29 May 2009

"A story. Of Economics. In Africa."

He cleared his throat, and began. 
"I eked a meagre living, exploiting a fundamental structural discrepancy in the price of Goats." He looked me in the eye. 
I nodded. "You've lost me," I said. 
"I must apologise," he said. "My degree is in economics, and it has had an unfortunate effect on my conversational English. Allow me to begin again..." He composed himself. 
"My story is a sorry tale, of the Dismal Science, in the heart of the Dark Continent..." 
"Lost me," I said, nodding. 
"A story. Of Economics. In Africa."

That is from Julian Gough's brilliant short story "The Great Hargisa Goat Bubble"


28 May 2009

How can Britain do more for development?

The Commitment to Development Index doesn't get nearly enough attention.

In last year's Commitment to Development Index from CGD, Britain came out 6th overall. Pretty good, but it isn't all rosy when you disaggregate the scores. Good on aid, investment, environment and security, but not so good on trade, migration and technology. We do particularly badly on migration and technology (17th out of 22).

The bad migration score is understandable, for normative and positive reasons. Migration is a big political issue in the UK, and is pretty unpopular. Also the UK is actually genuinely a relatively densely populated country. Although I would argue for higher immigration to the UK, other more land abundant places should be taking even more.

On technology we have no excuse. There are 2 main components of the technology score - government spending on research and development (we rank 13th) and protection of Intellectual Property Rights (We rank 19th).

Sort it out Britain.

26 May 2009

Just give them the damn money

Everyone is talking about unconditional cash transfers at the moment.

As I've said before, I'm a big fan. Poor people aren't stupid, they know what they want and need, they just don't have as much money as they might like. Forget your community empowerment programme and just give them the money.

And with fast-developing technology such as M-Pesa the logistical hurdles for handing out cash are falling.

An additional potential benefit of this kind of programme is the transparency and accountability that comes from the framing of the numbers in an understandable way - an understandable sum per person rather than just millions and millions of dollars.

John Quiggin illustrated this point well in a comment a couple of years ago:
"It's commonly observed that despite receiving over $500 billion in aid in the 50 years since the shift to independence, Africa is still poor and, on the whole getting poorer. The implication is that the aid must have been wasted or stolen, and of course, quite a bit of it has been. But an aggregate number over 50 years isn't very helpful.

Much more useful in thinking about the likely impact of aid is the amount per person per week. With (very roughly) a billion people in Africa and a billion in the developed world, the aid that's been given amounts to about $10 per person per year, or 20 cents per person per week on each side of the transfer. So, the implied complaint of the average Northerner to the average African can be translated "I've been giving you 20 cents a week for years now, and you're still poor – you must have squandered my generous help"."

Previously underexplored methods of displacing evil dictators #42

Stop teenagers from chatting online to each other.

Its so obvious, its brilliant. How did nobody come up with this before? Give it half an hour and there'll be a new wave of democracy and freedom and openness and joy and light, spreading out across the world, just wait and see.

"A US computer industry giant [Microsoft] has moved to prevent Sudanese from using a messaging service [MSN], citing its obligations under the US sanctions regime against Sudan." Sudan Tribune

You know you're a resident of a developing country when...

...you return from your holidays with bags heavily overladen with goodies from the modern world and big boxes of electrical goods. I now have a blender! Now I just need to find enough fresh fruit in the Juba markets to make some smoothies.

Note that the modern world being referred to is Kampala. Its awesome, they have a brand new 24hr mall full of happy middle class Ugandan families. Brilliant and heartwarming. Development as malls. Uganda is also full of fruit and veggies. I was almost drooling as we sat in the bus driving past local markets stocked high with shiny ripe vegetables. Look what you do to me Juba!

19 May 2009

Paraplegic Congolese funk veterans Update #124

A couple of links from TH:
"If you're only going to buy one album by a gang of paraplegic Congolese funk veterans this year, this should be it."
And "Uninformed mentions of South Sudan #231" from Francis Fukuyama no less:
"...colonialism imposed a set of irrational borders on their colonies. South Sudan fought a 30-year civil war with the regime in Khartoum only because a long-dead British administrator in Cairo didn't want to offend Egypt by giving it to Uganda, where it more naturally belonged."
No mention of Southern Sudan being three times the size of Uganda? And that the two largest tribes have no more connection with Uganda than they do with the northern Sudanese?

And which 30-year civil war was that? 1955-1972 or 1983-2005?

