Interesting academic articles for December 2018

I recently figured out that most journals have RSS feeds, which has shifted my strategy for learning about new articles from occasionally remembering to check journals for updates every few months to automatically getting new articles in Feedly.  It’s been great!  Here are some of the things that I’m looking forward to reading in political science and economics.

Peter Van der Windt, Macartan Humphreys, Lily Medina, Jeffrey F. Timmons, Maarten Voors. 2018. Citizen Attitudes Toward Traditional and State Authorities: Substitutes or Complements? Comparative Political Studies.

Do citizens view state and traditional authorities as substitutes or complements? Past work has been divided on this question. Some scholars point to competition between attitudes toward these entities, suggesting substitution, whereas others highlight positive correlations, suggesting complementarity. Addressing this question, however, is difficult, as it requires assessing the effects of exogenous changes in the latent valuation of one authority on an individual’s support for another. We show that this quantity—a type of elasticity—cannot be inferred from correlations between support for the two forms of authority. We employ a structural model to estimate this elasticity of substitution using data from 816 villages in the Democratic Republic of Congo and plausibly exogenous rainfall and conflict shocks. Despite prima facie evidence for substitution logics, our model’s outcomes are consistent with complementarity; positive changes in citizen valuation of the chief appear to translate into positive changes in support for the government.

Arthur Thomas Blouin and Sharun W. Mukand. 2018. “Erasing Ethnicity? Propaganda, Nation Building and Identity in Rwanda.Journal of Political Economy.

This paper examines whether propaganda broadcast over radio helped to change inter- ethnic attitudes in post-genocide Rwanda. We exploit variation in exposure to the gov- ernment’s radio propaganda due to the mountainous topography of Rwanda. Results of lab-in-the-field experiments show that individuals exposed to government propaganda have lower salience of ethnicity, increased inter-ethnic trust and show more willingness to interact face-to-face with members of another ethnic group. Our results suggest that the observed improvement in inter-ethnic behavior is not cosmetic, and reflects a deeper change in inter- ethnic attitudes. The findings provide some of the first quantitative evidence that the salience of ethnic identity can be manipulated by governments.

Viviana M.E. Perego. 2018. “Crop prices and the demand for titled land: Evidence from Uganda.Journal of Development Economics.

I investigate how agricultural prices affect demand for titled land, using panel data on Ugandan farmers, and a price index that weighs international crop prices by the structure of land use at the sub-county level. Higher prices increase farmers’ share of titled land. I also present evidence of a positive impact of prices on agricultural incomes. The effect of prices on land tenure is stronger when farmers have access to roads and markets, when they have undertaken investment on the land, and when households fear land grabbing.

Johannes Haushofer, Jeremy Shapiro, Charlotte Ringdal, and Xiao Yu Wang. 2018. “Income Changes and Intimate Partner Violence: Evidence from Unconditional Cash Transfers in Kenya.” Working paper.

We use a randomized controlled trial to study the impact of unconditional cash transfers on intimate partner violence (IPV) in western Kenya. Cash transfers to women of on average USD 709 PPP led to a significant 0.25 SD increase in a female empowerment index, while transfers to men led to a non-significant increase of 0.09 SD, with no significant difference between these effects. Physical violence was significantly reduced regardless of whether transfers were sent to the woman (0.26 SD) or the man (0.18 SD). In contrast, sexual violence was reduced significantly after transfers to the woman (−0.22 SD), but not the man (−0.10 SD, not significant). Our theoretical framework suggests that physical violence is reduced after transfers to the wife because her tolerance for it decreases, and is reduced after transfers to the husband because he has a distaste for it. We observe a large and significant spillover effect of transfers on domestic violence: non-recipient women in treatment villages show a 0.19 SD increase in the female empowerment index, driven by a 0.16 SD reduction in physical violence. Together, these results suggest that poverty alleviation through unconditional cash transfers can decrease IPV both in recipient and neighboring households.

Marcel Fafchamps and Simon R. Quinn. 2018. “Networks and Manufacturing Firms in Africa: Results from a Randomized Field Experiment.” NBER working paper #21132.

We run a novel field experiment to link managers of African manufacturing firms. The experiment features exogenous link formation, exogenous seeding of information, and exogenous assignment to treatment and placebo. We study the impact of the experiment on firm business practices outside of the lab. We find that the experiment successfully created new variation in social networks. We find significant diffusion of business practices only in terms of VAT registration and having a bank current account. This diffusion is a combination of diffusion of innovation and simple imitation. At the time of our experiment, all three studied countries were undergoing large changes in their VAT legislation.

