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

30 November 2010

Is Aid Fungible?

No this has nothing to do with mushrooms.

Fungibility is the property of a good or a commodity whose individual units are capable of mutual substitution.”

In the world of aid, this refers to the question of whether or not donors are able to successfully ring-fence their additional funds. If a rich donor gives £50m to the Ministry of Health in a poor country, can and will the poor country just cut its own MoH funding by £50m, freeing up that cash to spend on whatever it wants?

A new CSAE working paper by Nicolas Van de Sijpe suggests that aid fungibility is not so important. He uses a new datatset to test cross-country correlations between the sectoral distribution of government spending and donor spending.

The lack of fungibility of technical cooperation may be a consequence of effective donor conditionality. If donors are able to monitor the recipient government’s spending, they may be able to credibly enforce the condition that the government does not cut back its planned expenditure after receiving technical cooperation. An additional reason to explain the low degree of fungibility found, that applies specifically to technical cooperation and less to the other aid types, is the observation made by Gramlich (1977) that heterogeneity in government expenditure might contribute to reduced fungibility. To the extent that governments in developing countries spend few of their resources on the type of goods and services that are provided by technical cooperation, it becomes impossible to reduce this class of expenditure by much, as it quickly hits a lower bound of zero. If, in addition, the substitutability between different types of expenditure in the recipient government’s utility function is limited, low fungibility for technical cooperation may ensue. Finally, a lack of information on the recipient government’s part may also reduce the degree of fungibility.

29 November 2010

Rachman: UK Immigration Policy is “idiocy”

The problem is that the government has promised to cut the number of migrants coming into the country. But it is fiendishly hard to tackle the kind of migration that actually worries the great British public [Semi-skilled workers from Europe, Asylum Seekers, and Muslims].

So, unable effectively to tackle the kind of immigration that actually upsets people, the British government is taking aim at the one group of migrants that are largely uncontroversial and that unambiguously contribute to the country’s well-being. What idiocy.

Rachmanblog, HT: TH

28 November 2010

This is not a warzone

“The risk assessments are done by some wanker who’s just come from Kabul who is under the impression that we’re all about to be blown up,” Mr Woodward sighs. “The real ones that I have a problem with are the Americans who tell you within the first minute that ‘I’ve been to Pakistan and Haiti and Afghanistan’ as if this is really fucking dangerous. This is not in that circle. This is not a warzone. People are not trying to kill us. This is not anything like Iraq, Afghanistan or Somalia.

“I think the world’s got a very incorrect perception of South Sudan, and I think the world also confuses Darfur with South Sudan, which is an entirely different matter,” he says. “Americans have definitely got the wrong idea, and George fucking Clooney parading around town is not in anybody’s best interests.”

Michael Woodward of Terrain Services (another quote from the excellent-but-unfortunately-titled This is Africa magazine produced by the FT).


Across the vast majority of countries, Africans perceive respect to be asymmetric. In other words, they believe they respect Americans and the Chinese but they don’t believe these two groups of foreigners respect them.

That’s from Gallup survey data. It’s such a shame all of Gallup’s fascinating data is private. Perhaps this is an area for more international public funding.

When Gallup asked Africans about the presence of foreigners in their respective countries, an average of 44 percent said there are “too many” Chinese and 16 percent said there are “too many” Americans. These figures hardly tell the whole story. Strong majorities in many of China’s trading partners perceive the Chinese presence to be overwhelming. For example, 93 percent of Botswanans, 89 percent of Angolans, 69 percent of South Africans and 68 percent of Zambians say there are “too many” Chinese in their countries.

Africans’ perceptions that Americans are too numerous are far less widespread. It’s highest in Djibouti as 51 percent of residents said there are “too many” Americans in their country and lowest in Benin (7 percent) and Zimbabwe (3 percent). However, relatively significant proportions of Angolans (37 percent), Sierra Leonans (30 percent) and Liberians (29 percent), among others, told Gallup there are “too many” Americans in their countries.

