Gerard Prunier on recent news in the Congo and Rwanda

I’ve been lax in sharing the interesting points raised at the lectures I’ve attended on the DRC over the past several months.  One of the most wide-ranging was a November 2010 speech by Gerard Prunier on the Congo and Rwanda, which ran the gamut from the DRC’s foreign relations to Rwanda’s waning moral legitimacy in the eyes of the West.  Some of the main points:

Congo

  • Economically, the DRC is doing much better than it did after the immediate end of the war.  However, it’s barely integrated into the world or even regional economies, and very few industries have national reach (except for banking and transport).  Funds mostly flow from regional governments to Kinshasa, not the other way.  China is now its biggest aid donor.
  • The DRC’s interactions with the rest of the world are conducted by the “thin sliver” of government that presents the integrated Congo.  “From an economic and administrative point of view, the country doesn’t exist.”  However, it’s still very much in existence as a political entity.
  • Despite the ongoing war in the east, most of the country is at peace.  Only ~20% of Congolese live in the east.  That said, the Kabila regime has proven better at diplomacy than at either economic management or state-building & conflict resolution.
  • The Kivus are really more connected to Uganda/Rwanda/Burundi than to western Congo.  It would have been appropriate to have two settlements to the ’98-’02 war: one for the Kivus, and one for the rest of Congo.
  • When this speech occurred, Prunier felt that the government was behaving in an increasingly brutal and arbitrary manner towards its opponents, whilst there was no direct threat to its security to warrant this.  (The recent assassination attempt might have changed that calculus.)  At the time, however, he pointed out that the CNDP and its offshoot militias in the Kivus were in no position to overthrow the government.
  • The increase in state brutality might reflect Kabila’s concerns for his political survival – or it might mean that he’s losing control of his security apparatus.  Angola is well-positioned to put pressure on Kabila about this and other issues, but they don’t want to destabilize the DRC.

Rwanda

  • Rwanda is among the most opaque countries on the continent, comparable to Ethiopia and Eritrea.  One can reproach the Congolese for many things, but at least politically “nothing is hidden, they let it all hang out.”
  • There does appear to be fighting in the RPF’s inner circle.  There’s been a recent wave of assassination attempts and arrests of regime figures, including a former army chief of staff and the deputy commander of the Rwandese UNAMID force in Darfur.
  • Putting Laurent Nkunda on trial is undesirable for Kagame, because Nkunda knows too much about abuses committed by the RPF.  Prunier estimates that Kagame has killed 13 people who used to work with Nkunda, and is aiming to kill as many as he can.
  • There are rumors that the (Tutsi-affiliated) CNDP is talking to the (Hutu-affiliated) FDLR in eastern Congo, and considering using it as a base to overthrow Kagame, just as the RPF used western Uganda as a base for their attacks on the MRND.  Internal ethnic politics are also unsettled, as Tutsis who returned from Congo/Burundi/Tanzania are being marginalized in comparison to Ugandan Tutsis.
  • The UN mapping report, with its revelations that the RPF had massacred Hutu refugees in the Congo from ’96-’97, has diminished Rwanda’s moral authority in the eyes of the West.  Kagame had benefited tremendously from the developed world’s willingness to turn a blind eye to his authoritarianism out of guilt.  Prunier believes that a number of photogenic development initiatives, like the banning of plastic bags and the installation of wifi in public buses in Kigali, are “completely designed for the wazungu.”

I’d welcome thoughts from readers who know the region better than I do.

NB: To address the points raised by several commentators, I don’t think Prunier intended to imply that Rwanda has had no policy achievements of value under Kagame.  In many ways (especially health and economic policy), Rwanda is a good example of the benefits that can come of a strong, development-oriented African government.  This should be acknowledged along with the continued political repression and lingering grievances of the genocide if one hopes to take a more balanced view of the country.

On Paul Collier, and whether statistical research should be taken seriously

I received an email from my friend Jon Stever sometime ago recounting an exchange he had with Paul Collier at a conference:

I went to see Paul Collier speak at the LSE about his penultimate book…[and] asked him to explain the usefulness of his methodology to his critics (like me) who think his results fall into one of two categories: 1. obvious tautologies or near-tautologies. or 2. those that lend themselves to potentially dangerous extrapolation (or both).

