[They Were Us] collects the stories of people who lost the ones they loved most to police killings. The book, which features photographs by Betty Press and interviews translated and edited by Wyban Kanyi, maps out the reality that those left behind by extrajudicial killings, police brutality, and enforced disappearances face: that the burden of demanding justice—collecting evidence, protecting witnesses, finding lawyers, paying hospital bills—ultimately falls on the friends and families of the murdered or survivors of violence themselves.
After a bit of a blogging hiatus, I’m back! Here are the recent articles that I’m looking forward to reading.
James Habyarimana, Ken Ochieng’ Opalo, and Youdi Schipper. 2020. “The Cyclical Electoral Impacts of Programmatic Policies: Evidence from Education Reforms in Tanzania.” RISE Programme working paper 20/051.
A large literature documents the electoral benefits of clientelistic and programmatic policies in low-income states. We extend this literature by showing the cyclical electoral responses to a large programmatic intervention to expand access to secondary education in Tanzania over multiple electoral periods. Using a difference-in- difference approach, we find that the incumbent party’s vote share increased by 2 percentage points in the election following the policy’s announcement as a campaign promise (2005), but decreased by -1.4 percentage points in the election following implementation (2010). We find no discernible electoral impact of the policy in 2015, two electoral cycles later. We attribute the electoral penalty in 2010 to how the secondary school expansion policy was implemented. Our findings shed light on the temporally-contingent electoral impacts of programmatic policies, and highlight the need for more research on how policy implementation structures public opinion and vote choice in low-income states.
Alesha Porisky. 2020. “The distributional politics of social transfers in Kenya.” Effective States in International Development working paper no. 155.
This paper examines the politics of distributing social transfers across four diverse counties in Kenya – Homa Bay, Marsabit, Nakuru and Nyeri – with a focus on three of the nationwide social transfer programmes: the Cash Transfer for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (CT-OVC); the Older Persons Cash Transfer Programme (OPCT); and the Inua Jamii Pension. The paper presents two key findings. First, it finds that state infrastructural power plays a central role in mediating the implementation of social transfer programmes. Where state infrastructural power is high, formal programme guidelines tend to be closely followed. However, where state infrastructural power is low, bureaucrats compensate by relying on local authorities – including administrative chiefs, village elders and clan leaders – to assist with programme functions that are outside of their formal roles within the social transfer programmes. Second, the paper finds that there is less political interference in the local distribution of social transfers than the extant literature predicts. Strong formal programme rules and guidelines, combined with significant central oversight over programme implementation, limit the influence that local politicians have over the distribution of social transfer programme benefits.
Sudhanshu Handa, David Seidenfeld and Gelson Tembo. 2020. “The Impact of a Large-Scale Poverty-Targeted Cash Transfer Program on Intertemporal Choice.” Economic Development and Cultural Change.
We use a social experiment to test whether the government of Zambia’s cash transfer program affects intertemporal choice. A cash transfer program may also alter expectations about future quality of life and make one happier, two conditions that can affect intertemporal decision-making and the desire to invest in the future. We find that the program affects time discounting and that psychological states are also strongly associated with time discounting, but psychological states do not mediate the effect of the cash transfer on time discounting.
Noam Angrist, Peter Bergman, Caton Brewster, and Moitshepi Matsheng. 2020. “Stemming Learning Loss During the Pandemic: A Rapid Randomized Trial of a Low-Tech Intervention in Botswana.” CSAE working paper WPS/2020-13.
The COVID-19 pandemic has closed schools for over 1.6 billion children, with potentially long- term consequences. This paper provides some of the first experimental evidence on strategies to minimize the fallout of the pandemic on education outcomes. We evaluate two low-technology interventions to substitute schooling during this period: SMS text messages and direct phone calls. We conduct a rapid trial in Botswana to inform real-time policy responses collecting data at four- to six-week intervals. We present results from the first wave. We find early evidence that both interventions result in cost-effective learning gains of 0.16 to 0.29 standard deviations. This trans- lates to a reduction in innumeracy of up to 52 percent. We show these results broadly hold with a series of robustness tests that account for differential attrition. We find increased parental engagement in their child’s education and more accurate parent perceptions of their child’s learning. In a second wave of the trial, we provide targeted instruction, customizing text messages to the child’s learning level using data from the first wave. The low-tech interventions tested have immediate policy relevance and could have long-run implications for the role of technology and parents as substitutes or complements to the traditional education system.
Andrew Agyei-Holmes, Niklas Buehren, Markus Goldstein, Robert Osei, Isaac Osei-Akoto, and Christopher Udry. 2020. “The Effects of Land Title Registration on Tenure Security, Investment and the Allocation of Productive Resources: Evidence from Ghana.” World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 9376.
