Interesting articles for November 2021

Here’s what I’m looking forward to reading soon! These papers are all freely available online, and feature research on the global South by Southern researchers. (And as a special feature, don’t miss Federico Ardila-Mantilla’s excellent article on inclusive pedagogy in higher education, where he notes: “Everyone can have joyful, meaningful, and empowering academic experiences; but no single academic experience is joyful, meaningful, and empowering to everyone. How do we build academic spaces where every participant can thrive?”)

Katja Bender, Barbara Rohregger, Bethuel Kinuthia, Grace Ikua, Esther Schüring, Clement Adamba, Kennedy A. Alatinga, and Nicky Pouw. 2021. “Different pathways of social protection reforms: An analysis of long-term institutional change in Kenya.” World Development.

The potential of social protection to contribute to inclusive growth has been increasingly recognized throughout the last two decades. Social protection reforms involve comprehensive processes of long-term institutional change. Dynamics differ not only across but also within countries across social protection pillars reflecting multiple institutional trajectories and equilibria ranging from rapid and comprehensive shifts over processes of gradual change to situations of blocked reforms or reform reversals. This paper seeks to understand why reforms aiming at extending social protection coverage to the poor might differ across different pillars of social protection within the same country. Being embedded within comparative institutional analysis the paper aims at providing a systematic framework for defining and explaining variations in reform dynamics highlighting the role of uncertainty. The framework is applied to the Kenyan case. The empirical methodology employs a process tracing approach including primary and secondary data covering the time period between 2001 and 2017. The case of Kenya is one example for multiple institutional trajectories within a country: Whereas cash transfer reforms follow a pattern of cumulative incremental change, social health protection reforms reflect patterns of non-cumulative change including blocked reforms and reform reversals. The results suggest that those differences are partly explained by differences in preferences among agents or the institutional legacies within each domain. In addition, behavioral responses to uncertainty matter: Stronger information asymmetries within the cash transfer and fee waiver reform domains opened space for discretionary decisionmaking. Interpretations of the concept of social protection and complexity of ’insurance’ facilitated processes related to cash transfers whereas providing impediments to social health insurance. Lastly, the international and socio-economic context provided focal points facilitating coordination on targeted or vertical interventions such as cash transfers or fee waivers.

Esther Wangui Kimani, Sammy Gakero Gachigua, and George Mbugua Kariuki. 2021. “Restructured Citizen–Government Relationship in Kenya’s 2010 Constitution and the Right of Hawkers to the City in Nairobi.” Africa Development.

This article interrogates how various actors in the Nairobi Central Business District (CBD) space have made sense of the 2010 Constitution’s expansive provisions on socio-political and economic rights to advance hawkers’ claims to the right to the city. Using Lefebvre’s and human rights notions of the ‘right to the city’, the study finds that the Constitution has immense potential to secure the hawkers’ right to the city. However, various challenges impede efforts towards its realisation. Firstly, the 2007 no-hawking-in-the-CBD bylaw exerts inordinate influence, in practice suppressing the Constitution’s aspirations. Secondly, the City authorities’ efforts to facilitate the hawkers’ right to the city remain ambivalent or dependent on the whims of the serving governor. Thirdly, initiatives by other actors remain elitist, topdown and opaque with only the superficial involvement of hawkers. On their part, hawkers’ initiatives to claim their right to the city have suffered from fragmented leadership and individualistic self-help micro-strategies. Furthermore, hawkers have underutilised judicial activism as an avenue for challenging the constitutionality of the city bylaws banning hawking in the CBD. This strategy would potentially have provided a discursive platform to make their claim to the city the moral-legal claim envisaged by the Constitution.

Priya Manwaring and Shahrukh Wani. 2021. “Informal transport reform in Kampala: Learning from cross-country experience.” International Growth Centre.

