Africa Update for May 2020

The latest edition of Africa Update is out! We’ve got mental health in Ghana, home brewing in South Africa, vintage Somali May Day celebrations, Nigerian digital art, and more.

Photos from last year’s Lamu dhow race, by Roland Klemp

West Africa: In Ghana, activists are encouraging men to speak out about their mental health issues.  Ghana is also using drones to efficiently transport coronavirus test swabs for analysis.  Lockdowns are hitting countries like Senegal hard, where 85% of people in a recent survey said their incomes had dropped.  

Central Africa: Uganda has banned the import of used clothing over concerns about coronavirus.  Uganda has also prohibited the use of public transport during the pandemic, even though this is cutting many people off from medical care and increasing rates of domestic violence.  This is a strangely beautiful drone video of Kampala’s empty streets during lockdown.  Here’s how a financier of the Rwandan genocide was captured in France 26 years later.

Some interesting data on revenue performance across the continent, via Amaka Anku

East Africa: Somalia has launched its first ever government-run cash transfer program for over 1 million vulnerable citizens.  Somalia also has few reported coronavirus deaths, but informal reports from gravediggers suggest the real toll is higher.  Kenya has created a new state corporation meant to profit from the labor of people in prisons.  Tanzania appears to be covering up its real number of coronavirus deaths, even as the president has refused to take basic safety precautions.

Southern Africa: Malawi is one of the few countries without a coronavirus lockdown, after the high court blocked it over concerns of its economic impact on poor citizens.  South Africa banned alcohol sales during the lockdown, leading supermarkets to just coincidentally leave all the ingredients for home brewing next to each other.  South African Airways will be divided up amongst its competitors after going into bankruptcy.

Art interlude: check out this amazing vintage Somali May Day Poster, via Faduma Hassan

Coronavirus: Many African countries have limited scientific lab capacity, and had to use it for testing instead of genomic sequencing, which means that any eventual vaccine might not be as effective for viral strains on the continent.  There’s some interesting data here about the varied nature of lockdowns across Africa, including the fact that most countries imposed them unusually early, with fewer than 10 domestic cases.  Reporting on coronavirus in Africa should do more to highlight the many mutual aid groups supporting their communities.

Other health news: A new malaria vaccine being piloted in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi could make the virus less severe.  Only 18 African countries have adequate systems for recording births and deaths.  Putting chlorine dispensers next to communal water sites is an easy way to improve sanitation in Uganda. 

Agriculture: Here’s a good summary of how the pandemic is affecting food systems across Africa.  People used to respond to locust invasions in East Africa by eating them, but new research says that this strategy doesn’t work any longer as the bugs are exposed to too many pesticides. How can regional rice market integration help avoid shortages in West Africa?  Exports of medical marijuana and hemp are growing across Africa, even as many countries still ban recreational smoking.

Countries vary widely in the percentage of their citizens without access to national IDs, via Carlos Lopes

Economics + technology: Global remittance flows are expected to drop by more than US$100 billion as immigrants abroad are affected by the pandemic.  African tax collectors don’t have very many good options for making up lost revenue due to the pandemic. On the bright side, the virus is driving innovations in technology across Africa.

Gender: Check out the great resources at the African Feminism website and the African Feminist Archive.  Meet the female athletes breaking barriers in Somaliland.  Nigeria has some of the world’s strictest abortion laws, and over 60,000 women die annually from illegal abortions or complications during childbirth.  Rwanda has pardoned 50 women accused of having illegal abortions, but hasn’t changed its restrictive abortion laws.

I’m loving Adekunle Adeleke‘s creative digital portraits

Immigration: In China, African immigrants are facing discrimination over fears that they’re spreading the virus.  Israel has nullified a law which discouraged people from applying for asylum by forcing them to deposit 20% of their monthly salaries in savings accounts.  Meet the scholar studying the global fashion history of the African diaspora.  And Astrid Haas and I have written about whether safe rural migration programs could support urban safety nets in African countries during the pandemic.