Smallholder farmers’ investment decisions and the efficiency of resource allocation depend on the security of land tenure. This paper develops a simple model that captures essential institutional features of rural land markets in Ghana, including the dependence of future rights over land on current cultivation and land rental decisions. The model predictions guide the evaluation of a pilot land titling intervention that took place in an urbanizing area located in the Central Region of Ghana. The evaluation is based on a regression discontinuity design combined with three rounds of household survey data collected over a period of six years. The analysis finds strong markers for the program’s success in registering land in the targeted program area. However, land registration does not translate into agricultural investments or increased credit taking. Instead, treated households decrease their amount of agricultural labor, accompanied by only a small reduction of agricultural production and no changes in productivity. In line with this result, households decrease their landholdings amid a surge in land valuations. The analysis uncovers important within-household differences in how women and men respond differentially to the program. There appears to be a general shift to nonfarm economic activities, and women’s business profits increased considerably.
Nico Ravanilla, Dotan Haim, and Allen Hicken. 2020. “Brokers, Social Networks, Reciprocity, and Clientelism.” Working paper.
Although canonical models of clientelism argue that brokers use dense social networks to monitor and enforce vote buying, recent evidence suggests that brokers can instead target intrinsically reciprocal voters and reduce the need for active monitoring
and enforcement. Combining a trove of survey data on brokers and voters in the Philippines with an experiment-based measure of reciprocity, and relying on local naming conventions to build social networks, we demonstrate that brokers employ both strategies conditional on the underlying social network structure. We show that brokers are chosen for their central position in networks and are knowledgeable about voters, including their reciprocity levels. We then show that, where village social networks are dense, brokers prefer to target voters that have many ties in the network because their votes are easiest to monitor. Where networks are sparse, brokers target intrinsically reciprocal voters whose behavior they need not monitor.
Elena Gadjanova. 2020. “Status-quo or Grievance Coalitions: The Logic of Cross-ethnic Campaign Appeals in Africa’s Highly Diverse States.” Comparative Political Studies.
This paper explains how presidential candidates in Africa’s highly diverse states appeal across ethnic lines when ethnic identities are salient, but broader support is needed to win elections. I argue that election campaigns are much more bottom-up and salience-oriented than current theories allow and draw on the analysis of custom data of campaign appeals in Ghana, Kenya, and Uganda, as well as interviews with party strategists and campaign operatives in Ghana and Kenya to demonstrate clear patterns in presidential candidates’ cross-ethnic outreach. Where ethnic salience is high, incumbents offer material incentives and targeted transfers to placate supporters, challengers fan grievances to split incumbents’ coalitions, and also-rans stress unity and valence issues in the hope of joining the winner. The research contributes to our understanding of parties’ mobilization strategies in Africa and further clarifies where and how ethnic divisions are politicized in elections in plural societies.
Obie Porteous. 2020. “Research Deserts and Oases: Evidence from 27 Thousand Economics Journal Articles on Africa.” Working paper.
The first two decades of the 21st century have seen an increasing number of peer- reviewed journal articles on the 54 countries of Africa by both African and non-African economists. I document that the distribution of research across African countries is highly uneven: 45% of all economics journal articles and 65% of articles in the top five economics journals are about five countries accounting for just 16% of the continent’s population. I show that 91% of the variation in the number of articles across countries can be explained by a peacefulness index, the number of international tourist arrivals, having English as an official language, and population. The majority of research is context-specific, so the continued lack of research on many African countries means that the evidence base for local policy-makers is much smaller in these countries.
Like those in many African countries, Nigeria’s prisons are severely overcrowded. This is due in large part to the glacial slowness with which cases proceed through the courts. It’s not common for prisoners to spend so much time awaiting trial that they’ve already exceeded the maximum possible sentence for their offense before their case is ever heard.
In Nigeria, judge Ishaq Usman Bello is confronting this issue. He’s leading a presidential commission on prison decongestion, and makes a point of regularly visiting the prisons in his jurisdiction so he doesn’t lose touch with the conditions there. The Guardian notes that his interventions have personally freed over 3800 prisoners, or about 5% of Nigeria’s entire population.
As the article notes,
Remand inmates make up about 69% of Nigeria’s prison population. While this is not high compared to many western countries, the length of time they spend awaiting trial is. In prisons where this data is available, most defendants have been on remand for between one and four years, some for more than a decade.
“In Rivers State, 14 people were awaiting trial for 15 years. Not one day were they taken to court,” Justice Bello told the Guardian, shaking his head. “We had to release them.”
Because there is no systematic way to monitor cases, defendants may simply be forgotten in prison. Data collected by the legal aid organisation, Network of University Legal Aid Institutions, shows that there are more than 160 cases where defendants have not been assigned a date for their next trial. “Some of them last attended court in 2017,” the network’s Charissa Kabir told me.
If you’re in Nairobi on Saturday, February 15, stop by the launch of the Mothers of Victims and Survivors network at the Mathare Social Justice Centre from 10 am – 1 pm. They’re asking for attendance as an act of solidarity. The office is next to Olympic petrol station on Juja Road, Mathare.
