Africa Update for December 2019

Welcome to the latest edition of Africa Update!  We’ve got the competitive rollerbladers of eastern DRC, the Nairobi governor’s prison break, African women on boards, the health threats of kids’ facepaint in Uganda, and more.

West Africa: This was a wild story about a Nigerian sailor who got hijacked by pirates, forced to work for them, and then arrested for piracy himself.  Older Nigerians find WhatsApp easier to use than other social media or internet platforms, but it also leaves them less able to check on false news before spreading it.  The Senegal-Mali railway line has slowly been falling into ruin, with workers showing up though they haven’t been paid for nearly a year.  An ECOWAS court has ruled that Sierra Leone must stop kicking pregnant students out of school.

Central Africa: Meet the competitive rollerbladers of eastern DRC.  In Burundi, the president continues to consolidate his power and crack down on civic space.  Qatar Airways has acquired a 60% stake in Rwanda’s planned new international airport.  Agro-processing accounts for almost 70% of Uganda’s manufacturing sector, but many factories are still sitting idle.

A mural of a colorful blue and pink face on a cement wall
Art at the Nairobi Railway Museum, via Nanjala Nyabola

East Africa: This piece debunks a lot of harmful stereotypes about northern Kenya.  The leading Janjaweed commander in Sudan exported almost a ton of gold to Dubai in a single month in 2018.  South Sudan has stopped paying civil servants but is still spending lavishly on the military and perks for MPs. Here’s some useful background on ethnic politics in Ethiopia.  Somalia’s president is stacking the deck to get re-elected in 2020.

Governance in Kenya: The Kenyan Red Cross collected almost US$10 million after a 2011 famine, but a new investigation shows that most of the money never reached the victims.  The governor of Nairobi is in trouble for failing to disclose that he escaped from prison in 1998.  Kenya may be losing up to 1/3 of its national budget to corruption every year.

Southern Africa: In South Africa, climate change protests often discuss environmentalism as an individual responsibility rather than a need to rethink the structure of the economy.  Private CCTV networks are creating a new type of racial apartheid in South Africa.  This was an insightful illustrated guide to Zimbabwe’s ongoing currency crisis.  In Mozambique, kids as young as four are forced to mine mica, which is used in electronics and makeup.

A graph showing the gender and national breakdown of startup founders in Africa
Women are still substantially underrepresented as start-up founders across Africa, according to Forbes

Human rights: A militia leader in eastern DRC was convicted of war crimes less than two years after they occurred, in an unusually rapid turnaround for the Congolese courts.  On Congo’s palm oil plantations, workers are consistently being exposed to toxic chemicals.  Who is policing the police in Kenya?

Politics + economics: Here’s an insightful overview of the state of judicial systems in West Africa. I’m looking forward to reading this new book on the politics of social protection in Eastern and Southern Africa.  A new study shows that giving cash transfers to families in Kenya is very good for the local economy and doesn’t lead to inflation.  Tullow Oil has seen its stock price crash after problems with its oil investments in Ghana, Kenya and Uganda.  Jumia has pulled out of Tanzania, Cameroon and Rwanda in the last few weeks.

Environment:  In northern Uganda, conflict is leading to deforestation.  But are movements to plant more trees in Africa to fight climate change just a new kind of colonialism?  In Ghana, fisheries observers are facing threats for reporting illegal fishing by Chinese trawlers.  Read about how four African mega-cities are adapting to climate change.

Lake Malawi, with a large mountain in the background
Scenic Lake Malawi, from Kim Yi Dionne

Health: Most African countries still haven’t banned lead paint, leading to concerns that kids are being exposed at home and via facepainting.  Burkina Faso has a controversial new plan to wipe out malaria by sterilizing mosquitos.  In Zimbabwe, doctors are striking over missing medical supplies and inflation which has wiped out their salaries.  Millions of unsafe abortions are performed annually in Nigeria, where the procedure is illegal in most circumstances.