Public transport services in Kampala city are largely made up of minibus and motorbike taxis. While the current transport sector provides a critical means of livelihood to many individuals in the city, the jobs offered are relatively low-paid and the job market is increasingly saturated. Given the limited potential for the current transportation industry to provide sustainable livelihoods for those in the sector, and the challenges presented by the sector on productivity and liveability of the city, there is a clear need for policy to better regulate transport operations. Several cities have attempted to target the informal and semi-formal transport sector to improve city-wide connectivity, ranging from outright bans to upgrading of the informal system. This brief compares four broad policy directions cities have adopted when interacting with informal transport providers and highlights key lessons to inform informal transport reform in Kampala.

Jacob Moscona and Awa Ambra Seck. 2021. “Social Structure and Redistribution: Evidence from Age vs Kin Based Organizations.” Working paper.

We document that ethnic groups’ social structure shapes patterns of economic interaction and hence the impact of public policy. Our analysis focuses on age set societies, ethnic groups comprising over 130 million people in sub-Saharan Africa in which individuals are organized into social groups based on age, known as “age sets,” that take priority over kin. Ethnographic accounts suggest that in age set societies, within-cohort economic ties are strong while inter-generational family ties are comparatively weak. First, we analyze a randomized unconditional cash transfer program in Northern Kenya and document that in age set societies, but not in kin-based societies, there are large consumption spillovers within the age cohort. Moreover, focusing on an arm of the experiment that simulates a pension program, we find that randomly increasing the income of older people improves child health and increases household education spending in kin based societies, but has no such impact in age set societies. Next, exploiting the staggered roll-out of Uganda’s social pension program, we document a similar pattern at a national scale: household exposure to the pension program has a large, positive effect on child health in kin-based societies, but no impact in age set societies. These findings highlight how local variation in social structure can lead to markedly different, yet predictable, patterns of redistribution, thereby shaping the consequences of national policies.

Abdul-Gafaru Abdulai. 2021. “Political settlement dynamics and the emergence and decline of bureaucratic pockets of effectiveness in Ghana.” Effective States in International Development working paper 173.

This paper explores the factors that shape the performance trajectories of three relatively effective public organisations in Ghana, namely, the Ministry of Finance, the Bank of Ghana and the Ghana Revenue Authority. Drawing on an original investigation of organisational performance under the various political settlements that Ghana has experienced in the past few decades, it argues that although ‘pockets of effectiveness’ can emerge under different political settlement types and dynamics, such agencies are more likely to endure in concentrated political settlements than in contexts characterised by dispersed configurations of power. The main mechanism that links Ghana’s shifting political settlement and organisational performance is the quality of organisational leadership and its relationship to the political leadership of the day. Much depends on whether organisational leaders are (a) sufficiently politically loyal to be awarded the protection required to deliver on their mandate and (b) possess the political management skills required to navigate difficult political conditions. High levels of support (both technical and financial) from international development organisations and their privileged status as key nodes of economic governance have undoubtedly helped these organisations attain high levels of performance vis-à-vis the wider public bureaucracy. Nevertheless, the fact that the performance of these agencies has waxed and waned over time, despite international support and mandates being largely constant, suggests that the key to understanding their performance lies with political economy factors, with their effectiveness regularly undermined by the increasingly dispersed nature of power within Ghana’s political settlement and the resultant vulnerability of ruling elites.

Verónica Amarante, Ronelle Burger, Grieve Chelwa, John Cockburn, Ana Kassouf, Andrew McKay, and Julieta Zurbrigg. 2021. “Underrepresentation of developing country researchers in development research.Applied Economics Letters.

We present evidence of how researchers from developing countries are represented in three areas of research: conference presentations, articles in journals, and citations. We find that the bulk of research on development and development policies in the South is conducted by researchers from the North. Southern universities represents 9% of conference presenters, while 57% of conference presenters are from Northern universities. There has been no evidence of improvements over time. Fewer than one in six of the articles published in top 20 development journals from 1990 to 2019 were by Southern researchers, while close to three-quarters were by Northern researchers. The remaining 11% were collaborations by Southern and Northern researchers. Additionally, there are also fewer citations per article for Southern-authored articles than for Northern-authored articles.

Africa Update for October 2021

The latest edition of Africa Update is out! We’ve got Africa’s 100 largest cities, debates on gun policy in Nigeria, 13 films on the queer African experience, an ambitious plan to refill Lake Chad,  and more.

