Interesting academic articles for January 2019

Here are some recent papers which I’m looking forward to reading.  They include updates on the DRC, the political economy of social protection programs in Kenya, taxation in Zambia, and bureaucracy in Peru.

Christoph Vogel and Jason Stearns. 2018.  “Kivu’s intractable security conundrum, revisited.African Affairs 117 (469): 695 – 707.

During this past decade, four developments have altered the contours of the [Congolese] conflict, contributing to a perpetuation of violence and insecurity. First, Congolese political and military elites have become increasingly invested in conflict, rendering it an end in itself. Instead of promoting cohesion and discipline, the government has perceived its security apparatus primarily as a means for distributing patronage, only occasionally prioritizing stability. Second, with the end of the Congrès national pour la défense du peuple (CNDP) rebellion in 2009, and more dramatically since the defeat of the Mouvement du 23 mars (M23) in 2013, regional involvement has decreased and the Kivus have seen few foreign-backed rebellions. This, combined with the national political crisis, has led armed groups to switch the focus of their bellicose rhetoric away from Rwanda towards Kinshasa. Third, there has been a dramatic proliferation of belligerents from a few dozens to over a hundred, while at the same time armed groups have coalesced into often unstable coalitions. Fourth, and most recently, insecurity is becoming increasingly politicized as political turmoil reverberates in the Kivus, prompting elites to bolster their influence through armed mobilization.

Alexander de Juan and Carlo Koos. 2018.  “The historical roots of cooperative behavior — evidence from eastern Congo.”  World Development 116: 100 – 112.

Cooperative norms and behavior are considered to be essential requirements for sustainable stabilization and development in conflict-affected states. It is therefore particularly important to understand what factors explain their salience in contexts of war, violence and displacement. In this paper, we assess the role of historical political legacies. We argue that precolonial processes of nation-building have strengthened people’s communal bonds to an imagined community, and that these bonds continue to positively impact present-day cooperative norms and behavior. We investigate this argument using the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) as an empirical case. We combine historical information on the location and the main features of the precolonial Bushi Kingdom with original georeferenced survey data to investigate variation in cooperative norms within and outside of the boundaries of the precolonial “nation.” We exploit information on people’s awareness of proverbs associated with the original foundation myths of the kingdom to assess the role of long-term norm persistence. We find evidence in line with our argument on the historical roots of cooperative behavior.

Marion Ouma and Jimi Adésìna.  2018. “Solutions, exclusion and influence: Exploring power relations in the adoption of social protection policies in Kenya.”  Critical Social Policy.

Power, and how it is exercised within social relations is pivotal in explaining policy change. However, its analysis as an explanatory variable in understanding social protection policy uptake processes in developing countries remains unexplored. Using two cases of cash transfer programmes in Kenya, we examine the dynamics of power relations in the uptake of social protection policies. This article contributes to recent scholarship examining the adoption process in African countries but in departure demonstrates that asymmetrical power relations between actors are/have been central to the uptake of the programmes. The study found that within social relations in the policy space, agents exercised power in three ways. First, by controlling the policy agenda by insertion of experts; second, by excluding other actors through a process of depoliticisation; and third, by influencing the preference of domestic actors through social learning.

David Evans, Brian Holtemeyer, and Katrina Kosec.  2018.  “Cash transfers increase trust in local government.”  World Development 119: 138 – 155.

How does a locally-managed conditional cash transfer program impact trust in government? On the one hand, delivering monetary benefits and increasing interactions with government officials (elected and appointed) may increase trust. On the other hand, it can be difficult for citizens to know to whom to attribute a program and reward with greater trust. Further, imposing paternalistic conditions and possibly prompting citizens to experience feelings of social stigma or guilt, could reduce trust. We answer this question by exploiting the randomized introduction of a locally-managed transfer program in Tanzania in 2010. Our analysis reveals that cash transfers can significantly increase trust in leaders. This effect is driven by large increases in trust in elected leaders as opposed to appointed bureaucrats. Perceptions of government responsiveness to citizens’ concerns and honesty of leaders also rise, and these improvements are largest where there are more village meetings at baseline. One of the central roles of village meetings is to receive and share information with village residents, providing some evidence on the value of a high-information environment for generating trust in government. We also find that records from school and health committees are more readily available in treatment villages. Notably, while stated willingness of citizens to participate in community development projects rises, actual participation in projects and the likelihood of voting do not. Overall, the results suggest little reason to worry that local management of a conditional cash transfer program reduces trust in government or the quality of governance—especially in high-information settings.