Africa Update for April 2020

Here’s the latest edition of Africa Update.  I’m going to guarantee you a nearly coronavirus-free edition, because I collect links for the newsletter over the course of roughly a month and can’t put it out fast enough to keep up with the pandemic news.  So here are some other notable things that have been happening recently, plus a few coronavirus links covering underdiscussed aspects of the crisis.

Nairobi’s new skyline is taking shape, via Sam Muchai

West Africa: Cameroon has introduced new ID requirements for making mobile money payments after the services were used to pay ransoms.  Here’s how colonial understandings of the gender binary erased Igbo traditions with a very different relationship to gender.  Meet the Nigerian judge who’s liberating people in jail who have spent more time waiting for a trial than they would have served if convicted.  In Ghana, the question of whether people who are dual citizens with neighboring Togo can vote is hotly contested.  Ghana has legalized marijuana for health and industrial purposes.

Central Africa: Religious conservative organizations from the US have begun setting up “crisis pregnancy centers” which discourage contraception in Uganda.  In the DRC and Uganda, colonial-era understandings of the role of local chiefs are skewing policy interventions.  The DRC is about to pass its first law protecting the rights of people with disabilities.

East Africa: Meet the young Somalis who are changing the fact of the country with online shopping and ambulance services.  Kenya’s flower industry had a bad track record on workers’ rights even before the pandemic basically ended exports. Also in Kenya, a 2015 program to import medical equipment has been criticized after over 1/3 of the equipment ended up in hospitals without staff trained to use it.  East Africa is bracing for another locust invasion in May, even worse than the one in January.

Here’s where the locusts are coming from, via the Mail & Guardian

Southern Africa: In South Africa, the Gautrain project which serves the middle class receives state subsidies, but the minibuses which mostly serve poorer people don’t receive any.  Some women in Zimbabwe are finding new opportunities as bus drivers, while others are moving back to rural areas in order to escape the country’s long-lasting economic crisis.  Why is the insurgency in northern Mozambique getting worse?

Economics: By joining the proposed new eco zone, West African countries might give up control over their currencies in ways that are bad for growth.  Dollar Street is a fascinating new project which shows how families all around the world, including many in Africa, live on different levels of income.  In Uganda, big infrastructure projects have benefited foreign investors while sometimes literally walling off local communities from accessing them.

Interesting map of the oldest companies across the continent, via Ken Opalo

Climate + agriculture: Here’s how women in Kenya are re-introducing traditional crops to promote food security.  How are drought in Australia and floods in Kenya connected?  An American tractor company is working on a plan hailed as “Uber for tractors” in Kenya.  If plans to drill for oil in central DRC go forward, the destruction of the peat bog on top of the oil could release as much carbon as Japan produces in a year.

Research + education: Ugandan kids could learn to read more quickly if they were taught using local plants and animals for phonics lessons, rather than “A is for apple.”  Here’s how to use Shaka Zulu to decolonize the teaching of math in South Africa.  Check out this list of free online academic journals about African issues.

Young women leading the way in Namibia, via Sarah Anyang Agbor

Art + culture: I’m excited to read about all the inspiring women on OkayAfrica’s 100 Women 2020 list.  Did you know that the Senegalese national archives are an unusually good resource for historical research?  Somaliland’s informal national archives started with a crumpled napkin.  Once we can all leave our houses again, do check out the new Yemisi Shyllon Museum for African art just outside Lagos.

Coronavirus: Meet the leader of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, who’s dramatically scaled up public health capacity across the country after just two years in office.  One important lesson from the Ebola epidemic in Liberia is that door-to-door canvassing makes people more likely to comply with public health rules.  Research in Sierra Leone during the Ebola epidemic shows that governments are likely to see much lower tax revenues as economic activity drops.  In East Africa, coronavirus has driven gambling revenues down by 99% as people save their money for immediate needs.  Here’s a great list of articles on the pandemic from African authors.