West Africa: Sierra Leone has voted to abolish the death penalty. Algeria is expelling migrants from West Africa by driving them over the border with Niger and abandoning them in the desert.  New research from Ghana suggests that the West African Senior School Certificate Examinations, which determines university admissions, may vary substantially in difficulty from year to year.  Some Nigerian officials are calling for citizens to be armed in order to combat insecurity – but the experience of the US suggests that high rates of gun ownership promote violent crime and injury rather than reducing them.  In Mali, descent-based slavery remains a widespread problem. 

Sunset behind the Nairobi skyline
Sunset in Nairobi, by Sebastian Wanzalla via Samira Sawlani

Central Africa: The Congo River provides the main trade route between major cities in the DRC, but the boats that ply it are often overloaded and prone to sinking.  Learn more about Transaqua, a proposed 2400 km-long canal which would replenish Lake Chad with water from the Congo River.  “An investigative report says that Russian operatives in the Central African Republic who had been billed as unarmed advisers are actually leading the fighting.”  Don’t miss this thoughtful article on the class dynamics of Museveni’s rise to power in Uganda.

East Africa: What happened to the promise of Kenya’s smart city?  This is an insightful long read about the history of separatism and government oppression in northern Kenya.  Here’s how infighting within the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front led to the current conflict in Tigray.  “Nearly all of Ethiopia’s original trees have disappeared, but small pockets of old-growth forest still surround Ethiopia’s churches.”  Here’s a deep dive on the origins of today’s ongoing violence in Darfur.

A map showing forces from many foreign countries operating across Africa
Map of foreign forces in Africa via Facts About Africa

Southern Africa: Zimbabwe’s rigid bureaucratic policies about identity documents and discrimination against ethnic minorities mean that nearly half of births go unregistered.  Zimbabwe has also just changed the law to allow pregnant students to continue attending secondary school instead of being expelled.  In Namibia, same-gender couples who were married in South Africa but also have Namibian citizenship are fighting to have their marriages recognized by the Namibian government.  Meet Gloria Majiga-Kamoto, the pioneering Malawian environmentalist who helped get the courts to enforce a ban on single-use plastics.

Labor & livelihoods: In South Africa, a group of mining companies agreed to pay over R5 billion / US$330 million to thousands of their employees who developed TB and silicosis after working in the mines – but three years later, fewer than 10 claims have been processed.  A group of farmers in Malawi have filed suit against two major British tobacco companies, saying they were forced to work seven days per week without pay or the opportunity to educate their children.  This is a moving portrait of the limited livelihood choices available to South Sudanese refugees in Sudan.

A graph showing that Kenya's debt has grown by 4 times over from 2012 - 2022
Kenya’s debt challenge in one graph, from Citizen TV Kenya

Urbanization: Get to know Africa’s 100 largest cities.  Nairobi is rapidly losing its green space, leaving it hotter and more vulnerable to diseases spread by rats and bats.  In Johannesburg, “mining is largely over, but the people are left. They will need to make the wealth of the future through their collaboration and imagination.”

Public health: Rwanda has legalized medical marijuana.  New research from Rwanda also finds that COVID-19 lockdowns were effective in reducing rates of air pollution in Kigali.  Dr Ambroise Wonkam has an ambitious plan to map three million African genomes and investigate the genetic causes of various illnesses.  In South Africa, people without valid national IDs or refugee status are being left out of COVID-19 vaccine plans.

Three images of beautiful natural settings with plastic rubbish scattered around them, and travel stamps in the background
Check out the winning images of the Contemporary African Photography prize, like this one from Aàdesokan

Arts & culture: The Journal of African History has an interesting new podcast, and the Goethe Institut in Dakar has released a podcast on Senegalese history.  Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi recommends her five favorite books.  Check out these 13 films about the queer experience in Africa.  This is a great piece about creating archives of digital feminism across Africa.