Moizza Binat Sarwar.  2018.  “The political economy of cash transfer programmes in Brazil, Pakistan and the Philippines.”  ODI working paper.

Pro-poor policies, such as cash transfers, hold wide appeal for politicians in times of economic crises because of the visibility and high level of international support available for such measures. The political returns to politicians from a widespread pro-poor policy are significant: they potentially expand their voter base. The highly visible link between the politician and cash transfers has mobilised politicians to invest in state capacity and reach eligible citizens. Methods of selecting eligible participants and delivering cash has allowed local politicians to gain electoral mileage from central government actions. In the longer term, it can be very difficult for subsequent regimes to dismantle far-reaching propoor programmes without risking high levels of unpopularity. Consequently, future governments try to establish ownership over the programmes by improving and/or expanding them.

Danielle Resnick.  2018.  “Tax compliance and representation in Zambia’s informal economy.”  IGC working paper.

What drives tax compliance among informal workers and does it affect demands for political representation? While these questions have been posed previously in political economy scholarship, there are few studies that examine these dynamics among informal workers, who constitute the majority of the population in developing countries. Contrary to assumptions that informal workers fall outside the tax net, they often encounter a variety of taxes collected by national and local authorities. Based on an original survey with over 800 informal workers across 11 markets in Zambia’s capital, Lusaka, and interviews with relevant policymakers, this paper finds that compliance tends to be higher among those workers operating in markets with better services, providing support for the fiscal exchange hypothesis. Moreover, using a vote choice experiment, I find that those who pay taxes, regardless of how much they pay, are more likely than those who do not to vote for a hypothetical mayoral candidate interested in improving market services and stall fees rather than one interested in broader social goods, such as improving education and schools in Lusaka. The results suggest that even among a relatively poor segment of the population, tax revenue can be mobilized if the benefits of those taxes are directly experienced and that just the process of paying taxes can affect an individual’s demand for representation by policymakers.

Andrew Dustan, Stanislao Maldonado, and Juan Manuel Hernandez-Agramonte. 2018. “Motivating bureaucrats with non-monetary incentives when state capacity is weak: Evidence from large-scale field experiments in Peru.”  Working paper.

We study how non-monetary incentives, motivated by recent advances in behavioral economics, affect civil servant performance in a context where state capacity is weak. We collaborated with a government agency in Peru to experimentally vary the content of text messages targeted to civil servants in charge of a school maintenance program. These messages incorporate behavioral insights in dimensions related to information provision, social norms, and weak forms of monitoring and auditing. We find that these messages are a very cost-effective strategy to enforce compliance with national policies among civil servants. We further study the role of social norms and the salience of social benefits in a follow-up experiment and explore the external validity of our original results by implementing a related experiment with civil servants from a different national program. The findings of these new experiments support our original results and provide additional insights regarding the context in which these incentives may work. Our results highlight the importance of carefully designed non-monetary incentives as a tool to improve civil servant performance when the state lacks institutional mechanisms to enforce compliance.

 

The 25 best longform articles of 2018

Text on a green background reading "6.8 million words" and "92 books," and an image of a badge saying 'Pocket reader 1% club"

My year in Pocket

Continuing my tradition from 2016 and 2017, here are the 25 best articles I read last year, in no particular order.  I share lots of snippets from the interesting things I read at Pocket if you’d like to follow along.

An Internment Camp for 10 Million Uyghurs.  Meduza.  “I was able to find a couple of surviving mosques, but locks held their ancient doors closed. Not far from the madrasah, which was also closed, a furrier sat at an intersection in traditional dress and crafted an Uyghur hat. Both the furrier and the hat were made of bronze. Real fur hats were sold in the city’s souvenir shops, but real furriers were now impossible to find. The marvelous ancient knives that had graced the city on people’s belts and in market stalls had also disappeared. When I greeted a few salesmen and used the word ‘pchak,’ they recoiled, and only one antiques dealer could find a heavy knife case in his stand. Inside were several sumptuous, ancient knife handles — the blades themselves had been cut off. Even when they buy everyday kitchen knives, Uyghurs are now obligated to brand the blade with a laser-carved QR code that identifies the knife’s owner. In Aksu, knives in restaurant kitchens are attached to the walls with chains.”

