Interesting academic articles for March 2020

Here are some of the things I’ve found interesting in the last month!  Happily, none of it’s on coronavirus, and probably won’t be for a while.  The types of large, experimental studies or deeply historically grounded studies which interest me don’t have very rapid turnaround times.

Rachel Sweet.  2020.  “Bureaucrats at war: The resilient state in the Congo.”  African Affairs.  

Rebels often portray themselves as state-like to legitimize their rule, yet little is known about their on-the-ground relations with the administrators of state power—official bureaucrats. Drawing on internal armed group records from the Democratic Republic of Congo, this article argues that rebels’ state-like image is more than a simple veneer: Bureaucrats actively sustain state institutions and recruit rebel support during war. It develops a theory of the sources of leverage that bureaucrats use to negotiate with rebels. These interactions entail dual struggles to sustain the structures and symbols of state power and to shape the distribution of control over these institutions during war. On first front, bureaucrats can use their official status to market the symbols of state legitimacy—official certificates, codes, and paperwork—to rebels. On a second, to recruit protection for administrative posts. Pre-existing routines of noncompliance, like parallel taxes and sabotaged information, can use bureaucratic discretion and opacity to limit rebels’ takeover of state structures. This view from the ground demonstrates the real-time continuity of bureaucratic practice through daily paperwork and exchange during war. It contributes to research on rebel governance by illustrating new competitions for wartime statehood and illustrates the empirical practices of states seen as ‘juridical’ or weak.

Jeremy Bowles, Horacio Larreguy, and Shelley Liu.  2020.  “How Weakly Institutionalized Parties Monitor Brokers in Developing Democracies: Evidence from Postconflict Liberia.”  American Journal of Political Science

Political parties in sub‐Saharan Africa’s developing democracies are often considered to lack sufficiently sophisticated machines to monitor and incentivize their political brokers. We challenge this view by arguing that the decentralized pyramidal structure of their machines allows them to engage in broker monitoring and incentivizing to mobilize voters, which ultimately improves their electoral performance. This capacity is concentrated (a) among incumbent parties with greater access to resources and (b) where the scope for turnout buying is higher due to the higher costs of voting. Using postwar Liberia to test our argument, we combine rich administrative data with exogenous variation in parties’ ability to monitor their brokers. We show that brokers mobilize voters en masse to signal effort, that increased monitoring ability improves the incumbent party’s electoral performance, and that this is particularly so in precincts in which voters must travel farther to vote and thus turnout buying opportunities are greater.

Darin ChristensenOeindrila DubeJohannes Haushofer, Bilal Siddiqi and Maarten Voors.  2020.  “Building Resilient Health Systems: Experimental Evidence from Sierra Leone and the 2014 Ebola Outbreak.”  Center for Global Development working paper no. 526.

Developing countries are characterized by high rates of mortality and morbidity. A potential contributing factor is the low utilization of health systems, stemming from the low perceived quality of care delivered by health personnel. This factor may be especially critical during crises, when individuals choose whether to cooperate with response efforts and frontline health personnel. We experimentally examine efforts aimed at improving health worker performance in the context of the 2014–15 West African Ebola crisis. Roughly two years before the outbreak in Sierra Leone, we randomly assigned two social accountability interventions to government-run health clinics—one focused on community monitoring and the other gave status awards to clinic staff. We find that over the medium run, prior to the Ebola crisis, both interventions led to improvements in utilization of clinics and patient satisfaction. In addition, child health outcomes improved substantially in the catchment areas of community monitoring clinics. During the crisis, the interventions also led to higher reported Ebola cases, as well as lower mortality from Ebola—particularly in areas with community monitoring clinics. We explore three potential mechanisms: the interventions (1) increased the likelihood that patients reported Ebola symptoms and sought care; (2) unintentionally increased Ebola incidence; or (3) improved surveillance efforts. We find evidence consistent with the first: by improving the perceived quality of care provided by clinics prior to the outbreak, the interventions likely encouraged patients to report and receive treatment. Our results suggest that social accountability interventions not only have the power to improve health systems during normal times, but can additionally make health systems resilient to crises that may emerge over the longer run.

Wei Chang, Lucía Díaz-Martin, Akshara Gopalan, Eleonora Guarnieri, Seema Jayachandran, and Claire Walsh.  2020.  “What works to enhance women’s agency: Cross-cutting lessons from experimental and quasi-experimental studies.”  J-PAL working paper.

