28 December 2010

Alanna Shaikh debunks international development media narratives, simultaneously reinforces same narrative

Alanna goes for the provocative:
Nick Kristof is the most prominent example of the typical media narrative: whites in shining armor, helpless poor people in need of our charity, simple programs with immediate, long term impact. Basically, international development is easy if you just care enough and are ready to spend some money. Good solutions are right around the corner!
The hidden truth known only to Alanna and "pretty much everyone else who works in international development" is that innovation and crowdsourcing are overhyped, and the future is partnership.

What she seems to be talking about though is aid. Which is not the same thing as international development. The real global development narrative neglected by the media is precisely this: aid is not the most important component of development. 

There are good reasons to think that international labour mobility is "the biggest idea in development that no one really tried", and "the most effective development intervention we have evidence for".

Is this just some kind of availability heuristic? We think aid is important because it is the easiest way we can think of to help?

Tackling big issues related to policy and governance are difficult. Seeing your impact is much less clear when campaigning for a policy shift than giving food to a hungry child. But these issues are too big to ignore.

UPDATE: Apologies to Alanna for initially misspelling her surname in the title of this post, and also thanks for acknowledging my comment. I do think the confusion of the terms is a really serious error though. If smart and engaged people can't tell the difference then how can we expect anyone else to?

27 December 2010

It's fashionable to knock GOSS

It's fashionable to knock GOSS, so it's refreshing to see an article which gives credit where credit is due… One hopes that this new-found respect for GOSS will spill over when the USA "urges Sudan’s Kiir to reach agreement with NCP" and that this will not lead to the "moral equivalence" argument so ably analysed by Eric Reeves in a piece I circulated on 22nd December 2010. GOSS, SPLM and the people of the south have already made significant concessions and have signed agreements with the NCP. The onus is now on NCP to implement what it has agreed, not on GOSS/SPLM to make further concessions.

John Ashworth

How big is North America relative to Europe?

via Information is Beautiful

23 December 2010

The Royal African Society on the Sudan Referendum

The Royal African Society has put together a collection of opinion pieces on the referendum.

Stephen Chan from my old school SOAS nails it for me:

I do not see a return to war.    
Autonomous administration has meant the creation of a space of public administration AND the sense of defensible borders. Both sides have amassed traditional armour. War would mean not a return to guerrilla war, but the inauguration of conventional war. The oil blocks would be right in the middle. Neither China nor the West would tolerate any resort to significant hostilities. If Wikileaks bothered to look at the diplomatic cable traffic on this issue, that would become clear.  

A plan

The British Conservatives are struggling to fulfill their promise of halving net immigration, largely because "half of Britain’s long-term immigrants are Europeans entitled to enter freely" (The Economist).

Here's a plan - if the goal is cutting net immigration - why not try giving a little nudge to some of those one in three Britons who want to leave the country?

22 December 2010

Key Indicators for Southern Sudan

Dear journalists,

Next time you need some Southern Sudan stats, try here first.



21 December 2010

To PhD or not to PhD?

The Economist and Chris Blattman discuss.

One of the problems facing potential applicants is the impossibility of impartial advice. Almost everyone who has / is doing a graduate degree tells you that it is worthwhile, and almost everyone who does not tells you that it is not (with the notable exception of the embittered Economist correspondent). People are quite understandably prone to rationalising their own big important life decisions.

Objective data on earnings doesn't really help as earnings aren't exactly the point. Is there any research on the happiness / life satisfaction returns to graduate study?

New Blog: Former US Ambassador to Nigeria

John Campbell, a former US ambassador to Nigeria has a new blog "Africa in Transition" at the Council on Foreign Relations. Looks like a must-read.

16 December 2010

A Sudan Blog by Sudanese

This struggling life continued until one morning in 2005 I heard my friends ululating and shouting. It was breaking news that the Sudan People's Liberation Movement had signed a final peace deal the National Congress Party. I couldn't believe my ears. I had to ask a friend what the BBC was saying, and he told me – so then I knew it was true. My family and friends got together. It called for celebration; at least now we had hope for the future.
In the last five years of peace, my family has been transformed, from living in mud huts to now staying in a place with a corrugated iron roof. And I'm at university studying IT.
That is Morri Francis, a student and radio presenter writing in the Guardian. He is also blogging along with other Southerners at CAFOD.

Emmanuel Jal - We Want Peace

Fun fact(?): according to Wikipedia Emmanuel Jal was adopted and smuggled to Kenya by Emma McCune, the English girl who married Riek Machar back when he was a warlord.

10 December 2010

What happened to all the interventionists?

Khartoum has dropped 18 bombs on Southern Sudan, and Ggabo is trying to steal an election in Cote D'Ivoire. Where are the voices for forceful intervention? I'm not even saying that I would support such intervention (though I might), just curious as to why there is no debate?