How E-Commerce is Transforming Rural China.  The New Yorker.  “Li pointed to a whirring speck in the sky. As it drew closer, the first thing I could make out was a red box under the belly of the drone. A minute later, I saw three spinning propellers, which seemed improbably small for the size of their load, like the wings of a bumblebee. The children pointed their fingers upward, faces lifted, and cheered for the ‘toy plane.’ But no one else seemed terribly excited. A young man with gelled hair, who arrived as the drone was descending, said that, for a few weeks, these landings had drawn big crowds, but that people soon had got used to them: ‘Things change so fast around here, there’s no time to be surprised about anything.'”

Everyday Politics.  Aeon.  “The original Ming dynasty policy held that in every military household men serving as soldiers would eventually be replaced by their eldest son. In principle, the policy initiated a simple and endless cycle of conscription, but in reality families developed in different ways that complicated the basic selection algorithm. In many military households there were multiple sons; in others none. In the hope of reducing its overhead expenses, the state left it up to families themselves to decide who should fulfil their obligation. Different families faced this challenge in different ways. Families developed a range of strategies to address the lack of fit between their own reality and the demands of the algorithm. One common solution for a family with more than one son was to arrange for responsibility to serve in the military to rotate among the sons on a set schedule. When the rotation was complete, the cycle would begin anew. Such a system could continue for generations. This was the method used by the Cai family of Quanzhou – whose genealogy I collected in the village where their descendants live today.”

“Give Us His Breath or His Body.”  Roads and Kingdoms.  “In August 2004, twelve men left their village in Nepal for jobs at a five-star luxury hotel in Amman, Jordan. They had no idea that they had actually been hired for subcontract work on an American military base in Iraq. But fate took an even darker turn when the dozen men were kidnapped and murdered by Islamic extremists. Their gruesome deaths were captured in one of the first graphicexecution videos disseminated on the internet—the largest massacre of contractors during the war. Compounding the tragedy was the reality that their deaths received little notice. Why were men from a country so removed from the war, in Iraq? How had they gotten there? And who, exactly, were they working for?”

Inside the Haywire World of Beirut’s Electricity Brokers.  Wired.  “‘We cover where there is no state,’ says Abdel al-Raham, an owner and operator of generators in East Beirut. He began with a small generator, which he used to power his house, around the start of the civil war in 1975. But the generator was loud and noxious, so over time, as a gesture of good faith, he would give his neighbors a lamp connected to his generator. “Just enough for them to light their house and to make up for all the annoying noise,” he says. But because of his generosity, his wife soon became unable to run the washing machine. He went out and bought a new, bigger generator. Then shop owners nearby needed more power, and his brother came to him and proposed they split profits on the power they could sell to the neighborhood. Self-sufficiency turned into entrepreneurship.”

She Ran From the Cut, and Helped Thousands of Other Girls Escape, Too.  The New York Times.  “Ms. Leng’ete never forgot what her sister suffered, and as she grew up, she was determined to protect other Maasai girls. She started a program that goes village to village, collaborating with elders and girls to create a new rite of passage — without the cutting. In seven years, she has helped 15,000 girls avoid the cutting ritual.”

My Great-Grandfather, the Nigerian Slave Trader.  The New Yorker.  “My grandmother Helen, who helped establish a local church, is buried near the study. My umbilical cord is buried on the grounds, as are those of my four siblings. My eldest brother, Nnamdi, was born while my parents were studying in England, in the early nineteen-seventies; my father, Chukwuma, preserved the dried umbilical cord and, eighteen months later, brought it home to bury it by the front gate. Down the hill, near the river, in an area now overrun by bush, is the grave of my most celebrated ancestor: my great-grandfather Nwaubani Ogogo Oriaku. Nwaubani Ogogo was a slave trader who gained power and wealth by selling other Africans across the Atlantic. ‘He was a renowned trader,’ my father told me proudly. ‘He dealt in palm produce and human beings.'”

What Putin Really Wants.  The Atlantic.  “But most Russians don’t recognize the Russia portrayed in this story: powerful, organized, and led by an omniscient, omnipotent leader who is able to both formulate and execute a complex and highly detailed plot. Gleb Pavlovsky, a political consultant who helped Putin win his first presidential campaign, in 2000, and served as a Kremlin adviser until 2011, simply laughed when I asked him about Putin’s role in Donald Trump’s election. ‘We did an amazing job in the first decade of Putin’s rule of creating the illusion that Putin controls everything in Russia,’ he said. ‘Now it’s just funny; how much Americans attribute to him.”

A Silver Thread: Islam in Eastern Europe.  LA Review of Books.  “The Sultan sent three thousand troops and a vizier to deal with them, but Musa killed them all, and some mercenaries too. So the time had come to summon Marko again. Marko was a Serb, a Christian, and a prince. He had a terrible temper and an enormous moustache.”

