Links I liked

The photo shows a bar of chocolate with Ghanaian adinkra symbols printed on itEdible art from 57 Chocolate in Ghana

The image shows a tweet reading, "my dream is to send a rural African village girl to Mars in a spaceship designed, built, and launched in Africa" - Elsie Kanza, WEFDreaming big (source)

  • Song of the week: Run, don’t walk, to listen to “Republique Amazone,” the debut album from new West African supergroup Les Amazones d’Afrique.  Angélique Kidjo, Kandia Kouyaté, Mamani Keita, Mariam Doumbia, Mariam Koné, Massan Coulibaly, Mouneissa Tandina, Nneka, Pamela Badjogo and Rokia Koné all in one place!

Links I liked

The image shows a Ghanaian woman in a white shirt and printed dress standing in front of a banana groveOne of a wonderful series of portraits from Ghana’s first female professional photographer

  • Every headline ought to be about the horrific scale of the food crises in South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria.  Here’s how to help.  This portrait of daily life in South Sudan is deeply saddening.
  • Video of the week: in our current geopolitical climate, Gato Preto‘s recent song “Take a Stand” feels very appropriate.  The outfits are totally on point as well.

Links I liked

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Celebrating the work of James Barnor, one of the first photographers to work with color film in Ghana

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  • Now that I’m back in Accra I’ve been re-listening to some of the songs I had on repeat during my first long stay in Ghana in 2010.  Two of my favorites: The Very Best‘s “Kada Manja,” and Anbuley‘s bizarre, hypnotic video for “Kemo’ Yoo Keke.”

What works in promoting governance reform in low income countries?

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An anti-corruption campaign in Rwanda, via This is Africa

I’ve recently come across a series of excellent articles on what works in promoting governance reform in low income countries.  Two of them have come out of UK-based ODI, which is sponsoring some very interesting research on institutional development.  The politics of institutional reform haven’t received as much attention in American political science, although there’s a promising panel on this topic at APSA later this week.

My current go-to paper on governance reform is the “Developmental Regimes in Africa” synthesis report.   Some key points:

  • “States like Ethiopia and Rwanda whose leaders are forcing the pace of
    national and rural development [appear to be doing so because there is] an acute rural threat to the future of the elite in power” (p. 3).  Similar explanations have been put forward for the exceptionally strong post-war state-building observed in Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.  Most African states do not have organized, class-based rural interest groups which can credibly threaten urban leaders
  • There is “no support for globally influential claims about the positive contribution of inclusive institutions or a ‘golden thread’ linking rule of law, absence of conflict and corruption, and strong formal property rights. … The combination of factors that was present in all six successful episodes [of high growth] and absent in all four unsuccessful ones contained just three elements. They were an intermediate level of ‘systemic vulnerability’ … a broadly market-friendly policy approach, and a policy-making process embedded in one or other of two types of strong institution: a political party with a tradition of consensual decision-making and leadership succession; and a strong, organic state bureaucracy with the ability to insulate policy from changes in political leadership. [This suggests] that the institutional character of the dominant party is the most generally relevant issue in Africa today” (p. 5)
  • Pockets of administrative effectiveness do exist in many African bureaucracies.  They may be particularly important for the outcomes of rural subsistence farmers, who are the majority of the population in many countries.  However, “the typical form of competitive clientelism in Africa today does not and perhaps cannot deliver the political protection that an effective agricultural transformation agency would require” (p. 6)
  • In comparative perspective, “Southeast Asia’s development successes were [emphatically not] the work of a particular type of political regime. Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam achieved comparable development outcomes under very different sorts of regime. What their governments shared was a pragmatic approach to an immediate problem – summarised in the phrase ‘urgency, outreach and expediency’. The change process was not driven by a bold vision for national economic transformation, but by a consistent incrementalism. [Conversely,] ambitious visions for economic transformation were more often found in Africa, where they contributed to a policy climate that systematically avoided providing the needed support to agriculture” (p. 6)

The DRA report takes an admittedly broad approach to the question of institutional change, focusing more on the outcomes of particular institutions than the the question of how those institutions arose in the first place.  Useful perspective on this issue is provided by the the “Change in Challenging Contexts” report, which focuses on the DR Congo, Liberia, South Sudan and Uganda.  To quote the executive summary (p. 7),

Strengthening capacity and systems for public financial management and service delivery in challenging contexts is possible. Attention needs to be placed on fostering genuine behavioural change if such change is to contribute to improved development outcomes.

Reform is messy in practice. The actions which deliver genuine change tend not to be pre-planned but responses to local problems and opportunities. Reforms need to be relevant to those problems and adapted based on experience, and must fit within the available space for reform and capacity.

Senior officials in authority provide and protect the space for change. Yet change is typically taken forward by mid-level bureaucrats who convene teams to deliver reform and build coalitions in support of change.

External actors can play an integral role in fostering genuine change. If this is to be more common, donors need to encourage governments and providers of technical assistance to address local problems and adapt solutions to them.

Another good bit of perspective is offered by Martha Johnson in “Donor Requirements and Pockets of Effectiveness in Senegal’s Bureaucracy.”   (The article is gated, but if you’d like a copy, I can pass it on.)  Here’s the abstract:

Donors increasingly value the work of statistics, project assessment and related offices in developing countries, but can they ensure these offices are able to do their work? This article assesses donors’ efforts to do so in Senegal’s ministries of finance, health and agriculture in the mid-2000s. It contends that donors’ impact is greatest if they generate political incentives for governments to create ‘pockets of effectiveness’ in these areas. The health and agriculture case studies indicate that direct donor involvement, particularly if incompatible with domestic political forces, produces disappointing results, while the finance case studies suggest donors can induce political support for the work of specific offices if donor incentives coincide with domestic political imperatives.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the series of excellent case studies of specific reform efforts collecte by Innovations for Successful Societies at Princeton.

