31 August 2009

Dambiso Moyo is right. Stop Aid to Africa. But not why you think.

This argument is going to be a little bit half-baked, but then as Simon says, "One of the wonderful things about a blog, is that you can write down thoughts which may or may not be interesting but without claiming to have done in-depth research or have in-depth knowledge – you are just 'putting it out there'."

I should also credit Abhijeet for most of these ideas.

Aid to Africa should stop.

Not because it is detrimental to growth, as Dambiso Moyo argues. But because it is SO DAMN EXPENSIVE. Southern Sudan is an extreme case. It is more expensive than most places in Africa. But it is not qualitatively different to the rest of Africa. The reasons it is expensive to operate in are essentially the same across the continent; low population densities, people dispersed across large distances, along with insecurity and political barriers to trade and migration, all making transactions costs huge.

Operating in Asia is cheaper because people are closer together.

What this means is that your money goes much further in Asia, as any backpacker can tell you. This also includes your aid money.

India's national school-feeding programme, which now reaches over 150 million kids, costs 2 cents per day per child. For their school-meal programme (operating in over 80 countries, including in both Africa, Asia and Latin America) WFP want $25 cents per day per child.

Some more back-of-an-envelope calculations (based on figures from BSF South Sudan and India's national primary school programme) reveals similar cost ratios for school construction in India and Southern Sudan, basically at least 10:1.

Now if what we care about is poor PEOPLE and not COUNTRIES, then how can we justify spending money on poor Africans, if it means choosing 1 poor African ahead of 10 poor Asians. On what ethical grounds is that fair?

This is not to say forget about Africa, just that Aid as our means of assistance is ridiculously cost-ineffective. So let's look at some other ways we can help, such as:

Trade - As Paul Collier has called for - lets have EU-US wide preferential market access for Africa, guaranteed for 15 years. (And maybe lose the subsidies? Please? No? Ok fine just the market access then.)

Migration - Come on, let's ease up just a little huh? It's good for us too I promise. Make it temporary or something.

Technology - Lets get serious about funding technology for Africa. That includes IT and tropical disease research.

Security - Yeah OK this one is a bit more controversial, but I'm broadly with Collier.

And then there's investment and the environment, which I know next to nothing about, but I'm sure there's plenty we can do.

Bottom-line - there is LOTS we can do to help in Africa without giving a penny of aid for service delivery.

And I'm not even saying stop aid, just send it where you get bang-for-your-buck.

Thoughts anyone?


The Cheek!

Apparently being an immigrant in Britain does not disqualify you from complaining about immigrants (that's right Amanda Platell, you were born in Australia if you hadn't remembered which would make YOU an immigrant). I suppose complaining about immigrants is kind of the national sport though. Maybe we should put it into the Citizenship test.

Q. The communist Labour government is still letting loads of dirty foreigners in. What do you think should be done about it?

a) Build a big wall around the coast so noone can get in. And close all the airports. Right after I've got in that is.
b) Have a warship stationed in the channel to sink anything with brown people on it.
c) Take away all their benefits. Because immigrants are all child-molesting criminal single-mothers sitting around getting paid £50,000 a week in benefits.

Rod Liddle has a marginally better attempt. At least he tries to explain why a large population is a bad thing. Sadly, his efforts are a bit pathetic.
"the pressure to pave over more and more countryside greatly increases flood risk."

Monday Links

1. Frank Field says to stabilise UK pop then immigration must balance with emigration. Do you think I could get in the Guardian by arguing that to stabilise the queue at the post office we need to balance the people being served and the people walking in?

2. USAID is still missing an administrator in part because of the vetting process, in which "candidates for the USAID post have to detail everywhere they've lived in their adult lives, and every foreign citizen they know."

3. A novel strategy to ease arrests?

4. Moisés Naím (Editor of Foreign Policy) is pessimistic on Dutch Disease.
"It is not that their leaders fail to realise the need to diversify; in fact, all oil countries have invested massively in other sectors. Unfortunately, few of these investments succeed largely because the exchange rate stunts the growth of agriculture, manufacturing, tourism and other sectors ... Unlocking the secret of [Chile and Botswana's] escape from the resource curse could spare millions from the devil's excrement. But nobody has done it yet."