Blood and Oil: Mexico’s Drug Cartels and the Gasoline Industry.  Rolling Stone.  “All that has changed over the past few years, as Mexico’s drug-trafficking cartels have moved to monopolize all forms of crime, including fuel theft, muscling out smaller operators with paramilitary tactics honed in the drug war. Black-market gasoline is now a billion-dollar economy, and free-standing gasoline mafias are gaining power in their own right, throwing a volatile accelerant onto the dirty mix of drugs and guns that has already killed some 200,000 Mexicans over the past decade. The most violent year in Mexico’s recorded history was 2017, and some observers now say the conflict has as much to do with petroleum as it does with narcotics.”

Safe House.  California Sunday Magazine.  “Valentina isn’t a social worker or a therapist or a lawyer. She is an immigrant who opens her home to women whose husbands or boyfriends abuse them. The women who come are waitresses, saleswomen, fruit and vegetable pickers, housecleaners. Like Silvia, many are ashamed, reluctant to point a finger or to file for divorce. Most are undocumented, and before President Trump’s election, they went to Valentina when they didn’t know their rights or when shelters didn’t have space. Since Trump, even those with papers avoid shelters and mistrust the law. Silvia had stayed at Valentina’s house for a week, and now Valentina has taken to checking on her. She’s hoping Silvia will leave her partner, but she can’t predict if she will or how long it might take.”

Signs and Wonders.  1843 Magazine.  “López first saw sign language on an American television programme in 1977. During a trip to Venezuela to compete in an international track-and-field tournament, he managed to get his hands on a guide to the sign language used in Costa Rica and brought it back to Nicaragua. But oralism was enforced even more strictly at the vocational school than at Melania Morales – teachers were known to slap the hands of students caught gesturing to each other – and López’s instructors confiscated his dictionary. Undeterred, he snuck into the room where the teachers had left the book and hid it inside a folk-dancing costume as he walked out. Armed with the contraband dictionary, Lopez and some deaf friends began to gather regularly. At first, they tried to pick up the Costa Rican vocabulary. But trying to learn to communicate using a foreign rulebook felt unnatural: none of the group had ever used anything like those signs with their families or each other. ‘I didn’t identify with those signs,’ López says. ‘I felt the signs had to be something that belonged to us.’ As a result, they scrapped his dictionary, and began trying to make one of their own.”

Could An Ex-Convict Become an Attorney?  I Intended to Find Out.  The New York Times.  “After the 15-minute ceremony, I turned to everyone, without thinking, and began speaking as my uncle kept recording: ‘The last time my mom saw me in court, I was sentenced to nine years in prison.’ I wanted to say something about the journey. I’d already revealed too much. Miles, sitting beside his brother, paused and looked up. I could tell something confused him. He had questions in his eyes. He stared, listening, as I confessed the thing that I’d been holding back. What man wants to tell his child he’s done time in prison? But I had. And, in that single breath, I’d given him this: an image of his father as both a convict and an attorney.”

The Waiting Room.  The Marshall Project.  “The freed detainees will carry their possessions in plastic garbage bags, knotted and sealed. Any money they had when they were arrested will have been converted to a Cook County–issued check that is unusable for the “release and run,” as it is known. Some will have no idea which way to turn as they leave the jail, and no one will know what to do with a check. There is a currency exchange on Kedzie Avenue and 26th, but that is a 13-minute walk, past the desolate zone next to the 26th Street wall of the jail, where it’s not unusual to get jumped by gangs. The Popeyes at California Avenue used to be a good place to get your check cashed, and it was such a reliable sanctuary in the neighborhood that the sheriff’s department would send the newly released detainees there, making it a regular stop in the out-processing.”

The Real Origins of the Religious Right.  Politico.  “But the abortion myth quickly collapses under historical scrutiny. In fact, it wasn’t until 1979—a full six years after Roe—that evangelical leaders, at the behest of conservative activist Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term. Why? Because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than the religious right’s real motive: protecting segregated schools.”

Híyoge owísisi tánga itá (Cricket egg stories).  Carte Blanche.  “Biologists used to have a comfortable dogma. We believed that everything about an organism could be found somewhere in its DNA. That is not wrong, but neither is it the whole story. Now I am here in the Natural Sciences Building, having discovered a new function of hormones in crickets. What I—an Indigenous woman and a scientist in defiance of every obstacle—have found is not limited to crickets. Researchers studying humans have found that our hormones, too, transcend generations and genes. What I have found may be new to biologists, but not to the peoples of what settlers call the New World. We have known for hundreds of generations that we carry our histories within us. They are part of who we are.”

