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]

Interesting academic articles for June 2020

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

Ola Olsson, Maria Eriksson Baaz, and Peter Martinsson. 2020. “Fiscal capacity in ‘post’-conflict states: Evidence from trade on Congo river.Journal of Development Economics.

In many post-conflict states with a weak fiscal capacity, illicit domestic levies on trade remain a serious obstacle to economic development. In this paper, we explore the interplay between traders and authorities on Congo River – a key transport corridor in one of the world’s poorest and most conflict-ridden countries; DR Congo. We outline a general theoretical framework featuring transport operators who need to pass multiple taxing stations and negotiate over taxes with several authorities on their way to a central market place. We then examine empirically the organization, extent, and factors explaining the level of taxes charged by various authorities across stations, by collecting primary data from boat operators. Most of the de facto taxes charged on Congo River have no explicit support in laws or government regulations and have been characterized as a “fend for yourself”-system of funding. Our study shows that traders have to pass more than 10 stations downstream where about 20 different authorities charge taxes. In line with hold-up theory, we find that the average level of taxation tends to increase downstream closer to Kinshasa, but authorities that were explicitly prohibited from taxing in a recent decree instead extract more payments upstream. Our results illustrate a highly dysfunctional taxing regime that nonetheless is strikingly similar to anecdotal evidence of the situation on the Rhine before 1800. In the long run, a removal of domestic river taxation on Congo River should have the potential to raise trade substantially.

Diana Mitlin. 2020. “The politics of shelter: Understanding outcomes in three African cities.” ESID working paper no. 145.

This paper analyses the politics of shelter provision in three African cities, focusing on the needs of and provision for the low- and middle-income residents. Housing is a priority for low- and middle-income households. Governments influence multiple facets of land and shelter and affect the shelter options realisable for urban residents. The significance of housing to citizen wellbeing means that housing policy and programming is attractive to politicians seeking popular support. The framework of political settlements is used to structure the analysis. In all three cities, national political elites seek to influence housing outcomes. In the two capital cities, elites use clientelism (backed up by violence) to advantage themselves and secure rents for influential local groups (or factions). Territorial controls are used by elites to influence electoral outcomes, while approaches to housing help to gain legitimacy through strengthening paradigmatic ideas that encapsulate a vision for development. To date, the framework has primarily been applied to the national level. Hence, this application is both novel and a test of the framework’s relevance at this spatial scale and with this sectoral focus.

Nansozi K. Muwanga , Paul I. Mukwaya and Tom Goodfellow. 2020. “Carrot, stick and statute: Elite strategies and contested dominance in Kampala.” ESID working paper no. 146.

Although Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Movement (NRM) has dominated Uganda’s political scene for over three decades, the capital Kampala refuses to submit to the NRM’s grip. As opposition activism in the city has become increasingly explosive, the ruling elite has developed a widening range of strategies to try and win urban support and constrain opposition. In this paper, we subject the NRM’s strategies over the decade 2010-2020 to close scrutiny. We explore elite strategies pursued both from the ‘top down’, through legal and administrative manoeuvres and a ramping up of violent coercion, and from the ‘bottom up’, through attempts to build support among urban youth and infiltrate organisations in the urban informal transport sector. Although this evolving suite of strategies and tactics has met with some success in specific places and times, opposition has constantly resurfaced. Overall, efforts to entrench political dominance of the capital have repeatedly failed; yet challenges to the regime’s dominance have also been unable to weaken it in any sustained way. We examine why each strategy for dominance has produced limited gains, arguing that together these strategies reproduced a situation of intensely contested control, in which no single group or elite can completely dominate the city.

Jose Cuesta, Stephen Devereux, Abdul‐Gafaru Abdulai, Jaideep Gupte, Luigi Peter Ragno, Keetie Roelen, Rachel Sabates–Wheeler, and Tayllor Spadafora. 2020. “Urban social assistance. Evidence, challenges, and the way forward, with application to Ghana.Development Policy Review.