29 August 2009

Winehouse Drug-athon to raise money for Ugandan School

From The Daily Mash:

SINGER Amy Winehouse is launching an attempt on the world drug-bender record to raise money for a Ugandan primary school.

The children begin each day with a hearty rendition of 'Rehab' 
During the mammoth session the 'Back to Black' star will be consuming crack, heroin, cheap speedy pills and a two gallon jug of paint stripper. 
A spokesman said: "She's been in training with some of the country's top junkies, including the legendary 'Norwegian Dale'. 
"The plan is that when she starts to glaze over from the brown, the Es and crack will perk her up again and give her the energy to stay on it. She really is an inspiration to everyone who wants to take drugs for charity." 
Winehouse's record attempt will raise money for a school in the Ugandan village of Katosi, which desperately needs a new roof. 
Head teacher Akiki Balunda said: "We are very grateful to Amy for this and have faith in her bison-like constitution. 
"We wanted to help her out by sending some drugs, but all we could find was a few out-of-date malaria tablets." 
The existing world drug-bender record is held by a 44-year-old from Manchester known simply as 'Cheb', who consumed nine times his own body weight in poor quality street opiates during a two month ming-up which ended when he jumped naked into a local zoo's Komodo dragon enclosure. 
He wished Winehouse well in her record attempt, adding: "Mint. Bangin'. Mint. Mint. Totally fuckin' mint" 
Cheb said he given up endurance drug taking so that he can focus on trying to kill an owl with a crossbow in the belief that if he eats it he will become Dolph Lundgren.

28 August 2009

Possibly the most complicated elections in the world?

In a country where there haven't been any elections in some time, (a good electoral history is at the Rift Valley Institute), the Southern Sudanese are being asked to complete TWELVE ballots next year.

1. President of Sudan
2. President of Southern Sudan
3. State Governor
4. National Assembly - Constituency MP
5. National Assembly - Women's List (Proportional representation)
6. National Assembly - Party List (Proportional representation)
7. Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly - Constituency MP
8. Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly - Women's List (Proportional representation)
9. Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly - Party List (Proportional representation)
10. State Assembly - Constituency MP
11. State Assembly - Women's List (Proportional representation)
12. State Assembly - Party List (Proportional representation)

More ranting about aid

This is going to sound a bit schizophrenic after my rubbishing of the sideshow the other week, but seriously, if we're going to do aid at all, then lets do it properly ey? Talking about sustainability in general terms, and training in specific terms, is one thing, but exit strategies and handovers? In a country 4 years out of war? Probably one of the poorest countries in the world?

Who are these people?

I'm with Owen Barder on this one, the cult of sustainability hides the fact that the poorest countries are going to be needing support for a long long time. And that is fine. But lets be realistic about it, acknowledge that capacity building takes longer than a 3-year project, and that as a matter of social justice rather than charity THE POOREST COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD probably deserve some support for at least the next 50 years.

Secondly, on community participation. Fine, ask around, make sure that your intervention isn't completely stupid. But expecting voluntary contributions for public services????!!!!?!!!!


Because community contributions is how we finance local public services in Britain isn't it? Why bother with coercive taxation to solve the collective-action problem inherent in public good provision when we can just spout some patronising nonsense about communities. Reminds me of a C4 TV show which took a bunch of hard-nosed capitalist self-made millionaires to work on a project in an African village. The millionaires were then surprised that the lazy villagers weren't willing to donate their free-time to build some kind of community centre. Did the millionaires get rich through community participation? Or through relentlessly pursuing their own self-interest?


27 August 2009

'Ave it

Right so CHRIS frickin' BLATTMAN is reading. I'd better think of something clever to say.



Come on!....

You can do it!....

.....Nope. Nothing. Too much pressure.

Instead I'm just going to post this AWESOME photo from The Citizen of H.E. Salva Kiir Mayardit, President of Southern Sudan, looking very cool as he opens the first ever international football tournament in Juba last week.

If you're interested Your Excellency, we normally play on Tuesdays at the UNMIS pitch. You are more than welcome.

24 August 2009

Monday Links

1. Forget the conspiracy theories, when Britain does neo-colonialism, it does it properly. What are the alternatives when faced with "clear signs of political amorality and immaturity and of a general administrative incompetence"?!!

