Upcoming Nairobi events

There are lots of great events on in Nairobi soon!  Check out these upcoming shows and conferences if you’re around.

June 6 – 16.  Nairobi Film Festival at Prestige Plaza.  Buy tickets at their website.

June 7: Panel discussion at the British Institute in Eastern Africa on “Land Governance and Subnational Dynamics in Kenyan Politics.”  Open to the public.

June 10.  Panel discussion at the Rift Valley Institute on “Research Collaboration in Conflict.”  Register online.

June 12.  Panel discussion on evidence-informed policymaking in Africa, sponsored by The Conversation Africa.  Email lavani.balipursad@theconversation.com by June 5 to register.

June 25: Panel discussion at the British Institute in Eastern Africa on “Securing the Local: The Role of Non-state Security Groups in the Struggle against Violent Extremism in Kenya, Nigeria and Indonesia.”   Open to the public.

June 25 – 26: Conference at the Catholic University of East Africa on “Power Narratives in Kenya’s 2017 Elections and Citizens’ Democratic Development Aspirations Beyond the Polls.”  Registration and payment due by June 24; follow link for more information.

July 22 – 23: 8th Annual East Africa Social Science Translation Collaborative (EASST) Summit, sponsored by the Center for Effective Global Action at Berkeley.  Register online.

Spring conference highlights

It’s been a busy few months of conferences around Berkeley!


Christine Simiyu.  “Take-up, Use and Impact of Reusable Sanitary Products Provision and Puberty Training on Education and Health Outcomes in Rural Kenya.”  Presented at Berkeley’s Development Economics Lunch.

Michael Mbate.  Partisanship and Decentralized Corruption: Evidence from Kenya.” Presented at Berkeley’s Development Economics Lunch.

Unfortunately neither of these papers is online yet.  I mention them to highlight the excellent work being done by Berkeley’s EASST program in supporting the research of African scholars.  Follow their blog to learn about more great funding opportunities for African academics.

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Gabriel Tourek.  “Simplified Income Taxation of Firms: Evidence from a Rwandan Reform.”  Presented at the Development and Political Economics Graduate Student Conference (DEVPEC).

This paper isn’t public yet, but do keep an eye out for it.  It discusses a 2012 tax reform in Rwanda, and finds interesting results in small firms’ decisions about whether to pay taxes or evade them.

Elisa Maffioli.  “The Political Economy of Slow-Onset Disasters: Evidence from the Ebola Outbreak.”  Presented at DEVPEC.

Another very interesting work in progress.  The paper focuses on Liberia, where elections were held in 2014 in the middle of the response to the Ebola outbreak, and examines whether electoral concerns affected the government’s provision of disaster relief.


Craig McIntosh, Karen Ferree, Clark Gibson, Danielle F. Jung, and James D. Long.  “Using Technology to Promote Participation in Emerging Democracies: VIP:Voice and the 2014 South African Election.”  Presented at Smart Government: Harnessing Technology for Public Good.

Abstract: Can technology help citizens overcome barriers to participation in emerging democracies? We argue that, by lowering costs, technology brings new participants into the political process. However, people induced to action through lower costs are different from those participating when costs are higher. Specifically, they are likely to have lower intrinsic motivations to participate and greater sensitivity to external incentives. By inducing selection effects, technology thus generates a crowd that is both more responsive to incentives (malleable) and more sensitive to costs (fragile). In this paper, we report on VIP:Voice, a platform we engineered to encourage South African citizens to engage politically through an ICT/DM platform. VIP: Voice recruited South Africans through a variety of methods, including over 50 million ‘Please Call Me’ messages, and provided a multi-channel platform allowing citizens to engage via low-tech mobile phones and high-tech social media. It encouraged purely digital forms of participation like answering survey questions about the election as well as more costly real world activities like monitoring a polling station. VIP:Voice generated engagement of some form in over 250,000 South Africans. Engagement proved sensitive to cost of action, however, with rapid attrition as action shifted from digital to real world forms. Not surprisingly, improving the ease and reducing the price of participation increased participation. Less obviously, these manipulations also influenced the nature of the group participating. Participants who entered the platform through user friendly social media channels and those who joined as a result of incentives were more sensitive to rising costs of action than those who initially engaged through less friendly channels and without material inducements. Our study thus reveals how, more than merely enabling participation, technology shapes the very nature of the crowd that forms.

Kelly Bidwell, Katherine Casey, and Rachel Glennerster.  “Debates: The Impact of Voter Knowledge Initiatives in Sierra Leone.”  Presented at Smart Government.

