30 July 2010

Count the passes

Watch this video and see how many passes you count.

Did you see the gorilla?

The point of the video, put together Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris is not the number of passes, but that something like half of people who watch this are so focused on counting that they completely miss the gorilla.

Stefan Dercon showed my class this during a lecture on poverty measurement at Oxford. What on earth does any of this have to do with poverty measurement? Stefan didn’t really explain, but my take was that, sometimes, perhaps, if we focus too much on measuring poverty we might not be paying enough attention to something really important, like, development or industrialisation.

All of this is a pretty long-winded way of introducing some of the recent discussions about the new UN Multidimensional Poverty Index developed at Oxford.

Duncan Green (Director of Research at Oxfam) thinks that “It’s a step forward on the previous Human Development Index, but only a limited one.

Martin Ravallion (Director of Research at the World Bank), notes that as with the HDI, “The index is essentially adding up apples and oranges … and no consensus exists on how the multiple dimensions should be weighted to form the composite index.”

Sabina Alkire (Co-creator of the new Index) responds to Martin by citing Sen: “There is indeed great merit… in having public discussions on the kind of weights that may be used.

Finally, Matt Collin (AidThoughts), notes that “Given that we need to unpack these indices to figure out what’s going on, why do we bother to pack them in the first place?

On balance, I think this is probably a useful data collection/sorting exercise, but would agree with Matt about the limited value of the aggregate index.

Especially given my currently developing obsession. Measuring the impact of an action upon a composite index is not going to be of pretty limited interest.

29 July 2010

Paris in Juba

How are donors doing on their Paris Declaration commitments in Southern Sudan?

GoSS will be conducting an assessment sometime over the next year, but here are a couple of quick observations.

Generally a pretty good effort on harmonisation – see the Joint Assessment Mission, the Joint Donor Team, and the Multi-donor Evaluation.

Not so great on predictability. At Paris in 2005,

Donors commit to:

Provide reliable indicative commitments of aid over a multi-year framework and disburse aid in a timely and predictable fashion according to agreed schedules.

and to:

Provide  timely,  transparent  and  comprehensive  information  on  aid  flows  so  as  to  enable  partner  authorities  to  present comprehensive budget reports to their legislatures and citizens.

And at Accra in 2008,

Beginning now, donors will provide developing countries with regular and timely information on their rolling three-to five-year  forward expenditure and/or  implementation plans, with at  least  indicative  resource allocations  that developing countries can  integrate  in their medium-term planning and macroeconomic frameworks. Donors will  address any constraints to providing such information.

Figures from the GoSS Donor Book suggest that there is a significant  gap between budgeted and actual expenditures by Donors across all sectors,


and also that there is a serious lack of information on commitments for the medium-term.


This one is easy. We can do better than this.

27 July 2010

Goodbye Juba!: Top 10 things I’ll Miss (and won’t miss)

Day 3 of recovery from my Southern Sudan addiction and hot water is still amazing.
In traditional blog-format: Things I’ll miss:
  1. My housemates
  2. Friends and Colleagues
  3. The “Morning!” kids
  4. My Senke motorbike
  5. Rolexes and beans for lunch
  6. The Sun!
  7. The surly tea-ladies at the Ministry who bully us khawajas
  8. Sudanese Greetings: Every person in the room gets a handshake, no matter how long it takes or how inconvenient. Old friends get a good slap on the chest.
  9. Poker at Sam’s
  10. Playing football with the Bangladeshi peacekeepers
And things I won’t miss:
  1. Malaria!
  2. Having to deal with a broken generator and/or car on an almost weekly basis
  3. Cold showers
  4. The heat
  5. The traffic cops
  6. The slowest internet in the world
  7. The most annoying mobile phone ringtones in the world
  8. Meetings which start an hour late
  9. The neighbours’ fondness for playing very loud Westlife and Celine Dion
  10. Queuing for an hour to withdraw money from Kenya Commercial Bank
I’m still a bit disorientated and will hopefully achieve some coherence at some point.