2. Hasn't been updated in a while, but when MTEF does links, MTEF does links

3. The first issue of "Unknown Soldier", the comic about the LRA set in Northern Uganda is available for download from DC Comics

4. Things I have done on the back of a boda-boda (HT: Uganda Talks)

5. This is what happens when political scientists play "Risk"

21 August 2009

All of Political Economy in one picture

North and South Korea at night. OK not quite all of political economy, but a pretty compelling case for the importance of politics for economic growth. From Paul Romer's TED talk about Charter Cities.

20 August 2009

More jigy-jigy

According to Google Analytics THIS is my most visited post. You filthy people.

Anyway I've been meaning to post a follow-up since I was sent this story by a friend about a new Steve Levitt paper based on
"detailed and real-time transaction data for over 2,200 tricks performed by about 160 prostitutes in three Chicago neighborhoods that the authors collected with the help of pimps and prostitutes."
She suggests that Juba's "unmarried businesswomen" could learn from it how to reach a more realistic price per ejaculation / night. Well economics works in Juba too, according to the Khartoum Monitor. It's only $2 if you want to have "jigi jigi" with the ugly girls, but of you want a moderate girl it'll cost you $4, and for the beautiful ones it's a whole $8.

Analogue Blogger goes Digital

Sadly here comes more evidence of the usefulness of twitter. White African notes that the Blackboard blogger of Monrovia, a guy who writes the news on a big blackboard for people who can't afford newspapers, now has an actual online blog. Awesome! Here's the link.

In other cool media news, I've just discovered that The Citizen, probably the best (offline) English-language Southern Sudanese newspaper, seems to be building a new office directly opposite the Ministry of Finance. Now I'm just waiting for the website. How about a link-up with the online-only Sudan Tribune?

There was also a great discussion on the World Service about Tolo TV the other day, Afghanistan's most popular private-owned TV station. Although they are downplaying it for obvious reasons, the station was created with seed capital from USAID, and is now hosting Presidential candidate debates and making social progress through Afghan Idol.

19 August 2009

In which Scott Gration visits the Ministry of Finance in Southern Sudan

Me leaving the (deserted) office at 6pm

"hmm, I wonder what those 2 khawajas in sharp suits are doing hanging around. hmm, I wonder why there are 6 big fancy cars in the carpark. hmm, I wonder why there are police in riot gear all around the Ministry."

18 August 2009

The Torit Mutiny

Today is a public holiday in Southern Sudan in commemoration of the 1955 Torit mutiny which led to the start of the first war.

16 August 2009

Yeah nice one Enough

Really? Who on earth came up with the idea of gambling for Darfur? Darfurians are mainly Muslim right? And gambling is haram......?


"The UNFG developed the Program for Capacity-Building in the Field of Language Transparency Impact. The program assists in dispensing with harmful idiomatic practices, and promotes the use of a standardized international framework for document authoring. Designed as a Public-Private-Sector Partnership within the Framework of the Global Compact, and supported through supplemental grants from individual donors, the program has made a significant contribution in this field."
That would be the United Nations Fund for Gobbledygook, supported by the Plain English Campaign.

HT: Good Intentions

Oboe'n'bass Hip-hop Jazz

I'm addicted to this new Speech Debelle Single (is it even new? At some point, I'm not quite sure when, I went from being a music-collector-geek to an economics-collector-geek, and I haven't quite gotten over it yet).

She's nominated for this year's Mercury Music Prize (a nice way of keeping a bit up to date with new music for people who don't have time to follow new music properly because they spend all their time reading economics), and there's a Guardian interview here.

15 August 2009


Marginal Revolution picked up on a clever idea by some economists to measure economic growth in places where statistics are unreliable by looking at satellite images of light at night. If any donors are listening, this could be a great way of looking at the economy in Southern Sudan, where we have very few statistics.

It also got me thinking, couldn't we also measure population by satellite? The Census results have been heavily disputed here for political reasons. Surely an alternative estimate could be gained by just counting the number of buildings on Google Maps and multiplying by an estimate of average household size? Has anyone tried this anywhere before?

14 August 2009

Thundercats Ho?!

