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 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!

When do Bus Rapid Transit systems make congestion worse?

Harmoni_Central_Busway_Transjakarta_1
A bus station in central Jakarta, via Wikipedia

That’s the question posed by a recent(ish) VoxDev article by Arya Gaduh, Tadeja Gračna, and Alexander Rothenburg.  They studied this topic in Jakarta, and found that the TransJakarta BRT system took lanes away from cars without attracting enough passengers to substantially reduce the number of cars on the road.  This is also due partly to the fact that the popularity of motorcycle taxis soared over the implementation period, pulling many people off public transit entirely.

What are the implications for African BRT projects, like those in Nairobi, Accra, or Dar es Salaam?  One clear takeaway is that the effect of the BRT system depends on the quality of its implementation.  As the authors note,

A ‘gold standard’ BRT in Curitiba, Brazil, includes GPS-based service planning, multiple networked routes, peak frequency buses, comfortable stations, and feeder bus integration. On the other hand, Lagos’ BRT lacks off-board fare collection and platform-level boarding at stations, and does not meet basic international BRT standards. Overall, more BRTs are similar to the latter than the former…

As a result, how a BRT system impacts congestion and travel time varies across settings. Findings from the experiences of systems such as those in Bogota, Lahore, or Mexico City demonstrate that a well-implemented BRT can increase public transport use, reduce air pollution, and increase output and labour market access (Tsivanidis 2019, Majid et al. 2018, Bel and Holst 2018). On the other hand, poor implementations have led to failure and eventual disbandment in the case of BRT systems in Delhi and Taichung (Pojani and Stead 2017).

Africa Update for December 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Fall 2019 conference updates

Here are some of the interesting papers I saw at this fall’s recent conferences.APSA-Logo-2015Carl Müller-Crepon.  “State Reach and Development in Africa, 1965-2015.

The colonial making of African states’ geographies has limited their reach and caused currently low levels of development on the continent. However prominent this argument, no comprehensive data on local state reach and its evolution exists to date. This limits our understanding of the impact of changes in state reach on local development. I measure African states’ reach with travel times from cells on a continuous grid to their administrative capitals. Travel times are computed on the basis of a time-varying digital atlas of roads and national and regional governance units (1965–2015). With these data, I estimate the effect of changes in state reach on local education and infant mortality rates. Within the same location, both improve as travel times to its capitals, in particular the national capital, decrease. Coupled with simulations of counterfactual administrative geographies, the results show that the design of colonial borders and capitals curbed development, in particular in densely populated areas that are currently far away from their capitals.

Melanie Phillips, Leonardo Arriola, Danny Choi, Justine Davis, and Lise Rakner. “The Silent Crisis: Attitudes of Political Elites Toward Abortion in Zambia.”

Legal frameworks are recognized as vital for securing the right to health, however, the relationship between the law and access to safe abortion services is complex. Zambia’s Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1972 permits pregnancy termination on health and other socio-economic grounds. Despite this relatively permissive environment, safe abortion services are not widely available in Zambia, forcing many women to seek unsafe abortions. While the study of abortion is extensive and touches many aspects of social science, little quantitative work has been done in Africa on one of the few actors that can influence abortion legally, culturally, and economically: members of the national and local legislatures. Therefore, in order to understand the disconnect between the liberal abortion policy in the law and the reality of unsafe abortions on the ground, we investigate the overall policy preferences and attitudes towards abortion among candidates for political office. Further, we test the malleability of these preferences in the face of different framings. The main finding presented in this paper is that women candidates are significantly different from men in favoring more liberal abortion policy. This finding is supported by results of a survey experiment that we conducted on political candidates at both the ward and parliamentary level in Zambia. The survey was in the field from March to June 2017 and the final sample was 429 ward candidates and 219 parliamentary candidates. The survey experiment used a vignette design, in addition to a series of descriptive questions, in order to understand how the framing of abortion can affect opinions on liberalizing abortion policies in the country. This finding further emphasizes the importance of increasing the number of women in political office, as they are more likely to promote liberal abortion policy and overall acceptance that may work to remedy the disconnect between the law and reality.

Caroline Brandt. “Divide and Conquer: Exclusive Peace Agreements in Multiparty Conflicts.

Present scholarship dichotomizes rebel group behavior as either at peace or in conflict with the state, obscuring a wide range of possible conflict and post-conflict relationships between governments and insurgent groups. Scholarship on rebel against rebel violence often prematurely truncates the window of observation as groups exit datasets once a rebel group ceases armed conflict against the state. My research shows how the formal integration of rebel groups into the armed forces provides clarity and commitment devises that facilitate rebel groups joining in offensives against the remaining insurgent threat. How combatants are integrated into the military also influences whether rebels join in counterinsurgency activity. Combatants are most likely to attack other insurgent groups when rebel groups are integrated into the armed forces but allowed to maintain their original organizational structure by serving in separate military units.