Embarrassment of Obscurities.  Times Literary Supplement.  “Although NASA was at great pains to present these suits as the pinnacle of modern technological achievement (and indeed each comprised twenty-one layers of fabric, mostly new synthetics such as nylon and spandex), the reality was a little different. Each suit was also a marvellous example of skill and creativity; and it was, almost exclusively, the handiwork of women schooled in the frequently undervalued craft of textiles. The sub-contractor responsible for their assembly was ILC, a firm best known for making Playtex bras, girdles and nappies. Teams of deft-fingered seamstresses and pattern-cutters, working on Singer sewing machines, assembled the spacesuits stitch by painstaking stitch. When the firm received feedback that the prototypes were chafing, they began inserting sections of fluffy material usually used to line girdles; the nylon mesh used to prevent the rubber layer from ballooning in zero gravity had originally been developed for bras.”

The Untold Story of NotPetya, The Most Devastating Cyberattack in History.  Wired.  “Disconnecting Maersk’s entire global network took the company’s IT staff more than two panicky hours. By the end of that process, every employee had been ordered to turn off their computer and leave it at their desk. The digital phones at every cubicle, too, had been rendered useless in the emergency network shutdown.”

Ready for a Linguistic Controversy?  Say “Mmhmm”.  NPR. “Once upon a time, English speakers didn’t say “mmhmm.” But Africans did, according to Robert Thompson, an art history professor at Yale University who studies Africa’s influence on the Americas. In a 2008 documentary, Thompson said the word spread from enslaved Africans into Southern black vernacular and from there into Southern white vernacular. He says white Americans used to say ‘yay’ and ‘yes.'”

Orange or Fruit?  On the Unlikely Etymology of “Orange.”  Literary Hub.  “What happened between the end of the 14th century and the end of the 17th that allowed ‘orange’ to become a color name? The answer is obvious. Oranges. Early in the 16th century Portuguese traders brought sweet oranges from India to Europe, and the color takes its name from them. Until they arrived, there was no orange as such in the color spectrum. When the first Europeans saw the fruit they were incapable of exclaiming about its brilliant orange color. They recognized the color but didn’t yet know its name. Often they referred to oranges as ‘golden apples.’ Not until they knew them as oranges did they see them as orange.”

Slivers of Sciences in Homer’s “The Odyssey.”  Discover.  “One of the most common arguments is that Circe was feeding the crew jimson weed. While that sounds innocent enough, Datura stramonium, as it is known in the scientific world, belongs to the deadly nightshade family and contains high levels of anti-cholinergic alkaloids such as scopolamine, hyoscyamine and atropine. These compounds block the neurotransmitter acetylcholine from interacting with its receptors in the brain. When this neurotransmitter is blocked, we can’t distinguish reality from fantasy, we exhibit bizarre behavior, and we can suffer pronounced amnesia. ‘Patients who consume this stuff often have vivid hallucinations and become seriously delirious,’ says Harvard Medical School toxicologist Alan Woolf.”

Tea if by Land, Cha if By Sea.  Quartz. “With a few minor exceptions, there are really only two ways to say ‘tea’ in the world. One is like the English term— in Spanish and teein Afrikaans are two examples. The other is some variation of cha, like chay in Hindi. Both versions come from China. How they spread around the world offers a clear picture of how globalization worked before ‘globalization’ was a term anybody used. The words that sound like ‘cha’ spread across land, along the Silk Road. The ‘tea’-like phrasings spread over water, by Dutch traders bringing the novel leaves back to Europe.”

How to Spot a Perfect Fake: The World’s Top Art Forgery Detective.  The Guardian.  “Like criminals of every stripe, modern forgers have kept easy pace with the techniques that attempt to trap them. The mismatch between the purported age of a painting and the true age of its ingredients is the workhorse of Martin’s technique. So forgers have grown more rigorous in their harvesting of materials, taking the trouble, for instance, to source wooden panels from furniture they know is dateable to the year of the fake they are creating. (The trick isn’t wholly new; Terenzio da Urbino, a 17th-century conman, scrabbled around for filthy old canvases and frames, cleaned them up, and turned them into ‘Raphaels’.)”

