31 March 2010

30 March 2010

LSE joins the blogosphere

A couple of potentially interesting new blogs from the LSE, Do No Harm written by students on the MSc Development Management and a course blog DV409: Economic Development Policy written by Instructor Diana Weinhold.
There is an even a post by an ex-Juba-ite on working in development:
A self-serving bureaucracy that never gets to the field, lives in meetings, writes endless reports and pays itself handsomely.  This isn’t why a lot of people join the cause.  They want to be working directly with people, seeing the impacts of their work in front of them, confronting poverty and injustice head on.  But how do you achieve large-scale impact from a local level, how do you fully engage with national politics, and how do you bring the large resources to bear?  Personally I’m in development to work on the big issues, which means in 3 years in Sudan I got out of the capital three times.  I could live with that.  Other people felt sorry for me, often quite angry.  You know that aid official who lives behind barbed wire in western comfort when there are poor people just the other side of the fence?  That was me.
In my 18 months I’ve left the capital twice.


Links fixed - thanks Laura

29 March 2010



This is surely staged…

Weekly(ish) Twitter Links 29.03.10

26 March 2010

Social Networks for Development – India Edition

Here it is folks – Kiirti - a one-stop reporting and petitioning platform for Indian governance.

It is a platform to enable effective governance by promoting awareness and citizen engagement. It allows government, non-government and civic organizations to engage with citizens easily through phone, sms, email, and the web.

These guys running this (eMoksha.org) will also be running the Ushahidi platform for the Sudanese elections: Sudan Vote Monitor.

25 March 2010

Quick Wins in Development Policy

Development is hard. There is plenty that the governments of rich countries can do to help, but sadly much of it is politically too difficult to contemplate (such as allowing more immigration from the poorest countries).

So how about a policy that can help but costs rich countries nothing?

This new working paper from CGD finds that providing Duty-Free Quota-Free access to OECD markets for poor countries provides significant benefits with very small to zero impact upon the rich countries.

A development policy no-brainer?

There are still significant benefits for LDCs from removing the remaining barriers they face in OECD countries, but only if all products are covered.  Since both rich-country tariff peaks and LDC exports are relatively concentrated, excluding as few as three percent of tariff lines, as proposed by the United States at the WTO ministerial meeting in Hong Kong in 2005, reduces the benefits to basically zero.

The LDCs account for a trivial share of global exports, the reason for the initiative, and preference-giving countries thus have little to fear from extending full market access to them. The quantitative results show that the expected impact on welfare, exports, and domestic production are very small to zero, including for the quota-controlled agricultural products excluded by Canada, Japan, and the United States, as well as textiles and apparel in the latter case.

providing market access is a step that this analysis suggests would be both beneficial for LDCs, and low-cost for preference-giving countries. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon just designated 2010 as the “year of development” and called for accelerated efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. The goal of providing duty-free, quota-free market access for LDCs should be easily achievable by rich countries, as well as by Brazil, China, India, and other developing countries “in a position to do so.”

This is going to be huge

The UK Conservative Party has promised to

Publish every item of local and government and quango expenditure over £25,000, plus every project that receives EU funds

a Tory spokesman confirmed to me earlier today: "We will publish Coins [the Treasury’s Combined Online Information System] straight away if we get into government."

I’m almost tempted to vote Conservative. Only kidding. I’m probably not going to vote in any case. But this is absolutely revolutionary. This is going to change everything. It will make the MP expenses scandal seem like nothing.

How much of DFID spending will be on this thing?

Did I ever tell you about the Obama t-shirts in Juba?



Born in

Africa to




Awesome. Also, Yasir Arman, the SPLM candidate for President of the Republic of Sudan (not Southern Sudan) is standing on a platform of Hope and Change. Check out the website.

24 March 2010

Constraints to growth in Southern Sudan

“One sack of sugar cost 155 [Sudanese pounds, $69.50]. When that train arrived it went to 80 [$35.90],” said John Arop, an NGO manager based in Wau. Soft drinks such as Coca-Cola and Fanta halved in price from 2 SDG (90 cents) to 1 SDG (45 cents), he said. The first cargo train also carried sugar, cement and sorghum.