Urbanisation is accelerating, and urban poverty is increasing worldwide, yet few countries have developed comprehensive urban social assistance programmes, and those that do exist are often extensions or duplicates of rural programmes. Urban social protection needs, however, to reflect the distinct characteristics and vulnerabilities of the urban poor, especially working in informal activities and their higher living costs. This article addresses two questions: what is the current evidence on effective social assistance programmes in urban contexts around the world? And, how can such programmes be designed and implemented in practice? We pay special attention to social assistance as it is specifically designed to benefit the poor. The article surveys the challenges of designing social assistance programmes for urban contexts, focusing on specific urban vulnerabilities, targeting the urban poor, and setting appropriate payment levels. It reviews existing evidence of such programmes, including seven brief country case studies. These issues are examined in detail for Ghana, a rapidly urbanising country. Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP), the predominantly rural flagship assistance program in Ghana, can be adjusted to the urban context in several respects. Advertising, (social) media, direct text messaging, and local NGOs should prove more effective at promoting registration than using community figures. An urban-specific proxy means test should be developed to improve targeting. The cash benefit should be increased and adjusted regularly, and possibly accompanied by subsidised utilities and services.

Sandra García and Jorge Cuartas. 2020. “Can poverty alleviation programs crowd-in private support? Short- and Middle-Run Effects of a Conditional Cash Transfer Program on Inter-Household Transfers.Journal of Social Policy.

Conditional cash transfer (CCT) programs have become an important component of social assistance in developing countries. CCTs, as well as other cash subsidies, have been criticized for allegedly crowding out private transfers. Whether social programs crowd out private transfers is an important question with worrisome implications, as private support represents an important fraction of households’ income and works as a risk sharing mechanism in developing countries. Furthermore, empirical evidence on the effect of public transfers on private transfers is mixed. This paper contributes to the literature by using a unique dataset from the quasi-experimental evaluation of a CCT in Colombia and an empirical strategy that allows us to correct for pre-existing differences between treated and control groups. Our results suggest that the public transfer did not crowd out private transfers, neither in the short-run nor in the middle-run. Instead, it increased the probability of receiving support in cash, in kind, and in non-paid labor from different private sources by approximately 10 percentage points. Moreover, we find that the monetary value of private transfers increased by 32 – 38% for treated households.

Alan Zarychta. 2020. “Making social services work better for the poor: Evidence from a natural experiment with health sector decentralization in Honduras.World Development.

Governments in many less developed countries have decentralized their social support systems over the last several decades. However, despite enthusiasm for these reforms, evidence remains limited and mixed as to whether they improve the delivery of basic social services. I take advantage of an unexpected pause in reform implementation in Honduras due to the country’s 2009 coup to investigate the effects of decentralization on local health services. Drawing on administrative data, an original survey of health workers, and qualitative interviews, my analysis shows that decentralization is credibly associated with increases in preventive care for women and that improved accountability and greater resilience to shocks are important mechanisms for this change. Moreover, my analysis highlights how regional organizations use decentralization to assert their own influence and deflect negative political consequences while pressuring for improvements in service delivery. These findings shed light both on the possibilities for improving local social services through governance reform and how national-level reforms can be leveraged by powerful actors at lower rungs of the governmental hierarchy.

Richard Clark and Lindsay R. Dolan. 2020. “Pleasing the Principal: U.S. Influence in World Bank Policymaking.American Journal of Political Science.

How do policies in international organizations reflect the preferences of powerful institutional stakeholders? Using an underutilized data set on the conditions associated with World Bank loans, we find that borrower countries that vote with the United States at the United Nations are required to enact fewer domestic policy reforms, and on fewer and softer issue areas. Though U.S. preferences permeate World Bank decision making, we do not find evidence that borrower countries trade favors in exchange for active U.S. intervention on their behalf. Instead, we propose that U.S. influence operates indirectly when World Bank staff—consciously or unconsciously—design programs that are compatible with U.S. preferences. Our study provides novel evidence of World Bank conditionality and shows that politicized policies can result even from autonomous bureaucracies.