Update: I forgot about Anna our cleaning lady! Not looking forward to doing my own laundry and dishes again.

25 July 2010

Toilet Paper Only. No Zim Dollars.

Apparently from the Restroom of a border crossing between South African and Zimbabwe. HT: Good Morning Afrika

24 July 2010

Reasons to buy a pink car

Figure 2. Theft risk by colour (%), cars up to three years old, 2004-2008, the Netherlands


Note: Left bars relate to 15 most popular makes in the Netherlands (Alfa Romeo, Audi, BMW, Citroen, Fiat, Ford, Honda, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Opel, Peugeot, Renault, Toyota, Volkswagen, Volvo). Right bars exclude the three luxury makes (Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz).Source: CBS/RDW

Ben Vollaard, VoxEU


1. Two new journalist-in-Sudan blogs – Alan Boswell and Jenn Warren (Photographer) - (via Petermartell.com)

2. My housemate in Juba has relented and finally started a blog – this doesn’t mean you have to stop spamming my inbox!

3. Ghana’s Oil Curse? Part One

4. Niggaz With Attitude

23 July 2010

UN Security Council reduces growth, democracy, and press freedom

Compared to countries not on the Security Council, countries on the Security Council experienced lower economic growth, became less democratic, and were less friendly to the press for several years after being elected to their two-year term. This pattern was largely confined to nondemocratic regimes and casts doubt on the wisdom of providing generous aid to such regimes.

Bueno de Mesquita, B. & Smith, A., “The Pernicious Consequences of UN Security Council Membership,” Journal of Conflict Resolution (forthcoming).

via Kevin Lewis at Boston.com

22 July 2010

ODA, Philanthropy, and Remittances

From the 2010 Index of Global Philanthropy and Remittances, via Matt Morris.

Look how many countries send more through remittances than ODA and philanthropy combined. That is FREE AID. It is costless for sending-country natives. FREE. AID.

20 July 2010

Development as……. Traffic lights


In Wau. Western Bahr el Ghazal. And they actually function. Even Juba isn’t this advanced!

(Photo Credit: Karuna Herrmann)

Good research ideas

We’ve set up each of our randomized control trials with a team of one to two full time Liberian qualitative researchers. Over two years we’ve discovered people with an incredible talent for observing, talking, confiding, and (increasingly) analysis. They get reams of information and insight unavailable to the foreigner. The data are voluminous. If the interventions work, we have a solid idea why. Another benefit: new questions and hypotheses to test quantitatively—some more interesting than the originals. And it’s a poor but respectable substitute for the dwindling time I have to spend in the field. Every research project should build this in.

Chris Blattman on mixing qual and quant methods.

17 July 2010

Malaria Strikes. And Planning.

Posting will be continue to be slow this week due to malaria and government budget planning meetings. Mainly due to the planning meetings. I also have some tough malaria breed which Coartem won’t kill, so I’m now on to Quinine.

Fun Quinine fact – it makes your saliva taste like tonic water.

Next week is also my last in Southern Sudan (for now). Reflections to come once I have had time to catch my breath. I might need a new sub-title for the blog. Suggestions welcome.

Also to come - notes on adventures in Kenya the week after next, when I’ll be learning how to do a randomised controlled trial.

Watch this space.

11 July 2010

The campaign for separation comes to Unity State


Update: I am told that actually boda-bodas have been banned in Bentiu, so this may not actually be from Unity State. Oh well.

Top-notch economic analysis from Khartoum

The finance minister in Khartoum state Mohamed Yousif said that he established a taskforce to examine the causes of rising prices in 37 items which concluded that the 15% inflation rate, low productivity and high demand led to this situation.

So apparently rising prices (inflation) are causing rising prices. Erm nice one…

Sudan Tribune

10 July 2010

New Southern Sudan blog

Peter Martell has a new website. He has been reporting from Southern Sudan for the BBC (amongst others) for a while now. He also rides a Senke, which clearly makes him a very cool dude. Self-recommending really.