Rail transport can dramatically cut prices because delivery trucks face multiple roadblocks and taxation


Ten rules for writing fiction

The Guardian has asked a bunch of authors how to write. Many of the responses are a bit worthy and repetitive. My pick of the 3 best are:

Margaret Atwood

1 Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can't sharpen it on the plane, because you can't take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.

2 If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.

3 Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.

4 If you're using a computer, always safeguard new text with a ­memory stick.

5 Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.

6 Hold the reader's attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don't know who the reader is, so it's like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What ­fascinates A will bore the pants off B.

7 You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there's no free lunch. Writing is work. It's also gambling. You don't get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you're on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don't whine.

8 You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You've been backstage. You've seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a ­romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.

9 Don't sit down in the middle of the woods. If you're lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.

10 Prayer might work. Or reading ­something else. Or a constant visual­isation of the holy grail that is the finished, published version of your resplendent book.

Philip Pullman

My main rule is to say no to things like this, which tempt me away from my proper work.

Ian Rankin

1 Read lots.

2 Write lots.

3 Learn to be self-critical.

4 Learn what criticism to accept.

5 Be persistent.

6 Have a story worth telling.

7 Don't give up.

8 Know the market.

9 Get lucky.

10 Stay lucky.

For non-fiction – here are some good tips from Amanda Taub

23 March 2010

The economics of pirating

A basic piracy operation requires a minimum eight to twelve militia prepared to stay at sea for extended periods of time, in the hopes of hijacking a passing vessel. Each team requires a minimum of two attack skiffs, weapons, equipment, provisions, fuel and preferably a supply boat. The costs of the operation are usually borne by investors, some of whom may also be pirates.

To be eligible for employment as a pirate, a volunteer should already possess a firearm for use in the operation. For this ‘contribution’, he receives a ‘class A’ share of any profit. Pirates who provide a skiff or a heavier firearm, like an RPG or a general purpose machine gun, may be entitled to an additional A-share. The first pirate to board a vessel may also be entitled to an extra A-share.

At least 12 other volunteers are recruited as militiamen to provide protection on land of a ship is hijacked, In addition, each member of the pirate team may bring a partner or relative to be part of this land-based force. Militiamen must possess their own weapon, and receive a ‘class B’ share — usually a fixed amount equivalent to approximately US$15,000.

If a ship is successfully hijacked and brought to anchor, the pirates and the militiamen require food, drink, qaad, fresh clothes, cell phones, air time, etc. The captured crew must also be cared for. In most cases, these services are provided by one or more suppliers, who advance the costs in anticipation of reimbursement, with a significant margin of profit, when ransom is eventually paid.

When ransom is received, fixed costs are the first to be paid out. These are typically:

• Reimbursement of supplier(s)

• Financier(s) and/or investor(s): 30% of the ransom

• Local elders: 5 to 10 %of the ransom (anchoring rights)

• Class B shares (approx. $15,000 each): militiamen, interpreters etc.

The remaining sum — the profit — is divided between class-A shareholders.

From the UN Security Council via UN Dispatch via the Browser

The Spaghetti Bowl of African Regional Integration Agreements


You said you liked pictures… (from the same WB report as this one).

22 March 2010

Barely getting by

Walking through the markets of Juba, women selling vegetables, tea and managing local food outlets catch your eyes most.  We do not do these odd jobs because they are our favourite, said Elizabeth Wani, a tea seller. “This is the only way we can find an income since we are illiterate,”.  Ms. Wani like most of her colleagues makes a living of less than 15 Sudanese pounds (5$) per day.


Betty Nyadeng, a 15 year old serving in a local hotel makes 10 Sudanese pounds (3$) in a day which caters for her two daughters and four siblings. “If I had an education, I would be earning more for my siblings,” she said upon tears. She added that her eldest sister passed away while giving birth early this year due to the hard times she went though while pregnant.

