Interesting articles for November 2021

Here’s what I’m looking forward to reading soon! These papers are all freely available online, and feature research on the global South by Southern researchers. (And as a special feature, don’t miss Federico Ardila-Mantilla’s excellent article on inclusive pedagogy in higher education, where he notes: “Everyone can have joyful, meaningful, and empowering academic experiences; but no single academic experience is joyful, meaningful, and empowering to everyone. How do we build academic spaces where every participant can thrive?”)

Katja Bender, Barbara Rohregger, Bethuel Kinuthia, Grace Ikua, Esther Schüring, Clement Adamba, Kennedy A. Alatinga, and Nicky Pouw. 2021. “Different pathways of social protection reforms: An analysis of long-term institutional change in Kenya.” World Development.

The potential of social protection to contribute to inclusive growth has been increasingly recognized throughout the last two decades. Social protection reforms involve comprehensive processes of long-term institutional change. Dynamics differ not only across but also within countries across social protection pillars reflecting multiple institutional trajectories and equilibria ranging from rapid and comprehensive shifts over processes of gradual change to situations of blocked reforms or reform reversals. This paper seeks to understand why reforms aiming at extending social protection coverage to the poor might differ across different pillars of social protection within the same country. Being embedded within comparative institutional analysis the paper aims at providing a systematic framework for defining and explaining variations in reform dynamics highlighting the role of uncertainty. The framework is applied to the Kenyan case. The empirical methodology employs a process tracing approach including primary and secondary data covering the time period between 2001 and 2017. The case of Kenya is one example for multiple institutional trajectories within a country: Whereas cash transfer reforms follow a pattern of cumulative incremental change, social health protection reforms reflect patterns of non-cumulative change including blocked reforms and reform reversals. The results suggest that those differences are partly explained by differences in preferences among agents or the institutional legacies within each domain. In addition, behavioral responses to uncertainty matter: Stronger information asymmetries within the cash transfer and fee waiver reform domains opened space for discretionary decisionmaking. Interpretations of the concept of social protection and complexity of ’insurance’ facilitated processes related to cash transfers whereas providing impediments to social health insurance. Lastly, the international and socio-economic context provided focal points facilitating coordination on targeted or vertical interventions such as cash transfers or fee waivers.

Esther Wangui Kimani, Sammy Gakero Gachigua, and George Mbugua Kariuki. 2021. “Restructured Citizen–Government Relationship in Kenya’s 2010 Constitution and the Right of Hawkers to the City in Nairobi.” Africa Development.

This article interrogates how various actors in the Nairobi Central Business District (CBD) space have made sense of the 2010 Constitution’s expansive provisions on socio-political and economic rights to advance hawkers’ claims to the right to the city. Using Lefebvre’s and human rights notions of the ‘right to the city’, the study finds that the Constitution has immense potential to secure the hawkers’ right to the city. However, various challenges impede efforts towards its realisation. Firstly, the 2007 no-hawking-in-the-CBD bylaw exerts inordinate influence, in practice suppressing the Constitution’s aspirations. Secondly, the City authorities’ efforts to facilitate the hawkers’ right to the city remain ambivalent or dependent on the whims of the serving governor. Thirdly, initiatives by other actors remain elitist, topdown and opaque with only the superficial involvement of hawkers. On their part, hawkers’ initiatives to claim their right to the city have suffered from fragmented leadership and individualistic self-help micro-strategies. Furthermore, hawkers have underutilised judicial activism as an avenue for challenging the constitutionality of the city bylaws banning hawking in the CBD. This strategy would potentially have provided a discursive platform to make their claim to the city the moral-legal claim envisaged by the Constitution.

Priya Manwaring and Shahrukh Wani. 2021. “Informal transport reform in Kampala: Learning from cross-country experience.” International Growth Centre.