24 November 2010

In praise of slums

"As the fastest urbanising continent in the world, Africa is not only confronted with the challenge of improving the lives of slum dwellers but also the challenge of preventing the formation of new slums," said Joan Clos, executive director of UN-Habitat.
Really Joan? What's your counterfactual? An imaginary nice clean yuppie living in a nice clean neighbourhood? An imaginary happy-clappy rural farmer?

Slums are created when people leave their rural village to go in search of a better life/more money in the city. Slums aren't some kind of alien cancerous growth, they are the result of natural economic forces (*cough* WDR 2009 *cough*), of people becoming more productive when they are closer together, and can more easily exchange their ideas, their labour and their services. Africa may be the fastest urbanising continent in the world but that's probably because it was the least urbanised to begin with. Urbanisation is a good thing.
The breakneck transformation of a rural population into a predominantly urban one is neither good nor bad on its own, says UN-Habitat. 
They are already inundated with slums and a tripling of urban populations could spell disaster, unless urgent action is initiated today. This situation threatens stability and also entire nations," it said.
Enough with the alarmist nonsense please. For a look at some of the life and vitality and optimism of urban Africa, check out the BBC documentary Welcome to Lagos.

23 November 2010

Quote of the Day: On Comparative Advantage and Specialization in Aid

"Like kids playing football, everybody follows the ball instead of holding their position on the pitch."
Owen Barder.

22 November 2010

More on Poverty in America

Why do I feel more guilty about poverty in the US than in Sudan? Not that I think it is a bigger problem - people generally don't starve to death in the US. I'm generally quite cynical about "relative poverty". But the visceral emotional reaction seems stronger here.

Matt suggested this was about empathy and the veil of ignorance, which I hadn't thought of, but seems plausible. My instinct rather was that the problem seems so much more easily solvable here [the broad here - the developed world - whatever]. Inequality, poverty amidst plenty, is ugly. I  had my instincts somewhat reaffirmed by a friend who is Indian, lived in Sudan, and was similarly surprised by homelessness upon returning to Oxford. It's just unnecessary. Just give them cash?

Why is Yale so small?

Or rather the town of New Haven, which you probably haven't heard of, in which Yale sits.

Sam* got me thinking about this with this article he sent me recently, on repopulating urban america.

Now bear with me, but I can half-remember a talk by an LSE economic geographer (Henry Overman?), arguing that Oxford and Cambridge (UK) are underpopulated. Agglomerations matter. In the 19th Century industrial age Manchester grew rapidly as the centre of manufacturing. In the modern information economy, universities are the drivers of growth, and these places should naturally be expanding. In the UK this natural growth is restricted by green belts (I believe they call it zoning in the US).

So what's going on in Yale?

* Ooh snazzy new website, check you out. Nice tagline.

19 November 2010

Khartoum Bombing the South?

last Friday’s aerial attacks by the Sudan army in Kiir Adeem, about 80 kilometres from Gok Machar in Aweil North County.

During the attack the Sudan army’s Antonov plane lobbed several bombs that resulted into the wounding of  17 civilians, most of whom are Baggara Arab.

A South Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) military police Deng Kur told Gurtong in Aweil Town that the Antonov plane was again spotted in the area twice yesterday but did not release any bombs.

A member of the Southern Sudan Referendum Committee at Gok Machar Angelo Ker confirmed the incident

From a rather sober article in Gurtong discussing the reasons for low registration turnout. What on earth is going on?! Is this real? How on earth is this not a huge fucking issue? This can’t be true can it?

17 November 2010

Weird sentences

The decision of the British in 1956 to attach southern Sudan to the ethnically distinct north rather than to allow it to form part of a west African union was an important factor behind the problems that have troubled the area ever since.
That is Ed Pilkington, the Guardian's New York correspondent.

West Africa?

16 November 2010

Minimal evidence supporting the paternalistic view in this context…

I’m just going to take this moment to offer a quick “I told you so” and do a little victory dance in the face of my paternalistic friends.