UPDATE: I found one! G. Pascal Zachary, africanist-journo-professor asks:

Is it time to remove Gbagbo by force?


08 December 2010

Friday Night Bingo in Dar Es Salaam

If you’re stuck for something to do on a Friday night in Dar Es Salaam, look no further than the bingo night at Upanga Club. You heard it here first.
The night is almost exclusively populated by Tanzanians of Indian origin, most of whom live close by in the centre of town, in an area that was first allocated to Indian ‘coolies’ by the British colonial administration.
The Upanga Club is a members club (which you pay a bit to join for the night), an old-fashioned place which also houses a squash court. The proceedings invariably begin with some delicious Indian food; slow to come but some of the best. Then the serious business of bingo must commence.
I can confirm that the food is indeed delicious. Sadly I wasn't there on a Friday though. From Measure Mag.

07 December 2010

7 reasons why urban growth is a natural and normal phenomenon

The town of Dubai first conducted a census in 1968 (with approximately 59,971 inhabitants then) ... According to the Statistics Centre of Dubai, the population of the emirate is estimated to be over 1,800,000 as of 2010 ... Do the math!  
(HT: Our Word is Our Weapon).
OK. I make that an annual growth rate of 8%, not to be sniffed at. 108%. Dubai has more than doubled in population every year for the past 42 years.(Hey - this is a blog - there is very little editing and short deadlines, so occasionally there will be very stupid mistakes).

Rapid urban growth is not an inherently evil thing. In fact it is probably quite a good thing. Professor Mario Polèse offers 7 reasons why:
Seven Pillars of Agglomeration:
1. Economies of scale in production: For many industries, the average cost of producing goods declines as the scale of production expands. This can make it very profitable to concentrate production in a few large facilities and to locate those facilities close to lots of workers, namely near cities.
2. Economies of scale in trade and transportation: Delivery costs are lower when the trucks, planes, and ships going to and from transit hubs are fully loaded with goods. Filling trucks, planes, and ships is easier when they’re moving between urban areas with large ports, airports, and distribution centers.
3. Falling transportation and communication costs: Falling transport costs allow firms to exploit economies of scale, producing in one place and distributing to a large and geographically diverse market by road, air, or sea. Similarly, declining communications costs allow firms to concentrate productive activity in one place and distribute services to a wider market via airwaves, radio frequencies, and fiber optic cables.
4. The need for proximity with other firms in the same industry: Face to face interaction is important in industries where creativity, inspiration, imagination, or the cultivation of trust are key inputs. Proximity with other firms also lowers recruitment and training costs since a firm will have ready access to workers with industry-relevant skills.
5. The advantage of diversity: For firms, such as ad agencies, that need a workforce with a diverse skill set, will be better able to find and recruit workers from many different speciallized backgrounds if they locate near large cities where many different industries cluster.
6. The quest for the center: Firms that need direct access to customers will naturally locate in the geographic center of their markets. In many cases, this will mean locating in or near big cities. Polèse points to the example of Broadway. The concentration of performing arts in New York reflects access to the large local population but also theatergoers from other metropolitan areas that are linked to New York by rail, air, and road.
7. Buzz and bright lights: Cities with amenities like food, nightlife, museums, recreation, culture, and shopping tend to attract more people. Economists Ed Glaeser, Jed Kolko, and Albert Saiz find that high amenity cities grow faster than low amenity cities. They also observe that urban rents rise faster than urban wages, suggesting that people want to live in cities for reasons beyond rising wages. Even as information technology makes it possible for an increasing number of people to work from nearly anywhere in the world, the amenities associated with city life continue to attract and retain urban residents.

Everything's Amazing and Nobody's Happy

O'Brien: Do you feel that we now take technology for granted?
Louis C.K.: Well yes, now we live an amazing world, and its wasted on the crappiest generation of spoiled idiots that don't care.

HT: Kelly Bidwell via Chris Blattman

George Clooney in Southern Sudan

A few weeks back my Facebook newsfeed filled up with photos of grinning friends standing next to George Clooney in Juba's bars. Well this is what he was up to.

Kristof is somewhat predictably a fan.
I admire Clooney (and Ann Curry of NBC, who went with him and got an hour on Dateline) for trying to raise an alarm bell in the night. Let’s hope that the alarms, and the latest burst of diplomacy and spotlight on South Sudan, are enough to avert a new war.
Tom Murphy
worries that this over-simplifies what is going on in Sudan
I'm actually going to side with Kristof on this one. Whilst I don't think that a return to war is the most likely to outcome, it is a possibility, and given the track record of the US in helping to broker the 2005 CPA I do think that US diplomacy could be important in ensuring a peaceful outcome.