Women’s agency continues to be limited in many contexts around the world. Much of the existing evidence synthesis focuses on one outcome or intervention type, bracketing the complex, overlapping manner in which agency takes shape. This review adopts a cross-cutting approach to analyzing evidence across different domains and outcomes of women’s agency and focuses on understanding the mechanisms that explain intervention impacts. Drawing from quantitative evidence from 160 randomized controlled trials and quasi-experiments in low- and middle-income countries, we summarize what we know about supporting women’s agency along with what needs additional research.

Tom Lavers and Sam Hickey.  2020.  “Alternative routes to the institutionalisation of social transfers in sub-Saharan Africa: Political survival strategies and transnational policy coalitions.”  Effective States in International Development working paper no. 138.

The new phase of social protection expansion in the Global South remains poorly understood. Current interpretations use problematic evidence and analysis to emphasise the influence of elections and donor pressure on the spread of social transfers in sub-Saharan Africa. We seek a more nuanced explanation, testing an alternative theoretical and methodological framework that traces the actual process through which countries have not just adopted but institutionalised social transfers. Two main pathways emerge: one involves less electorally competitive countries, where the primary motivation is elite perceptions of vulnerability in the face of distributional crises, augmented by ideas and resources from transnational policy coalitions. The other entails a primary role for transnational policy coalitions in adoption, before competitive elections and the need for visible distribution drive institutionalisation. Consequently, the latest phase of social transfer development results from the interplay of political survival strategies and transnational policy coalitions.

Karthik Muralidharan, Paul Niehaus, and Sandip Sukhtankar.  2020.  “Identity Verification Standards in Welfare Programs: Experimental Evidence from India.”  NBER working paper no. 26774. 

How should recipients of publicly-provided goods and services prove their identity in order to access these benefits? The core design challenge is managing the tradeoff between Type-II errors of inclusion (including corruption) against Type-I errors of exclusion whereby legitimate beneficiaries are denied benefits. We use a large-scale experiment randomized across 15 million beneficiaries to evaluate the effects of more stringent ID requirements based on biometric authentication on the delivery of India’s largest social protection program (subsidized food) in the state of Jharkhand. By itself, requiring biometric authentication to transact did not reduce leakage, slightly increased transaction costs for the average beneficiary, and reduced benefits received by the subset of beneficiaries who had not previously registered an ID by 10%. Subsequent reforms that made use of authenticated transaction data to determine allocations to the program coincided with large reductions in leakage, but also significant reductions in benefits received. Our results highlight that attempts to reduce corruption in welfare programs can also generate non-trivial costs in terms of exclusion and inconvenience to genuine beneficiaries.

Matteo Alpino, and Eivind Moe Hammersmark.  2020.  “The Role of Historical Christian Missions in the Location of World Bank Aid in Africa.” World Bank Policy Research working paper no. WPS 9146.  

This article documents a positive and sizable correlation between the location of historical Christian missions and the allocation of present-day World Bank aid at the grid-cell level in Africa. The correlation is robust to an extensive set of geographical and historical control variables that predict settlement of missions. The study finds no correlation with aid effectiveness, as measured by project ratings and survey-based development indicators. Mission areas display a different political aid cycle than other areas, whereby new projects are less likely to arrive in years with new presidents. Hence, political connections between mission areas and central governments could be one likely explanation for the correlation between missions and aid.

Interesting academic articles for January 2020

Here’s what I’m looking forward to reading this month!

Shelby Grossman.  2019.  “The Politics of Order in Informal Markets: Evidence from Lagos.”  World Politics.

Property rights are important for economic exchange, but in many parts of the world, they are not publicly guaranteed. Private market associations can fill this gap by providing an institutional structure to enforce agreements, but with this power comes the ability to extort from group members. Under what circumstances do private associations provide a stable environment for economic activity? The author uses survey data collected from 1,179 randomly sampled traders across 199 markets in Lagos, Nigeria, and finds that markets maintain institutions to support trade not in the absence of government, but rather in response to active government interference. The author argues that associations develop protrade policies when threatened by politicians they perceive to be predatory and when the organizations can respond with threats of their own. The latter is easier when traders are not competing with one another. To maintain this balance of power, an association will not extort; it needs trader support to maintain the credibility of its threats to mobilize against predatory politicians.

Sabrina Karim.  2020.  “Relational State Building in Areas of Limited Statehood: Experimental Evidence on the Attitudes of the Police.”  American Political Science Review.  