From SudanVotes.com

The SSCCSE are killing me, I can’t wait to see some published household survey data.

DFID in Nigeria

DFID is another donor that could not account for all its activities. When asked to provide information on the sectors and states DFID is operating in, it simply wrote saying ‘we do not require our programme managers to collect expenditure on a state-by-state basis.’…
Huh? Isn’t Nigeria quite a big country? With quite a large population? Some casual googling tells me that the average (mean) Nigerian state has 3.7 million people, more populous than Liberia, Mauritania, Namibia, Botswana, or Lesotho.

Lagos State has 9 million people, more than Rwanda or Sierra Leone.

Why do countries get so much more weight in our decisions than people?
Quote from Global Dashboard’s summary of a Nigeria National Planning Commission report which analyses the aid to Nigeria between 1999 and 2007.

10 Most Clicked (so far)

1. Blogging and Academia

2. Photo of the Day

3. Jigy-jigy

4. Elbadawi on the Game between Juba and Khartoum

5. Half of all Haitians wanted to permanently leave the country, even before the earthquake

6. Dear NGOs, Put some clothes on you scruffs!

7. Top 10 annoying things about people who complain about economists

8. All of political economy in one picture

9. Thursday Links

10. This rocks my world

I’m trying to look for patterns. Half of these are pictures/graphs/charts/tables. So you like pictures. Beyond that…

Weekly Twitter Links

19 March 2010

I have some competition…

For this week at least, possibly the best economics blog in Southern Sudan could be Whirled Citizen. He’s probably too busy doing some actual economics work to blog, but I’m looking forward to more reflections on Juba.

In case you missed it – this is also the best summary I’ve read of the new Pinkovskiy and Sala-i-Martin “African Poverty is Falling” paper.

18 March 2010

Robots and Development

I’m generally pretty excited by new technology. Not so much this one.

As part of our ongoing support for the Samfya Resource Centre [Zambia], we have sent them robots.

robots in this context is an experiment for us. We don’t know how it will go. But it’s an experiment the young women of the Samfya Resource Centre are excited about.”

Aptivate International IT Development

Ernest asks…

What’s worse than seeing the driver in the speeding taxi you are trapped in whip out his mobile phone and start a conversation?”

My worst was the guy driving me from Entebbe to Kampala who decided to show me a Ugandan music video on the PORTABLE DVD PLAYER INSTALLED IN THE FRONT OF HIS CAR.

Taxi Driver: “Oh watch this bit its really good

Me (in my head): “No!! Watch the fucking road you maniac!!

Me (actually): “Er, yeah… that’s nice…

My favourite Ugandan music video I saw about 5 times on a long bus journey a few years ago. The lyrics went something like “O mama I married a Mzungu (White person), please forgive me, he doesn’t know our ways, he doesn’t eat matooke (mashed banana), but I love him anyway,” complete with idiotic Mzungu in the video committing lots of social faux-pas. I would kill for a copy of that.

I also saw a good one in the Amen supermarket the other day which appeared to be showing the life of a Nigerian living in England. There were 3 scenes.

  1. Man rapping as walking down a London street being a parking inspector
  2. Man rapping as being the toilet attendant in a London club
  3. Man rapping as being pushed into police car

Anecdotally, African immigrants do seem to make up a disproportionate percentage of London parking inspectors and toilet attendants. I’d say approximately 99%. Probably because everybody hates parking inspectors and nobody wants to be a toilet attendant. No wonder the guy is getting arrested by the end.

17 March 2010

Chart of the Day: African Growth Rates

From the World Bank via Global Dashboard


I’ve got nothing to say today. I have a strange chronic fatigue, perhaps heat-related, which doesn’t seem to be abated by sleep. So Here’s the Daily Mash.


THE horrific, soul-destroying journey you make every morning to the job that makes you want to die will soon cost a record breaking amount of money.