We’re number #34!

According to some sort of online 2010 ranking for best economics blogs. Mental. Obviously I can’t vouch for the rigour or quality of the selection process.



1. Some pessimism from Becker and Posner on Africa’s growth prospects

2. Eritrea: Africa’s North Korea

3. Gettin’ by: Rural teaching

4. Great charities are born not made

08 July 2010

Today I am proud to be British

At least a part of my open-border enthusiasm is personal. My grandmother fled Nazi Germany as a teenager just before the outbreak of World War II. This commemorative plaque sits in the House of Commons.


On Wednesday more history was made as the British Supreme Court passed a ruling allowing gay and lesbian asylum seekers to remain in the UK if they fear persecution in their home country. The ruling was welcomed by the Conservative Party home secretary. Yes that Conservative Party. The right-wing, socially conservative one.

Britain, you rock.

07 July 2010

Haddad on Cash Transfers

Lawrence Haddad at IDS notes that all of the recent big cash transfer successes have been led by governments rather than donors. 

There have been too many donor driven pilot schemes in sub-Saharan Africa that have not taken off due to lack of political support. The successes cited in the article have been home grown: Mexico, Brazil, South Africa. What donors can do best is to be nimble, nurturing and flexible enough to support home grown political energy for cash transfers when and where it exists. This is what donor support for cash transfers should prioritize and it is what aid more generally should seek to do.

I would disagree for 3 reasons.

  1. His list (Mexico, Brazil, South Africa) are all middle-income countries. If we wait for the rest of sub-Saharan Africa to become middle-income… then isn’t half of the problem solved already? Won’t that take too long?
  2. Donors should not necessarily blindly follow where governments lead. They can and perhaps should play a catalytic role in experimenting and encouraging the government to experiment with new policies (and robustly evaluating them!) to generate new knowledge.
  3. Mobile technology. Soon there will be an M-Pesa which works globally. And then…


On a side note – Haddad references a Sunday Times article – which he can’t link to because of the new paywall. Anyone want to bet against the Times paywall experiment failing?

06 July 2010

Back to the future

back to the future

Watch out for Marty McFly on a hoverboard…

Blogging: A failed defence against impermanence?

Chronicling, like acquisition, is a failed defense against impermanence. We can’t take our stuff with us when we go, but we can’t even take our experiences with us into the next moment, except by recording them, by talking about them. Gossip can be understood through these texts as perhaps a function of longing rather than a malicious impulse; if we don’t tell someone about what happened or where we’ve been, that experience may just vanish. Telling people what happened is the acquisitive impulse applied to experience. Buying too much stuff is the same thing as telling secrets. Indiscretion is a kind of longing.

Helena Fitzgerald, via Marginal Revolution

05 July 2010

Markets not in Everything

This morning I stopped by the side of the road to put some air in my car tyres. The mechanic asked me if I would know how to sell his kidney in the UK. Erm..

02 July 2010

President loses election in Somaliland

Congratulations to the new President and to the people of Somaliland.

In elections described as free and fair by international observers, Somaliland replaced its President with the opposition candidate.

This is a great achievement for the pseudo-state. Less than 10% of African leaders since independence have left office through the ballot box.

Will this bolster claims for international recognition?

Nick Eubank, author of a couple of papers on Somaliland’s political development argues that
recognition–or more specifically the subsequent eligibility for foreign assistance which would almost certainly follow–has significant potential to upset Somaliland's success.
in the absence of foreign aid, Somaliland's government was forced to negotiate with a wide array of actors in order to develop a sufficient tax base, and it was as a result of these negotiations that the country developed highly representative institutions
You can probably guess what my solution would be. Don’t give aid to the Government of Somaliland. Give it to the people.


Update: A friend has sent me an article by Rageh Omaar, a British journalist born in Mogadishu whose family are from Somaliland.

"For Somalilanders, formal recognition by the rest of the world is the holy grail, a national obsession that defines part of what it means to be a Somalilander and that cuts across all party lines."