Under what conditions does state expansion into limited statehood areas improve perceptions of state authority? Although previous work emphasizes identity or institutional sources of state legitimacy, I argue that relationships between state agents and citizens drive positive attitude formation, because these relationships provide information and facilitate social bonds. Moreover, when state agents and citizens share demographic characteristics, perceptional effects may improve. Finally, citizens finding procedural interactions between state agents and citizens unfair may adopt negative views about the state. I test these three propositions by randomizing household visits by male or female police officers in rural Liberia. These visits facilitated relationship building, leading to improved perceptions of police; shared demographic characteristics between police and citizens did not strengthen this effect. Perceptions of unfairness in the randomization led to negative opinions about police. The results imply that relationship building between state agents and citizens is an important part of state building.

Sarah Brierley.  2019.  “Unprincipled Principals: Co-opted Bureaucrats and Corruption in Ghana.”  American Journal of Political Science.

In theory, granting politicians tools to oversee bureaucrats can reduce administrative malfeasance. In contrast, I argue that the political control of bureaucrats can increase corruption when politicians need money to fund election campaigns and face limited institutional constraints. In such contexts, politicians can leverage their discretionary powers to incentivize bureaucrats to extract rents from the state on politicians’ behalf. Using data from an original survey of bureaucrats (N = 864) across 80 randomly sampled local governments in Ghana, I show that bureaucrats are more likely to facilitate politicians’ corrupt behavior when politicians are perceived to be empowered with higher levels of discretionary control. Using qualitative data and a list experiment to demonstrate the mechanism, I show that politicians enact corruption by threatening to transfer noncompliant officers. My findings provide new evidence on the sources of public administrative deficiencies in developing countries and qualify the presumption that greater political oversight improves governance.

Raúl Sánchez de la Sierra.  2019.  “On the Origins of the State: Stationary Bandits and Taxation in Eastern Congo.”  Journal of Political Economy.

A positive demand shock for coltan, a mineral whose bulky output cannot be concealed, leads armed actors to create illicit customs and provide protection at coltan mines, where they settle as “stationary bandits.” A similar shock for gold, easy to conceal, leads to stationary bandits in the villages where income from gold is spent, where they introduce illicit mining visas, taxes, and administrations. Having a stationary bandit from a militia or the Congolese army increases welfare. These findings suggest that armed actors may create “essential functions of a state” to better expropriate, which, depending on their goals, can increase welfare.

Pedro Carneiro, Lucy Kraftman, Giacomo Mason, Lucie Moore, Imran Rasul, and Molly Scott.  2019.  The Impacts of a Multifaceted Pre-natal Intervention on Human Capital Accumulation in Early Life.”  Working paper.

We present results from a large-scale and long-term randomized control trial to evaluate an intervention targeting early life nutrition and well-being for households residing in extreme poverty in Northern Nigeria. The multifaceted intervention provides: (i) information to mothers and fathers on practices related to pregnancy and infant feeding; (ii) high-valued unconditional cash transfers to mothers, each month from pregnancy until the child turns two. We document two- and four-year impacts among 3600 pregnant women and their children. The intervention leads to large and sustained improvements in anthropometric and health outcomes for children, including an 8% reduction in stunting by endline. These impacts are partly driven by information-related channels (such as improved knowledge, practices and health behaviors of mothers towards new borns). However, the value and certain flow of cash transfers is also key: these induce labor supply responses among women, and allow them to undertake investments in livestock. These are both a source of protein rich diets for children, and generate higher earnings streams for households long after the cash transfers expire. The results show the sustainability and cost-effectiveness of scalable multifaceted pre-natal interventions in even the most challenging and food insecure economic environments.

Kanika Jha Kingra, Francis Rathinam, Tony Tyrrell, and Marie Gaarder.  2019. Social protection: a synthesis of evidence and lessons from 3ie evidence-supported impact evaluations.”  3ie working paper #34.

The paper synthesises evidence from evaluation of transfer programmes in Ecuador, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe and from public works programmes in Ethiopia and India.  [Key findings include the following.] Cash versus in-kind or food transfers and conditional versus unconditional transfers are issues of extensive debate amongst implementers of social protection programmes. Transfers can positively affect non-beneficiaries and the wider economy. Information on cost-benefit remains a gnawing gap. Analysis of gendered outcomes remains limited.

Africa Update for December 2019

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.

A mural of a colorful blue and pink face on a cement wall
Art at the Nairobi Railway Museum, via Nanjala Nyabola

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.

A graph showing the gender and national breakdown of startup founders in Africa
Women are still substantially underrepresented as start-up founders across Africa, according to Forbes

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.