If I had my way huge chunks of aid budgets would be going straight into the hands of poor people.

But they’ll blow it on booze and fags” they say.


This paper uses a randomized controlled trial of a governmental food assistance program to test whether this form of paternalism is necessary, comparing precisely measured consumption and health outcomes under both in-kind food and cash transfers. Importantly, households do not indulge in the consumption of vices when handed cash. Furthermore, there is little evidence that the in-kind food transfer induced more food to be consumed than did an equal-valued cash transfer.

Finally, there were few differences in child nutritional intakes, and no differences in child height, weight, sickness, or anemia prevalence. While other justifications for in-kind transfers may certainly apply, there is minimal evidence
supporting the paternalistic one in this context.

That’s in Mexico.

What about England you say?

What happens when you give £800 to someone who has been homeless for over 4 years?

Of the 13 people who engaged with the scheme, 11 have moved off the streets. The outlay averaged £794 ($1,277) per person (on top of the project’s staff costs). None wanted their money spent on drink, drugs or bets. Several said they co-operated because they were offered control over their lives rather than being “bullied” into hostels. Howard Sinclair of Broadway explains: “We just said, ‘It’s your life and up to you to do what you want with it, but we are here to help if you want.’”

Some estimates suggest the state spends £26,000 annually on each homeless person in health, police and prison bills.

Well who’d a thunk it?

15 November 2010

Poverty in America

Driving through my neighbourhood in Juba, an American once asked if I felt guilty living in the midst of such poverty. I didn't. At least no more than I had done living in England, being equally aware of the existence of such poverty. Physical proximity shouldn't really have much to do with it.

I do though feel guilty about the guy who sleeps in the bus shelter in my New Haven neighbourhood. What is that?

08 November 2010

On guest worker programs

International migration  is probably  the most  effective mechanism we know  to  rapidly  increase the  incomes  of  poor  people  (Clemens  et  al.,  2008).  However,  it  is  also  one  of  the  most controversial, with migrant-receiving countries worried about  the costs of assimilating workers and  their  families. Temporary or circular migration programs are seen as a way of overcoming such concerns and enabling poorer, less-skilled workers to benefit from the higher incomes to be earned abroad as part of a “triple-win”, whereby migrants, the sending country, and the receiving country all benefit.

Which all sounds great in theory. So David McKenzie and John Gibson evaluated New Zealand’s new (2007) seasonal worker program (using matched difference-in-differences), finding it 

among the most effective development policies evaluated to date. The policy was designed as a best practice example based on lessons  elsewhere,  and  now  should  serve as a model  for other countries  to follow.

Which is great and all, but as I’ve mentioned before, the impacts of migration are pretty clearly positive to me – the challenge and the interesting question is how you change attitudes in rich countries to migration. I worry that the enforceability of temporary migration is a hard sell. I’d like to see how New Zealanders are responding to this program.

05 November 2010

The Final Countdown

After much coaxing, my friend Maggie Fick finally has her own website. Essential Southern Sudan reportage. This photo of hers is of the new (presently inaccurate) electronic referendum countdown clock in Juba.

04 November 2010

2010 Commitment to Development Index

The 2010 Commitment to Development Index is out, put together by David Roodman at CGD. Lots of fancy graphics and charts to play with.

The key messages:

  • Rich-country policies matter.
  • Development is about more than aid.
  • Aid is about more than money.
  • Coherence matters.
  • Partnerships are powerful.
  • No one is perfect.

The UK scores pretty poorly, coming in at 16th out of 22 countries. We do particularly badly on migration policy (no surprises), security policy – my guess due to all those weapons sold to undemocratic regimes – and on technology policy – due to either low R&D spending or overly-restrictive intellectual property rights.


01 November 2010

Disabled Skateboard Soccer in Accra

And now for something completely different. These guys were amazing. Perhaps unsurprisingly the team in England shirts took a beating.

P1010849  P1010853


31 October 2010

African Election Super Sunday

32m people are heading to the polls today in Tanzania, Cote d’Ivoire, and Niger. Good luck to all involved, and lets hope it all goes smoothly. For more see the Typerighter blog.