Margaret McConnell, Claire Watt Rothschild, Allison Ettenger, Faith Muigai, Jessica Cohen. 2018. “Free contraception and behavioural nudges in the postpartum period: evidence from a randomised control trial in Nairobi, Kenya.” BMJ Global Health.

Short birth intervals are a major risk factor for poor maternal and newborn outcomes. Utilisation of modern contraceptive methods during the postpartum period can reduce risky birth intervals but contraceptive coverage during this critical period remains low. We conducted a randomised controlled experiment to test whether vouchers for free contraception, provided with and without behavioural ‘nudges’, could increase modern contraceptive use in the postpartum period. 686 pregnant women attending antenatal care in two private maternity hospitals in Nairobi, Kenya, were enrolled in the study. The primary outcomes were the use of modern contraceptive methods at nearly 3 months and 6 months after expected delivery date (EDD). We tested the impact of a standard voucher that could be redeemed for free modern contraception, a deadline voucher that expired 2 months after delivery and both types of vouchers with and without a short message service (SMS) reminder, relative to a control group that received no voucher and no SMS reminder. By nearly 6 months after EDD, we find that the combination of the standard voucher with an SMS reminder increased the probability of reporting utilisation of a modern contraceptive method by 25 percentage points (pp) (95% CI 6 pp to 44 pp) compared with the control group. Estimated impacts in other treatment arms were not statistically significantly different from the control group.

Elizabeth R. Metteta. 2018. “Irrigation dams, water and infant mortality: Evidence from South Africa.Journal of Development Economics.

Irrigation dams enable farmers to harness substantial water resources. However, their use consumes finite water supplies and recycles agricultural water pollutants back into river systems. This paper examines the net effect of irrigation dams on infant mortality in South Africa. It relies on both fixed effects and instrumental variables approaches to counteract potential bias associated with non-random dam placement, with the latter approach predicting dam placement based on geographic features and policy changes. The analysis reveals that additional irrigation dams within South Africa’s former homeland districts after Apartheid increased infant mortality by 10–20 percent. I then discuss and evaluate possible channels. Dam-induced increases in agricultural activity could increase water pollution and reduce water availability, and I provide supporting evidence that both channels may contribute. These results suggest a potential trade-off between the health costs of agricultural water use and the economic benefits of increased agricultural production.

Ellora Derenoncourt. 2018. “Can you move to opportunity? Evidence from the Great Migration.” Job market paper.

The northern United States long served as a land of opportunity for black Americans, but today the region’s racial gap in intergenerational mobility rivals that of the South. I show that racial composition changes during the peak of the Great Migration (1940-1970) reduced upward mobility in northern cities in the long run, with the largest effects on black men. I identify urban black population increases during the Migration at the commuting zone level using a shift-share instrument, interacting pre-1940 black southern migrant location choices with predicted outmigration from southern counties. The Migration’s negative effects on children’s adult outcomes appear driven by neighborhood factors, not changes in the characteristics of the average child. As early as the 1960s, the Migration led to greater white enrollment in private schools, increased spending on policing, and higher crime and incarceration rates. I estimate that the overall change in childhood environment induced by the Great Migration explains 43% of the upward mobility gap between black and white men in the region today

What I’m reading for November 2018

Here’s my latest link roundup, cross-posted from Africa Update.  We’ve got evangelical real estate in Lagos, the Boy Scouts of Bangui, Kinshasa’s dodgy voting machines, Julius Nyerere’s translations of Shakespeare, and more.

West Africa: Read about the three women running for president in Nigeria, in the first election which has ever had more than one female candidate.  BudgIT is making strides in using publicly available budget information to track the completion of infrastructure projects across Nigeria.  Here’s what happens when evangelical churches get into the real estate business in Lagos.  This was a great discussion of how the #BringBackOurGirls movement has expanded into other types of activism, thanks in part to a decision to reject all outside funding.  In northern Nigeria, mosque attendance is dropping as Boko Haram’s attacks make people more skeptical of organized religion.  Dakar has elected its first female mayor (in French).  In Cameroon, women and girls are disproportionately bearing the cost of the conflict in the country’s Anglophone region.