Meet the judge freeing Nigerian prisoners

Nigerian_Prison_Service,_Badagry
Image via Wikipedia

Like those in many African countries, Nigeria’s prisons are severely overcrowded.  This is due in large part to the glacial slowness with which cases proceed through the courts.  It’s not common for prisoners to spend so much time awaiting trial that they’ve already exceeded the maximum possible sentence for their offense before their case is ever heard.

In Nigeria, judge Ishaq Usman Bello is confronting this issue.  He’s leading a presidential commission on prison decongestion, and makes a point of regularly visiting the prisons in his jurisdiction so he doesn’t lose touch with the conditions there.  The Guardian notes that his interventions have personally freed over 3800 prisoners, or about 5% of Nigeria’s entire population.

As the article notes,

Remand inmates make up about 69% of Nigeria’s prison population. While this is not high compared to many western countries, the length of time they spend awaiting trial is. In prisons where this data is available, most defendants have been on remand for between one and four years, some for more than a decade.

“In Rivers State, 14 people were awaiting trial for 15 years. Not one day were they taken to court,” Justice Bello told the Guardian, shaking his head. “We had to release them.”

Because there is no systematic way to monitor cases, defendants may simply be forgotten in prison. Data collected by the legal aid organisation, Network of University Legal Aid Institutions, shows that there are more than 160 cases where defendants have not been assigned a date for their next trial. “Some of them last attended court in 2017,” the network’s Charissa Kabir told me.

Africa Update for February 2020

Here’s the latest edition of Africa Update!  We’ve got 1.4 million resumes to review in Nigeria, the (possible) end of tsetse flies, Kenya’s first online archive of LGBT+ life, anti-colonial acronyms, and more.

West Africa: Ghana is trying to raise US$3 billion in investment with a new bond targeted at the diaspora.  Unfortunately that money might go to vanity projects like replacing all of the country’s still-functional electronic voting machines. Burkina Faso is taking a big gamble in arming local vigilantes to fight Islamic rebel groups. Unemployment is a serious problem in Nigeria, where 1.4 million people recently applied for 5000 civil defense jobs.

Central Africa:  Rwanda is still trying to make English the official language used in schools, despite rich evidence that students learn best in the language they speak at home.  Rwanda is also locking up and abusing children living on the streets in the name of “rehabilitation.”  Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza isn’t running for president again in the next elections, but he is getting a golden parachute with a lifetime salary and a luxury villa after stepping down.

orthodox christmas
Loved this beautiful photo of an Ethiopian Christmas celebration, via Girma Berta

East Africa: Sudan is opening up its gold market and doubling civil servant salaries while slashing fuel subsidies in an attempt to jump-start its moribund economy.  Check out this a great cartoon about the upsides and downsides of urbanization in Ethiopia.  In Kenya, gambling is increasingly seen as a chance to learn a livelihood outside of state-funded patronage networks.  Kenya’s foreign policy towards Somalia has grown increasingly bellicose over recent years.  This was a heartbreaking piece about the civilians killed by US airstrikes in Somalia.

Southern Africa: A new law means that South Africa can block refugees from seeking asylum if they engage in political activism in their home countries.  Meet the activists fighting for the rights of domestic workers in South Africa.  In Lesotho, the prime minister has resigned after evidence came out that his current wife may have had his ex-wife murdered so that she could be the official First Lady.  The billionaire Zimbabwean owner of Econet is paying the country’s striking doctors to return to work out of his own pocket.  Zimbabwe has run out of money to deport undocumented immigrants, leaving many of them languishing in jail for months.  In a landmark ruling, the high court in Malawi has ordered the country to re-run its recent election.

taxes
Tax revenues are quite low in many African countries compared to the OECD average of 34% of GDP (via The Economist)

Politics & economics: Check out this interactive map of upcoming elections across Africa.  Here’s a good summary of the political history of African states before colonization.  What are some reasons to be optimistic about economic growth and life expectancy in Africa?  This is some useful background on West African countries’ plan to replace the CFA currency with the eco.  As transport routes with China are shut due to coronavirus fears, many Ugandan traders are also facing shortages of imported goods.