International Thief Thief

Global Witness drop some UK development-policy-beyond-aid wisdom.

British banks have accepted millions of pounds from corrupt Nigerian politicians, raising serious questions imageabout their commitment to tackling financial crime.

Without access to the international financial system it would be much harder for corrupt politicians from the developing world to loot their national treasuries or accept bribes. By taking money from such customers, British banks are fuelling corruption, entrenching poverty and undermining international development assistance.

The UK regulator, the Financial Services Authority (FSA) needs to do much more to prevent banks from facilitating corruption. As yet no British bank has been publically fined, or even named, by the regulator for taking corrupt funds, whether willingly or through negligence. This is in stark contrast to the U.S., where banks have been fined hundreds of millions of dollars for handling dirty money.

The UK’s aid to poor countries has been ring fenced against budget cuts. Meanwhile, banks – themselves propped up by taxpayer’s money - are getting away with practices that fundamentally undermine the effect of aid. This is not just illogical, it is immoral

26 October 2010

Kudos to the World Bank

The clear winner of Publish What You Fund’s new aid transparency ranking. The US clearly needs some work (vindication for AidWatch?).


Poverty Porn

Don’t read this. Really don’t. You have been warned.

21 October 2010

Microfinance Impact & Innovation Conference 2010

I’m attending the Microfinance Impact & Innovation Conference 2010, on the 40th floor of the Moody’s building in New York. This is the view from the window. Quote of the day so far goes to Abhijit Banerjee: “This is the fanciest room in which I’ve ever spoken about the poor.” For more, check out the IPA blog.


Mash-up Indices

Martin Ravallion has more to say about “mashup indices” such as the Multidimensional Poverty Index. Here is the choice quote:
“A colleague pointed to a medical analogy. While many things impinge on your personal health, you would not want your doctor to base your check-up on a composite index. Similarly, a mashup index of all those dials on your car’s dashboard may fail to reveal that you are about to run out of fuel.”

20 October 2010

How to make Dutch friends and influence people

Osborne predicted that this [increase in aid] would make Britain the first "major country" to cross that [0.7% of GNI in aid] threshold.The Guardian. Better luck next time Norway, Sweden, Luxembourg,  Netherlands, and Denmark.


18 October 2010

New in Southern Sudanese Media

So apparently the Citizen now has a website. They used to be my second-favourite newspaper in Juba (after SS Business Week). That is all. 

HT: Karuna Herrmann

17 October 2010

What do economists do?

Stefan Dercon investigates….
Economists study the most important problems facing the world. At least that is what I thought.
Using data put together by Jishnu Das and Quy-Toan Do (at the World Bank), Stefan created this Wordle showing the countries which articles in the top 5 economics journals focus on.

There are actually 54 countries there but you can probably only read United States and United Kingdom.
Of course, this does not mean that there is a bias in the editorial policy of the top economics  journals. It is perfectly possible that those countries are not very interesting, or that those economists writing papers on these other economies are not very good or that they just don't submit to these journals. And I just saw a pretty pig flying outside my window.
Fortunately, development economics has plenty of good journals, such as the Journal of Development Economics.
This is the Wordle for JDE articles which are focused on one country:

Latin America is somewhat overrepresented with 30%, India gets 12%, China 11% and Africa 18%.
For more details about the data see here.

16 October 2010

“Machine Gun Preacher” disowned by SPLM

Remember him? So it turns out he’s probably a fraud.
John Ashworth comments:
This is a very strange case of a former US evangelical missionary who makes extraordinary claims which do not seem to be backed up by evidence on the ground. He has been disowned by the local church in southern Sudan and now also by the SPLA. It appears he is raising money on the back of these claims.

14 October 2010

What do the latest experimental psychological research and the British talent show the X-Factor have in common?