A Birth Plan for Dying.  Longreads.  “River’s birth was scheduled for September 26. She would be born in the same hospital where I had given birth to our daughter, whom I’ll call M, two years before. The staff were ready for us. A kind nurse checked us in at noon and led us to a delivery room with a small sign on the door — a leaf with droplets of water that looked like tears. It’s a secret code. It alerts everyone who comes in the room that your baby is going to die, so people don’t accidentally congratulate you for being there.”

Migration is What You Make It: Seven Policy Decisions that Turned Challenges Into Opportunities.  Center for Global Development.  “No case study or academic paper can—ever—spell out what ‘the’ effect of ‘immigration’ is. Asking this question has as little use as asking whether “taxes” are inherently “good” or “bad.” The answer depends on what is taxed and what the revenue is spent on. Those choices make the policy harmful or beneficial. The same is true of migration. But the world’s wealth of experience in regulating migration can still be a useful resource for setting better policy. We must ask a more fruitful question: how can different policy choices generate positive economic effects from immigration and avoid negative ones? Immigration is not inherently ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Its effects depend on the context and the policy choices that shape it.

What I’m reading for December 2018

Cross-posted from my Africa Update newsletter.  We’ve got positive masculinity in Mali, the triple-taxed business owners of Somalia, a bridge on the River Congo, the perils of not participating in the census in Kenya, and more.

christmas

Musical interlude courtesy of Laura Seay

West Africa: An innovative community counseling project has reduced rates of intimate partner violence in some towns in Ghana.  Mali, Togo, and Benin are using men’s clubs to promote ideas about positive, non-violent masculinity.  Here are some lessons for scaling up cash transfer programs from Burkina Faso.  This was an insightful article about Nigeria’s worsening seasonal flooding problem.

Central Africa: In Uganda, LGBT+ people are finding that rural family members can be surprisingly accepting.  Uganda is also arming local defense groups in places with a limited police presence, leading to concerns that they’ll cause more problems than they’ll prevent.  This was a good summary of how Uganda’s Museveni has managed to hang on to power for 32 years.  The Burundian government is trying to kick UNCHR out of the country after two years of refusing to work with the human rights body.  As the DRC’s elections draw nearer, dissidents who say they were tortured by Kabila’s government are speaking out.  Displaced people in eastern Congo are flocking to wartime boomtowns.  In a historic first, Kinshasa and Brazzaville are going to be linked by an AfDB-financed bridge.

East Africa: Sudan’s parliament is considering legislation that would let President Bashir, who’s already been in office since 1989, stay past the current end of his term in 2020.  In Somalia, business owners complain that they’re paying triple taxesto al Shabaab, ISIS, and the government.  New research shows that cash transfers increase recipients’ trust in local government in Tanzania.  Check out this new edited volume on post-liberation Eritrea.  South Sudan is planning to relocate thousands of citizens away from newly operational oil fields.

Graphic showing that some African countries offer visa-free entry or visas on arrival to almost all nationalities, while about 2/3 of countries require visitors to get a visa beforehand

Graph of visa openness from the AfDB, via Ken Opalo

Kenya focus: In an interesting twist on the standard narrative of multinational corporations grabbing land in Africa, Kenyan governors are trying to reclaim land from large companies as their leases expire, claiming that the British colonists didn’t have the right to sell the land in the first place.  The Africa Prisons Project helped one Kenyan inmate teach himself law behind bars and get his case overturned.  Here’s the background on the politics of welfare expansion in Kenya.  This is a remarkable piece of writing tracing the decline of one Kenyan family’s fortunes under the Moi government through the quality of their daily tea.  Kenyans who don’t want to talk to census-takers next year might face enormous fines.

Southern Africa: Malawi is considering an onerous bill for the registration of NGOs, with penalties including years in jail or fines of $20,000 for those who don’t comply.  Congrats to Shamila Batohi, who just became the first woman to serve as South Africa’s chief prosecutor.  Zambian firms are willing to pay more taxes if they actually see improvements in public services afterwards.  In Zimbabwe, urban authorities are promoting cremation as room in cemeteries runs low, but many people are concerned that their dead ancestors will be angered if they’re not buried properly.

All about museums: Belgium just re-opened its African museum, newly revamped to be less racist, but the DRC is now calling for it to return artifacts for a proposed future museum in Lubumbashi.  When Western museums try to keep African artifacts with claims that they’ll be better protected, “who are they guarding the artifacts from?”  I can’t wait to visit the Museum of African Civilizations in Dakar.