Environment & resources: Climate change is almost uniformly a bad thing, but one possible exception is that rising temperatures might kill off the tsetse fly and end the spread of sleeping sickness across Africa.  In Uganda, people in gold mining communities are being poisoned by the mercury used to refine the gold.  The DRC’s long-delayed Inga III mega-dam project has just been pushed further down the road with disputes among the major contractors about the dam’s design.

research
Research interlude: here’s some interesting data from Joy Owango

Health:  A new study in Liberia finds that motorcycles are still more efficient than drones for transporting medical supplies.  In Zambia, rates of stroke are rising as the population ages, but there are only five neurologists being trained to deal with this.  Meet the researchers who are coordinating the African fight against coronavirus at the Institut Pasteur in Senegal. This Nigeria researcher is working to develop anti-cancer drugs from indigenous African plants.

Gender: Meet 14 inspiring women in science from across Africa.  What can African governments do to reduce the burden of unpaid care work for women and girls?  Women who run for political office in Uganda can increasingly expect to face online harassment from men.  In Tanzania, women often don’t ask to use contraception because they feel that their husbands won’t approve.  Climate change might increase the risk of premature births in countries like the Gambia, where many women are subsistence farmers who work outside all day and can’t avoid increased temperatures.

colonization
BRB, ROFL, SMH (via Suhayl)

Globalization:  The Oxford English Dictionary is adding dozens of words from Nigerian English in recognition of the language’s global use.  Here’s how American consulting firms helped Angola’s Isabel dos Santos try to legitimize the money her family had corruptly acquired.  Meet the Soviet-era architects who shaped the visual landscapes of Accra and Lagos.  Read about the 10 critical issues which will shape China-Africa relations in 2020.  Here’s why the Gambian Minister of Justice sued Myanmar at the ICC to force the country to stop persecuting the Rohingya.

Culture: Check out KumbuKumbu, the first online archive of LGBT+ life in Kenya.  What are the top 10 things to know about getting young Kenyans engaged in politics?  This was a lovely essay about polychronic time-keeping and food in South Africa.  Meet the first professor with a PhD in African indigenous astronomy.  I can’t wait to watch the Netflix adaptation of Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti trilogy!

Interesting academic articles for January 2020

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

Shelby Grossman.  2019.  “The Politics of Order in Informal Markets: Evidence from Lagos.”  World Politics.

Property rights are important for economic exchange, but in many parts of the world, they are not publicly guaranteed. Private market associations can fill this gap by providing an institutional structure to enforce agreements, but with this power comes the ability to extort from group members. Under what circumstances do private associations provide a stable environment for economic activity? The author uses survey data collected from 1,179 randomly sampled traders across 199 markets in Lagos, Nigeria, and finds that markets maintain institutions to support trade not in the absence of government, but rather in response to active government interference. The author argues that associations develop protrade policies when threatened by politicians they perceive to be predatory and when the organizations can respond with threats of their own. The latter is easier when traders are not competing with one another. To maintain this balance of power, an association will not extort; it needs trader support to maintain the credibility of its threats to mobilize against predatory politicians.

Sabrina Karim.  2020.  “Relational State Building in Areas of Limited Statehood: Experimental Evidence on the Attitudes of the Police.”  American Political Science Review.  

Under what conditions does state expansion into limited statehood areas improve perceptions of state authority? Although previous work emphasizes identity or institutional sources of state legitimacy, I argue that relationships between state agents and citizens drive positive attitude formation, because these relationships provide information and facilitate social bonds. Moreover, when state agents and citizens share demographic characteristics, perceptional effects may improve. Finally, citizens finding procedural interactions between state agents and citizens unfair may adopt negative views about the state. I test these three propositions by randomizing household visits by male or female police officers in rural Liberia. These visits facilitated relationship building, leading to improved perceptions of police; shared demographic characteristics between police and citizens did not strengthen this effect. Perceptions of unfairness in the randomization led to negative opinions about police. The results imply that relationship building between state agents and citizens is an important part of state building.