Gender: TheBoardroom Africa is connecting African women with corporate and non-profit board positions.  Kenya’s national homicide data doesn’t list the gender of victims, but one MA student is working to change that.  Many African countries have laws which protect women and children, but don’t address the specific risks faced by young girls.  These were moving ethnographic interviews with women doing sex work in Uganda.

Education: Check out this review of research on African education by scholars based in Africa.  A Nigerian effort to make Igbo an official language of instruction is running into opposition from parents and students, who feel that English and Pidgin are better languages for business.

 

A portrait of a young woman on a colorful pink and purple background
I’m loving Kenyan-French artist Evans Mbugua’s colorful portraits

Research roundup: The latest round of Afrobarometer data is out, for all your opinion polling needs.  The British Journal of Political Science has ungated a selection of articles on African politics until the end of December 2019.  The Africa Science Desk has an open call for scientific journalism.  What does impact evaluation capacity look like across Africa?  I agree that the African Studies Association of Africa should get to be the main “African Studies Association,” and the existing ASA should be renamed “African Studies Association of America”!

Art + literature: Did you know that Nando’s is the biggest collector of South African art? Here’s a great interview with the founder of Bakwa, Cameroon’s first literary magazine.  The Nigerian publisher Cassava Republic has a new grant for publishing in local African languages.  Read about the history of Hausa feminist literature in Nigeria.  Nairobi has a vibrant literary house party scene.  Check out this open access sound archive of Nairobi.

The politics of death in colonial Kenya and Ghana

A coffin shaped like a chili pepper
A fantasy coffin from Ghana

I came across two interesting articles recently that noted how much colonization changed burial practices in Kenya and Ghana.  At The Elephant, Patrick Gathara writes about burial practices as strategies for claiming land in Kenya.  He notes that among the Kikuyu, before colonization,

In some cases, folks of high status had elaborate funeral rites … [but many] individuals were simply left out in the bush to be devoured by wild animals, at times being led out when sickly to a clearing to die.

So why and when did burial become universal? … The British had been trying to get the Kikuyu to stop tossing bodies into the bush without much success until, in February 1933, Senior Chief Koinange wa Mbiu was able to demonstrate to the Carter Commission, set up a year earlier to investigate African land claims and grievances, that land grabbed by an English settler actually belonged to his family by exhuming the remains of his grandfather. Suddenly bodies were no longer just the unclean detritus from a one-way ticket on the ancestral plane, but were now effectively transformed into a title for land, and burial “into a means of ascertaining control over property… Burial became a means to assert one’s modernity and to mark out inherited property: a new concept of land ownership was born”. Where land was once a communal resource, it now became the basis of private wealth and completely transformed social, economic and class relations within the society with attendant consequences that Kenyans continue to pay for to this day.

The logical endpoint of using burial grounds to claim land is then demonstrated in colonial Ghana, where burying the dead was more common.  As Sarah Balakrishnan writes at the Metropole blog, 

Creating private property in Accra required cemeteries. Graveyards relocated ancestors to the public domain, making it possible for Gold Coasters to sell their property to interested buyers.  British colonists had long understood that communities in Accra would never sell their land if it contained the remains of their elders.

Interesting academic articles for December 2019

Here’s what I’m looking forward to reading this month!

Portia Roelofs.  2019.  “Beyond programmatic versus patrimonial politics: contested conceptions of legitimate distribution in Nigeria.Journal of Modern African Studies.

This article argues against the long-standing instinct to read African politics in terms of programmatic versus patrimonial politics. Unlike the assumptions of much of the current quantitative literature, there are substantive political struggles that go beyond ‘public goods good, private goods bad’. Scholarly framings serve to obscure the essentially contested nature of what counts as legitimate distribution. This article uses the recent political history of the Lagos Model in southwest Nigeria to show that the idea of patrimonial versus programmatic politics does not stand outside of politics but is in itself a politically constructed distinction. In adopting it a priori as scholars we commit ourselves to seeing the world through the eyes of a specific, often elite, constituency that makes up only part of the rich landscape of normative political contestation in Nigeria. Finally, the example of a large-scale empowerment scheme in Oyo State shows the complexity of politicians’ attempts to render distribution legitimate to different audiences at once.