Lake Malawi, with a large mountain in the background
Scenic Lake Malawi, from Kim Yi Dionne

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.

 

A portrait of a young woman on a colorful pink and purple background
I’m loving Kenyan-French artist Evans Mbugua’s colorful portraits

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.

Interesting academic articles for December 2019

Here’s what I’m looking forward to reading this month!

Portia Roelofs.  2019.  “Beyond programmatic versus patrimonial politics: contested conceptions of legitimate distribution in Nigeria.Journal of Modern African Studies.

This article argues against the long-standing instinct to read African politics in terms of programmatic versus patrimonial politics. Unlike the assumptions of much of the current quantitative literature, there are substantive political struggles that go beyond ‘public goods good, private goods bad’. Scholarly framings serve to obscure the essentially contested nature of what counts as legitimate distribution. This article uses the recent political history of the Lagos Model in southwest Nigeria to show that the idea of patrimonial versus programmatic politics does not stand outside of politics but is in itself a politically constructed distinction. In adopting it a priori as scholars we commit ourselves to seeing the world through the eyes of a specific, often elite, constituency that makes up only part of the rich landscape of normative political contestation in Nigeria. Finally, the example of a large-scale empowerment scheme in Oyo State shows the complexity of politicians’ attempts to render distribution legitimate to different audiences at once.

Amanda Lea Robinson and Jessica Gottlieb.  2019.  “How to Close the Gender Gap in Political Participation: Lessons from Matrilineal Societies in Africa.”  British Journal of Political Science.

While gender gaps in political participation are pervasive, especially in developing countries, this study provides systematic evidence of one cultural practice that closes this gap. Using data from across Africa, this article shows that matrilineality – tracing kinship through the female line – is robustly associated with closing the gender gap in political participation. It then uses this practice as a lens through which to draw more general inferences. Exploiting quantitative and qualitative data from Malawi, the authors demonstrate that matrilineality’s success in improving outcomes for women lies in its ability to sustain more progressive norms about the role of women in society. It sets individual expectations about the gendered beliefs and behaviors of other households in the community, and in a predictable way through the intergenerational transmission of the practice. The study tests and finds evidence against two competing explanations: that matrilineality works through its conferral of material resources alone, or by increasing education for girls.

Rebecca Holmes, Nicola Jones and Pilar Domingo.  2019.  “The Politics of Gender-Responsive Social Protection.”  Overseas Development Institute.  Working paper #568.

Social protection coverage for women of working age, and for children and adolescents – especially in Africa, Asia and the Pacific – has improved over the past two decades but nevertheless remains limited.  A gendered political economy analysis approach can help us to understand why and how progress has (or has not) been made in promoting gender equality objectives in social protection design, implementation and outcomes, and to identify entry points for priority action.  Such an analysis requires us to explore the range of factors that affect decisions around resource allocation, legal change and policy formulation. We have focused on the ‘three I’s’ (Rosendorff, 2005) – the institutions (formal and informal), the interests of key actors, and the ideas framing social protection strategies and programmes. While each context is different, progress in advancing gender-responsive social protection is more likely where: (1) there is a combination of pro-poor and inclusive national government institutions and influential political elites championing gender-responsive social protection; (2) advocates influence informal decision-making arenas and sub-national political institutions; (3) there is a broad coalition of skilled and resourced actors; and (4) the framing of social protection goes beyond seeing women as mothers and carers and instead as recipients of social protection in their own right.

Richard Sedlmayr, Anuj Shah, and Munshi Sulaiman.  2019. “Cash-plus: Poverty impacts of alternative transfer-based approaches.” Journal of Development Economics.

Can training and mentorship expand the economic impact of cash transfer programs, or would such extensions waste resources that recipients could allocate more impactfully by themselves? Over the course of two years, a Ugandan nonprofit organization implemented alternative poverty alleviation approaches in a randomized manner. These included an integrated graduation-style program involving cash transfers as well as extensive training and mentorship; a slightly simplified variant excluding training on savings group formation; and a radically simplified approach that monetized all intangibles and delivered cash only. Light-touch behavioral extensions involving goal-setting and plan-making were also implemented with some cash transfer recipients. We find that simplifying the integrated program tended to erode its impact.

Ken Opalo.  2019.  “The Politics of Social Protection in Africa: Public Opinion Evidence from Kenya on Cash Transfers.”  Working paper. 