This cross-posted at the IPA blog

They both have important implications for how we think about engaging citizens of rich countries with the world’s poor.
An experimental game conducted by James Andreoni and Justin Rao shows that communication triggers increased altruism. A result which has been seen for real in the British tabloid newspapers, as a normally fiercely anti-immigration press has developed a bit of a soft-spot for Zimbabwean migrant and frustrated X-Factor star Gamu Nhengu (who, is awesome, by the way).
Chris Dillow draws out the implications:
The world’s poorest do not communicate with us, which causes us to give less to them than we otherwise would. By contrast, we are bombarded with messages from the well-off, which - on its own - tends to dispose us to be altruistic towards them.
there are huge costs to being out of sight. Whether it be benefit claimants in the UK or the poor overseas, the mere fact of being anonymous means people are meaner towards you.
And so the challenge: if we want to increase altruism towards the world’s poor, how to create a space for communication between them and the citizens of rich countries? Poverty porn? Slum tourism? Fasting? How do we create this engagement whilst respecting the dignity of all involved?

Richard Dowden on Structural Adjustment

By the end of the 1980s most African countries were indeed in a bad way. The end of the Cold War gave the West - which had always believed it could tell Africans what to do - the chance to impose its own solutions. The West's new agenda was democracy, respect for human rights and the free market.
Africa's economies were handed over to World Bank and IMF economists. "Structural adjustment" introduced a dose of tough economic medicine that would restore the patient to health. Governments were forced to let the "free market" decide the value of their currencies, cut public spending and sell off their assets.
As a theoretical economic solution it might have looked right, but on the ground in Africa it pushed up prices, impoverishing all but a few, and destroying Africa's professional classes by reducing the value of their salaries. Those in power who had mismanaged things so badly, now sold run-down state assets to themselves at knock-down prices.
Really Richard? I find the left’s demonisation of the Washington Consensus a bit annoying and a bit of a distraction. The main reason the evil neoimperialist economists recommended that African governments spent less and sold off assets is because they were broke. It’s really not that controversial, you can’t spend more than you earn forever. That’s life.
I also think the influence of those economists is a bit overdone. There is a great documentary film, “Our friends at the bank” which includes scenes of the Ugandan government politely telling the World Bank to get lost.
All of this is a distraction from the issues where Western policies really are (still!) self-serving and detrimental to the poor – such as farm subsidies and labour market restrictions. How about a bit our own free-market medicine huh?

12 October 2010

US Politics

I arrived in New Haven yesterday, and amongst a few other things I’m trying to develop my understanding of American politics somewhere beyond the West Wing.
So today I caught a glimpse of this craziness (via MR), and was sent this great quote from a friend who made the leap from Yorkshire a few years back:
“Policy making in Europe is like a prizefight: Two contenders, having earned the right to enter the ring, square off against each other for a prescribed number of rounds; when one fighter knocks the other one out, he is declared the winner and the fight is over. Policy making in the United States is more like a barroom brawl: Anybody can join, the combatants fight all comers and sometimes change sides, no referees is in charge, and the fight lasts not for a fixed number of rounds but indefinitely or until everybody drops from exhaustion… ‘it’s never over.’”
From Bureaucracy by James Wilson.
And how about this for some new lobbying research:
once the politician for whom they worked leaves office, their revenue falls 20%, or $177,000 per year, suggesting that lobbyists are paid more for “who they know” than “what they know”.

From researchers at LSE and Pompeu Fabra.

The 2010 Economics Nobel Prize

What’s that, you want a tenuous development-link and a prize-winner-anecdote from your nobel prize coverage? Happy to oblige.

So the winners are Diamond, Mortensen and Pissarides for their models of “frictional” unemployment, or why job vacancies and unemployment can easily coexist.

In a closed economy that is. And when we speak about labour markets, we generally speak about closed economies. One might also want to ask how incredibly low wages can be so persistent on some parts of a planet, when there is such incredible wealth (and thus demand for cheap labour) on other parts of it. Well, there are some frictions. They would be the armed guards at our borders stopping those poor people from coming and helping us.