Yes, you can

Something called the AA said that by the end of the week the price of turning the only life you have into an empty, meaningless process of breathing in and out, interspersed with the joyless consumption of shaped meat will reach a new high of £1.20 a litre.

They said you would be angry about it because the price of the thing they use to make the stuff that goes into the machine you use to get to the place you hate had gone down, in what you described as a spectacular example of completely missing the point.

Tom Logan, who endures roughly 220 minutes of hell a day between Grantham and Peterborough so that he can do something that does not involve music or art or spaceships, said: "What do I care about the price of the thing they use to make the stuff?

"I don't want to be here. Do you understand that? If the price of the thing was linked to the price of the stuff would I be able to spend all day designing spaceships, playing the bongos and baking lovely pies in the comfort of my own shed? I suspected as much.

"So instead of spaceships and bongos and pies I'll be spending slightly longer at my desk so that I can continue to afford the journey to get to my desk.

"You see, on the one hand you're asking me whether something must be done about the price of the thing in relation to the price of the stuff and on the other hand I'm saying that everything about the way we live our lives is completely and utterly wrong in every conceivable way."

He added: "I'm not even sure what I do here. I think it might be something to do with mobile phone tariffs."

13 March 2010

Is migration at fault for poor healthcare in Africa?

You can probably guess what I think. Here is the OECD and WHO:

What is the impact of migration on less developed countries?

“In 2000, all African-born doctors and nurses working in the OECD represented no more than 12% of the total shortage for the region, as estimated by WHO. The corresponding percentage was even lower in Southeast Asia (9%). International migration is neither the main cause of healthcare shortages in developing countries, nor would its reduction be enough to address to the worldwide health human resources crisis. It is true, however, that in less developed countries that have particularly high emigration rates, emigration contributes to exacerbate the acuteness of health workforce problems and further weaken already fragile health systems.”

How can countries respond?

Source countries need to strengthen health workforce retention. Such policies should focus on rural areas, as there seems to be a link between internal and international migration. (Most international migrants come from urban areas although the most acute shortages tend to be in rural areas.)

Easterly on Millenium Villages

“Sachs is essentially trying to create an island of success in a sea of failure, and maybe he’s done that, but it doesn’t address the sea of failure.”

via Derrill Watson

12 March 2010

The Political Economy of Boreholes in Southern Sudan


From SudanVotes.com… 

“boreholes are the cause of frequent fights amongst women. There are simply not enough bore holes to go around the population and thus it is the principle of first come first served which can create great injustice.  There is nobody responsible for order at the bore holes.  Often the neighborhood will only hear shouting and insults coming from the boreholes with people whose houses are near by using the shouts as their daily alarm clocks.”

Hmm so let me see. What we seem to have here is a problem of the allocation of a scarce resource. It seems that the price of a good has been set at zero, and there is also a kind of excess demand, leading to a queuing and fisticuffs solution. Now, if only there was some kind of theory about how to solve these kind of problems that could apply here.

Seriously though, anyone know about any experiences of privatised property rights in boreholes?


See also Dan Rogger’s story about the difficulties in getting a borehole built in the first place through a fictional developing country’s civil service.

Richard Dowden on Nigeria

“Would ordinary Nigerians have felt Yar’Adua’s absence? Since the experience of the Nigerian state for most Nigerians is limited to demands for bribes by officials and policemen, the government and who is running it is of little consequence to them. Everything positive in their lives is achieved by themselves in spite of the ruling elite and their officials, not because of it. Many might say that Nigeria would be better off without a government at all.”

Pretty damning.

10 March 2010

US Emigration

Tim Kane at Growthology worries about the impact of the US fiscal crisis (and the baby boomer pension burden) in the context of a global economy. What if all the smart kids decide to pick up and emigrate rather than stick around to pick up their parents generation’s tab?

In passing he notes this startling stat from the BBC: 10% of all Brits live abroad.

Barack Obama reads rovingbandit.com

Is the only possible explanation I can come up with for the fact that he has just decided to:

allow technology companies to export Internet services to Iran, Cuba and Sudan in a bid to exploit their libertarian potential.