Academics: Lots of interesting resources coming up for African scholars abroad, including the Program on African Social Research in New York, the Africa Policy Research Institute in Berlin, and the Graduate Application International Network for prospective econ MA/PhD students.  There are also new editions of Conjonctures de l’Afrique Centrale from CREAC, the Alternative Report on Africa from RASA, and Africa Development from CODESRIA.

Interesting academic articles for June 2020

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

Ola Olsson, Maria Eriksson Baaz, and Peter Martinsson. 2020. “Fiscal capacity in ‘post’-conflict states: Evidence from trade on Congo river.Journal of Development Economics.

In many post-conflict states with a weak fiscal capacity, illicit domestic levies on trade remain a serious obstacle to economic development. In this paper, we explore the interplay between traders and authorities on Congo River – a key transport corridor in one of the world’s poorest and most conflict-ridden countries; DR Congo. We outline a general theoretical framework featuring transport operators who need to pass multiple taxing stations and negotiate over taxes with several authorities on their way to a central market place. We then examine empirically the organization, extent, and factors explaining the level of taxes charged by various authorities across stations, by collecting primary data from boat operators. Most of the de facto taxes charged on Congo River have no explicit support in laws or government regulations and have been characterized as a “fend for yourself”-system of funding. Our study shows that traders have to pass more than 10 stations downstream where about 20 different authorities charge taxes. In line with hold-up theory, we find that the average level of taxation tends to increase downstream closer to Kinshasa, but authorities that were explicitly prohibited from taxing in a recent decree instead extract more payments upstream. Our results illustrate a highly dysfunctional taxing regime that nonetheless is strikingly similar to anecdotal evidence of the situation on the Rhine before 1800. In the long run, a removal of domestic river taxation on Congo River should have the potential to raise trade substantially.

Diana Mitlin. 2020. “The politics of shelter: Understanding outcomes in three African cities.” ESID working paper no. 145.

This paper analyses the politics of shelter provision in three African cities, focusing on the needs of and provision for the low- and middle-income residents. Housing is a priority for low- and middle-income households. Governments influence multiple facets of land and shelter and affect the shelter options realisable for urban residents. The significance of housing to citizen wellbeing means that housing policy and programming is attractive to politicians seeking popular support. The framework of political settlements is used to structure the analysis. In all three cities, national political elites seek to influence housing outcomes. In the two capital cities, elites use clientelism (backed up by violence) to advantage themselves and secure rents for influential local groups (or factions). Territorial controls are used by elites to influence electoral outcomes, while approaches to housing help to gain legitimacy through strengthening paradigmatic ideas that encapsulate a vision for development. To date, the framework has primarily been applied to the national level. Hence, this application is both novel and a test of the framework’s relevance at this spatial scale and with this sectoral focus.

Nansozi K. Muwanga , Paul I. Mukwaya and Tom Goodfellow. 2020. “Carrot, stick and statute: Elite strategies and contested dominance in Kampala.” ESID working paper no. 146.

Although Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Movement (NRM) has dominated Uganda’s political scene for over three decades, the capital Kampala refuses to submit to the NRM’s grip. As opposition activism in the city has become increasingly explosive, the ruling elite has developed a widening range of strategies to try and win urban support and constrain opposition. In this paper, we subject the NRM’s strategies over the decade 2010-2020 to close scrutiny. We explore elite strategies pursued both from the ‘top down’, through legal and administrative manoeuvres and a ramping up of violent coercion, and from the ‘bottom up’, through attempts to build support among urban youth and infiltrate organisations in the urban informal transport sector. Although this evolving suite of strategies and tactics has met with some success in specific places and times, opposition has constantly resurfaced. Overall, efforts to entrench political dominance of the capital have repeatedly failed; yet challenges to the regime’s dominance have also been unable to weaken it in any sustained way. We examine why each strategy for dominance has produced limited gains, arguing that together these strategies reproduced a situation of intensely contested control, in which no single group or elite can completely dominate the city.

Jose Cuesta, Stephen Devereux, Abdul‐Gafaru Abdulai, Jaideep Gupte, Luigi Peter Ragno, Keetie Roelen, Rachel Sabates–Wheeler, and Tayllor Spadafora. 2020. “Urban social assistance. Evidence, challenges, and the way forward, with application to Ghana.Development Policy Review.

