur certains dossiers, notamment ceux liés à « la lutte contre la corruption, à l’amélioration du climat des affaires, à la couverture santé, à la qualité de l’éducation et à la sécurité ». Face à la forte influence de l’allié Joseph Kabila qui contrôle encore presque tout (le Parlement, les entreprises publiques, l’appareil sécuritaire, …), il fallait ainsi trouver une « formule » pour se ménager quelques marges de manœuvres. Mais c’est quasiment du bout des lèvres qu’un autre proche collaborateur du président, interrogé sur WhatsApp, l’admet. Il justifie également la multiplication de ces « agences » notamment par la nécessité pour Félix Tshisekedi de suivre « personnellement » certains « chantiers clés » de son quinquennat. Ce n’est que de cette manière qu’il pourra demain « en assumer la réussite ou l’échec », nous écrit-il.

Where did African countries get their names?

A map showing the literal translation of the name of every African country

Map of literal place names via Credit Card Compare

Quartz Africa recently had a good article on the unusual origins of many African country names.  A surprising number are colonial mishearings that stuck around.  Take Kenya:

Another mountain would yield a country’s name in East Africa, when the British came upon an imposing snow-capped mountain that the Kikuyu people called Kirinyaga (Where God dwells.) As they struggled to pronounce, Kirinyaga, they called it Mt. Kenya – the country would be named after this mountain.

Ever wonder why Mogadishu and Madagascar sound sort of similar?

Marco Polo, the 13th century Italian explorer, never visited Madagascar, but is believed to be responsible for mistaking it for Mogadishu and including it in his memoirs. This is the first written reference to Madageiscar. Thus, the corrupted Italian transliteration of Mogadishu, Madageiscar, eventually gave the world’s second largest island country its name.

But of course, others draw on more local history.

Zimbabwe would reclaim its name in 1979 just ahead of independence from the 13th-15th century kingdom of Zimbabwe, removing its colonial legacy name of Rhodesia, after Cecil Rhodes. … Ghana on its part would also reclaim its name at independence from the Ancient West African Kingdom of Ghana, after its British colonial legacy when it was known as the Gold Coast.