Abstract: Debates between candidates for public office have a rich historical tradition and remain an integral part of contemporary campaign strategy. There is, however, no definitive evidence of whether debates affect actual voting behavior. Limited media penetration implies that the effects of publicizing debates could be more pronounced, persistent and directly linked to electoral outcomes in the developing world. We experimentally manipulate citizen exposure to debates between Parliamentary candidates in Sierra Leone to measure their impacts on, and the interconnections between, voter behavior, campaign spending, and the performance of elected politicians. We find evidence of strong positive impacts on citizen political knowledge, policy alignment and votes cast on Election Day. We then document an endogenous response by participating candidates, who increased their campaign expenditure in communities where videotapes of the debates were screened in large public gatherings. A complementary series of individual treatment arms unpacks the di§fferent types of information delivered by the debates, and finds evidence that voters respond to both candidate charisma and “hard facts” about policy stance and professional qualiÖcations. Lastly, we find longer term accountability e§ects on elected MPs, where participation in debates led to higher levels of constituency engagement and development expenditure during their first year in office.


Mahmood Mamdani.  “Between the public intellectual and the scholar: decolonization and some post-independence initiatives in African higher education.”  Presented at CAS.

Abstract: This article focuses on epistemological decolonization, including knowledge production and its institutional locus – the university – in the post-independence African context. The article begins by problematizing both the concept and the institutional history of the university, in its European and African contexts, to underline the specifically modern character of the university as we know it and its genesis in post-Renaissance Europe. Against this background, the article traces post-independence reform of universities in Africa, which is unfolding in two waves: the first on access, Africanization, generating a debate between rights and justice; and the second on institutional reform, epitomized by the debate around disciplinarity. At the same time, the notions of excellence and relevance have functioned as code words, each signaling a different trajectory in the historical development of the university. Lastly, the article explores the role and tension between the public intellectual and the scholar from the perspective of decolonization.

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Melina Platas Izama and Pia Raffler.  “Meet the Candidates: Information and Accountability in Primary and General Elections.”  Presented at EGAP.

Abstract: What is the effect of information on political behavior? This field experiment, conducted in Uganda during the 2015 primary and 2016 general elections, will systematically assess the conditions under which information about candidates and government performance affects voter behavior. We examine two different methods of providing information: debate-like “Meet the Candidate” sessions and a scorecard. “Meet the Candidate” sessions include video-recorded candidate statements on a set of questions related to policy preferences. These sessions will be publicly screened in one set of polling stations and privately to individuals in another set of polling stations. The screenings will take place in both an intra-party and inter-party electoral environment, in the 2015 primary elections of the ruling party, and 2016 general elections. Thus, we examine systematically two factors that we hypothesize will affect the effect of information on voter behavior: the political environment and the public vs. private nature of information provision.

Claire Adida, Jessica Gottlieb, Eric Kramon, and Gwyneth McClendon.  “Can Common Knowledge Improve Common Goods?”  Presented at EGAP.

Abstract: This project provides citizens in Benin with information about legislator performance while varying (1) the salience of the information to voters’ wellbeing, and (2) whether performance information is disseminated privately or in groups.  A random sample of citizens will receive legislator performance information as part of a private screening, and another random sample will receive it as part of a public screening. Additionally, a random sample of citizens will receive a “civics message” in which arguments and examples are provided about the important implications of national legislation and oversight for citizens’ wellbeing in addition to legislator performance information; the rest will receive only the legislator performance information. In control villages, no information will be disseminated either publicly or privately. The electoral behavior of respondents in the different treatment conditions will be compared to the electoral behavior of respondents in control villages.

The image shows a map of the world with Africa highlightedKatrina Kosec, Hosaena Ghebru, Brian Holtemeyer, and Valerie Mueller.  “The Effect of Land Access on Youth Employment and Migration Decisions: Evidence from Rural Ethiopia.” Presented at the Annual Bank Conference on Africa (ABCA).


Abstract: How does the amount of land youth expect to inherit affect their migration and employment decisions? We explore this question in the context of rural Ethiopia using data on whether youth household members from 2010 had migrated by 2014, and in which sector they work. We estimate a household fixed effects model and exploit exogenous variation in the timing of land redistributions to overcome endogenous household decisions about how much land to bequeath to descendants. We find that larger expected land inheritances significantly lower the likelihood of long-distance permanent migration and of permanent migration to urban areas. Inheriting more land also leads to a significantly higher likelihood of employment in agriculture and a lower likelihood of employment in the non-agricultural sector. Conversely, the decision to attend school is unaffected. These results appear to be most heavily driven by males and by the older half of our youth sample. We also find suggestive evidence that several mediating factors matter. Land inheritance is a much stronger predictor of rural-to-urban permanent migration and non-agricultural-sector employment in areas with less vibrant land markets, in relatively remote areas (those far from major urban centers), and in areas with lower soil quality. Overall, these results affirm the importance of push factors in dictating occupation and migration decisions in Ethiopia.