For your anecdote; I went to a Summer School taught by Pissarides in Birmingham a couple of years ago. Turns out he is a big Chelsea fan, to the extent that he took a cab for a 200 mile round-trip to make it to a mid-week Chelsea home Champions League match in West London. You have to admire his dedication to his team (,if not perhaps, his particular choice of team).

Check Marginal Revolution for some real coverage.

08 October 2010

Easterly on China

I don’t normally bother link to Easterly because you should all be reading him anyway. But this is too good to miss:
I’m saddened to see my favorite magazine [The New Yorker] publish an article seemingly in search of every possible fallacy about growth, the main one being that if you have a high growth rate, then the current autocrats and their economist advisors must be Gods…
… another way of stating China’s rapid growth recipe would be something like the following:
Have a succession of crazy autocrats, political chaos, and war savagely repress one of history’s most inventive peoples, along with not allowing one of the most successful trading diasporas in history to operate in China proper.  Then have things calm down a bit and have somewhat less crazy rulers allow more of the people’s energy and creativity to burst out. Presto, the change from EXTREME NEGATIVE to LESS NEGATIVE is called a “growth rate,” and it will be high. Now accept worship from around the world.

African Heroes: Naija Edition

07 October 2010

Animal Cities

The Government of Southern Sudan got a fair bit if international ridicule recently for coming up with the plan to build all of its new cities in the shape of animals.

Well you’ll be glad to hear, sources tell me that the official responsible has been fired. Or to be precise, moved to the Ministry of Wildlife. Someone clearly has a sense of humour.

And in any case, this would not have been the first developing country to plan a city in a funny shape. This picture is Brasilia – built in the 50s as an aeroplane or a butterfly, depending who you talk to.

06 October 2010

Junub Sudan: It’s time to vote

HT: Aban Kwawang

Migration: Good for your wallet, not so good for your blood pressure

Over 200 million people live outside their country of birth and experience large gains in material well-being by moving to where wages are higher. But the effect of this migration on health is less clear and existing evidence is ambiguous because of the potential for self-selection bias. In this paper, we use a natural experiment, comparing successful and unsuccessful applicants to a migration lottery to experimentally estimate the impact of migration on measured blood pressure and hypertension…
the results suggest significant and persistent increases in blood pressure and hypertension, which have implications for future health budgets given the recent worldwide increases in immigration.
From a new Working Paper by John Gibson, Steven Stillman, David McKenzie, and Halahingano Rohorua. David McKenzie is an IPA research affiliate and has lots of interesting research on migration.
Don’t say my migration coverage is one-sided.
In other migration news,
Immigrants should pay a bond of £5,000 to cover the costs of using public services, a key ally of David Cameron suggests.
Tory MP Nick Boles – a friend and former aide of the Prime Minister – has urged the Government to impose a ‘surety’ on migrants before granting them visas.
Which almost sounds like Gary Becker’s proposal to charge immigrants for entry. Sounds like a good idea to me. If there are health costs to the public purse from migration and migrants are willing to pay those costs out of their massively increased earnings, then why the hell not?

05 October 2010

World Bank discovers concept of local context!?!

The Bank argues that going forward, a project’s entire implementation process —project design, procurement, contracting, disbursements — should be tailored to fit the context of the environment. 
“Uniform application of previous lessons does not work in all contexts, as experience in Sudan has demonstrated,” the bank says. (The East African, Monday October 4 2010)
Apologies for the snark, but oh, sometimes…