A colorful green and pink background with stylized images of Burkina Faso's president Thomas Sankara, surrounded by young men holding pink assault rifles

Via Mohamed Keita: “Artist Pierre-Christoph Gam’s mixed media series pays homage to Burkinabé revolutionary Thomas Sankara, Burkina Faso’s president from 1983 – 1987”

Central Africa: Rwanda is one of the first African countries to offer cashless payments on buses.  This was a gripping article about the violence of daily life in a refugee camp in the CAR, and how the extreme fragmentation of rebel groups undercuts attempts at disarmament.  Despite the CAR’s challenges, the Boy Scouts continue to support young men in Bangui.  In northern Uganda, citizens are protesting after they were displaced from their homes during the LRA war and their land subsequently gazetted into a wildlife reserve, leaving them without any homes to return to.  Do unions have a future among informal workers in the DRC?  Some good news on the Congolese ebola crisis: experimental treatments have been proving fairly effective at reducing death rates.

Congolese presidential elections: If you read one article about next month’s elections, make it this one on Kabila’s intentional choice of a weak candidate as his replacement.  For a deep dive, read about the politicization of the country’s electoral institutions, its selection of easily hackable voting machines, the new archbishop who promises to hold the government to account (in French), the latest polling results on support for opposition candidates (in French), and the rapid demise of the opposition’s promise to pick a single candidate.

Map of Africa showing the percentage of women in Parliament.  It ranges from nearly zero in Sudan and Nigeria to 50% in Ethiopia and RwandaMap of gender parity in African legislatures via the UN Economic Commission for Africa

East Africa: Kenya is considering privatizing its prisons, a policy which has been roundly criticized as an attempt to profit from prison labor rather than improving conditions for inmates.  The military has been deployed to buy cashew nuts in Tanzania after farmers in an opposition stronghold complained of low prices.  An Ethiopian company is betting on the growth of coffee consumption in China with plans to open dozens of cafés across the country.  Tourism pushed women out of Zanzibar’s public spaces, but one NGO is helping them reclaim their access.  South Sudan wants to build a new capital called Ramciel in an uninhabited area which lacks any infrastructure.  In Somalia, Al Shabaab earns millions of dollars annually by illegally exporting charcoal through Iran.  This is essential reading on the way that the US supported the Siad Barre regime in Somalia in the 1980s even as it killed over 200,000 citizens.  Somalia’s persistent insecurity even affects responses to academic surveys, as people more exposed to violence are less likely to answer questions about their clan identity.

Southern Africa: In South Africa, participating in a peaceful protest for better service delivery could land you in prison without bail. Zambian doctors are warning women to stay away from herbal Chinese contraceptives, which are inexpensive but poorly regulated.  Zambia has also indefinitely suspended all junior and senior secondary school exams after the questions were leaked on social media.  Lesotho’s sheep farmers are up in arms over a decision to ban wool exports and require them to sell all their wool to a single firm.  Zimbabwe is making up for its lack of mental health support by training older women to provide informal therapy to people in their neighborhoods.

Map of eastern Africa showing the proposed route of the standard gauge railway, which would connect inland countries to the coast at Lamu, Mombasa and Dar es SalaamSome context on where the standard gauge railway (SGR) is supposed to extend in east Africa, via Africa Confidential

Industry + infrastructure: Uganda is balking at extending the SGR to Kampala, although Rwanda and Tanzania are pushing on with their portions of the railway.  Several Chinese and American firms have signed deals to assemble mobile phones in Uganda.  The Kenyan government has set up a fund to encourage local mobile production as well.  Kenya’s newest tech jobs focus on creating training data for AIs.  Somalia’s e-commerce scene is tiny but growing.  The Mombasa airport is switching to solar power.  This Kenyan start-up is producing smart meters for natural gas canisters, which should lower the cost of access to canisters and encourage people to switch away from relatively more polluting charcoal.

Arts + literature: Here are five African documentaries you’ll want to see.  Read about the Ottoman heritage of Somaliland’s architecture.  All of the stories by African authors shortlisted for the Brittle Paper Awards are freely available online.  If you read Kiswahili, check out Julius Nyerere’s translations of Shakespeare’s works.  This is the essential reading list on African feminism.  Don’t miss Nanjala Nyabola’s new book on digital democracy in Kenya.