Public transport services in Kampala city are largely made up of minibus and motorbike taxis. While the current transport sector provides a critical means of livelihood to many individuals in the city, the jobs offered are relatively low-paid and the job market is increasingly saturated. Given the limited potential for the current transportation industry to provide sustainable livelihoods for those in the sector, and the challenges presented by the sector on productivity and liveability of the city, there is a clear need for policy to better regulate transport operations. Several cities have attempted to target the informal and semi-formal transport sector to improve city-wide connectivity, ranging from outright bans to upgrading of the informal system. This brief compares four broad policy directions cities have adopted when interacting with informal transport providers and highlights key lessons to inform informal transport reform in Kampala.

Jacob Moscona and Awa Ambra Seck. 2021. “Social Structure and Redistribution: Evidence from Age vs Kin Based Organizations.” Working paper.

We document that ethnic groups’ social structure shapes patterns of economic interaction and hence the impact of public policy. Our analysis focuses on age set societies, ethnic groups comprising over 130 million people in sub-Saharan Africa in which individuals are organized into social groups based on age, known as “age sets,” that take priority over kin. Ethnographic accounts suggest that in age set societies, within-cohort economic ties are strong while inter-generational family ties are comparatively weak. First, we analyze a randomized unconditional cash transfer program in Northern Kenya and document that in age set societies, but not in kin-based societies, there are large consumption spillovers within the age cohort. Moreover, focusing on an arm of the experiment that simulates a pension program, we find that randomly increasing the income of older people improves child health and increases household education spending in kin based societies, but has no such impact in age set societies. Next, exploiting the staggered roll-out of Uganda’s social pension program, we document a similar pattern at a national scale: household exposure to the pension program has a large, positive effect on child health in kin-based societies, but no impact in age set societies. These findings highlight how local variation in social structure can lead to markedly different, yet predictable, patterns of redistribution, thereby shaping the consequences of national policies.

Abdul-Gafaru Abdulai. 2021. “Political settlement dynamics and the emergence and decline of bureaucratic pockets of effectiveness in Ghana.” Effective States in International Development working paper 173.

This paper explores the factors that shape the performance trajectories of three relatively effective public organisations in Ghana, namely, the Ministry of Finance, the Bank of Ghana and the Ghana Revenue Authority. Drawing on an original investigation of organisational performance under the various political settlements that Ghana has experienced in the past few decades, it argues that although ‘pockets of effectiveness’ can emerge under different political settlement types and dynamics, such agencies are more likely to endure in concentrated political settlements than in contexts characterised by dispersed configurations of power. The main mechanism that links Ghana’s shifting political settlement and organisational performance is the quality of organisational leadership and its relationship to the political leadership of the day. Much depends on whether organisational leaders are (a) sufficiently politically loyal to be awarded the protection required to deliver on their mandate and (b) possess the political management skills required to navigate difficult political conditions. High levels of support (both technical and financial) from international development organisations and their privileged status as key nodes of economic governance have undoubtedly helped these organisations attain high levels of performance vis-à-vis the wider public bureaucracy. Nevertheless, the fact that the performance of these agencies has waxed and waned over time, despite international support and mandates being largely constant, suggests that the key to understanding their performance lies with political economy factors, with their effectiveness regularly undermined by the increasingly dispersed nature of power within Ghana’s political settlement and the resultant vulnerability of ruling elites.

Verónica Amarante, Ronelle Burger, Grieve Chelwa, John Cockburn, Ana Kassouf, Andrew McKay, and Julieta Zurbrigg. 2021. “Underrepresentation of developing country researchers in development research.Applied Economics Letters.

We present evidence of how researchers from developing countries are represented in three areas of research: conference presentations, articles in journals, and citations. We find that the bulk of research on development and development policies in the South is conducted by researchers from the North. Southern universities represents 9% of conference presenters, while 57% of conference presenters are from Northern universities. There has been no evidence of improvements over time. Fewer than one in six of the articles published in top 20 development journals from 1990 to 2019 were by Southern researchers, while close to three-quarters were by Northern researchers. The remaining 11% were collaborations by Southern and Northern researchers. Additionally, there are also fewer citations per article for Southern-authored articles than for Northern-authored articles.