The idea of poverty alleviation through unconditional cash transfers is popular among academics, the media, and policymakers. However, the widespread acceptance of this policy tool has not been accompanied by a serious consideration of its political implications. This is especially true in African states, where many cash transfer programs are donor-funded, are largely unconditional with a humanitarian bend, and have therefore eschewed overt discussions of distributive politics. Existing works overwhelmingly focus on measuring the economic impact of specific programs. This raises the question: what are the perceived causes of poverty, attitudes towards deservingness of assistance, and willingness to pay taxes to finance social protection in African states? This paper addresses these questions using a nationally-representative survey in Kenya (N = 2015). The results show that partisanship is a strong moderator of public opinion on cash transfers. While attitudes about causes of poverty and deservingness are fairly similar across party lines, co-partisanship with the incumbent president is strongly correlated with support for tax increases to finance social protection. I attribute this to partisan differences in trust in government. Cross-country analysis of spending on social protection across 35 African states corroborate the importance of politics as a driver of social protection policies. Higher levels of democracy are correlated with more spend- ing on social protection. These findings call for more research the political economy of social protection in Africa, with a focus on individual level attitudes.

Dennis Egger, Johannes Haushofer, Edward Miguel, Paul Niehaus, and Michael Walker.  2019.  “General equilibrium effects of cash transfers: experimental evidence from Kenya.”  Working paper. 

How large economic stimuli generate individual and aggregate responses is a central question in economics, but has not been studied experimentally. We provided one-time cash transfers of about USD 1000 to over 10,500 poor households across 653 randomized villages in rural Kenya. The implied fiscal shock was over 15 percent of local GDP. We find large impacts on consumption and assets for recipients. Importantly, we document large positive spillovers on non-recipient households and firms, and minimal price inflation. We estimate a local fiscal multiplier of 2.6. We interpret welfare implications through the lens of a simple household optimization framework.

Thad Dunning et al.  2019.  “Voter information campaigns and political accountability: Cumulative findings from a preregistered meta-analysis of coordinated trials.”  Science Advances.  

Voters may be unable to hold politicians to account if they lack basic information about their representatives’ performance. Civil society groups and international donors therefore advocate using voter information campaigns to improve democratic accountability. Yet, are these campaigns effective? Limited replication, measurement heterogeneity, and publication biases may undermine the reliability of published research. We implemented a new approach to cumulative learning, coordinating the design of seven randomized controlled trials to be fielded in six countries by independent research teams. Uncommon for multisite trials in the social sciences, we jointly preregistered a meta-analysis of results in advance of seeing the data. We find no evidence overall that typical, nonpartisan voter information campaigns shape voter behavior, although exploratory and subgroup analyses suggest conditions under which informational campaigns could be more effective. Such null estimated effects are too seldom published, yet they can be critical for scientific progress and cumulative, policy-relevant learning.

Alice Redfern, Martin Gould, Maryanne Chege, Sindy Li, and William Slotznick.  2019.  “Beneficiary Preferences: Findings from Kenya and Ghana.”  IDInsight. 

International development leaders frequently make complex resource allocation decisions that require weighing trade-offs between different types of good outcomes. For example, given limited resources, which should be prioritized: a program that increases household income or one that saves lives? … Prior to this study, there was a clear lack of data on how potential beneficiaries of such interventions trade-off between different outcomes. This study represents a step to fill this gap for strategic international development decision-making. We surveyed over 1,800 low-income individuals across four diverse regions in Ghana and Kenya. Three main methods were used to capture how respondents trade-off between averting deaths of individuals of different ages and increasing consumption.  … We found that respondents place a higher value on averting a death than predicted by most extrapolations from studies in high income countries (HICs).  Respondents consistently value the lives of individuals under 5 higher than individuals 5 and older, which is consistent with HIC studies but contrary to median GiveWell moral weights.

The Transfer Project.  2019.  “Beyond internal validity: Towards a broader understanding of credibility in development policy research.”  World Development.

We provide evidence from the Transfer Project to show that methodological design is only one factor in determining credibility in the eyes of policymakers. Policymakers understand concerns around internal validity, but also value collaborative research engagement, which builds trust, allows co-creation of research questions, informs operations throughout the evaluation period and leverages national research expertise. Further, the mere act of engaging in a large-scale, transparent impact evaluation, across quasi-and experimental designs can change the culture of decision-making within an agency, leading to better policy choices in the long run. We advocate for a more inclusive approach to policy research that begins with identifying the most relevant research question and fitting the methods to the question rather than vice-versa. We challenge the field to engage more closely with policymakers to identify their evidence needs in order to prioritize the end objective of improving the lives of the poor—regardless of methodological design choices

Interesting academic articles for November 2019

Here’s what I’ve been looking forward to reading lately.