Some snapshots of Makala Prison, the largest detention center in Kinshasa:
- The prison currently houses 8600 inmates in a space designed for 1500 (source)
- Only 500 inmates have been convicted, while the rest are in pre-trial detention due to the exceptionally slow movement of the judicial system (source)
- Most prisoners are fed by their families. Eleven prisoners who presumably lacked family support recently starved to death after the government stopped providing food or medication from October 2019 – January 2020 (source)
- In 2017, over 4200 inmates escaped in the country’s largest-ever prison break (source)
- A number of inmates were granted presidential clemency at the end of 2018, but 80% of them opted to remain in at the prison because they would have been homeless if they left (source)
Welcome to the latest edition of Africa Update! We’ve got the competitive rollerbladers of eastern DRC, the Nairobi governor’s prison break, African women on boards, the health threats of kids’ facepaint in Uganda, and more.
West Africa: This was a wild story about a Nigerian sailor who got hijacked by pirates, forced to work for them, and then arrested for piracy himself. Older Nigerians find WhatsApp easier to use than other social media or internet platforms, but it also leaves them less able to check on false news before spreading it. The Senegal-Mali railway line has slowly been falling into ruin, with workers showing up though they haven’t been paid for nearly a year. An ECOWAS court has ruled that Sierra Leone must stop kicking pregnant students out of school.
Central Africa: Meet the competitive rollerbladers of eastern DRC. In Burundi, the president continues to consolidate his power and crack down on civic space. Qatar Airways has acquired a 60% stake in Rwanda’s planned new international airport. Agro-processing accounts for almost 70% of Uganda’s manufacturing sector, but many factories are still sitting idle.
East Africa: This piece debunks a lot of harmful stereotypes about northern Kenya. The leading Janjaweed commander in Sudan exported almost a ton of gold to Dubai in a single month in 2018. South Sudan has stopped paying civil servants but is still spending lavishly on the military and perks for MPs. Here’s some useful background on ethnic politics in Ethiopia. Somalia’s president is stacking the deck to get re-elected in 2020.
Governance in Kenya: The Kenyan Red Cross collected almost US$10 million after a 2011 famine, but a new investigation shows that most of the money never reached the victims. The governor of Nairobi is in trouble for failing to disclose that he escaped from prison in 1998. Kenya may be losing up to 1/3 of its national budget to corruption every year.
Southern Africa: In South Africa, climate change protests often discuss environmentalism as an individual responsibility rather than a need to rethink the structure of the economy. Private CCTV networks are creating a new type of racial apartheid in South Africa. This was an insightful illustrated guide to Zimbabwe’s ongoing currency crisis. In Mozambique, kids as young as four are forced to mine mica, which is used in electronics and makeup.
Human rights: A militia leader in eastern DRC was convicted of war crimes less than two years after they occurred, in an unusually rapid turnaround for the Congolese courts. On Congo’s palm oil plantations, workers are consistently being exposed to toxic chemicals. Who is policing the police in Kenya?
Politics + economics: Here’s an insightful overview of the state of judicial systems in West Africa. I’m looking forward to reading this new book on the politics of social protection in Eastern and Southern Africa. A new study shows that giving cash transfers to families in Kenya is very good for the local economy and doesn’t lead to inflation. Tullow Oil has seen its stock price crash after problems with its oil investments in Ghana, Kenya and Uganda. Jumia has pulled out of Tanzania, Cameroon and Rwanda in the last few weeks.
Environment: In northern Uganda, conflict is leading to deforestation. But are movements to plant more trees in Africa to fight climate change just a new kind of colonialism? In Ghana, fisheries observers are facing threats for reporting illegal fishing by Chinese trawlers. Read about how four African mega-cities are adapting to climate change.
Health: Most African countries still haven’t banned lead paint, leading to concerns that kids are being exposed at home and via facepainting. Burkina Faso has a controversial new plan to wipe out malaria by sterilizing mosquitos. In Zimbabwe, doctors are striking over missing medical supplies and inflation which has wiped out their salaries. Millions of unsafe abortions are performed annually in Nigeria, where the procedure is illegal in most circumstances.
Gender: TheBoardroom Africa is connecting African women with corporate and non-profit board positions. Kenya’s national homicide data doesn’t list the gender of victims, but one MA student is working to change that. Many African countries have laws which protect women and children, but don’t address the specific risks faced by young girls. These were moving ethnographic interviews with women doing sex work in Uganda.
Education: Check out this review of research on African education by scholars based in Africa. A Nigerian effort to make Igbo an official language of instruction is running into opposition from parents and students, who feel that English and Pidgin are better languages for business.
Research roundup: The latest round of Afrobarometer data is out, for all your opinion polling needs. The British Journal of Political Science has ungated a selection of articles on African politics until the end of December 2019. The Africa Science Desk has an open call for scientific journalism. What does impact evaluation capacity look like across Africa? I agree that the African Studies Association of Africa should get to be the main “African Studies Association,” and the existing ASA should be renamed “African Studies Association of America”!
Art + literature: Did you know that Nando’s is the biggest collector of South African art? Here’s a great interview with the founder of Bakwa, Cameroon’s first literary magazine. The Nigerian publisher Cassava Republic has a new grant for publishing in local African languages. Read about the history of Hausa feminist literature in Nigeria. Nairobi has a vibrant literary house party scene. Check out this open access sound archive of Nairobi.