04 October 2010

More reasons to give aid to Indians…

… and other residents of middle-income countries.
So. We’ve had a bit of a paradigm-shift then.
in 1990 … over 90% of the world’s poor lived in the world’s poorest places. But it looks out of date now. Andy Sumner of Britain’s Institute of Development Studies* reckons that almost three-quarters of the 1.3 billion-odd people existing below the $1.25 a day poverty line now live in middle-income countries. [The Economist]
The implication to be drawn; if these countries are middle-income then they can afford to pay for their own poverty-reduction projects right?
Poverty … may be turning from being an international distribution problem into a national one.
Not so fast Mr. Sumner. Mr. Ravallion crunched the numbers a few months ago:
The capacity for redistribution in India is far more limited than in China or (especially) Brazil. Indeed, it would be impossible to raise enough revenue from a tax on Indian incomes above the US poverty line to fill India’s poverty gap relative to the $1.25 a day line; the required MTR would exceed 100%. Even at a 100% MTR, the revenue generated could fill only 20% of India’s aggregate poverty gap.’
National redistribution projects, such as conditional (and unconditional?) cash transfers are going to become an increasingly important part of the solution to global poverty.
But redistribution (either national or international) is always going to play second fiddle to economic growth.

28 September 2010

If you beat my sister, I’ll beat yours

Hanan Jacoby and Ghazala Mansuri on a solution to domestic abuse in Pakistan:
watta satta, which often involves a brother-sister pair marrying another such pair from a second household, comes with mutual threats: A husband who treats his wife badly can count on his brother-in-law doing the same to his sister. That mechanism allows two sets of parents to have leverage over how their daughters are treated.
World Bank Working Paper 4126, soon to be in the American Economic Review

27 September 2010

Highlights from MDG Week

New post on the IPA blog.

(also a quick poll – do people like getting links to posts at IPA like this? Or should I post the whole thing here? Or post nothing and let you find it yourself over there?)

25 September 2010

The Missing Millenium Children

5 years ago the Guardian started tracking a child born in 10 different African countries as part of its MDG coverage. It caught up with them all this year. Except the Southern Sudanese child. Who died before reaching his 1st birthday. Along with the other 1 in 7 Southern Sudanese kids who don’t make it to five. Damn.

The Economics of Marmite?

people often retain very strong preferences for the kinds of food they grew up eating. Just ask the expatriate Britons who flock to “Tea and Sympathy” in New York’s Greenwich Village for pots of Marmite, a yeast-based spread whose delights baffle other nationalities (and many of their own compatriots).

So what you might say? Well,

the effects of habit formation in consumption may also lead economists to rethink the way they calculate the gains from trade. This is because opening up to trade is in some ways akin to migrating. It changes the composition and prices of the goods that are available to a person. In particular, it can raise the relative prices of the goods that a region or country has a comparative advantage in, such as crops that the country’s climate or soil favour. These are the things that would have been relatively cheap and common in a closed economy and therefore the things that people might have acquired a taste for. To the extent that such preferences persist, people will benefit less from the increased variety of goods and altered relative prices that trade brings about than they would do if habits were not a significant determinant of consumption.

And the bottom line: for internal migrants within India:

As a consequence, migrant families consume fewer calories per rupee of food expenditure than non-migrants do.

That is fine Mr. Economist journalist, but how much fewer? 50 percent fewer calories? 0.00004 percent fewer calories? Don’t magnitudes matter? For that I had to go to the original paper by David Atkin.

holding total food expenditure constant, there will be an average caloric loss of 2.7 percent coming from the correlation between tastes and price changes (about 54 calories per person per day) … In geographic terms, the negative caloric impacts that come from tastes correlating with price changes will not be spread uniformly across India … with poorer regions more likely to suffer caloric losses on the consumption side, with predicted caloric losses of 20 percent in some of the poorest regions.

So yeah then, er, 20 percent is pretty big.

I’d better go pack some marmite in my suitcase.

24 September 2010

On healthcare and luck

New post on the IPA blog. (Photo credit: Emily Oriel Lowe)

Just in case you were concerned about media freedom in Uganda….

The ruling National Resistance Movement has concluded its primaries, in an exercise that was shambolic and the true antithesis of popular democracy.

Election theft, violence, manipulation, intimidation and avarice are NRM’s “winning” strategy, which saw them they effectively used in the past two elections. Now Uganda is stuck with shameless leaders who will lie and tell cynical jokes at their own rape on democracy.

From the East African, my favourite newspaper in Africa.