Africa Update for October 2021

The latest edition of Africa Update is out! We’ve got Africa’s 100 largest cities, debates on gun policy in Nigeria, 13 films on the queer African experience, an ambitious plan to refill Lake Chad,  and more.

West Africa: Sierra Leone has voted to abolish the death penalty. Algeria is expelling migrants from West Africa by driving them over the border with Niger and abandoning them in the desert.  New research from Ghana suggests that the West African Senior School Certificate Examinations, which determines university admissions, may vary substantially in difficulty from year to year.  Some Nigerian officials are calling for citizens to be armed in order to combat insecurity – but the experience of the US suggests that high rates of gun ownership promote violent crime and injury rather than reducing them.  In Mali, descent-based slavery remains a widespread problem. 

Sunset behind the Nairobi skyline
Sunset in Nairobi, by Sebastian Wanzalla via Samira Sawlani

Central Africa: The Congo River provides the main trade route between major cities in the DRC, but the boats that ply it are often overloaded and prone to sinking.  Learn more about Transaqua, a proposed 2400 km-long canal which would replenish Lake Chad with water from the Congo River.  “An investigative report says that Russian operatives in the Central African Republic who had been billed as unarmed advisers are actually leading the fighting.”  Don’t miss this thoughtful article on the class dynamics of Museveni’s rise to power in Uganda.

East Africa: What happened to the promise of Kenya’s smart city?  This is an insightful long read about the history of separatism and government oppression in northern Kenya.  Here’s how infighting within the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front led to the current conflict in Tigray.  “Nearly all of Ethiopia’s original trees have disappeared, but small pockets of old-growth forest still surround Ethiopia’s churches.”  Here’s a deep dive on the origins of today’s ongoing violence in Darfur.

A map showing forces from many foreign countries operating across Africa
Map of foreign forces in Africa via Facts About Africa

Southern Africa: Zimbabwe’s rigid bureaucratic policies about identity documents and discrimination against ethnic minorities mean that nearly half of births go unregistered.  Zimbabwe has also just changed the law to allow pregnant students to continue attending secondary school instead of being expelled.  In Namibia, same-gender couples who were married in South Africa but also have Namibian citizenship are fighting to have their marriages recognized by the Namibian government.  Meet Gloria Majiga-Kamoto, the pioneering Malawian environmentalist who helped get the courts to enforce a ban on single-use plastics.

Labor & livelihoods: In South Africa, a group of mining companies agreed to pay over R5 billion / US$330 million to thousands of their employees who developed TB and silicosis after working in the mines – but three years later, fewer than 10 claims have been processed.  A group of farmers in Malawi have filed suit against two major British tobacco companies, saying they were forced to work seven days per week without pay or the opportunity to educate their children.  This is a moving portrait of the limited livelihood choices available to South Sudanese refugees in Sudan.

A graph showing that Kenya's debt has grown by 4 times over from 2012 - 2022
Kenya’s debt challenge in one graph, from Citizen TV Kenya

Urbanization: Get to know Africa’s 100 largest cities.  Nairobi is rapidly losing its green space, leaving it hotter and more vulnerable to diseases spread by rats and bats.  In Johannesburg, “mining is largely over, but the people are left. They will need to make the wealth of the future through their collaboration and imagination.”

Public health: Rwanda has legalized medical marijuana.  New research from Rwanda also finds that COVID-19 lockdowns were effective in reducing rates of air pollution in Kigali.  Dr Ambroise Wonkam has an ambitious plan to map three million African genomes and investigate the genetic causes of various illnesses.  In South Africa, people without valid national IDs or refugee status are being left out of COVID-19 vaccine plans.