A South African woman dressed in a red gown and black velvet cap, with a South African man in a black academic robe standing behind herCongratulations to Nompumelelo Kapa, who is one of the few South African academics who has received a PhD for a thesis written in isiXhosa (via Sure Kamhunga)

Scholarships: Mawazo has a new page with updated fellowship opportunities for African scholars posted each month.  African citizens who would like to pursue a PhD in anthropology should apply to the Wadsworth fellowship.  Encourage the African scientists in your life to apply for the Next Einstein Foundation fellowship.  The Center for Global Development is recruiting post-docs.  If you’d like to apply to Oxford, check out the Africa Society’s Mentorship Programme for tips on navigating the application process.  The European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership offers funding for health research by early career African scholars.  East African citizens between the ages of 20 – 30 should apply for the LéO Africa Institute’s Young and Emerging Leaders Program.  Check out the Africa Peacebuilding Network’s individual research grants.

African fertility isn’t as high as you think

Dropping by to flag this fascinating article from Lyman Stone which puts African fertility rates in perspective.  The major takeaways were that fertility is high in Africa compared to global averages, but fertility rates are steadily declining, and are actually lower than one might expect given how poor many countries in the region still are.  As the graph below shows, average fertility in African countries tends to drop rapidly as countries get richer, and this occurs at lower income levels than is the case for most other regions.

Graph comparing fertility rates and income levels for various regions around the world

Moreover, fertility isn’t a cause of poverty, but rather a consequence of it.  In places where poor healthcare means that child mortality is high, it’s reasonable to have more children to increase the likelihood that some of them will survive to adulthood.  African countries appear to have pretty standard fertility responses to child mortality, again suggesting that African fertility rates aren’t unusually high in comparative perspective

child mortality

 

Here’s what academic departments, faculty, and graduate students can do to support mental health

Infographic reading Infographic via the Berkeley Science Review

Almost six months ago, I published a post on my experience with depression in academia.  I was really blown away by the thoughtful and supportive responses that I received from so many people both within and outside of the academy.  Since then, I’ve had a number of really good conversations about what departments, faculty, and grad students can do to better support students’ mental health.  Here are some of the suggestions that really stood out to me.

What everyone can do

The first step for staff, faculty, and students is to familiarize themselves with the facts about mental health on campus.  Nearly 40% of grad students across multiple countries say they’ve recently experienced moderate to severe depression.  However, with appropriate support, people facing mental health challenges can still do excellent research and finish their doctoral programs in a timely manner.  It’s important to challenge the narrative that grad students with mental health problems aren’t suited for academia, which is an ableist view that shuts a lot of smart people out from the system.

Second, check out the mental health resources that are available at your campus.  These may include counseling provided through your university health center; mental health advocacy groups; or online resources, like Berkeley’s free, downloadable guide on Promoting Student Mental Health.

Third, I can’t overemphasize how important it is to remove some of the stigma from mental health issues by discussing them openly.  Before and during the time I experienced depression, I knew very little about mental health on campus.  I thought I was the only person in my department who was struggling, and I was afraid to admit that things seemed to be going deeply wrong.  But once I began opening up to people about it, I found that a significant proportion of my PhD classmates had experienced similar issues, and had often significantly benefited from therapy or medication.  I might have pursued treatment much earlier if I’d had any idea how typical my experience was, and how many options were available to help me feel better.  Starting the conversation early, even if you and all the people you know seem to feel all right at the moment, is a really important step.

What departments can do

Departmental staff are already the unsung heroes of academia: the people who help you navigate your class schedule, submit your grant applications, and answer all your questions about graduate requirements.  They also have an important role to play in connecting students and faculty to mental health resources.

It’s really important to begin discussing mental health issues openly from the beginning of grad students’ careers.  Doing a module on common mental health challenges, and the resources available on campus, during orientation for new students would be a great way to start this conversation.  This information could also be shared with current students every year, since everyone could use the occasional reminder that mental health issues are normal and there are lots of ways to seek support.

If you find that you’re struggling with your mental health as a grad student, but you’re concerned about discussing this with your faculty advisor, you can reach out in confidentiality to the graduate student advisor on staff in your department.  They can help you connect to mental health resources on campus, change a challenging workload, or think through funding options if you need some time away from campus.

What faculty can do

One of the comments I got on my depression post aptly pointed out that graduate students aren’t the only people dealing with mental health problems.  The demanding teaching, research, and administrative responsibilities of academia — not to mention structural problems like racism and sexism — mean that faculty are also vulnerable to depression and anxiety.  I’ve since updated the earlier post to acknowledge this important point.  If you’re a faculty member concerned about your own mental health, definitely check out the suggestions for graduate students below.