A middle-aged Haitian man in a dark suit jacket and jeans stands in front of an exhibit of his black and white abstract artwork

Haitian artist Philippe Dodard next to his work “Memory in Motion” at the Museum of African Civilizations

Public health:   In Zambia, transgender and intersex people are falsifying prescriptions for hormones and self-administering them when the formal healthcare system proves too difficult to navigate.  Community health workers in Uganda are more effective when they can cover their costs by selling basic medications on their home visits.  Access to toilets is improving in poor neighborhoods in Nairobi, but many women still don’t use them out of concerns over cost and security.  In Burkina Faso, a non-profit is helping sex workers avoid HIV by bringing confidential testing services right to the streets where they work.   Africa is the fastest-growing region for contraceptive use, likely because its baseline rates of usage remain quite low at only around 25% of sexually active women.  Rates of female genital cutting have dropped significantly in East Africa over the last two decades.

My writing: I’ve been doing more writing lately.  Check out some reflections on the politics of African archives, the economics of political transitions in autocracies, and why Nairobi banned the mini-buses which are its most popular form of transport.

Cover of a book titled "the postcolonial African state in transition," by Amy Niang

Looking forward to reading this book, via a suggestion from Robtel Neajai Pailey

Podcasts: Check out the Nairobi Ideas podcast, produced by my great team at Mawazo!  CSIS has a new “Into Africa” podcast which looks promising.  “I Have No Idea What I’m Doing” is a new podcast for East African women in business from Kali Media.

Twitter: Interesting people I’ve followed recently include Franklin Amuakwa-Mensah(Ghana), Belinda Archibong (Nigeria), Oyebola Okunogbe (Nigeria), John Tanza (S. Sudan), Sabatho Nyamsenda (Tanzania), Chitata Tavengwa (Zimbabwe), and Ismail Einashe (Horn of Africa).

Nanjala Nyabola on the political power of archives

nanjala

Last week I attended the Nairobi launch of Nanjala Nyabola‘s new book Digital Democracy, Analogue Politics.  It was one of the best public events I’ve attended since I moved to Kenya.  I could have sat there for hours listening to her discuss everything from the geography of Kenyan Twitter users to why refusing to wear heels in downtown Nairobi is a political act.   Lots of credit also to Christine Mungai, who was an excellent interviewer, and to Kali Media for organizing the event.

I arrived a bit late, and by the time I settled in the conversation had reached the topic of the political nature of archives.  One theme Nanjala kept returning to was the question of whose voices are represented in archives.  She noted that when she was doing research on the 2007 – 2008 post-electoral violence, the sources she found didn’t reflect her own memories of that period.  This is a salient example of the limited availability of Kenyan voices in archival records at all.  She found as well that many Kenyan newspapers don’t digitize their older articles, meaning that anything more than a few years old gets excluded from the digital record.

Nanjala also called attention to the physical location of African archives, many of which are held near the capitals of former colonial powers.  The archives of British East Africa, for example, are located in Oxford.  Given how difficult it is for foreign scholars to get UK visas, as well as the cost of travel, this means that large portions of African history are inaccessible to African academics.  She pointed out that many episodes of anti-colonial resistance like the 1929 Aba Women’s War in Nigeria went undiscussed by scholars until someone happened to stumble across them in the archive, raising the question of how many other key events in African history we might be missing.

All this discussion led to an eloquent summary of her desire to publish this book: “I write to hold space in the archive for people like me and the people I know.”  Writing is a way of creating an alternate archive, one which captures voices that might otherwise go unheard.  Nanjala had some excellent points about citational practices as a type of archiving, asking the reader to pay careful attention to “who’s doing the blurb on the back cover, who’s in the works cited, who’s in the theory section.”  (This point is also made very well by Cite Black Women.)  She also praised the work done by organizations like The Elephant, Bright Magazine, and Popula to provide space for longform writing from African authors, which is generally lacking on the continent.

I came away incredibly impressed by the clear amount of thought and research which had gone into this book.  I really can’t wait to read it!  Digital Democracy, Analogue Politics is available now at Prestige Bookshop in Nairobi or via Amazon.

Links I liked

Here’s the latest cross-posting from my Africa Update newsletter!  We’ve got the paradox of powdered milk in cattle-loving Somalia, the national airline of Chad, challenges of urban planning in Kenya, free African documentaries online, and more.