Sam Hickey, Tom Lavers, Jeremy Seekings, and Miguel Niño-Zarazúa, eds.  2019. The Politics of Social Protection in Eastern and Southern Africa.  UNU-WIDER.

The Politics of Social Protection in Eastern and Southern Africa challenges the common conception that [social protection] has been entirely driven by international development agencies, instead focusing on the critical role of political dynamics within specific African countries. It details how the power and politics at multiple levels of governance shapes the extent to which political elites are committed to social protection, the form that this commitment takes, and the implications that this has for future welfare regimes and state-citizen relations in Africa. It reveals how international pressures only take hold when they become aligned with the incentives and ideas of ruling elites in particular contexts. It shows how elections, the politics of clientelism, political ideologies, and elite perceptions all play powerful roles in shaping when countries adopt social protection and at what levels, which groups receive benefits, and how programmes are delivered.

Rumman Khan, Oliver Morrissey, and Paul Mosley.  2019.  “Two Africas? Why Africa’s ‘growth miracle’ has barely reduced poverty.”  RePEc discussions papers 2019 – 08.

Growth improved substantially in most countries in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) since 1990, but poverty in SSA as a whole has fallen by about a third, compared to by half or more in other developing regions. While some countries have had little or no success in reducing poverty, many have had significant achievements. The paper argues that inter-country differences, traceable to colonial experience, are crucial to understanding this varied SSA performance. This is based on a distinction between relatively labour-intensive ‘smallholder’ colonial economies and capital-intensive ‘extractive economies’ exporting minerals and plantation crops. Because of the more equitable income distribution and African political inclusion generated in smallholder economies, at independence they were in a better position than extractive economies to translate growth into poverty reduction. Since the 1990s (when poverty data are available) the distinction in terms of poverty reduction can be observed. The empirical analysis estimates the growth elasticity of poverty using various specifications, some including inequality. There are two key robust findings: i) smallholder economies significantly outperform extractive economies in poverty reduction; and ii) growth rates do not differ on average between the two groups, but the growth elasticity of poverty is higher in smallholder economies.

Michael Clemens, Helen Dempster, and Kate Gough.  2019.  “Promoting New Kinds of Legal Labour Migration Pathways Between Europe and Africa.”  Center for Global Development.

As Europe’s working-age population continues to decline, sub-Saharan Africa’s is rapidly increasing. Many of these new labour market entrants will seek opportunities in Europe, plugging skill gaps and contributing to economies in their countries of destination. To make the most of these movements, the new European Commission should create and promote new kinds of legal labour migration pathways with more tangible benefits to countries of origin and destination; pilot and scale Global Skill Partnership projects between Europe and sub-Saharan Africa and within Africa; and be a positive voice for migration within Europe, promoting the benefits from migration and ensuring they are understood.

Sohela Nazneen.  2019.  “How Do Leaders Collectively Influence Institutions?”  Developmental Leadership Program.  

How do leaders collectively influence institutions? This question lies at the heart of understanding how actors influence positive change. Social scientists have attempted to answer it from different perspectives. Broadly, these either emphasise the role of actors (both the individual leader and collective bodies) and how they act and what strategies they use, or focus more on how structures and institutions (i.e. rules of the game) define contextual boundaries and create specific opportunities and incentives for actors to behave in specific ways. These two perspectives reveal important aspects of how and why actors engage in collective processes of change. However … unpacking how leaders and coalitions engage in collective processes of change requires a deeper and nuanced understanding of what factors and conditions influence the decisions taken and strategies used by leaders and coalitions at different stages along the lifecycle of reform. Collective processes of change have three interlinked stages: 1) collective formation—when leaders focus on forming collectives and maintaining group cohesion; 2) legitimation—when leaders and coalitions are concerned with framing and justifying their demands and strengthening their position to make claims; and 3) securing institutional change—when the focus is on using different strategies to negotiate an outcome for the constituencies they claim to represent.

Rajeev Dehejia, Cristian Pop-Eleches, and Cyrus Samii.  2019.  “From Local to Global: External Validity in a Fertility Natural Experiment.”  NBER working paper 21459.