Urbanisation is accelerating, and urban poverty is increasing worldwide, yet few countries have developed comprehensive urban social assistance programmes, and those that do exist are often extensions or duplicates of rural programmes. Urban social protection needs, however, to reflect the distinct characteristics and vulnerabilities of the urban poor, especially working in informal activities and their higher living costs. This article addresses two questions: what is the current evidence on effective social assistance programmes in urban contexts around the world? And, how can such programmes be designed and implemented in practice? We pay special attention to social assistance as it is specifically designed to benefit the poor. The article surveys the challenges of designing social assistance programmes for urban contexts, focusing on specific urban vulnerabilities, targeting the urban poor, and setting appropriate payment levels. It reviews existing evidence of such programmes, including seven brief country case studies. These issues are examined in detail for Ghana, a rapidly urbanising country. Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP), the predominantly rural flagship assistance program in Ghana, can be adjusted to the urban context in several respects. Advertising, (social) media, direct text messaging, and local NGOs should prove more effective at promoting registration than using community figures. An urban-specific proxy means test should be developed to improve targeting. The cash benefit should be increased and adjusted regularly, and possibly accompanied by subsidised utilities and services.

Sandra García and Jorge Cuartas. 2020. “Can poverty alleviation programs crowd-in private support? Short- and Middle-Run Effects of a Conditional Cash Transfer Program on Inter-Household Transfers.Journal of Social Policy.

Conditional cash transfer (CCT) programs have become an important component of social assistance in developing countries. CCTs, as well as other cash subsidies, have been criticized for allegedly crowding out private transfers. Whether social programs crowd out private transfers is an important question with worrisome implications, as private support represents an important fraction of households’ income and works as a risk sharing mechanism in developing countries. Furthermore, empirical evidence on the effect of public transfers on private transfers is mixed. This paper contributes to the literature by using a unique dataset from the quasi-experimental evaluation of a CCT in Colombia and an empirical strategy that allows us to correct for pre-existing differences between treated and control groups. Our results suggest that the public transfer did not crowd out private transfers, neither in the short-run nor in the middle-run. Instead, it increased the probability of receiving support in cash, in kind, and in non-paid labor from different private sources by approximately 10 percentage points. Moreover, we find that the monetary value of private transfers increased by 32 – 38% for treated households.

Alan Zarychta. 2020. “Making social services work better for the poor: Evidence from a natural experiment with health sector decentralization in Honduras.World Development.

Governments in many less developed countries have decentralized their social support systems over the last several decades. However, despite enthusiasm for these reforms, evidence remains limited and mixed as to whether they improve the delivery of basic social services. I take advantage of an unexpected pause in reform implementation in Honduras due to the country’s 2009 coup to investigate the effects of decentralization on local health services. Drawing on administrative data, an original survey of health workers, and qualitative interviews, my analysis shows that decentralization is credibly associated with increases in preventive care for women and that improved accountability and greater resilience to shocks are important mechanisms for this change. Moreover, my analysis highlights how regional organizations use decentralization to assert their own influence and deflect negative political consequences while pressuring for improvements in service delivery. These findings shed light both on the possibilities for improving local social services through governance reform and how national-level reforms can be leveraged by powerful actors at lower rungs of the governmental hierarchy.

Richard Clark and Lindsay R. Dolan. 2020. “Pleasing the Principal: U.S. Influence in World Bank Policymaking.American Journal of Political Science.

How do policies in international organizations reflect the preferences of powerful institutional stakeholders? Using an underutilized data set on the conditions associated with World Bank loans, we find that borrower countries that vote with the United States at the United Nations are required to enact fewer domestic policy reforms, and on fewer and softer issue areas. Though U.S. preferences permeate World Bank decision making, we do not find evidence that borrower countries trade favors in exchange for active U.S. intervention on their behalf. Instead, we propose that U.S. influence operates indirectly when World Bank staff—consciously or unconsciously—design programs that are compatible with U.S. preferences. Our study provides novel evidence of World Bank conditionality and shows that politicized policies can result even from autonomous bureaucracies.