Amanda Lea Robinson and Jessica Gottlieb.  2019.  “How to Close the Gender Gap in Political Participation: Lessons from Matrilineal Societies in Africa.”  British Journal of Political Science.

While gender gaps in political participation are pervasive, especially in developing countries, this study provides systematic evidence of one cultural practice that closes this gap. Using data from across Africa, this article shows that matrilineality – tracing kinship through the female line – is robustly associated with closing the gender gap in political participation. It then uses this practice as a lens through which to draw more general inferences. Exploiting quantitative and qualitative data from Malawi, the authors demonstrate that matrilineality’s success in improving outcomes for women lies in its ability to sustain more progressive norms about the role of women in society. It sets individual expectations about the gendered beliefs and behaviors of other households in the community, and in a predictable way through the intergenerational transmission of the practice. The study tests and finds evidence against two competing explanations: that matrilineality works through its conferral of material resources alone, or by increasing education for girls.

Rebecca Holmes, Nicola Jones and Pilar Domingo.  2019.  “The Politics of Gender-Responsive Social Protection.”  Overseas Development Institute.  Working paper #568.

Social protection coverage for women of working age, and for children and adolescents – especially in Africa, Asia and the Pacific – has improved over the past two decades but nevertheless remains limited.  A gendered political economy analysis approach can help us to understand why and how progress has (or has not) been made in promoting gender equality objectives in social protection design, implementation and outcomes, and to identify entry points for priority action.  Such an analysis requires us to explore the range of factors that affect decisions around resource allocation, legal change and policy formulation. We have focused on the ‘three I’s’ (Rosendorff, 2005) – the institutions (formal and informal), the interests of key actors, and the ideas framing social protection strategies and programmes. While each context is different, progress in advancing gender-responsive social protection is more likely where: (1) there is a combination of pro-poor and inclusive national government institutions and influential political elites championing gender-responsive social protection; (2) advocates influence informal decision-making arenas and sub-national political institutions; (3) there is a broad coalition of skilled and resourced actors; and (4) the framing of social protection goes beyond seeing women as mothers and carers and instead as recipients of social protection in their own right.

Richard Sedlmayr, Anuj Shah, and Munshi Sulaiman.  2019. “Cash-plus: Poverty impacts of alternative transfer-based approaches.” Journal of Development Economics.

Can training and mentorship expand the economic impact of cash transfer programs, or would such extensions waste resources that recipients could allocate more impactfully by themselves? Over the course of two years, a Ugandan nonprofit organization implemented alternative poverty alleviation approaches in a randomized manner. These included an integrated graduation-style program involving cash transfers as well as extensive training and mentorship; a slightly simplified variant excluding training on savings group formation; and a radically simplified approach that monetized all intangibles and delivered cash only. Light-touch behavioral extensions involving goal-setting and plan-making were also implemented with some cash transfer recipients. We find that simplifying the integrated program tended to erode its impact.

Ken Opalo.  2019.  “The Politics of Social Protection in Africa: Public Opinion Evidence from Kenya on Cash Transfers.”  Working paper. 

The idea of poverty alleviation through unconditional cash transfers is popular among academics, the media, and policymakers. However, the widespread acceptance of this policy tool has not been accompanied by a serious consideration of its political implications. This is especially true in African states, where many cash transfer programs are donor-funded, are largely unconditional with a humanitarian bend, and have therefore eschewed overt discussions of distributive politics. Existing works overwhelmingly focus on measuring the economic impact of specific programs. This raises the question: what are the perceived causes of poverty, attitudes towards deservingness of assistance, and willingness to pay taxes to finance social protection in African states? This paper addresses these questions using a nationally-representative survey in Kenya (N = 2015). The results show that partisanship is a strong moderator of public opinion on cash transfers. While attitudes about causes of poverty and deservingness are fairly similar across party lines, co-partisanship with the incumbent president is strongly correlated with support for tax increases to finance social protection. I attribute this to partisan differences in trust in government. Cross-country analysis of spending on social protection across 35 African states corroborate the importance of politics as a driver of social protection policies. Higher levels of democracy are correlated with more spend- ing on social protection. These findings call for more research the political economy of social protection in Africa, with a focus on individual level attitudes.