We study issues related to external validity for treatment effects using over 100 replications of the Angrist and Evans (1998) natural experiment on the effects of sibling sex composition on fertility and labor supply. The replications are based on census data from around the world going back to 1960. We decompose sources of error in predicting treatment effects in external contexts in terms of macro and micro sources of variation. In our empirical setting, we find that macro covariates dominate over micro covariates for reducing errors in predicting treatments, an issue that past studies of external validity have been unable to evaluate. We develop methods for two applications to evidence-based decision-making, including determining where to locate an experiment and whether policy-makers should commission new experiments or rely on an existing evidence base for making a policy decision.

Caitlin Tulloch.  2019.  “Taking intervention costs seriously: a new, old toolbox for inference about costs.”  Journal of Development Effectiveness.

This paper examines a new set of average cost data from a large international NGO, finding that costs for the same intervention can vary as much as twenty times when scale or context is changed. Despite this challenge to the generalisability of cost estimates, a high proportion of the variation can be explained by observable program and contextual characteristics. Binary questions about whether cost estimates are externally valid do not provide a useful framework for wider inference; instead, researchers can gain analytical traction if they study what factors cause the costs of specific interventions to change, and by how much.

Fall 2019 conference updates

Here are some of the interesting papers I saw at this fall’s recent conferences.APSA-Logo-2015Carl Müller-Crepon.  “State Reach and Development in Africa, 1965-2015.

The colonial making of African states’ geographies has limited their reach and caused currently low levels of development on the continent. However prominent this argument, no comprehensive data on local state reach and its evolution exists to date. This limits our understanding of the impact of changes in state reach on local development. I measure African states’ reach with travel times from cells on a continuous grid to their administrative capitals. Travel times are computed on the basis of a time-varying digital atlas of roads and national and regional governance units (1965–2015). With these data, I estimate the effect of changes in state reach on local education and infant mortality rates. Within the same location, both improve as travel times to its capitals, in particular the national capital, decrease. Coupled with simulations of counterfactual administrative geographies, the results show that the design of colonial borders and capitals curbed development, in particular in densely populated areas that are currently far away from their capitals.

Melanie Phillips, Leonardo Arriola, Danny Choi, Justine Davis, and Lise Rakner. “The Silent Crisis: Attitudes of Political Elites Toward Abortion in Zambia.”

Legal frameworks are recognized as vital for securing the right to health, however, the relationship between the law and access to safe abortion services is complex. Zambia’s Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1972 permits pregnancy termination on health and other socio-economic grounds. Despite this relatively permissive environment, safe abortion services are not widely available in Zambia, forcing many women to seek unsafe abortions. While the study of abortion is extensive and touches many aspects of social science, little quantitative work has been done in Africa on one of the few actors that can influence abortion legally, culturally, and economically: members of the national and local legislatures. Therefore, in order to understand the disconnect between the liberal abortion policy in the law and the reality of unsafe abortions on the ground, we investigate the overall policy preferences and attitudes towards abortion among candidates for political office. Further, we test the malleability of these preferences in the face of different framings. The main finding presented in this paper is that women candidates are significantly different from men in favoring more liberal abortion policy. This finding is supported by results of a survey experiment that we conducted on political candidates at both the ward and parliamentary level in Zambia. The survey was in the field from March to June 2017 and the final sample was 429 ward candidates and 219 parliamentary candidates. The survey experiment used a vignette design, in addition to a series of descriptive questions, in order to understand how the framing of abortion can affect opinions on liberalizing abortion policies in the country. This finding further emphasizes the importance of increasing the number of women in political office, as they are more likely to promote liberal abortion policy and overall acceptance that may work to remedy the disconnect between the law and reality.

Caroline Brandt. “Divide and Conquer: Exclusive Peace Agreements in Multiparty Conflicts.

Present scholarship dichotomizes rebel group behavior as either at peace or in conflict with the state, obscuring a wide range of possible conflict and post-conflict relationships between governments and insurgent groups. Scholarship on rebel against rebel violence often prematurely truncates the window of observation as groups exit datasets once a rebel group ceases armed conflict against the state. My research shows how the formal integration of rebel groups into the armed forces provides clarity and commitment devises that facilitate rebel groups joining in offensives against the remaining insurgent threat. How combatants are integrated into the military also influences whether rebels join in counterinsurgency activity. Combatants are most likely to attack other insurgent groups when rebel groups are integrated into the armed forces but allowed to maintain their original organizational structure by serving in separate military units.

David Peyton. “The Politics of Property Defense in Eastern Congo’s Urban Centers.”