Facilitating safe rural migration for coronavirus response

A busy busy stop
Kampala’s crowded main bus terminus, 2012

Astrid Haas and I have a new piece out at The Conversation discussing the role that rural migration can play in pandemic response in African countries.  Rural areas often serve as a type of informal safety net in times of crisis, as people leave the cities to return to farming, but many African countries have blocked this avenue because of the risk of spreading the virus.  However, there’s a trade-off here with the risk of hunger, since they also can’t rapidly scale up urban safety nets to provide food to jobless people in cities.

One possible solution is facilitating safe rural migration programs.  What would that look like?

The basic idea is straightforward: help urban residents cover the costs of returning to stay with their extended families in the countryside, provide sanitary supplies to reduce the risk of infection in transit, and scale up health system surveillance to catch and contain potential rural outbreaks early.

Do read the rest of the piece for further reflections on how this might work.

When do Bus Rapid Transit systems make congestion worse?

Harmoni_Central_Busway_Transjakarta_1
A bus station in central Jakarta, via Wikipedia

That’s the question posed by a recent(ish) VoxDev article by Arya Gaduh, Tadeja Gračna, and Alexander Rothenburg.  They studied this topic in Jakarta, and found that the TransJakarta BRT system took lanes away from cars without attracting enough passengers to substantially reduce the number of cars on the road.  This is also due partly to the fact that the popularity of motorcycle taxis soared over the implementation period, pulling many people off public transit entirely.

What are the implications for African BRT projects, like those in Nairobi, Accra, or Dar es Salaam?  One clear takeaway is that the effect of the BRT system depends on the quality of its implementation.  As the authors note,

A ‘gold standard’ BRT in Curitiba, Brazil, includes GPS-based service planning, multiple networked routes, peak frequency buses, comfortable stations, and feeder bus integration. On the other hand, Lagos’ BRT lacks off-board fare collection and platform-level boarding at stations, and does not meet basic international BRT standards. Overall, more BRTs are similar to the latter than the former…

As a result, how a BRT system impacts congestion and travel time varies across settings. Findings from the experiences of systems such as those in Bogota, Lahore, or Mexico City demonstrate that a well-implemented BRT can increase public transport use, reduce air pollution, and increase output and labour market access (Tsivanidis 2019, Majid et al. 2018, Bel and Holst 2018). On the other hand, poor implementations have led to failure and eventual disbandment in the case of BRT systems in Delhi and Taichung (Pojani and Stead 2017).

Africa Update for November 2019

Here’s the latest edition of Africa Update.  We’ve got a new metro system in Abidjan, culinary imperialism in Kenya, plans to refill Lake Chad with a giant canal, how hospitals in Malawi are getting men to do more housework, and more.

A view of Nairobi with Karura Forest in the foreground

A stunning view of Nairobi, via Kenyapics

West Africa: Follow 5 young Nigerian journalists as they travel across 14 West African countries along the Jollof Road.  In Nigeria, former members of Boko Haram and ISIS trafficking survivors have found it very difficult to re-integrate into civilian society.  Hundreds of children, some as young as 5, have been arrested by the Nigerian police on suspicion of involvement with Boko Haram.  Abidjan is getting a metro system.  A new policy that lets cocoa farmers plant in “degraded” forests could lead to widespread deforestation in Côte d’Ivoire.  This is a great resource on the history of West Africa at a glance.

Central Africa:  This was a thoughtful piece about breaking the cycle of motorcycle theft and violent retribution in the CAR.  Members of opposition parties are regularly being killed in Rwanda, although no one wants to point a finger directly at the government.  Rwanda is also getting a new nuclear research reactor with support from Russia.  The Uganda Law Society has released a new app meant to connect women and girls to legal advice.  LGBT+ rights are under threat again in Uganda, with discussion of another law to make gay sex punishable by death.  Check out this incredible mixed media piece about one family’s experience becoming refugees after the Congo Wars of the 1990s.