According to UNDP's latest security alert there is a leopard out and about in Juba. I of course work for an organisation with slightly lower overheads than UNDP, so the only security alerts I get are when friends think they are funny enough to be forwarded on, or posted on their blogs. Kelsey even went to the trouble of googling 'what to do if being chased by a leopard,' after deeming the official UN advice of "be extra vigilant and careful" to be insufficient.

I'm going to listen to my girlfriend Karuna who is normally right about these kind of things:
"OH MY FUCKING GOD!! don't ever leave your car!! i TOLD you you need to get a gun then you could just go and shoot it. what the hell is it doing in a town???! it must be up to something..."

Cross-town Traffic

In the UK or US it's normally a pretty big deal when a politician switches party. Not in Southern Sudan.

Southern Sudan is divided into ten states, and one of these states, Warrap, just had the whole National Congress Party defect to the SPLM. That is 120 people.
"The NCP office is closed down because we have gone away with all members of the National Congress Party in the State. No one is left. All our youth and women have come with us," said Abur.
My SPLM colleague in Juba just shrugs and says "there weren't that many of them anyway".

13 August 2009

Shleifer on Bauer on Aid

Interesting article by Andrei Shleifer on Peter Bauer, the original Dambisa Moyo (if she had been a white man writing in the 1970s). Shleifer's conclusion is that it doesn't really matter that foreign aid is a bit rubbish, because "foreign aid is a sideshow" to the worldwide embrace of markets, trade, and better policies which are stimulating economic growth - the only sustainable way of raising incomes and eradicating poverty.

The trouble is, if this is true, where does it leave concerned Western citizens and developmentistas?

Specifically where does a young development careerist who wants to make a difference go work if all the jobs are in the sideshow?

Answers on a postcard please.

12 August 2009


I took a matatu from the Ministry to Central Pub Lebanese restaurant yesterday after work. Twice on the way there I noticed a policeman get on and then off 5 minutes later without paying. "It's alright for some" I thought. Is this common practice by all drivers? Is it to avoid being hauled off the road for some minor offence?

Anyway, upon reaching my destination the conductor says "three" to me. Ha! I'm no sucker, I know the price is only one pound ($0.50), so I offer him a one pound note. He waves me away - no "you go - it is free." Huh? Presumably there is something deeply suspicious about a khawaja getting into a matatu, to the extent you don't make him pay just in case... what exactly?

(I still gave him the pound)

11 August 2009

Fun & Games

via Ugandan Insomniac - A new story by DC Comics set in Northern Uganda. More images here

10 August 2009

Sudanese People's Liberation Dancers

Living in Juba, you start to get used to seeing the police and soliders carrying AK47s everywhere, you just stop noticing them. It's only when you see a guy with say an Uzi casually wandering down the street, or a huge machine gun on the back of a truck that you actually look up.

On Saturday we went to Juba's premier (only?) nightclub, and there on the stage in front of the dance-floor, overlooking the crowd, were 2 serious-looking SPLA military police. Sadly not showing us their moves.

Quote of the Day

Comes from Matt at Aidthoughts.
All articles/comments about America must now be appended with the following background description for those who can't find America on a map: 
"America, with a population of 300 million, is one of the fattest countries of the world, with a frighteningly awful perception of poor countries, aggregated by a befuddled, profit-driven media."

Monday Links

1. New African Literature

2. If there's one thing you can always buy in Africa no matter how remote you are, it's Coca-Cola. So why not leverage their distribution network?

3. I might start having Morning Meetings for Roving Bandit

08 August 2009

99 Problems but the metrics ain't one

The genius Berkeley phd students behind "Stronger" and "I can't get no dissertation" have a new video up. I'm tempted to apply to go study at Berkeley purely so I can try get in the next one.

Karaoke and Corruption

This morning had the potential to go quite badly. Hungover (Karaoke at Global Camp on Fridays is truly awesome. Ended the night with the whole bar singing "We are the World"), I was stopped by the police not once but twice for having the wrong licence plate. First time I haggled them down to $20. Second time I was pissed off, and as it's a Saturday I thought, sod it, I have time to kill so I'll argue with the guy. And guess what it worked! I shouted at him long enough that he just let me go, and this after I'd already seen a Sudanese guy pay him $20. I'm more Sudanese than the Sudanese!