Three images of beautiful natural settings with plastic rubbish scattered around them, and travel stamps in the background
Check out the winning images of the Contemporary African Photography prize, like this one from Aàdesokan

Arts & culture: The Journal of African History has an interesting new podcast, and the Goethe Institut in Dakar has released a podcast on Senegalese history.  Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi recommends her five favorite books.  Check out these 13 films about the queer experience in Africa.  This is a great piece about creating archives of digital feminism across Africa.

Academics: Lots of interesting resources coming up for African scholars abroad, including the Program on African Social Research in New York, the Africa Policy Research Institute in Berlin, and the Graduate Application International Network for prospective econ MA/PhD students.  There are also new editions of Conjonctures de l’Afrique Centrale from CREAC, the Alternative Report on Africa from RASA, and Africa Development from CODESRIA.

Launch event for “They Were Us: Stories of Victims and Survivors of Police Brutality in Kenya”

The Mothers of Victims and Survivors Network and Missing Voices are launching a new book titled “They Were Us,” tomorrow at Lava Latte from 11 am – 4 pm. As MVSN describes the book:

[They Were Us] collects the stories of people who lost the ones they loved most to police killings. The book, which features photographs by Betty Press and interviews translated and edited by Wyban Kanyi, maps out the reality that those left behind by extrajudicial killings, police brutality, and enforced disappearances face: that the burden of demanding justice—collecting evidence, protecting witnesses, finding lawyers, paying hospital bills—ultimately falls on the friends and families of the murdered or survivors of violence themselves.

“Tuna Haki Pia / We Also Have Rights”: living with disability in Nairobi

The Mathare Social Justice Centre has a new report out on the experiences of people with disabilities in Nairobi’s poor neighborhoods. The summary findings from a survey of 82 disabled people are stark:

  • 90% of respondents who require sign language and braille training did not have access to it
  • Despite many respondents living with physical disabilities, 0% had access to a disabled toilet
  • 78% required some form of supportive equipment – of these:
    • 96% did not have all the equipment they require
    • 59% need mobility equipment (e.g. wheelchair) which they do not have
  • For those of working age, 53% were unemployed and 13% relied on begging for an income
  • 54% were aware of the PWD card, yet only 40% had one. Of those who had a card, very few received any benefit from it

The full report offers a rich portrayal of individual stories, interviews with government officials, building audits, and a review of the legal environment for supporting disabled people. It closes with a moving reflection:

To us, disability is not a point of individual or social tragedy, but a natural and necessary part of human diversity.  The tragedy of disability is not our minds and bodies but oppression, exclusion and marginalization.  we do not need to be cured.  We do not need charity.  We need respect, equality and access.  moving forward, the same way we have police stations everywhere, we should have centres for people with disabilities.

Interesting academic articles for September 2020

After a bit of a blogging hiatus, I’m back! Here are the recent articles that I’m looking forward to reading.

James Habyarimana, Ken Ochieng’ Opalo, and Youdi Schipper. 2020. “The Cyclical Electoral Impacts of Programmatic Policies: Evidence from Education Reforms in Tanzania.” RISE Programme working paper 20/051.

A large literature documents the electoral benefits of clientelistic and programmatic policies in low-income states. We extend this literature by showing the cyclical electoral responses to a large programmatic intervention to expand access to secondary education in Tanzania over multiple electoral periods. Using a difference-in- difference approach, we find that the incumbent party’s vote share increased by 2 percentage points in the election following the policy’s announcement as a campaign promise (2005), but decreased by -1.4 percentage points in the election following implementation (2010). We find no discernible electoral impact of the policy in 2015, two electoral cycles later. We attribute the electoral penalty in 2010 to how the secondary school expansion policy was implemented. Our findings shed light on the temporally-contingent electoral impacts of programmatic policies, and highlight the need for more research on how policy implementation structures public opinion and vote choice in low-income states.

Alesha Porisky. 2020. “The distributional politics of social transfers in Kenya.” Effective States in International Development working paper no. 155.