A cartoon showing a Chinese dragon scaring the crane and impala away from the Ugandan national crest

Here’s Atukwasize ChrisOgon‘s take on Chinese investment in Uganda

East Africa: In Kenya, the urban middle class is increasingly turning to “telephone farming” to diversify their income streams.  Here’s a wonderful piece about khat and precolonial cuisine in Kenya.  See also this piece about the history of culinary imperialism in Kenya.  Meet the the Jehovah’s Witnesses targeting Chinese immigrants in Kenya.  This is a good overview of Ethiopia’s complicated ethnic and regional politics.  There’s an ambitious plan to refill Lake Chad by piping water in from the DRC via the CAR.

Southern Africa: A novel campaign strategy has been spotted in Botswana, where the opposition handed out menstrual pads with the party logo on them.  This was a heartbreaking piece about sexual violence in South Africa and the #AmINext movement.  Check out this photo essay on the mine-clearing women of Angola.  Here’s an insightful long read about what really happened to the billions of dollars that were to be spent on Angola’s post-war reconstruction.  Why is Zambia planning to finance almost 10% of its 2020 budget through a mysterious “exceptional revenue” source?

Sunset on a beach, with a boat and a person in the foreground

Kismayo sunset, by Said Fadhaye

Gender: Meet Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, the first female mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone.  Roughly 1/3 of African businesses have no women on their boards, and another 1/ 3 have only one woman.  In Malawi, a program which gives pregnant women housing close to hospitals before they deliver their babies has increased their husbands’ housework commitments while they’re away.  This is a remarkable portrait of three generations of women who have stood up to dictatorship in Sudan.  Kenya’s Gladys Ngetich is breaking barriers about women in STEM with her PhD on improving the efficiency of jet engines.

Business: This is a must-read piece on the political economy of foreign start-ups in Kenya.  Orange is developing a new feature phone for the African market which includes social media apps.  Uber is launching boat taxis in Lagos.  Africa has 15% of the world’s population, but fully 45% of the world’s mobile money activity.  African cosmetics companies are getting acquired by international corporations which want to offer better products for black skin and hair.  Check out my Mawazo co-founder Rose Mutiso’s TED talk on how to bring affordable electricity to Africa.

Maps showing that there appears to be much more poverty in Africa when it's measured at the district level rather than the country level

The geographic distribution of wealth in Africa looks very different depending on whether it’s measured at the country, province, or district level (via Marshall Burke)

Politics:  Africa Check has a great Promise Trackers page checking on the campaign promises of ruling parties in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.  In many African countries, political parties aren’t obliged to disclose private donations, in an area ripe for campaign finance reform.  In Ghana, the “I Am Aware” project successfully helped people push their local governments to improve the quality of public services like sanitation.  More than 45% of African citizens live in a country where the last census was done more than 10 years ago.  It turns out that most of Africa’s “civil wars” are actually regional wars.

Public health: Dr Jean-Jacques Muyembe of the DRC discovered Ebola in the 1970s, but has been largely written out of the historical record, until now.  Check out this incredible photo essay about Ebola first responders in eastern DRC. Also in the DRC, snakebites are an underdiscussed public health crisis. A new study finds that more than 40% of women are verbally or physically abused while giving birth in Ghana, Guinea and Nigeria.  Here’s how toxic masculinity can lead to the spread of HIV in Uganda.

A colorful portrait of a man and a woman on a red and pink printed background

Don’t miss Bisa Butler’s inspiring portraits of Black Americans done in African fabrics

Art + culture: A Togolese vintage clothing dealer is making waves in France by re-importing cast-off clothing previously sent to Togo.  Meet Kenyan sculptor Wangechi Mutu, who’s taking over the façade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York until January 2020.  What can be done about the spike in fake South African art?  Check out the first print issue of Cameroon-based Bawka Magazine, about travel stories.  Let’s celebrate these six inspiring young climate activists from low income countries, including Kenya and Uganda.  Learn about all the unusual ways that African countries got their names.  Here are the rising female artists of Kampala.