Dennis Egger, Johannes Haushofer, Edward Miguel, Paul Niehaus, and Michael Walker.  2019.  “General equilibrium effects of cash transfers: experimental evidence from Kenya.”  Working paper. 

How large economic stimuli generate individual and aggregate responses is a central question in economics, but has not been studied experimentally. We provided one-time cash transfers of about USD 1000 to over 10,500 poor households across 653 randomized villages in rural Kenya. The implied fiscal shock was over 15 percent of local GDP. We find large impacts on consumption and assets for recipients. Importantly, we document large positive spillovers on non-recipient households and firms, and minimal price inflation. We estimate a local fiscal multiplier of 2.6. We interpret welfare implications through the lens of a simple household optimization framework.

Thad Dunning et al.  2019.  “Voter information campaigns and political accountability: Cumulative findings from a preregistered meta-analysis of coordinated trials.”  Science Advances.  

Voters may be unable to hold politicians to account if they lack basic information about their representatives’ performance. Civil society groups and international donors therefore advocate using voter information campaigns to improve democratic accountability. Yet, are these campaigns effective? Limited replication, measurement heterogeneity, and publication biases may undermine the reliability of published research. We implemented a new approach to cumulative learning, coordinating the design of seven randomized controlled trials to be fielded in six countries by independent research teams. Uncommon for multisite trials in the social sciences, we jointly preregistered a meta-analysis of results in advance of seeing the data. We find no evidence overall that typical, nonpartisan voter information campaigns shape voter behavior, although exploratory and subgroup analyses suggest conditions under which informational campaigns could be more effective. Such null estimated effects are too seldom published, yet they can be critical for scientific progress and cumulative, policy-relevant learning.

Alice Redfern, Martin Gould, Maryanne Chege, Sindy Li, and William Slotznick.  2019.  “Beneficiary Preferences: Findings from Kenya and Ghana.”  IDInsight. 

International development leaders frequently make complex resource allocation decisions that require weighing trade-offs between different types of good outcomes. For example, given limited resources, which should be prioritized: a program that increases household income or one that saves lives? … Prior to this study, there was a clear lack of data on how potential beneficiaries of such interventions trade-off between different outcomes. This study represents a step to fill this gap for strategic international development decision-making. We surveyed over 1,800 low-income individuals across four diverse regions in Ghana and Kenya. Three main methods were used to capture how respondents trade-off between averting deaths of individuals of different ages and increasing consumption.  … We found that respondents place a higher value on averting a death than predicted by most extrapolations from studies in high income countries (HICs).  Respondents consistently value the lives of individuals under 5 higher than individuals 5 and older, which is consistent with HIC studies but contrary to median GiveWell moral weights.

The Transfer Project.  2019.  “Beyond internal validity: Towards a broader understanding of credibility in development policy research.”  World Development.