This paper examines the politics of distributing social transfers across four diverse counties in Kenya – Homa Bay, Marsabit, Nakuru and Nyeri – with a focus on three of the nationwide social transfer programmes: the Cash Transfer for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (CT-OVC); the Older Persons Cash Transfer Programme (OPCT); and the Inua Jamii Pension. The paper presents two key findings. First, it finds that state infrastructural power plays a central role in mediating the implementation of social transfer programmes. Where state infrastructural power is high, formal programme guidelines tend to be closely followed. However, where state infrastructural power is low, bureaucrats compensate by relying on local authorities – including administrative chiefs, village elders and clan leaders – to assist with programme functions that are outside of their formal roles within the social transfer programmes. Second, the paper finds that there is less political interference in the local distribution of social transfers than the extant literature predicts. Strong formal programme rules and guidelines, combined with significant central oversight over programme implementation, limit the influence that local politicians have over the distribution of social transfer programme benefits.

Sudhanshu Handa, David Seidenfeld and Gelson Tembo. 2020. “The Impact of a Large-Scale Poverty-Targeted Cash Transfer Program on Intertemporal Choice.” Economic Development and Cultural Change.

We use a social experiment to test whether the government of Zambia’s cash transfer program affects intertemporal choice. A cash transfer program may also alter expectations about future quality of life and make one happier, two conditions that can affect intertemporal decision-making and the desire to invest in the future. We find that the program affects time discounting and that psychological states are also strongly associated with time discounting, but psychological states do not mediate the effect of the cash transfer on time discounting.

Noam Angrist, Peter Bergman, Caton Brewster, and Moitshepi Matsheng. 2020. “Stemming Learning Loss During the Pandemic: A Rapid Randomized Trial of a Low-Tech Intervention in Botswana.” CSAE working paper WPS/2020-13.

The COVID-19 pandemic has closed schools for over 1.6 billion children, with potentially long- term consequences. This paper provides some of the first experimental evidence on strategies to minimize the fallout of the pandemic on education outcomes. We evaluate two low-technology interventions to substitute schooling during this period: SMS text messages and direct phone calls. We conduct a rapid trial in Botswana to inform real-time policy responses collecting data at four- to six-week intervals. We present results from the first wave. We find early evidence that both interventions result in cost-effective learning gains of 0.16 to 0.29 standard deviations. This trans- lates to a reduction in innumeracy of up to 52 percent. We show these results broadly hold with a series of robustness tests that account for differential attrition. We find increased parental engagement in their child’s education and more accurate parent perceptions of their child’s learning. In a second wave of the trial, we provide targeted instruction, customizing text messages to the child’s learning level using data from the first wave. The low-tech interventions tested have immediate policy relevance and could have long-run implications for the role of technology and parents as substitutes or complements to the traditional education system.

Andrew Agyei-Holmes, Niklas Buehren, Markus Goldstein, Robert Osei, Isaac Osei-Akoto, and Christopher Udry. 2020. “The Effects of Land Title Registration on Tenure Security, Investment and the Allocation of Productive Resources: Evidence from Ghana.” World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 9376.

Smallholder farmers’ investment decisions and the efficiency of resource allocation depend on the security of land tenure. This paper develops a simple model that captures essential institutional features of rural land markets in Ghana, including the dependence of future rights over land on current cultivation and land rental decisions. The model predictions guide the evaluation of a pilot land titling intervention that took place in an urbanizing area located in the Central Region of Ghana. The evaluation is based on a regression discontinuity design combined with three rounds of household survey data collected over a period of six years. The analysis finds strong markers for the program’s success in registering land in the targeted program area. However, land registration does not translate into agricultural investments or increased credit taking. Instead, treated households decrease their amount of agricultural labor, accompanied by only a small reduction of agricultural production and no changes in productivity. In line with this result, households decrease their landholdings amid a surge in land valuations. The analysis uncovers important within-household differences in how women and men respond differentially to the program. There appears to be a general shift to nonfarm economic activities, and women’s business profits increased considerably.

Nico Ravanilla, Dotan Haim, and Allen Hicken. 2020. “Brokers, Social Networks, Reciprocity, and Clientelism.” Working paper.