Tweet from Samira Sawlani: "There's really no such thing as the voiceless.  There are only the deliberately silence, or the preferably unheard" - Arundhati Roy
Thought of the day, via Samira Sawlani

West Africa: Because Dakar lacks public space, kids play on the beaches, despite a high risk of drowning in the strong Atlantic currents.  Stereotypes about single women in Nigeria make it difficult for them to rent apartments on their own.  “Many Nigerian small businesses are products of ‘necessity entrepreneurship’ and therefore would not exist if there were more large-scale employers offering better salaries.”  This was a thought-provoking article about why former combatants in Côte d’Ivoire generally refrained from going to work as mercenaries in Mali.

Central Africa: There’s a large Congolese refugee population in Kenya, but they lack access to support since they usually stay in Nairobi rather than in designated camps.  An activist group in the DRC has launched an online portal to track the quality of election implementation.  Kabila has finally named his successor in the DRC’s presidential race, but there’s little reason to expect that this will change the quality of governance.  The competitiveness of elections is limited by the fact that all Congolese presidential candidates must pay US$100,000 to get onto the ballot.  Lisez cet article : « Au Rwanda, la transformation agricole à marche forcée. »  Chad is launching a new national airline, which is clearly the most important priority for a poor, conflict-prone country.

Chart showing infrastructure funding flows from various sources to Africa
Interesting chart on fragmented flows of infrastructure funding, via Africa Visual Data

East Africa: Read about the informal courts maintaining order in IDP camps in South Sudan.  Over 40,000 Kenyans have been denied compensation for alleged torture during the colonial era after a British judge said their case exceeded the statute of limitations.  Kenyan activist groups are repurposing famous dates from the democracy struggle to call attention to extrajudicial killings.  This is a great story about the challenges of setting up Kenya’s first domestic athletic shoe brand.  Nairobi tried to get its private buses to go cashless, but they failed to get buy-in from an obvious constituency: the drivers.  Many Somalis drink powdered milk instead of fresh because a lack of regulation makes fresh milk dangerous, but one dairy is trying to change that.  Deaf footballers in Somalia have set up their own league after being blocked from joining existing leagues.  This was an interesting piece about path dependence and the end of sanctions in Sudan, where people who are accustomed to working outside the formal banking system are reluctant to re-engage with it.

Southern Africa: In Botswana, a new antiretroviral drug could save the lives of HIV patients, but there are concerns about whether it may lead to birth defects, since pregnant women are rarely included in studies of drug safety.  The Magamba Network offers regular polling data on citizen sentiment in Zimbabwe.

Two maps showing the distribution of development aid to Africa, from the World Bank and from China
Map interlude: check out Tilman Graff’s work on the locations of aid projects across Africa

Urban planning in Kenya: Residents of poor areas in Nairobi are mapping their neighborhoods to make it more difficult for the government to demolish them and then claim they don’t have records of who lived there.  Kibera residents are also speaking out against the “poverty tourism” which brings foreign visitors to their neighborhoods to gawk at them.  Kenya’s president has a plan to build social housing, but one critic points out that the mortgage rates are still out of reach for most people who really need access to better living conditions.  Buildings in Nairobi are being demolished for encroaching on rivers, but some commentators are asking how the demolitions will meet the city’s broader mission of urban regeneration.

Infrastructure week: Kenya and Ethiopia are close to completing construction for cross-border electricity transmission, in a step towards creating a regional power pool.  Foreign architects are accused of building schools for form rather than function in Nairobi.  The perils of distributive politics are clear in Uganda, where a politician destroyed boreholes he had installed in his constituency after he lost an election.  In Kampala, race-based restrictions on housing from the colonial era are still visible in the build environment today.

electricity
Great chart on electricity generation from Africa Visual Data

Arts and culture: A Beninese artist planted a copy of a 19th century royal throne at an archaeological dig to protest the fact that the original throne is held at a museum in France.  A dozen authors from the Middle East and Africa who were invited to the Edinburgh International Book Festival had their visas denied for unclear reasons.  AfriDocs has a number of African documentaries available to watch online for free.  Check out the online resources for teaching African decolonization at the National History Center.

Fellowships and workshops: The Women for Africa Foundation offers visiting positions at Spanish centers of excellence in science for female researchers from Africa.  If you’re a writer in Nairobi, don’t miss this great writing workshop being offered by Nanjala Nyabola and others on August 28.  Journalists should apply for the African Investigative Journalism Conference from October 29 – 31.

Tea and linguistic globalization

tea-map1

Quartz recently produced a fascinating article which spoke to all of my longstanding interests in linguistics, maps, and tea.  As they note:

The map demonstrates two different eras of globalization in action: the millenia-old overland spread of goods and ideas westward from ancient China, and the 400-year-old influence of Asian culture on the seafaring Europeans of the age of exploration.