We provide evidence from the Transfer Project to show that methodological design is only one factor in determining credibility in the eyes of policymakers. Policymakers understand concerns around internal validity, but also value collaborative research engagement, which builds trust, allows co-creation of research questions, informs operations throughout the evaluation period and leverages national research expertise. Further, the mere act of engaging in a large-scale, transparent impact evaluation, across quasi-and experimental designs can change the culture of decision-making within an agency, leading to better policy choices in the long run. We advocate for a more inclusive approach to policy research that begins with identifying the most relevant research question and fitting the methods to the question rather than vice-versa. We challenge the field to engage more closely with policymakers to identify their evidence needs in order to prioritize the end objective of improving the lives of the poor—regardless of methodological design choices

Improving birth registration rates in Africa

A map showing birth registration rates in Africa, which vary from 100% in South Africa to less than 20% in Tanzania

Several interesting articles on this topic have popped up lately.  This whole article from The Economist (which also provided the graph above) is worth reading.  Some key points on registration challenges:

Money is another reason many African countries have fallen behind their peers. Extending the state’s reach to remote areas can be expensive. So, too, is paying for skilled labour of the sort required to fill in forms accurately and to operate biometric machines. The technology itself is costly, especially for small countries that do not have much buying power.

Many governments have unwisely bought proprietary systems, meaning that they are forced to go back to the seller for maintenance, upgrades and new components. That can be expensive. When Nigeria’s NIMC wanted to use its own card-printing machines, the firm that had sold it software tried to insist that Nigeria buy its machines as well, says Tunji Durodola, an adviser to the commission. (They eventually got help from Pakistan, which had software that worked on any machine.)

But help may be coming from India, which recently carried out one of the largest identity card registration schemes in the world with its Aadhar program.

When India developed its “Aadhaar” identity programme it invited leading firms to bid—but with the caveat that they provide open-source software, or code that can be examined and changed by others. This allowed engineers to knit together different bits of a system such as databases, enrolment software, fingerprint scanners and so on. The suppliers agreed because they did not want to miss out on the biggest identity bonanza the world had ever seen. Moreover, India’s spending led to a big increase in production, which caused prices to fall across the industry. …  Eleven countries, including Uganda, Congo, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Mali and Madagascar, have signed up to an industry advisory committee to develop these open standards

Interestingly, several African countries have recently gone through big pushes to register adult citizens, but haven’t necessarily built on this to improve registration at birth.  Kenya’s Huduma Namba is a good example, where citizens had only a few months earlier in 2019 to register for a unique government service number.  And here’s a similar critique coming from Ghana, via Joy Online:

The [National Identification Authority] is undertaking a mass registration exercise to capture the information of Ghanaians onto a National Identity Register, following which a Ghana Card is issued.  …  [However,] little or no attempt has been made at establishing an integrated system that captures at birth and allocates permanent identity numbers to Ghanaians and resident foreign nationals born in Ghana

Africa Update for November 2019

Here’s the latest edition of Africa Update.  We’ve got a new metro system in Abidjan, culinary imperialism in Kenya, plans to refill Lake Chad with a giant canal, how hospitals in Malawi are getting men to do more housework, and more.

A view of Nairobi with Karura Forest in the foreground

A stunning view of Nairobi, via Kenyapics

West Africa: Follow 5 young Nigerian journalists as they travel across 14 West African countries along the Jollof Road.  In Nigeria, former members of Boko Haram and ISIS trafficking survivors have found it very difficult to re-integrate into civilian society.  Hundreds of children, some as young as 5, have been arrested by the Nigerian police on suspicion of involvement with Boko Haram.  Abidjan is getting a metro system.  A new policy that lets cocoa farmers plant in “degraded” forests could lead to widespread deforestation in Côte d’Ivoire.  This is a great resource on the history of West Africa at a glance.

Central Africa:  This was a thoughtful piece about breaking the cycle of motorcycle theft and violent retribution in the CAR.  Members of opposition parties are regularly being killed in Rwanda, although no one wants to point a finger directly at the government.  Rwanda is also getting a new nuclear research reactor with support from Russia.  The Uganda Law Society has released a new app meant to connect women and girls to legal advice.  LGBT+ rights are under threat again in Uganda, with discussion of another law to make gay sex punishable by death.  Check out this incredible mixed media piece about one family’s experience becoming refugees after the Congo Wars of the 1990s.