The heavy workload of  a professor, not to mention the additional toll of family responsibilities and one’s own potential mental health challenges, may leave faculty feeling that they don’t have the time to follow up on students’ mental health.  However, there are some fairly quick things that faculty can do to support their students.

First, it’s useful for faculty to introduce mental health as an acceptable topic of discussion.  During a meeting with a new student, you could say something like this: “I know that grad school puts people under a lot of pressure, and many students end up dealing with challenges like depression or anxiety.  That’s pretty common, and doesn’t mean that you’re failing as a student.  If you’re ever feeling like that, you can always talk to me about it.  I can help you connect to other mental health resources around campus.”  Most students probably won’t take faculty up on this, but it’s important to let them know that if they do end up facing mental health challenges, they don’t need to fear being punished for discussing it.

Second, take the time to briefly check in with students about their work-life balance during the course of the academic year.  If you notice that a student seems to be struggling to complete their work or meet their deadlines, send them a quick email emphasizing that they’re not in trouble, and asking them if they’re doing all right or would like to talk.  Again, a faculty member’s role here isn’t to serve as a therapist.  But reaching out to them in this way and offering to connect them to other mental health resources on campus could be an easy way to encourage someone to seek the help they need.

Third, advocate for policies that reduce some of the structural stresses faced by graduate students.  Many of these are financial: you can ask your department to index stipends for inflation or the cost of housing, or ask them to pay out conference travel grants up front,  rather than requiring students to pay out of pocket and get reimbursed.  Other issues are related to discrimination: you can support the creation of working groups for women or people of color in the department, or encourage the department to name an equality chair who can support students and faculty who have faced discrimination.  Students who are less stressed about money or discrimination have more bandwidth to do excellent academic work.

What graduate students can do

Let’s say you’re a first year grad student.  You’re feeling excited about your proposed research idea, but also a bit overwhelmed by the amount of work you’ve got ahead of you.  What are some steps you can take to support your own mental health and that of your classmates during the years of study ahead?

Start by taking the time to do periodic check-ins with yourself about your mental health.  Almost everyone feels stressed by work and deadlines and career prospects at various points during grad school, and that’s not inherently problematic.  However, it is important to be aware of whether you’re feeling manageable stress, or whether you’re experiencing a more persistent mental health problem.

I’ve found that the most reliable way for me to figure out if I’m having a bad period of mental health is to look at patterns in my behavior.  If you look at how you feel, you might just brush it off: “I’m stressed and miserable, but everyone in my cohort sounds stressed and miserable about exams right now, so I shouldn’t complain about it.”  If you look at other circumstances in your life, things might seem all right: “I’m in a great program and have a nice place to live, and that means that I don’t have any reason to feel sad.”  But it’s harder to deny what’s happening if you’re looking at repeated patterns of behavior: “That’s the second time this week that I’ve skipped class because I couldn’t get out of bed.  I don’t remember myself acting like this before.”

You can use the same strategies to engage with your classmates about their mental health.  If you notice that someone is acting out of the ordinary — say, missing class or ignoring deadlines — it’s worth sending them a quick message about it.  You can note that you’ve seen a pattern of behavior that concerned you a bit, and ask if there’s anything they’re feeling stressed about, or would like to talk about.  Of course, your classmate may say that everything is fine.  But in my experience, it’s easy to brush off an email that says, “Hey, where were you in class today?”  It’s not so easy to ignore an email saying, “Hey, I’ve noticed that you’ve been away from class a lot this month and didn’t turn in that last paper.  Is everything all right?”   No student is responsible for someone else’s mental health, of course.  But it’s worth taking the time to check in on each other — you never know when it may give someone the opening that they need to start thinking seriously about their mental health.

If you do notice these types of patterns in your behavior or that of a classmate, that’s a good sign that you or the classmate might need additional support.  This could take a variety of forms.  Walking up to a counselor at the university health center and declaring that you feel depressed might feel liberating, or it might feel like it’s a bridge too far at first.  You don’t have to do this right away (or ever) if you don’t feel comfortable doing so.  A good place to start is simply by taking stock.  Talk with a friend, or write a journal entry, or do something else that lets you think about how you’ve been behaving recently.  What patterns do you notice?  Do they seem to be correlated with something else in your life, like financial stresses, or struggling in a class?