Clearly he saw how my libertarian potential was being thwarted by those restrictions on the purchase of little blocks of pixels on Facebook, and decided to change his mind.

Well, thank you Barack.

A good election to lose?

The prospect of a Europhobic, economically confused, anti-immigrant, privilege-defending Tory government led by a lightweight PR man is soul-destroying. But as disheartening as it now seems, this is an election that Labour might be better off losing.

Philippe Legrain on why 2010 could be Labour’s 1992.

09 March 2010

Gettin’ by cooking chapattis


(Photo credit: Christopher Lindahl)

One of my favourite Juba lunches is from the Ugandan chapatti guys next to the De-Mining Commission. For about $1 you get a big plate full of eggs and beans with either rice or chapattis.

I always wondered what brought these guys to Juba, and whether they really earned so much more than they did in Uganda.

Lo and behold, the South Sudan Business Week provides the answer (I’m trying to persuade the editor to start a website – you can too – email him at badru dot mulumba at gmail dot com).

Serunkuma had listened to a million stories of how there as a lot of money in Juba; having heard and seen several people return home with a lot to show.

So he spent $10 to spend a week riding on top of a beer truck from Kampala to Juba (saving $15 on the 1-day bus trip).

After an abortive dabble in the construction business, Serunkuma decided to be self employed.

“With my 140 pounds ($50), I decided to start a chapatti business.” In Jebel market, Serunkuma bought a frying pan for $10, paid rent for $4, bought a few packets of wheat flour and salt and he was ready to roll.

Having started with just a few packets of flour now Serunkuma bakes 8 packets and serves chapatti with beans. “I know earn 100 pounds ($30) a day. This is the money I used to earn in two months in Uganda when I used to work at a shop back in the city.

With a total saving of at least $120 a month, Serunkuma has been able to set up a poultry farm back home; and now employs 5 people to work on it.

“While in Uganda, I just couldn’t do certain jobs because the neighbourhood is at watch and wants to know what each neighbour’s son is doing for a living. And when it’s a crappy job, they will laugh at your parents. But here, nobody knows me and in fact, my hard work is people’s happiness.”


See also Gettin’by with a Senke here, and Myles Estey’s series on Gettin’ by in Liberia.

07 March 2010

A Greek Charter City?

Chris Dillow suggests that Greece should sell some uninhabited islands to pay off its debts.

How about a Greek Island Charter City – Greek (and EU!) law, with open immigration for North Africans?

Election Fever

….is hotting up in Juba. I hear a campaign truck with music and drums go past my office window about 3 times a day.

There is also apparently some kind if cutesy little poll in someplace called the, er, United.. Kingdom..?

So the ONE campaign is running a petition to the party leaders to get them to go “On the Record” about their plans for fighting extreme poverty. Seems like an eminently sensible idea to me. And I’m also impressed by the “beyond aid” range of questions.

Here they are:

1. Global leadership
With the UN’s September Summit focusing on extreme poverty and the Millennium Development Goals, there is a historic opportunity for progress. How will you make the most of this opportunity?

2. The UK’s promise
If elected, what would you do to ensure the UK delivers on its commitment to give 0.7% of Gross National Income as development assistance?

3. Climate and development
What would you do to secure a global climate deal that helps people living in poverty and would you ensure that climate funding is additional to current and promised aid flows?

4. Improving aid
UK development assistance is well respected, but are there ways in which you would increase its effectiveness?

5. Security and development
What is your position on using development funding for security operations?

6. Investment in Africa
How would you ensure private sector investment in Africa helps to reduce poverty?

Weekly Twitter Links

The Other Brain Drain

Guest post by one of my partners in crime: Sceptical Bandit.

There’s been a lot here recently about the gains from Africa’s Brain Drain to the developed world.