Margaux Vinez.  “Division of the Commons and Access to Land on The Frontier: Lessons from The Colonial Legacy in The Democratic Republic of Congo.”  Presented at ABCA.

Abstract: What is the importance of colonial policies in shaping today’s land tenure institutions and inequalities in access to land? This paper sheds light on this question by analyzing ”paysannat”, a colonial intervention in the Belgian Congo attempting to push the evolution of the tenure system from communal toward private property rights. In the context of forced cultivation of cash crops, the Colony imposed the privatization of collectively owned land (forests or fallows) to individual farmers in some villages. Using spatial discontinuities of the implementation of paysannat and a unique combination of contemporary household survey data, geographic data, as well as historic data from both colonial records and contemporary oral history surveys, this paper shows that paysannat had a persistent impact on local land institutions through its impact on the privatization of collective land. We find that paysannat was successful in pushing toward the indivualization of the commons, and that it had important distribution consequences between the clanic groups.


Philip Roessler, Yannick I. Pengl, Rob Marty, Kyle Titlow, and Nicolas van de Walle.  “The Empty Panorama: The Origins of Spatial Inequality in Africa.”  Presented at the Working Group in African Political Economy (WGAPE).

This paper isn’t online yet, but definitely keep an eye out for it — it’s a monumental data collection effort which sheds new light on questions of inequality in Africa.

Josephine Gatua.  “Social connections and primary health care: evidence from Kenya.”  Presented at WGAPE.

Abstract: Access and utilization of health services remains low in developing countries despite the documented benefits to health. This paper analyses the local political economy of the health sector which has so far gained very little attention. Particularly, I exam- ine whether social connections between households and locally instituted health care providers affects the number of health care visits and access to essential antimalarial drugs. I also examine how access to health care and social connections affect household health seeking behaviour. I find that households that have strong social connections to the local health care providers within a community get more health care visits and are more likely to receive health commodities for free. The results further suggest that households that get more visits have better health seeking behavior in terms of testing for malaria and complying with the antimalarial treatment regime. However, kin are less likely to comply with the treatment regime compared to non-kin. Evidence suggests that local health care providers fair behavior is influenced by the amount of compensation they get.

Jonathan Weigel.  “Building State and Citizen: Experimental Evidence from a Tax Campaign in Congo.”  Presented at WGAPE.

This paper also isn’t available online.  Here’s an abstract from the pre-analysis plan:

This pre-analysis plan (PAP) outlines a randomized evaluation of the first citywide property tax campaign led by the Provincial Government in Kananga, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The primary intervention randomly assigns certain neighborhoods to receive the door-to-door tax collection program, aided by tablet computers and handheld receipt print- ers. Because collecting taxes on the ground also creates new opportunities for corruption, two cross-randomized interventions are used to study how to limit bribe taking. First, a collector monitoring (‘audit’) intervention is randomly assigned among neighborhoods that receive the program. Second, a citizen-level information intervention is randomly assigned among all neighborhoods in the city.

There are four broad strands of the analysis: (1) the effect of the tax program on citizens’ beliefs about the government and their efforts to hold it accountable; (2) the effects of the top-down audit intervention and the bottom-up information intervention on bribe taking associated with the program; (3) the determinants of productivity, honesty, and effort among state agents in the field; and (4) the citizen-side determinants of tax compliance in poor urban settings.

Updates from GiveDirectly


A few weeks ago, I participated in an open conference call with the staff of GiveDirectly.  They discussed their performance in 2015, and plans for future expansion.  A recording of the call and their notes on the discussion are both available.  Some of the things that stood out to me from the discussion were as follows:

  • Expanding outside of Kenya has led to new operational challenges.  For example, in Uganda, one issue has been getting people set up with national IDs in order to access mobile money.
  • They recently began operating in Rwanda, and launched their first collaboration with an institutional funder (USAID).  They’re also working with MTN and Centenary Bank, and looking for additional partners.
  • They’re looking at additional institutional partnerships with DFID and the World Bank, although it wasn’t clear which countries might be involved.  One of the goals of these partnerships is institutionalizing the idea that cash transfers are a benchmark to which other aid programs can be compared.
  • The current wave of interest in cash transfers has led to some changes in the branding (though not the implementation) of other types of humanitarian programs.  For example, some aid organizations are now describing the use of vouchers for asset transfers as “cash based.”  However, the whole point of giving people cash is that it’s fungible, and assets are often less so.
  • GiveDirectly isn’t currently planning to work with governments to implement state-run cash transfer programs.  They’ve been approached by the Kenyan government about this, but their concern is that it would undermine state capacity.  In addition, it’s difficult to start a program and then transfer it back to the state.
  • They’re driven by the idea of doing “crazy things” which initially seem impossible with cash transfers.  For example, they’re thinking of piloting a lifetime basic income guarantee project in a few towns in Kenya.  There may also be new ways for large donors to think about having an impact.  As Paul Niehaus said at one point, “With that kind of money [that places like the Gates Foundation have], you could realistically eliminate poverty in a mid-sized African country.”

