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.

 

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).

The curious case of the missing politics

Angus Deaton, Joseph Stiglitz, and a number of other prominent economists recently published an op-ed in the Guardian taking the aid industry to task for focusing on studies of aid effectiveness rather than “[tackling] the real root causes of poverty, inequality and climate change.”  They offer the standard critiques of RCTs, including their cost and their micro-level focus, and call for systems-level thinking which evaluates public policies as a whole, rather than tinkering with them at the edges.  They argue that this will help aid agencies to engage with the “broader macroeconomic, political and institutional drivers of impoverishment and underdevelopment.”

The op-ed manages a curious feat: it suggests a range of deeply political solutions to global poverty, all while using the words “government” and “political” each only once.  The authors call for a number of commendable policies, such as public healthcare and education, robust social safety nets, and labor protection.  But building the legislative frameworks and administrative systems that would achieve these goals is the role of national governments.  Aid agencies can offer funding and technical assistance, but they ultimately have limited control over how national education or welfare systems are run.  It’s a rhetorical sleight of hand to put the statements “the aid system is ineffective” and “public service delivery in poor places is ineffective” next to each other, and use this to imply that better aid would somehow improve public service delivery without any involvement from national governments.

In places where governments are failing to provide good public services, there are complex problems of political economy underpinning this.  You’ve got countries with active conflicts, like South Sudan or the Central African Republic.  You’ve got countries where the government has really low administrative capacity, like Liberia or the DRC.  You’ve got countries with middling to high administrative capacity, like Kenya or South Africa or the US, where lots of poor citizens are seen as politically expendable and thus aren’t offered services.  It’s difficult for aid agencies to build administrative capacity and solve problems of political exclusion from the outside, because these are fundamentally questions of domestic political settlements.  The practice of thinking and working politically could result in some improvements to aid delivery, but it doesn’t solve the underlying political economy problems.

This point highlights that the “aid is ineffective because it’s overly focused on RCTs” argument is specious.  Aid agencies haven’t ended global poverty because global poverty is a really complex problem — one whose solution involves contentious, long-term processes of political reform as well as short-term flows of funding and technical assistance.  At a practical level, there’s lots of room in here for aid agencies to both engage with local political actors, and collect rigorous evidence on whether the programs that they’re promoting are working.  At best, these activities can work together, producing strong evidence of program effectiveness which can be used to lobby domestic politicians.  A great example of this comes from the spread of cash transfer programs in Latin America.  Mexico was one of the first countries in the region to launch this type of social protection program, and hired researchers to run a rigorous evaluation as well.  The results showed that program beneficiaries were healthier and more financially secure, and politicians throughout the region often relied on these findings to promote cash transfers in their own countries.  The rich body of evidence created by subsequent evaluations of these other Latin American programs has become the cornerstone of efforts by DFID and other aid agencies to encourage African governments to adopt cash transfers.  RCTs are one of many tools that can be used to do the political work of promoting policy change in low income countries; they’re not inherently a roadblock to it, or a substitute for it.

Links I liked

The photo shows a beachfront scene, framed by a window, in Durban, South AfricaThinking of this beautiful view in Durban on a rainy day here in Berkeley

The image shows a tweet from Tolu Ogunlesi, expressing admiration for the percentage of books on South Africa which are by South African authors

  • Enthusiasm for universal basic income is spreading, with new pilot projects recently announced in Scotland and Finland.  An interesting argument for the positive effects of UBI is that it already exists for the 1% in the form of capital income.

Links I liked

The cartoon shows Jacob Zuma sitting in a kiosk labeled "Black Friday," with the items for sale including "parastatals," "principles" and "prosecutors."

The Mail & Guardian‘s editorial cartoonist has been on point about Zuma lately

  • Zimbabwe is descending deeper into economic crisis as shortage of dollars have forced the reintroduction of a domestic currency.  Rudo Mudiwa writes a moving account of daily life amongst cash shortages in Harare.  For background, check out the excellent long-form essays on Zimbabwean law and politics by Alex Magaisa at The Big Saturday Read.
  • Here’s a new graphic from UNICEF addressing common myths about cash transfers. If you’re interested in learning more about social protection and welfare policy, check out the excellent short course offered by the Centre for Social Protection at the University of Sussex next June.  I attended this year, and can attest to its quality.

The image has too much text to easily summarize, but it points out that cash transfers make poor people better off, and aren't wasted.

  • Video of the week: I’m choosing to believe in Sinkane’s message of positivity in his glossy new video for “U’Huh.”  Okayafrica has a great summary of the Sudanese-American singer’s work.

North American basic income pilots in the news

Large sidewalk mural reading, "What would you do if your income were taken care of?"

(Image source)

There were two interesting developments around universal basic income schemes in north America this week.  (I’ve previously covered some other stories in this space here.)  First, the government of Ontario confirmed that it plans to launch a UBI pilot project in early 2017.  Notably, the pilot was designed by a conservative political strategist, and follows on the earlier success of a social pension program for the elderly.

[Strategist Hugh] Segal’s interest in the idea was sparked in the mid-1970s. A series of news stories documenting high rates of seniors living in poverty in the province – including one report of some resorting to eating pet food to get protein in their diets – had ramped up pressure on lawmakers to address the issue. The response was a basic income policy for seniors in the province.

The policy sent poverty rates among seniors in Ontario downwards, from the low 30s to 5%, and sparked a slew of ripple effects. “Food security went up, longevity went up, independence of the healthcare system in terms of needing long-term care, all those indicators went up,” said Segal. The program soon spread across the country.

Second, Marginal Revolution pointed to a new paper by David Price and Jae Song evaluating the Seattle-Denver Income Maintenance Experiment (SIME / DIME), which gave several thousand US families up to $25,900 in annual grants over 3 – 5 years in the 1970s.  Because of some program rules involving taxation of outside income, the average increase in an individual’s income during the treatment period was about $2400 annually.  The authors used data from the Social Security Administration to track the earnings of the experiment participants over the next 40 years.  Their findings are somewhat counterintuitive:

We find that treatment caused adults to earn an average of $1,800 less per year after the experiment ended. Most of this effect on earned income is concentrated between ages 50 and 60, suggesting that it is related to retirement. Treated adults were also 6.3 percentage points more likely to apply for disability benefits, but were not significantly more likely to receive them, or to have died. These effects on parents, however, do not appear to be passed down to their children: children in treated families experienced no significant effects in any of the main variables studied.

They find that treated adults were slightly less likely to work whilst receiving the grants, but no less likely in the period immediately after the program ended.  There’s some circumstantial evidence that the reduced lifetime earnings might have been caused by earlier retirement, although it’s also possible that time out of the labor force during the SIME / DIME program years led to lower wages afterwards.

For me, the headline point about this experiment was that it actively discouraged work effort during the program period by taxing non-grant income at marginal rates of 50% – 80%.  This is a bad design choice if you care about continued engagement with the labor market, and it’s not clear to me why the program’s designers made it.  At any rate, this is very different to most modern proposals for a universal basic income, which are intentionally not conditioned on recipients’ employment status.  If the drop in lifetime earnings was driven by time out of the labor market during the SIME / DIME program period, it should be clear that these results aren’t generalizable to UBI proposals which are employment-agnostic.  Of course, if the program lowered lifetime earnings due to early retirement instead, the concerns raised here may still be relevant.  I’m hard pressed to understand how receiving receiving an extra $2400 for 3 – 5 years in the 1970s would affect one’s retirement decisions potentially decades later, however.