Sometimes you can figure out the proximate source of anxiety or depression on your own, and try to make the necessary changes in your life, like dropping a class.  For other issues, like financial challenges or systemic discrimination, you might not be able to solve the underlying problems by yourself.  Or you may feel that you’re miserable even though everything else seems fine.  Those are good moments to seek outside help.  Talk to a counselor at your health center, and tell them about the behavior changes that you’ve noticed.  It’s totally normal to admit to feeling confused and scared, and to feel like you don’t know what to do next.  Counselors are around to help you work through these feelings and figure out possible solutions.

If you’re concerned about the cost of therapy, even with insurance, there are several options you could pursue.  Many therapists will offer a sliding scale of fees for clients in financial distress.  If your university has a psychology department, you may be able to get free counseling provided by graduate students as part of their clinical experience.  This article has more suggestions for accessing therapy when you can’t afford to pay much.  Also, if you’re struggling to figure out what types of therapy your US insurance covers, which may feel opaque at the best of times and nearly impossible if you’re depressed, ask a friend or family member if they can support you in this.  You don’t have to do everything on your own.

If you are feeling depressed or anxious to the point where you have a difficult time carrying out daily responsibilities or meeting your professional obligations, you should seriously consider discussing this with your faculty advisor.  Advisors vary, of course, and not all of them will be supportive, so you will have to make this decision on your own.  But if the alternative is falling behind on your work with no explanation, that may also have lasting reputational costs.  In general, it’s better to be transparent about the fact that you’re facing health issues.  This is the #1 thing that I wish I had done differently when I was depressed.  Once I did speak with my advisor about my health after almost three years of serious depression, he responded with understanding and support, and worked with me to shift my dissertation project to something that I could complete given the constraints I was facing.

Depending on how seriously your mental health challenges are affecting your life, you may find it useful to take a medical leave of absence, so that you can pursue treatment and not have to worry about your work for a while. Talk to the graduate student advisor in your department about how this might work.  It may feel really hard to take this step, but mental health problems are real health problems, and there’s absolutely no shame about needing time away from work to deal with them.

The good news is that depression and anxiety aren’t permanent.  Therapy and antidepressants have both been shown to be effective at helping people cope with these issues.  I’ve found regular journaling to be incredibly useful.  Recovery does take time — anywhere from weeks to years, depending on your situation — but it’s absolutely possible to become more healthy and get yourself professionally back on track.

Links I liked

Here’s the latest edition of my Africa Update newsletter.  We’ve got Mali’s 35-year old foreign minister, the dodgeball association of South Sudan, accountability for Mozambican mayors over gay rights, the future of nuclear power on the continent, and more.

View of the Nile, with green banks on both sides and a blue sky full of puffy clouds above
Here’s the view I’ve been enjoying in Jinja during Nyege Nyege Festival this weekend

West Africa: Ghana’s plan to build a new national cathedral is coming in for heavy criticism.  Also in Ghana, cocoa companies are working with local chiefs to improve property rights for cocoa farmers.  The Nigerian government is allegedly forcing internally displaced people to return to their dangerous home regions so that they can vote in upcoming primary elections.  Félicitations à Kamissa Camara, qui est devenue chef de la diplomatie malienne agée de 35 ans.  In Niger, farmers are using a nitrogen-fixing tree to improve their soil quality and fight climate change.  Here’s a good background article on current politics in Togo.  The latest edition of West Africa Insights is all about urbanization in the region.

Central Africa:  Read all about the DRC’s upcoming election, including its unusual single-round voting that can allow a president to be elected with a tiny minority of votes, and Kabila’s preferred candidate for the presidency.  Désarmement dans le Pool : le pasteur Ntumi fait « un pas dans la bonne direction », selon Brazzaville.  This article situates Uganda’s social media tax in a long history of unfair colonial taxation.  Museveni has threatened to abolish the Ugandan Parliament after protests over the beating of prominent opposition MP Bobi Wine, whose popularity clearly alarms him.  Listen to this piece about poor conditions on Uganda’s prison farms.  Tanzania is cutting off markets in refugee camps in an apparent attempt to force Burundian refugees to return home.  Rwanda is trying to boost tax revenue by simplifying its tax code at the same time it raises tax rates.