If you’d like to support GiveDirectly, Rock River Inn is offering to match all donations up to US$13,000 through 31 December.

Dinner with John Githongo


John Githongo (source)

I’m quite behind the times on this, but in April, I had the chance to attend a dinner at Stanford for visiting scholar John Githongo.  It was a fascinating chance to hear from a noted anti-corruption campaigner and insightful political analyst.  His wife Mshai Mwangola also attended, and spoke about her activism with Ni Sisi! and work with the Africa Peacebuilding Network. Here are some of the main points I took away from the conversation with both of them.

On the future of the EAC:

  • Githongo originally held strongly pan-African aspirations, and was hopeful about ECOMOG’s intervention intervention in Liberia.  However, achieving the requisite level of coordination between states to make regional governance work is quite difficult
  • The EAC is different to other regional organizations in that it’s the only one with a Parliament that can pass laws
  • He’s optimistic that further economic integration between EAC countries will strengthen the alliance.  However, coordination problems remain a challenge.  At the time of his visit, the EAC wasn’t able to agree on a response to Nkurunziza’s attempts to seek a third term

On China in Africa:

  • Chinese roads are bad in Angola but good in Ethiopia.  The effects of Chinese investment depend on the relationship with the state and control of corruption
  • The US has soft (cultural) power in Africa which China can’t match at present, although they are beginning to import new TV shows and music
  • Most middle class families in Nairobi have at one member who’s spent some time in China
  • There’s speculation that the Chinese peacekeeping troops in South Sudan are really there to protect their oil investments

On corruption (of course):

  • Corruption can be a security threat — “why not steal from the road sector instead of law enforcement?”
  • The idea of embezzling millions is too abstract to provoke popular discontent, but conspicuous consumption is looked down upon
  • In Tanzania, Nyerere set an influential example of avoiding corruption
  • However, there are limits to importing anti-corruption techniques from other countries.  “If you put Kagame in the Kenyan context, it wouldn’t work — Kenyans are used to their freedoms”

On citizen activism:

  • Mwangola runs a course on citizen activism, I believe through Ni Sisi.  She pointed out that there are three main paths to change: reform (slow and incremental), transform (getting the middle class involved), or revolt (which rarely works)
  • One important function of the course has been giving people a space to vent and organize
  • As the media opens up, stand-up comedy is booming across Africa in response to continued political and economic crises

Winner-take-all politics in Ghana

I attended an interesting workshop last week at the Institute of Economic Affairs on the state of “winner-take-all” politics in Ghana.  Given Ghana’s 20 years of democratic alternance, I don’t tend to think of Ghanaian presidents as having nearly the power of some of Africa’s more entrenched leaders, like Kagame or Museveni.  After this workshop, though, I’ve been forced to revisit that assumption, because the Ghanaian executive has a whole range of powers that rather undermine the concept of checks and balances.  Among them:

  • The president directly appoints the attorney general, chief justice, governor of the central bank, head of the electoral commission, and speaker and majority leader of Parliament, with no parliamentary approval needed.
  • The president also appoints the chief executives of all 216 districts in the country, and 1/3 of the members of each district assembly.
  • All legislation must be introduced by the executive, rather than Parliament.
  • Parliament’s fiscal oversight capacity is further weakened by the fact that there’s no independent budget office to provide non-partisan analysis of proposed legislation.

It was an interesting presentation, and the ensuing discussion among the nearly 200 attendees (including official delegations from Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe) was quite spirited.  To take the first point, IEA’s suggestion that the president present a list of 5 possible candidates for these positions who would be reviewed by an advisory committee – barely even denting his overall power of appointment – was received as quite controversial by several speakers who thought this would unfairly limit the president’s ability to carry out his political mandate.  A rejoinder was provided by a commenter who pointed out that it’s not the role of the electoral commission to carry out a political agenda in any case.

The whole topic of electoral quotas for the district assemblies also generated a lot of debate, ranging from support for the current system of 1/3 appointed seats, to calls to abolish the appointments entirely, to demands to have these seats reserved for women and people with disablities – which immediately sparked the comment that this would lead to political parties removing all the female and disabled candidates from the seats they had to contest openly.  And so on and so forth for five hours.  For all the political challenges Ghana is seriously facing, it was impossible not to come out of this workshop feeling that at least the civil society organizations are taking their own watchdog roles quite seriously.