David Peyton. “The Politics of Property Defense in Eastern Congo’s Urban Centers.”

Conflict has driven urban growth and produced some of Sub-Saharan Africa’s most dynamic real estate markets. Over the course of the Congo Wars (1996-1997 and 1998-2003) and subsequent insurgencies (2003-present), eastern Congo’s urban populations and built environments increased dramatically. In this environment of demographic and spatial augmentation, property owners faced complex and often difficult choices about defending an increasingly valuable asset: urban real estate. This paper looks at the diversity of property protection strategies that emerged during this period of uncertainty and the primary causes of variation between them. In particular, it assesses the extent to which property owners solicited support from civic associations to guard against expropriation. Why did some property owners use the support of religious networks, ethnic associations, and neighborhood groups to secure their land rights and settle disputes, while others sought to work through the state’s land tenure apparatus? Based on interview and focus group data collected in eastern Congo, this paper argues that property protection strategies provide important clues about how conflict-affected populations cope with insecurity and advance their micro-level economic interests. These interactions shape the de facto institutional environment and, importantly, condition the population’s embrace or avoidance of the local state.

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Alesha Porisky. “The state at the margins: The impact of cash transfer programmes on citizen-state relations in rural Kenya and Tanzania.”

Similar cash transfer programmes have had profoundly different effects on the perception and practice of citizenship as a result of divergent post-colonial nation-building strategies in Kenya and Tanzania. In Tanzania, the post-colonial nation-building project constructed a cohesive national identity and made possible a cohesive and duty-based conception of citizenship that is deeply rooted in perceptions of a singular national community and norms of reciprocity. The introduction of means-tested cash transfer programmes in Tanzania, then, did not challenge commonly-held understandings of citizenship and of the state’s role vis-à-vis the citizen. In contrast, in Kenya, the post-colonial era was marked by the distribution of state resources through patronage networks, exclusionary economic and political policies that discriminated based on ethnicity and an absence of a central unifying nation-building project. This fostered an exclusive, entitlement-based conception of citizenship, which is directly tied to the individual and their relationship to various patrons. The introduction of cash transfer programmes, which are distributed based on need rather than patronage, has led to a gradual reconceptualization of citizenship towards one rooted in reciprocal rights and duties.

Niheer Dasandi, Ed Laws, Heather Marquette, and Mark Robinson. “What Does the Evidence Tell Us about ‘Thinking and Working Politically’ in Development Assistance?

This article provides a critical review of the evidence on ‘thinking and working politically’ (TWP) in development. Scholars and practitioners have increasingly recognised that development is a fundamentally political process, and there are concerted efforts underway to develop more politically-informed and adaptive ways of thinking and working in providing development assistance. However, while there are interesting and engaging case studies in the emerging, largely practitioner-based literature, these do not yet constitute a strong evidence base that shows these efforts can be clearly linked to more effective aid programming. Much of the evidence used so far to support these approaches is anecdotal, does not meet high standards for a robust body of evidence, is not comparative and draws on a small number of self-selected, relatively well-known success stories written primarily by programme insiders. The article discusses the factors identified in the TWP literature that are said to enable politically-informed programmes to increase aid effectiveness. It then looks at the state of the evidence on TWP in three areas: political context, sector, and organisation. The aim is to show where research efforts have been targeted so far and to provide guidance on where the field might focus next. In the final section, the article outlines some ways of testing the core assumptions of the TWP agenda more thoroughly, to provide a clearer sense of the contribution it can make to aid effectiveness.

Nabila Idris. “The politics of excluding labour from Bangladesh’s social protection design.”  

[This one isn’t online yet, but it was a fascinating discussion about how many MPs in Bangladesh are business owners, and pushed to exclude workers from access to social safety nets, which would reduce their power over the workers.]

The logo of the African Studies Association of Africa, showing the continent with a rainbow of colors through it

Robtel Neajai Pailey. “Decolonising Africa and African Studies Must Go Hand in Hand.”

The problem with this 21st-century “scholarly decolonial turn” is that it remains largely detached from the day-to-day dilemmas of people in formerly colonised spaces and places…  “Epistemic decolonisation” cannot succeed unless it is bound to and supportive of contemporary liberation struggles against inequality, racism, austerity, patriarchy, autocracy, homophobia, xenophobia, ecological damage, militarisation, impunity, corruption, media muzzling and land grabbing.

Linet Juma. “‘Data for Development’: Querying the role of Open Data in Kenya’s National Development.”

[This isn’t online yet, but it was a very interesting discussion about the state of open data in Kenya, based on research done by the Local Development Research Institute in Nairobi.  Check out more of their work on gender and open data in Africa, and the state of open data in Kenya.]