Links I liked

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From Gerry Simpson on Twitter: “Lebanon – size of UK’s Devon & Cornwall regions – shelters 1.5 million refugees while whole of UK has about 150,000”

  • Satire: The Gospel According to Nigeria. “In the beginning the British created the Northern and Southern protectorates. Now, the nation was formless and empty and darkness covered our collective identity…”  Not satire: Uganda invests US$88K in a “porn-detecting machine

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The politics of urban renewal in Kampala

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Main taxi park, Kampala.  (All photos in this post by me)

Tom Goodfellow recently shared a link to one of the best pieces I’ve seen in a long time about the politics of urban change in Africa.   It appears that the entire article might not be available to readers who aren’t on Twitter, so I’ve excerpted some key parts here.  Do read the whole thing if you can.

The article begins with a deep dive into the workings of the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), a recently created governing body which has raised tax revenues by 89% over five years and begun cleaning up the city — but at the cost of increased tax burdens for small businesses and ordinary citizens.

“It’s a significant achievement,” says Roland White, global lead for city management, governance and financing at the World Bank. “I’m just not aware of any other big African city which has done what Kampala has done in proportional terms.”

… Last year Global Credit Ratings, a South African agency, gave Kampala an “A” rating for its long-term debt, which could pave the way for a municipal bond issue. There is some way to go yet, but if a bond materializes it would be a first for Uganda, and a rare sight in Africa more generally: a symbol that Kampala has got its finances in order and is open for investment.

But for all the plaudits, much of that extra revenue has been squeezed from … taxi drivers and small businesses, who are struggling to get by. Many Kampalans feel disempowered by reform. The KCCA’s powerful executive director is appointed directly by the president, and overseen by a Minister for Kampala in cabinet. While the authority’s technocratic vim excites international experts, it alienates the locals. “The KCCA doesn’t listen,” says Naswif Kiggundu, a trader. “They do each and every thing from the top.”

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Old meets new at Tropical Bank on Kampala Road

The local politics of tax reform are connected to national debates as well.  The current mayor has become known not just for his opposition to KCCA’s new taxes but for his broader stance against Yoweri Museveni’s 30-year rule as well.

The avatar of this bubbling discontent is Erias Lukwago, a populist lawyer who was elected as Lord Mayor in 2011. He demanded a tax refund for traders, refused to approve the taxi fee and was arrested while protesting the eviction of vendors from one of the taxi parks. His posturing predictably irked the KCCA’s executive director, Jennifer Musisi, a hard-nosed technocrat dubbed the “iron lady’” by local press. …

“He’s our mayor, not their mayor,” says one driver, who didn’t want to be named. In part, Lukwago owes his popularity to national politics: He has promised to “dismantle the dictatorship” of Uganda’s long-time president, Yoweri Museveni, who is widely loathed in Kampala. But he also articulates a radical notion of accountability, which directly challenges the KCCA’s appointed officials. …
Opposition protests are quenched with tear gas. Plans to redevelop markets, ban street vendors and register boda bodas (motorbike taxis) have all met resistance. When it comes to revenue collection, the KCCA’s approach to enforcement is seen as arbitrary and unforgiving — a “witch hunt,” in the words of Kennedy Okello, a newly elected councilor.

KCCA officials deny any unfairness. “I don’t see why someone who is upright fears the regulations,” says Sam Sserunkuuma, director of revenue collection. The traders and taxi drivers do not own the city, he adds, listing the services from street cleaning to hospitals that their fees help to fund.

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Downtown viewed from Kifumbira

A more straightforward revenue solution would be to tax property or land, but existing regulations and infrequent property valuations make this difficult.

For Kampala, an effective property tax is the Holy Grail. “It should be the main revenue source,” says Sam Sserunkuuma, KCCA director of revenue collection: He reckons the city could triple the amount it currently collects.

But tax officials are groping in the dark. The last property valuation was done in 2005, and revised in 2009. Though rental values have tripled in a decade, none of the gains have reached city coffers. New buildings like Acacia Mall do not officially exist.

World Bank support is helping the KCCA to compile a database of buildings, using geographic information system (GIS) technology. When the mapping is complete, tax officials plan to apply a rough valuation of each property based on its location — a cheaper alternative to individual assessments.

There is one snag. Owner-occupied houses are exempt from property tax, following a cynical promise by the President during the 2006 elections. They make up 53 percent of all eligible properties, so the resulting losses are huge. Sserunkuuma describes the law as a “headache”: His officials have to traipse around town, verifying how buildings are being used. It also creates loopholes for tax evaders to exploit.

But only central government has the power to scrap the exemption. The KCCA’s best efforts have so far failed to coax a law change from Uganda’s self-interested politicians, who recently passed a bill to exempt themselves from income tax.

kampala hillsPosh green yards sit next to informal housing near Kololo

The steps that Kampala has taken towards urban renewal are part of a broader trend across the continent.  But across the board, political challenges remain.

All over Africa, cities puzzle over the same conundrums. Rwanda has a new electronic land register, which could help with taxation. Several Tanzanian cities have plumped up their revenues through canny administrative reforms. Lagos, in Nigeria, has patiently cultivated a tax-paying culture, with impressive results.

The lingering question, in Kampala and elsewhere, is who will bear the biggest burden. So far, at least, the wealthy properties on the city’s breezy hilltops have been relatively untouched by reform. “It’s much easier to go after the small guy,” says Nansozi Muwanga of Makerere University. “It’s much easier to after the taxi driver, the lady who brings her green peppers on the sidewalk, the person who’s selling Chinese clogs.”