Although canonical models of clientelism argue that brokers use dense social networks to monitor and enforce vote buying, recent evidence suggests that brokers can instead target intrinsically reciprocal voters and reduce the need for active monitoring
and enforcement. Combining a trove of survey data on brokers and voters in the Philippines with an experiment-based measure of reciprocity, and relying on local naming conventions to build social networks, we demonstrate that brokers employ both strategies conditional on the underlying social network structure. We show that brokers are chosen for their central position in networks and are knowledgeable about voters, including their reciprocity levels. We then show that, where village social networks are dense, brokers prefer to target voters that have many ties in the network because their votes are easiest to monitor. Where networks are sparse, brokers target intrinsically reciprocal voters whose behavior they need not monitor.

Elena Gadjanova. 2020. “Status-quo or Grievance Coalitions: The Logic of Cross-ethnic Campaign Appeals in Africa’s Highly Diverse States.” Comparative Political Studies.

This paper explains how presidential candidates in Africa’s highly diverse states appeal across ethnic lines when ethnic identities are salient, but broader support is needed to win elections. I argue that election campaigns are much more bottom-up and salience-oriented than current theories allow and draw on the analysis of custom data of campaign appeals in Ghana, Kenya, and Uganda, as well as interviews with party strategists and campaign operatives in Ghana and Kenya to demonstrate clear patterns in presidential candidates’ cross-ethnic outreach. Where ethnic salience is high, incumbents offer material incentives and targeted transfers to placate supporters, challengers fan grievances to split incumbents’ coalitions, and also-rans stress unity and valence issues in the hope of joining the winner. The research contributes to our understanding of parties’ mobilization strategies in Africa and further clarifies where and how ethnic divisions are politicized in elections in plural societies.

Obie Porteous. 2020. “Research Deserts and Oases: Evidence from 27 Thousand Economics Journal Articles on Africa.” Working paper.

The first two decades of the 21st century have seen an increasing number of peer- reviewed journal articles on the 54 countries of Africa by both African and non-African economists. I document that the distribution of research across African countries is highly uneven: 45% of all economics journal articles and 65% of articles in the top five economics journals are about five countries accounting for just 16% of the continent’s population. I show that 91% of the variation in the number of articles across countries can be explained by a peacefulness index, the number of international tourist arrivals, having English as an official language, and population. The majority of research is context-specific, so the continued lack of research on many African countries means that the evidence base for local policy-makers is much smaller in these countries.


The Mawazo Institute’s statement on systematic racism

The Mawazo Institute has recently released a statement on the need to address intersectional and structural violence against black Americans, Africans, and women around the world. I’m so proud of the work that our phenomenal team, lead by Kenyan women, is doing to level the playing field by supporting other East African women.

[Image text:

The Mawazo Institute is an African and woman-led organization that exists to support voices that are too often marginalised. Over the last few weeks, we have felt tremendous grief at the killing of George Floyd at the hands of the police.  We have also taken the opportunity to reflect on how this act of violence is a brutal example of the systemic racism that exists not just in the US but around the world.

As actors in the higher education sector, we know of the racism that Black researchers face in academic spaces. As an organisation whose employees are Black, we know, firsthand, about racism. These experiences have helped inform our desire to build the capacities of African researchers in their own countries, communities, and homes.

As we reflect on this moment of global outrage, we are however encouraged by the movement for change that George Floyd has inspired. Proudly, the Mawazo Institute joins voices across the world in declaring that Black Lives Matter. This includes African lives. This includes Kenyan lives. This includes women’s lives. We take this opportunity to stand in solidarity with all those who oppose police and state brutality, and those working to put an end to gender-based violence, which has seen a sharp rise during the pandemic. We are allies in envisioning a world in which every individual is given the opportunity to live up to their fullest potential.

In Solidarity,

The Mawazo Team

#BlackLivesMatter #EndPoliceBrutalityKE #EndGBV]