And finally, Charlie Brooker makes me proud to be British:
"Being British is actually about feeling aggressed, mistrustful, overlooked, isolated, powerless, and petrified of "losing my identity". Britishness incorporates a propensity to look around me with jealous eyes, fuming over imaginary sums of money being doled out to child-molesting asylum-seekers by corrupt PC politicians who've lost touch with the common man"

"That's right, baby. "Pillaging" is making a comeback! The ICC throws down old school."

Probably the best hip-hop speak analysis of Darfur ever.


17 May 2009

Not just undeveloped, but undeveloping

"I am the mayor, appointed by the transitional government in Kinshasa. But I have no contact with them because we have no phone, and I can pay no civil servants because I have no money and there is no bank or post office where money could be received, and we have no civil servants because all the schools and hospitals and everything do not work. I would say I am just waiting, waiting for things to get back to normal. 
- And when was the last time things were normal? 
The 1950s. From what I hear, that is when this town was last normal."
That is from Tim Butcher's account of his mad overland trip through the Congo in 2004, "Blood River."

Later this week GoSS is bringing the Executive Directors of all 70-odd counties in Southern Sudan to Juba for a planning workshop. I wonder how similar their stories will be?

Malawian Presidential Elections on Tuesday

My default position on African elections is to support any credible opposition, just to increase the meagre number of peaceful transfers of power. However the current Malawian President is an economist (big selling point for me) who has promised to step down if he loses (or if he wins, after his constitutionally-limited second term). His main opponent is a 77-year old who was the right-hand man of dictator President-for-life Banda. No contest.

15 May 2009

Elections and Bankruptcy

A couple of comments on Alex De Waal's latest article - (correction - the article is actually by Brian Adeba on Alex de Waal's blog)

"the SPLM may perform well in its stronghold in the South mainly because it is still riding on the cusp of what can be termed as the "liberation dividend," 
May perform well? Lets take a look at a couple of other African liberation movements shall we? African National Congress (South Africa) Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front National Resistance Movement (Uganda) Rwandan Patriotic Front Eritrean People's Liberation Front Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front Patriotic Salvation Movement (Chad) How many of those do you think have lost elections? OK so that is just a biased selection of parties who are still in power. Lets look at the data. Robert Bates has a spreadsheet online with all of the African leaders between 1960 and 2004 and how they left office. How many of those do you think lost elections? Of 249 leaders, 18 lost power through an election. That is all leaders - if you restrict your sample to the guys who came to power through a successful military struggle, I'd expect you'll find even fewer election-losses. I know that nothing is ever certain, but I'm really surprised at how cautious well-informed people are in their election predictions. I would bet everything I own on the SPLM not losing this one. Any takers?

"Bankruptcy, spurred on by corruption and NCP foot-dragging on oil revenue remittances, has resulted in public servants and soldiers in South Sudan braving it out for months without pay." 
I'm killing this rumour right here. The Government of Southern Sudan is not bankrupt! Salaries are being paid. Thank you.

This is my car

"The Hilux has gained a reputation for exceptional sturdiness and reliability, even during sustained heavy use, and is often referred to as "The Indestructible Car". This was further reinforced when on the BBC motoring show Top Gear, a 1988 Hilux with 190,000 miles (308,000 km) on the odometer was subjected to extraordinary abuse. This consisted of driving it down a flight of steps, scraping buildings, crashing headlong into a tree, being washed out to sea and completely submerged, driving it through a garden shed, dropping a caravan onto it, hitting it with a wrecking ball, setting the cabin and bed area on fire,[6] and, finally, placing it on top of a 240-foot (73 m) block of flats that was subsequently destroyed by a controlled demolition.[7] Although it was now suffering from severe structural damage, the truck was still running after being repaired without spare parts and only with typical tools and equipment that would be found in a car's toolbox, such as spanners, motor oil, and a monkey wrench (adjustable spanner),[8] however WD40 was used to get the engine going after it had been recovered from the sea."
HT: Tom

14 May 2009

I fought the law...

Last week my housemate got into a little spot of bother at the money market. How it works is you stop your car at the side of the road and a bunch of guys come to your window to exchange your dollars for their Sudanese pounds. The guys counted out the 780 pounds for $300. But one of them must have been a budding Derren Brown, because after the dollars were handed over, one of the $100 bills turned into a $1, which he started waving at my housemate and demanding his 260 pounds back. An argument and a bit of fisticuffs ensued. One of them knocks off my housemate's specs at which point he speedily (and blindly) accelerates away.