I gave two examples from his lecture that night. Here is one: He said last night that he had found that the statistical relationship between individual leadership characteristics and economic growth didn’t hold when you controlled for the fairness of elections. Moreover, he discovered that individual leadership characteristics effected growth rates only when elections were ‘dirty’ and that individual leadership characteristics did not effect growth rates when elections were ‘clean’. This is a ‘sexy’ finding and sounds interesting. But, you can rephrase this same statement into a simple tautology: leaders are not stronger than institutions (ie. leaders do not have a greater impact than institutions on growth) when institutions are stronger than leaders (ie. when institutions prevent leaders from cheating elections). Vice versa: leaders are stronger than institutions when institutions are not as strong as leaders.

Unfortunately, he completely skirted my broader invitation to explain the usefulness of his methodology. Instead he focused on the one point about leadership and muddled through an answer; he said that he thought it was an interesting finding and that he didn’t know what the data would tell him in advance etc.  I wasn’t convinced by [this response]…

[It raises] several interesting questions, in my mind, about Collier’s style and methodology:

1. Would some of Collier’s more unpalatable findings–such as that democracy doesn’t work in poorer countries–be more (or less) widely accepted if numbers were not telling the story?
2. How should the results of randomized testing be used to develop policy interventions? More specifically, would an indication of success through randomized testing in country X imply that such a policy would be useful in country Z?
3. As a public intellectual is it necessary to take extreme, contentious, or overly simplistic views? Should we, therefore, apply a massive public intellectual discount to people like Collier’s statements?

I found the first two questions especially interesting in light of the recent Microfinance Impact & Innovation conference, where a number of the same questions of narrative context and cross-country generalizability were raised.  (Tim Ogden has a thorough round-up of blog reactions to the conference here.)  Part of the ceteris paribus condition between control & treatment groups in an RCT is inevitably the broader country environment in which the experiment is taking place – and once you start making cross-country observations, well, the ceteris is no longer paribus.  Of course, Collier-style observational studies of governance at the national level can only be cross-country, and you can’t ever statistically control for all sources of variation between two countries.

It makes me wonder if there’s a certain level of complexity up to which either randomized or observational studies can in fact be generalized outside of their original contexts.  IPA folks talk a lot about the Kenya school deworming study, which showed that giving inexpensive deworming medication to schoolchildren improved educational outcomes, and I think it’s become a popular example in part because it’s so obviously generalizable to non-Kenyan contexts.  It’s rooted in biological fact.  At a slightly higher level of complexity, Erica Field had a good paper at the MII conference showing that modifying the design of Indian microfinance contracts to allow longer grace periods before repayment increased both profits & defaults among participating clients.  Assuming equivalent oversight, there seems little reason to assume that the psychological & financial aspects of a grace period might not produce similar results if implemented in Latin America or Africa.  But a country is a unit of observation that’s orders of magnitude larger and more complex than a single borrower, and it’s perhaps unsurprising that the observed nature of governance across countries is too variable, too path-dependent, to allow such cleanly identifiable relationships to exist.

Fun with the World Governance Indicators

I attended a good lecture last week by Daniel Kaufmann, who showed up at SAIS to speak about the new version of the World Governance Indicators approximately an hour after they’d been released to the public.  His central point invoked the utility of triangulating governance data from multiple sources, and emphasized the need to keep data use transparent by including margins of error:

All measures of governance and the investment climate are unavoidably imprecise.  The WGI capture this imprecision by showing margins of error with countries scores that capture the statistically-likely range of values of governance.  These margins of error reflect the extent of agreement among the underlying data sources:  when data sources tend to agree, the margins of error are smaller, and when they disagree, margins of error are larger.   (source)

That said?  Playing with the indicators online is even more interesting than hearing about how they were compiled.  Check out the differences in the quality of regulations in the 10 largest economies in sub-Saharan Africa:


Also interesting are cross-country comparisons on all six main indicators, such as this interesting graph of governance in Rwanda and Burundi.  (You know you’re doing badly on the voice & accountability side when even Burundi beats you.)

Go have fun playing with the indicators – and check out Kaufmann’s blog, the Kaufmann Governance Post, while you’re at it.