And as I drove off in glory, Top of the Pops (cancelled in 2006 in the UK) comes on the BBC World Service with Michael Jackson. Score!

07 August 2009

Markets not in everything

DHL are being fined almost $10m for breaching sanctions to Iran, Syria and Sudan.

Companies are allowed to ship "documents and informational material" but heinous, evil, nasty, DHL, slipped in some "personal items or consumer goods."

That is clearly the rational response to nasty undemocratic governments, punish their citizens by stopping their engagement with the outside world. Wait...

05 August 2009

Making Unity Attractive

So the idea behind the CPA was that both govenments (GoNU and GoSS) should work to "make unity attractive" to the voters in the South ahead of the referendum on independence.

Quote of the Day
"There must be a force somewhere, a force that keeps arming these militias, a force that keeps sending ammunition to the militias. There is not another force in this way that can keep arming and sending ammunition to the local population apart from the Sudanese army" - SPLA's Maj-Gen Kuol Deim Kuol, 04 August 2009. (via Sudan Watch)

04 August 2009


This is a new series keeping tabs on idiotic statements by the likes of these guys.

Frank Field, a member of the cross-party parliamentary group on balanced migration (funded by MigrationWatchUK: "an independent and non-political body established to KEEP OUT THE DARKIES!"), is an idiot. Someone please kick him out of the Labour Party?

He argues that we must cap British citizenship because otherwise Britain's population will increase. THAT IS NOT A REASON. It is a truism. Now you have to tell us why a higher population is bad.

I've been meaning to get around to answering the Open Left questions, but I've just realised that it's actually pretty simple. Being on the left is about defending the interests of the poor, not the interests of the rich.

Opposing immigration is defending the interests of the (global) rich (Brits) against the (global) poor. If you want to defend the rich I suggest that you join the Tories.

More on rationality

From the comments: Michael Kevane disagrees with me about rationality.

My first reaction is "wow! Michael Kevane is commenting on my blog! He's a proper economics professor and everything!".

My second reaction is "Michael shhh, stop disagreeing in public, the non-economists might be listening! You're just making #9 worse!".

My third, substantive, reaction, is "umm, err, yeah kind of." I mean, of course the rational actor model should not be the ending point of social enquiry, but this is a fighting the barbarians situation where critics think the rational actor model is completely useless because it is unrealistic, when in fact it isn't that unrealistic, and in any case the realism of the model's assumptions don't really matter if it is any good at explaining reality (ala Friedman), which it quite often is.

These people are crazy (this isn't you in particular Kelsey, more anti-economists in general), they aren't well-versed in the rationality approach and have moved on to do interesting research into areas where rationality isn't good at explaining phenomena, they're baying for economist blood because it is evil, and neoclassical economics is equivalent to neoliberal imperialism, and all economists believe in some absurd caricature of homo-economicus, and are evil money-grabbing scum-bags who are probably autistic, and what we really need is a return to socialism, yeah that was good wasn't it, and who needs money anyway, money is evil, wouldn't it be better if we just decreed that everyone had to live in trees and grow our own food, yeah that'd be nice wouldn't it, then we could all just barter instead of having to have money, and live in happy little socialist villages of equality and read Marx all day.

I think I did have some more sober thoughts but I got a bit carried away.

03 August 2009

More Markets Not in Everything

I'm trying to put a facebook gift on Karuna's wall (a pie - she likes pie. This is a direct quote from the invitation to her birthday barbecue: "Friends are welcome as long as they're cool (pie may be accepted in lieu of coolness)".

Bizarrely, Facebook is telling me that "This action cannot be completed due to international trade restrictions."


Happy Birthday Karuna xxx

Sorry there was no pie, in either actual pie-form or in facebook picture-form. I owe you 1 pie.

02 August 2009

Markets Not in Everything

The global economy is a wonderful thing. Even in Southern Sudan it is possible to buy an amazing array of goods produced all over the world.

However this week Juba ran out of Zain airtime. The whole town. Nobody has any. Apparently the latest supply from Khartoum never arrived. A little intrusion of chaos into the cosy cocooned life of the expat.