So fast-forward to this morning and I'm driving the same car that my housemate was that day, and stop near the money-changers to buy a banana for breakfast. One the money-changers must have recognised the car because he and a policeman appear and drag me over the road to the police station. After a while of sitting and protesting my innocence, the senior officer sends us off to the court. Of course there is no police car so I end up driving an officer and my accuser to the courthouse. En route the officer is telling me how stupid this all is, British people don't steal, its Kenyans and Ugandans that steal. If I was Ugandan then he could easily prove I was guilty. We arrive at the court and the police there agree that this is stupid and I am free to go. I drive the officer (but not my accuser) back to the station on my way in to work, only 2 hours late.

I think we'll be changing our money at the bank from now on.

13 May 2009

Saviors and Survivors

I've never quite gotten around to reading any Mahmood Mamdani because I've kind of got the impression that he's a bit of a crazy SOAS hippy. I'm allowed to accuse people of being crazy SOAS hippies because I was brought up on lentils and solstice celebrations, and then went to study at SOAS, so I know what I'm talking about.

I'm also really lazy, so as much as I understand the importance of wide reading in the social sciences, I can't stand all the long-winded writing in political science and sociology full of stupid long words trying to make themselves sound clever. I've become a bit reliant on economics papers and their nice short predictable formats with tables.

So it was nice to be able to skim-read some of the discussion on the Saving Darfur blog about Mamdani's latest book "Saviors and Survivors", which I'm told is pretty good but I probably won't manage to read in full.

Fortunately for my prejudices I stumbled across this little nugget from Mamdani in response to his critics.
"It is no exaggeration to say that the high school kids became Save Darfur's version of child soldiers in African conflicts – all enthusiastic participants in processes that none really understood nor were encouraged to understand."
It is no exaggeration?! Really?! And child soldiers are enthusiastic participants?! Mamdani is getting filed in the crazy hippy box and I'm going back to some economics.

12 May 2009

Words of Wisdom

Another gem from the BBC worldwide service. Sounds a bit like paranoid advice for dictators.
"The bush you fail to cut today will be used by your enemies to tie you tomorrow"

11 May 2009

Introduction to Development

Alanna has a great list of introductory readings on development. I think its a bit aid-heavy, but then it is aimed at aid-workers.

Still, there is a lot more to development than foreign assistance. There is also a lot more to foreign assistance than aid. CGD's commitment to development index has 7 components of which aid is just one: aid, trade, investment, migration, environment, security, and technology. Birdsall, Rodrik and Subramanian expand on these issues in Foreign Affairs.

But not meaning to be purely critical, I'm working on putting together my own very short list.

Here is a work-in-progress from some friends.

10 May 2009

Richard Branson! But you seemed so.... sensible!

via Wronging Rights -
Mia Farrow has delegated fast duties to famous British person Richard Branson 
"I'm honoured to be taking over the fast for the next three days," he said in a statement on his blog.
Three days!!!

Unusual methods for combating rain

"Bol Ruach Rom, Director of Southern Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (SSRRC) in Upper Nile state, described how officials tried to drive off the deadly rain: "The rainfall with rainbow insisted to fall on County's payam headquarter but was repulsed by light gun shots and some artillery by local protection forces on the ground."
from the Sudan Tribune

07 May 2009

The Financial Crisis hits Juba

The Juba Post's business editor is clearly doing a great job of covering all the important enterprises in Southern Sudan.

A headline the other day (4 May) read "Financial crisis affect sex trade in Juba"

Individuals alledged that around 50 Kenyan/Ugandan prostitutes have gone out of business as a result of the decline in government expenditure.

Rational Revolutions

This guy clearly hasn't read his Acemoglu and Robinson (who are neatly summarised in Chapter 8 - "Rational Revolutions" of Tim Harford's "Logic of Life" - which, by the way, is generally a really great read).

In a nutshell, why on earth would an emerging middle class want democracy if it means poor people voting for higher taxes?

06 May 2009

Its time I moved to France

"PARIS (Reuters) - True to their reputation as leisure-loving gourmets, the French spend more time sleeping and eating than anyone else among the world's wealthy nations, according to a study published Monday."

05 May 2009

Tim Harford

I just came across an interesting stat in "The Logic of Life":
every year that women [presumably in the US] delay having children increases their lifetime earnings by 10%.
That seems like a huge effect.

The research (which I haven't read) is by Amalia Miller at www.virginia.edu/economics/miller.htm

01 May 2009


The gross totals are pretty much out but it remains to be seen whether GoSS will accept the results, and whether the detailed data will ever be released. Come on guys, 500,000 people returned to the South for the damn thing. They deserve to know what happened.

(the red line indicates when the Census started)