Map showing more than 4 million internally displaced people in the DRC, and flows of hundreds of thousands of refugees to neighboring nations
Map of the massive population displacement in the DRC, via Africa Visual Data

East Africa:  Tanzania wants to make it illegal to question government statistics.  If you’d like to approach the government with a non-statistical matter, definitely read these insider tips on how policymaking works in Tanzania.  South Sudan’s newest athletic league is a dodgeball association for teenage girls.  Read this insightful article about how John Garang’s death led to the fracturing of the SPLM.  Don’t miss this recent report from the Kenya Human Rights Commission about the country’s high rates of extrajudicial killings.  This article suggests that the Kenyan security forces routinely ignore tips about planned mass shootings, and that perpetrators are rarely arrested.  More than 90% of Somalia’s new cabinet ministers are said to hold MA or PhD degrees, but only 8% are women.

Southern Africa: At some South African universities, nearly 80% of black students report that they sometimes don’t have enough to eat.  A South African court has ruled that marriages between Muslim couples in the country must be legally registered and not simply recorded with religious authorities, giving women legal protection in the event of divorce.  Zimbabwe’s harsh laws criminalizing the transmission of HIV are discouraging people from coming for testing and treatment.

mozambique
A hopeful headline from Mozambique, showing a newspaper asking mayoral candidates in Nampula how they plan to combat discrimination against gay people (via Tom Bowker)

Public Health: I’m excited to hear about sensors.AFRICA, which is using low cost monitors to track air quality in several countries across the continent.  A non-profit organization is offering cash transfers to women who bring their children in for vaccinations in Nigeria.  One Nigerian woman has created a mental health hotline after struggling to access treatment for depression.

Economics: This was a really interesting thread about how legal uncertainty is increasing fuel prices in Kenya — an exemption on VAT for fuel expired on August 31 with no legal guidance on whether it was meant to be extended, leading to strikes by fuel importers.  South Sudan is beginning to bring oilfields back online after production was drastically reduced by the civil war.  An economist discusses how the cedi’s depreciation lead to the recent collapse of several banks in Ghana.  This was an interesting piece on the history of Ghana’s failed attempts to create a local rubber processing industry.  A new book argues that political conflict determines when protests take place in Africa, but economics determines who participates in them.  Is there a future for civilian nuclear energy in Africa?

Map showing what rotating savings groups are called throughout Africa
Great map of regional names for rotating savings and credit associations across the continent (via Funmi Oyatogun)

China in Africa:  This article shared some interesting reflections on the shortcomings of standard “China in Africa” narratives.  Chinese handset maker Transsion is capturing the African market with affordable phones that feature built-in radio reception and cameras calibrated for darker skin.

Arts and Literature:  Check out Robtel Neajai Pailey’s interactive website for her anti-corruption children’s books about Liberia, and Lupita Nyong’o’s upcoming children’s book as well!  Apply to work with the British Library on their collection of African-language materials.  Lots of interesting articles to be found in the Johannesburg Review of Books.   Read this dispatch from the Mogadishu Book Fair.  The Goethe Institut is calling for submissions of young adult literature by African authors in English, French and Kiswahili.  Here are all the African film festivals you can attend in 2018.

Black and yellow print showing a woman with her fist upraised, and a slogan at the bottom reading "Now you have touched the woman you have struck a rock; you have dislodged a boulder; you will be crushed.  9 August SA Women's Day"
Art for the day from Medu Art Ensemble, who created this poster for a 1956 women’s march against apartheid (via Women’s Art)

Conferences and Scholarships: Register for the Decolonial Transformationsconference at the University of Sussex — and before you do, read this great curriculum which a group of Cambridge students put together for decolonizing the Human, Social and Political Sciences degree.  Submit a paper to the Africa Social and Behavioral Change conference in English, French, Portuguese or Kiswahili.  The Working Group in African Political Economy is now accepting paper applications.  You can also send your scientific papers or science journalism to the African Science Desk to have them turned into short documentaries and explainers.  Spread the word about this multidisciplinary post-doc for African scholars at Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study.

Why is Coke ubiquitous in poor countries while medicine is hard to find?

This question has presumably been around roughly as long as Coke itself, and has sparked a number of efforts for medicine distributors to piggyback on Coke’s supply chain, none with I believe much success.  The issue got a fresh airing on Twitter recently from Niti Bhan.  Then Prashant Yadav pointed the conversation towards a 2013 SSIR article that he and coauthors Orla Stapleton and Luk Van Wassenhove had published on this topic.  The article itself is gated, but he shared the chart below on Twitter, and it’s well worth a read.  As he points out, “[The issue is] mostly about information flow, incentives in the system, and regulatory impediments.”

Chart comparing the supply chains of Coke and medicines