But here’s asking a different question: what of the brain drain within Africa by the UN and international agencies? Working here within the government, it’s now pretty much routine to see the most efficient staff, especially at junior levels, being picked up by the UN or the World Bank or the zillion other agencies in Juba. These staff typically enter the organization with no experience and few skills, use a year (or two’s) experience to beef up their employability, and then scoot – most often without notice and using paid leave to look for a job! When they go, they leave gaping holes because they haven’t arranged a proper hand-over or given any time to hunt for replacements (which are hard to find in the first place).

I’m not against people getting better jobs. My problem is with a) them sneaking off without warning and b) this ensuring that the government NEVER quite has adequate capacity. At least over the next 15 years, even if all goes well, the UN presence will remain. By which time the process of leaching away all the skilled employees will have set in place an institutional path based on only the least skilled remaining staff. That’s what the face of the government would be like for decades at least. And before you think of it, training people on-the-job in government is not a solution; the more you train them, the more employable they become elsewhere. The only equilibrium is to ensure the skills of your own staff are as mediocre as the general population!

I’m not asking for a ban on UN hiring GOSS employees. But perhaps if they could at least ensure that the government employer knows about the arrangement, and if the government and the UN could ensure that nobody is hired to start before the end of their notice period (3 months or 6 months), at least organizations could plan a bit better. And some institutional knowledge at least could survive - even though you can't stop the drain, you can minimize the damage it does. These aren’t harsh conditions of employment – similar conditions are pretty common-place in employment contracts worldwide. And just because contracts are difficult to enforce here is hardly a reason to destroy the public sector.

Roving Bandit’s conscience is troubled by this scheme. He doesn’t think the government has any business curtailing employment opportunities for individuals. I disagree (obviously). What do you think?

06 March 2010

Whither the Resource Curse?

The backlash is coming!

Apparently, economists are now discovering that getting more money doesn’t always make you poorer.

Who woulda thought it!

What we seem to have experienced over the past few years is a massive smart-arsed-economist Freakonomics-syle “counterintuitive finding”-obsession FAIL.


Yes, free money accruing to governments (resources or aid) probably doesn’t do much for their accountability, but does this governance effect really outweigh the free-money effect? Are the institutional effects of free-money so damaging that free money makes countries poorer? Or are we just trying too hard to be clever and “counterintuitive.”?

(As a final aside – the resource/aid/free-money curse only exist when the money is flowing to the government. Giving oil revenues or aid directly to poor people rather than to their governments is obviously logistically more difficult, but ameliorates this problem entirely).

“World Bank to give $125 million for health, road programs in South Sudan”

Is today’s headline in the Tribune. Except it isn’t. The World Bank is not “giving” $125 million. The World Bank is making a disbursement of donor money from a fund which it manages. The World Bank is a management consultant here.

This kind of confusion is why we need more explicit contracts and unbundling of aid donations from project implementation (and fund management).

For the 10 hundredth time – go and read Beyond Planning now.

Happy Birthday Roving Bandit

I’m a few days late but I just realised that I started this thing just over a year ago. My first post was 3rd March 2009.

I’m afraid that I have no profundities (for that – try Andrew Sullivan – Why I Blog), except to say thanks for reading and for all your comments. I really couldn’t have imagined it going any better. So, if you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.

05 March 2010

Social Networks for Development

I’ve been chatting to Sam Lampert and a colleague about Beyond Planning and what the ultimate social network for development would look like.

I think the big idea is already out there. It is Ushahidi, which aggregates and maps information submitted online or by SMS during elections and crises. But why stop at crises? Why not just have a system which is always on and which can allow citizen reporting on public services?

How about a massive global wikipedia for aid spending, government spending, and politics, with Facebook Connect so contributor’s reputations are at stake, and maps, and links to MP profiles, and voting buttons on public projects, and voting buttons on public projects linked to SMS, which are advertised on the radio (“how is your local school doing? text your marks out of 10 along with your district name to 1234”), and detailed user reviews of projects, and league tables, and links to public data on project spending. Aid and Government projects all in the same place. Aid transparency, government transparency, political transparency, all in the same place.

Geeks of the world – any takers?