Conflict has driven urban growth and produced some of Sub-Saharan Africa’s most dynamic real estate markets. Over the course of the Congo Wars (1996-1997 and 1998-2003) and subsequent insurgencies (2003-present), eastern Congo’s urban populations and built environments increased dramatically. In this environment of demographic and spatial augmentation, property owners faced complex and often difficult choices about defending an increasingly valuable asset: urban real estate. This paper looks at the diversity of property protection strategies that emerged during this period of uncertainty and the primary causes of variation between them. In particular, it assesses the extent to which property owners solicited support from civic associations to guard against expropriation. Why did some property owners use the support of religious networks, ethnic associations, and neighborhood groups to secure their land rights and settle disputes, while others sought to work through the state’s land tenure apparatus? Based on interview and focus group data collected in eastern Congo, this paper argues that property protection strategies provide important clues about how conflict-affected populations cope with insecurity and advance their micro-level economic interests. These interactions shape the de facto institutional environment and, importantly, condition the population’s embrace or avoidance of the local state.

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Alesha Porisky. “The state at the margins: The impact of cash transfer programmes on citizen-state relations in rural Kenya and Tanzania.”

Similar cash transfer programmes have had profoundly different effects on the perception and practice of citizenship as a result of divergent post-colonial nation-building strategies in Kenya and Tanzania. In Tanzania, the post-colonial nation-building project constructed a cohesive national identity and made possible a cohesive and duty-based conception of citizenship that is deeply rooted in perceptions of a singular national community and norms of reciprocity. The introduction of means-tested cash transfer programmes in Tanzania, then, did not challenge commonly-held understandings of citizenship and of the state’s role vis-à-vis the citizen. In contrast, in Kenya, the post-colonial era was marked by the distribution of state resources through patronage networks, exclusionary economic and political policies that discriminated based on ethnicity and an absence of a central unifying nation-building project. This fostered an exclusive, entitlement-based conception of citizenship, which is directly tied to the individual and their relationship to various patrons. The introduction of cash transfer programmes, which are distributed based on need rather than patronage, has led to a gradual reconceptualization of citizenship towards one rooted in reciprocal rights and duties.

Niheer Dasandi, Ed Laws, Heather Marquette, and Mark Robinson. “What Does the Evidence Tell Us about ‘Thinking and Working Politically’ in Development Assistance?

This article provides a critical review of the evidence on ‘thinking and working politically’ (TWP) in development. Scholars and practitioners have increasingly recognised that development is a fundamentally political process, and there are concerted efforts underway to develop more politically-informed and adaptive ways of thinking and working in providing development assistance. However, while there are interesting and engaging case studies in the emerging, largely practitioner-based literature, these do not yet constitute a strong evidence base that shows these efforts can be clearly linked to more effective aid programming. Much of the evidence used so far to support these approaches is anecdotal, does not meet high standards for a robust body of evidence, is not comparative and draws on a small number of self-selected, relatively well-known success stories written primarily by programme insiders. The article discusses the factors identified in the TWP literature that are said to enable politically-informed programmes to increase aid effectiveness. It then looks at the state of the evidence on TWP in three areas: political context, sector, and organisation. The aim is to show where research efforts have been targeted so far and to provide guidance on where the field might focus next. In the final section, the article outlines some ways of testing the core assumptions of the TWP agenda more thoroughly, to provide a clearer sense of the contribution it can make to aid effectiveness.

Nabila Idris. “The politics of excluding labour from Bangladesh’s social protection design.”  

[This one isn’t online yet, but it was a fascinating discussion about how many MPs in Bangladesh are business owners, and pushed to exclude workers from access to social safety nets, which would reduce their power over the workers.]

The logo of the African Studies Association of Africa, showing the continent with a rainbow of colors through it

Robtel Neajai Pailey. “Decolonising Africa and African Studies Must Go Hand in Hand.”

The problem with this 21st-century “scholarly decolonial turn” is that it remains largely detached from the day-to-day dilemmas of people in formerly colonised spaces and places…  “Epistemic decolonisation” cannot succeed unless it is bound to and supportive of contemporary liberation struggles against inequality, racism, austerity, patriarchy, autocracy, homophobia, xenophobia, ecological damage, militarisation, impunity, corruption, media muzzling and land grabbing.

Linet Juma. “‘Data for Development’: Querying the role of Open Data in Kenya’s National Development.”

[This isn’t online yet, but it was a very interesting discussion about the state of open data in Kenya, based on research done by the Local Development Research Institute in Nairobi.  Check out more of their work on gender and open data in Africa, and the state of open data in Kenya.]