Sarah Brierley.  2019.  “Unprincipled Principals: Co-opted Bureaucrats and Corruption in Ghana.”  American Journal of Political Science.

In theory, granting politicians tools to oversee bureaucrats can reduce administrative malfeasance. In contrast, I argue that the political control of bureaucrats can increase corruption when politicians need money to fund election campaigns and face limited institutional constraints. In such contexts, politicians can leverage their discretionary powers to incentivize bureaucrats to extract rents from the state on politicians’ behalf. Using data from an original survey of bureaucrats (N = 864) across 80 randomly sampled local governments in Ghana, I show that bureaucrats are more likely to facilitate politicians’ corrupt behavior when politicians are perceived to be empowered with higher levels of discretionary control. Using qualitative data and a list experiment to demonstrate the mechanism, I show that politicians enact corruption by threatening to transfer noncompliant officers. My findings provide new evidence on the sources of public administrative deficiencies in developing countries and qualify the presumption that greater political oversight improves governance.

Raúl Sánchez de la Sierra.  2019.  “On the Origins of the State: Stationary Bandits and Taxation in Eastern Congo.”  Journal of Political Economy.

A positive demand shock for coltan, a mineral whose bulky output cannot be concealed, leads armed actors to create illicit customs and provide protection at coltan mines, where they settle as “stationary bandits.” A similar shock for gold, easy to conceal, leads to stationary bandits in the villages where income from gold is spent, where they introduce illicit mining visas, taxes, and administrations. Having a stationary bandit from a militia or the Congolese army increases welfare. These findings suggest that armed actors may create “essential functions of a state” to better expropriate, which, depending on their goals, can increase welfare.

Pedro Carneiro, Lucy Kraftman, Giacomo Mason, Lucie Moore, Imran Rasul, and Molly Scott.  2019.  The Impacts of a Multifaceted Pre-natal Intervention on Human Capital Accumulation in Early Life.”  Working paper.

We present results from a large-scale and long-term randomized control trial to evaluate an intervention targeting early life nutrition and well-being for households residing in extreme poverty in Northern Nigeria. The multifaceted intervention provides: (i) information to mothers and fathers on practices related to pregnancy and infant feeding; (ii) high-valued unconditional cash transfers to mothers, each month from pregnancy until the child turns two. We document two- and four-year impacts among 3600 pregnant women and their children. The intervention leads to large and sustained improvements in anthropometric and health outcomes for children, including an 8% reduction in stunting by endline. These impacts are partly driven by information-related channels (such as improved knowledge, practices and health behaviors of mothers towards new borns). However, the value and certain flow of cash transfers is also key: these induce labor supply responses among women, and allow them to undertake investments in livestock. These are both a source of protein rich diets for children, and generate higher earnings streams for households long after the cash transfers expire. The results show the sustainability and cost-effectiveness of scalable multifaceted pre-natal interventions in even the most challenging and food insecure economic environments.

Kanika Jha Kingra, Francis Rathinam, Tony Tyrrell, and Marie Gaarder.  2019. Social protection: a synthesis of evidence and lessons from 3ie evidence-supported impact evaluations.”  3ie working paper #34.

The paper synthesises evidence from evaluation of transfer programmes in Ecuador, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe and from public works programmes in Ethiopia and India.  [Key findings include the following.] Cash versus in-kind or food transfers and conditional versus unconditional transfers are issues of extensive debate amongst implementers of social protection programmes. Transfers can positively affect non-beneficiaries and the wider economy. Information on cost-benefit remains a gnawing gap. Analysis of gendered outcomes remains limited.