04 March 2010

Time for a Fiscal Policy Committee (FPC)

“The financial crisis has brought large fiscal deficits and soaring public debt. A switch to tight fiscal policy risks throttling the recovery, but continuing deficits are spooking markets. This column argues the obvious solution is to promise future fiscal rectitude and stick with the current expansionary policies in the near term. This requires independent fiscal policy committees to institutionalise fiscal transparency and restore credibility to governments’ long-term public finances.”

Tim Besley and Andrew Scott on VoxEU

02 March 2010

Seeing as Tourism is the new magic bullet…


(I’m joking Ranil!) But did I mention how great Logali House is? There is little better than a nice air-conditioned room in the height of the dry season when you haven’t slept for a week because of the heat.

By the way, to any other Juba businesses – I am totally for sale. I will plug you relentlessly for freebies.

Quote of the Day (QotD) – On Football and Marxism

I do love Chris Dillow…

“There’s a parallel between Arsene Wenger’s criticism of that tackle on Aaron Ramsey and Marx’s critique of capitalism.

In this context, Pulis’s defence of Shawcross, though factually correct, is pernicious. In encouraging us to look at individual agency, rather than structural forces, it perpetuates one piece of ideology/cognitive bias - the fundamental attribution error - which helps to sustain and legitimate capitalism.”

The Hole in the Wall Gang


(Photo from Reader’s Digest)

In 1999, Sugata Mitra and his colleagues dug a hole in a wall bordering an urban slum in New Delhi, installed an Internet connected PC, and left it there (with a hidden camera filming the area). What they saw was kids from the slum playing around with the computer and in the process learning how to use it and how to go online, and then teaching each other.

In the following years they replicated the experiment in other parts of India, urban and rural, with similar results, challenging some of the key assumptions of formal education. The "Hole in the Wall" project demonstrates that, even in the absence of any direct input from a teacher, an environment that stimulates curiosity can cause learning through self-instruction and peer-shared knowledge. Mitra, who's now a professor of educational technology at Newcastle University (UK), calls it "minimally invasive education."

The TED talk is here.

The academic papers are here.

The blog is here.

The article explaining how this guy was the inspiration for the plot of Slum-dog Millionaire is here (WTF?!!!).

I am in awe at how cool this. How about this as a solution for pastoralist education in remote Southern Sudan? Can you begin to imagine how the world will look when NGOs are handing out $100 iPhones to kids tending cows in cattle-camps, and there is free global wi-fi access?

Missionaries and Aid

“A root problem is a liberal snobbishness toward faith-based organizations. Those doing the sneering typically give away far less money than evangelicals. They’re also less likely to spend vacations volunteering at, say, a school or a clinic in Rwanda.”

Nick Kristof writes in defence of faith-based aid in the New York Times. Blattman agrees but Matt seems to be sceptical.

I am a bit of a Dawkins-reading-militant-atheist, but I have to say I have complete respect for the individuals who take their kids to non-family duty stations, stay longer than average aid workers, and work tirelessly.

Here’s a cool idea from Matthew Taylor


Give a small incentive (~£3o) for the unemployed to fill in their claims online – and save a bunch of money in staffing offices. Improve IT literacy in the process.

“a way of saving money, promoting social inclusion and contributing to the vision of digital Britain. Don’t be surprised to read it in a manifesto very soon.”

Just don’t get too carried away and forget about the importance and effectiveness of the actual mortar-and-brick job centres which require claimants to actually go and chat to an job-search advisor once a fortnight to keep on claiming.

The Sierra Leone Guide to Prevention of Tourism

Mark Weston makes fun of Sierra Leone’s tourism non-policy. 

He has a point though, what is the elasticity of tourist arrivals to visa fees? More broadly what are the determinants of tourist arrivals? Any research here?

I have a theory about the political economy of this. Poor country governments tend to be bad at taxing people. By far the easiest way is at ports. How about instead giving out free visas but increasing taxes on major tourist attractions (e.g. national park entry)?

01 March 2010

Weekly(ish) Twitter Links