I don't think that a return to war is likely because I think that ultimately both sides are going to behave rationally, by which I mean in their own self-interest. The Khartoum government has a strong interest in not losing the oil revenues from the South, but an even stronger interest in not having all oil production come to a halt completely due to a return to war. The cost to the SPLM of building a new pipeline through Kenya is basically prohibitive, and they have already indicated that they would be willing to pay hefty pipeline fees to Khartoum, even to the point of extending the current 50:50 split.

Added to the mix for Khartoum is that arrest warrant for Bashir, the desire to get sanctions lifted, and the desire to get some relief on that $30bn of debt.

There is a lot of space for a mutually profitable deal to be made, if cool heads can be made to prevail.

06 December 2010

Agricultural Production and Global Migration

Upon arriving in Sudan and witnessing the miles and miles of empty fertile land, my friend Abhijeet decided that the obvious solution to Sudan's economic development was importing Indians. Let some poor, land-starved Indian farmers come over and have some free land, and they'll revolutionise agricultural productivity.

It looks like Khartoum has been having similar ideas.
Islamabad government is negotiating with Khartoum way to provide land and family visas to Pakistani farmers to enable them to farm in Sudan, Pakistan’s ministry of agriculture said this week.
The issue was discussed when Pakistani Federal minister for Food & Agriculture, Nazar M. Gondal received in his office Sudanese ambassador to Pakistan, Mohamed Omer Moussa at his office in Islamabad last Thursday.
"Our farmers are the most hardworking people on the globe. If they are provided with chunks of land and duly supported, they could prove to be extremely beneficial for both countries. The farmers will transfer their valuable farming experiences and help to promote best agricultural practices in Sudan," said Gondal.
Ambassador Moussa praised the proposal adding that Sudan would cordially welcome to have Pakistani farming families and will ensure to facilitate and support them in all the possible ways.
"We really desire to benefit from your rich experience in agriculture sector. We already have Egyptian and Palestinian farming communities in Sudan and would be more than happy to have skilled Pakistani farmers" he said.
Sudan and Egypt agreed in September to encourage private companies to plant wheat in northern Sudan and settle Egyptian farmers there. The project had been agreed in the past by the two countries but the recent world grain crisis pushed the two countries to revive it.
The Pakistani minister said that the proposed plan to transfer Farming Families to Sudan will be included in the MoU, already under process, between Government of Sudan and Pakistan for Cooperation in the field of Agriculture.
From wikipedia:

India: the 32nd most densely populated country in the world (938 people per square mile)
Pakistan: the 58th most densely populated country in the world (552 people per square mile)

Sudan: the 202nd most densely populated country in the world (41 people per square mile)

04 December 2010

Links (now on Twitter)

It has been well over a year since my experiment with Twitter began. Since then I have become thoroughly hooked, and there has been a corresponding drop-off in those "interesting links" blog posts.

As Tim Harford just tweeted (I still hate that word...)
"Twitter is siphoning off all the stuff we used to put on blogs that really wanted to be a tweet." http://bit.ly/g4u3Cp @doctorow on news
One the fascinating things about the medium is the way it has taken on a life of its own, being used pretty differently to how its creators intended.

So basically, you should really get yourself on twitter. You can always just dip your toe in and have a look around without actually signing up. You can also get my twitter RSS feed without signing up.

02 December 2010

The Economist still using made-up poverty stats

That 90% living on less than $1 a day stat? Pulled completely out of thin air about 5 years ago because there was no data. Literally just made up on the spot.
Now there is some data, thanks to the hard work of the staff at the Southern Sudan Centre for Census, Statistics and Evaluation, and some generous funding and technical assistance from various donors. And it is even ONLINE. image
I used to think that statistics in poor countries were underfunded, but if we’re all going to ignore them anyway and just make stuff up….

UPDATE: Oh yeah, and I forgot to mention, this one fully conforms to Easterly's "First Law of Development Stats: Whatever our Bizarre Methodology, We make Africa look Worse".

The actual real stats (not yet adjusted for PPP) would put the proportion of the population living on less than $1 a day at more like 50%.

01 December 2010

The Lottery of Life

Save the Children have what I think is a fantastic new ad campaign highlighting the importance of luck in determining life chances. Being born in the UK almost automatically guarantees you a position as one of the richest 15% of people on the planet (that is at the basic rate of unemployment benefit for 18 year olds, excluding additional benefits).
the policy-induced portion of the place premium in wages represents one of the largest remaining price distortions in any global market; is much larger than wage discrimination in spatially integrated markets; and makes labor mobility capable of reducing households’ poverty at the margin by much more than any known in situ intervention (Clemens, Montenegro and Pritchett).
People worry about the ethical implications of randomly allocating treatments in small research projects. Yet when people are randomly born in hopeless economies with tyrannical rulers, we do everything we can to prevent them escaping.

Spin the wheel for yourself and see where you could have ended up.

HT: @viewfromthecave @laurenist