A cartoon showing a Chinese dragon scaring the crane and impala away from the Ugandan national crest

Here’s Atukwasize ChrisOgon‘s take on Chinese investment in Uganda

East Africa: In Kenya, the urban middle class is increasingly turning to “telephone farming” to diversify their income streams.  Here’s a wonderful piece about khat and precolonial cuisine in Kenya.  See also this piece about the history of culinary imperialism in Kenya.  Meet the the Jehovah’s Witnesses targeting Chinese immigrants in Kenya.  This is a good overview of Ethiopia’s complicated ethnic and regional politics.  There’s an ambitious plan to refill Lake Chad by piping water in from the DRC via the CAR.

Southern Africa: A novel campaign strategy has been spotted in Botswana, where the opposition handed out menstrual pads with the party logo on them.  This was a heartbreaking piece about sexual violence in South Africa and the #AmINext movement.  Check out this photo essay on the mine-clearing women of Angola.  Here’s an insightful long read about what really happened to the billions of dollars that were to be spent on Angola’s post-war reconstruction.  Why is Zambia planning to finance almost 10% of its 2020 budget through a mysterious “exceptional revenue” source?

Sunset on a beach, with a boat and a person in the foreground

Kismayo sunset, by Said Fadhaye

Gender: Meet Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, the first female mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone.  Roughly 1/3 of African businesses have no women on their boards, and another 1/ 3 have only one woman.  In Malawi, a program which gives pregnant women housing close to hospitals before they deliver their babies has increased their husbands’ housework commitments while they’re away.  This is a remarkable portrait of three generations of women who have stood up to dictatorship in Sudan.  Kenya’s Gladys Ngetich is breaking barriers about women in STEM with her PhD on improving the efficiency of jet engines.

Business: This is a must-read piece on the political economy of foreign start-ups in Kenya.  Orange is developing a new feature phone for the African market which includes social media apps.  Uber is launching boat taxis in Lagos.  Africa has 15% of the world’s population, but fully 45% of the world’s mobile money activity.  African cosmetics companies are getting acquired by international corporations which want to offer better products for black skin and hair.  Check out my Mawazo co-founder Rose Mutiso’s TED talk on how to bring affordable electricity to Africa.

Maps showing that there appears to be much more poverty in Africa when it's measured at the district level rather than the country level

The geographic distribution of wealth in Africa looks very different depending on whether it’s measured at the country, province, or district level (via Marshall Burke)

Politics:  Africa Check has a great Promise Trackers page checking on the campaign promises of ruling parties in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.  In many African countries, political parties aren’t obliged to disclose private donations, in an area ripe for campaign finance reform.  In Ghana, the “I Am Aware” project successfully helped people push their local governments to improve the quality of public services like sanitation.  More than 45% of African citizens live in a country where the last census was done more than 10 years ago.  It turns out that most of Africa’s “civil wars” are actually regional wars.

Public health: Dr Jean-Jacques Muyembe of the DRC discovered Ebola in the 1970s, but has been largely written out of the historical record, until now.  Check out this incredible photo essay about Ebola first responders in eastern DRC. Also in the DRC, snakebites are an underdiscussed public health crisis. A new study finds that more than 40% of women are verbally or physically abused while giving birth in Ghana, Guinea and Nigeria.  Here’s how toxic masculinity can lead to the spread of HIV in Uganda.

A colorful portrait of a man and a woman on a red and pink printed background

Don’t miss Bisa Butler’s inspiring portraits of Black Americans done in African fabrics

Art + culture: A Togolese vintage clothing dealer is making waves in France by re-importing cast-off clothing previously sent to Togo.  Meet Kenyan sculptor Wangechi Mutu, who’s taking over the façade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York until January 2020.  What can be done about the spike in fake South African art?  Check out the first print issue of Cameroon-based Bawka Magazine, about travel stories.  Let’s celebrate these six inspiring young climate activists from low income countries, including Kenya and Uganda.  Learn about all the unusual ways that African countries got their names.  Here are the rising female artists of Kampala.