An argument I’ve heard Paul Collier make in the past is that small countries don’t have a large enough market for specialised business/economics reporting, and so have weak accountability on economic policy. The East African, part of the Kenyan Nation Media Group, tackles this problem by covering the EAC states Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi, plus bits of Eastern DRC, Somalia, and Southern Sudan, a combined population of about 150 million people.

They also have an awesome cartoonist. Here is Gado on the catholic church. Dark.

Probably the best Economist-Priest in Juba

The vision of Jesuit priest Michael Schultheis, the [Catholic University of Sudan] just started its third year. "We're about a month late starting classes," said Father Schultheis who has a Ph.D. in economics from Cornell. "That's because we had to find a new location."

From the HuffPo, Hat Tip: TH

18 September 2010

More Awesome News from the (non-)nation of Somaliland

Monty Munford thinks that Somaliland, not content with democratic elections and biometric passports, is also likely to become the first nation to become a cashless society, due to expansion in mobile money transfers and retail payments.

He also throws in these tidbits:

For every dollar there are almost 17,000 Somaliland Shillings

The state itself runs on a budget of only $40 million dollars

competition between the country’s carriers means calls from Somaliland are five to six times cheaper than other African countries.”

I really have to go visit.

17 September 2010

Why DFID should still give aid to "India"

   1. Just because the Indian government doesn’t need UK aid (as demonstrated by the space program, nuclear program, and its own overseas aid programs), doesn’t mean that some of the millions of individual Indian people living in extreme poverty with chronic malnutrition would not benefit from foreign assistance.

   2. India is cheap. This means that in general aid given to Indians can go much further than aid to Africans. The same amount of money will feed more people, build more schools, or pay more nurses in India than anywhere in Africa.

   3. Because India is so big, we don’t have to worry so much about aid distorting the economy, or government accountability to citizens, or government spending decisions. The government (and the economy) don’t even notice. But those poor individuals certainly do.

Not that I’m totally convinced by any this, but it does seem that we too often lazily confuse a country (“India”) with its government and/or its people. Countries are abstractions, they are not actors which take decisions. And we should not confuse governments with people.

12 September 2010

Have your development cake and eat it too

So, British public, you think that it is morally right to for the UK to help developing countries, but you don’t want to spend any money on it?

Well, apologies for sounding like a broken record at times, but:

Good news!

Some of the best things in life are free (almost). Like allowing poor people access to our labour market and our consumer market. Or lobbying to end those EU farm subsidies. Or backing our firms to take risky but potentially profitable (and beneficial for the host country) ventures overseas.

Plus we can make the aid money we do spend go further by spending it on things with PROVEN IMPACT. DeWorm the World would be a good place to start, but more to come soon from IPA on other proven ideas.

11 September 2010

Rumbek Rocks

Probably the best expat Rock band in Rumbek, Southern Sudan.

09 September 2010

From the annals of weird aid

There are two ambulances parked outside of the Ministry of Health in Accra.

Donated by the Government of…..wait for it…..

the Islamic Republic of Iran.

08 September 2010

How to combat gender-based violence (Congolese heroes edition)

Mama Muliri responded to the threats by going to Lubutu herself and facing the tribal leaders eye to eye. As promised, they met her brandishing machetes and guns. They chanted threats, and they threw rocks at her. Still, she stood her ground, told them about the new constitution passed in 2006, and how the law now differed from the tribal customs. She demanded that they comply with the law, and asked them to attend a HEAL Africa conference on conflict transformation.

Daily Kos, via TexasisAfrica

New report on Vocational Education in Southern Sudan

Essential reading for Southern-Sudanese-education-policy-wonks. The Full Report is downloadable here:

Starting from Scratch: The Challenges of Including Youth in Rebuilding Southern Sudan.

Written by the marvelous Karuna Herrmann for the Women’s Refugee Commission.

The context is appalling. Only half of primary-age kids are in school. Only 2% of girls 14-17 years old are in secondary school.

Despite this, many of the issues around vocational training are strangely similar to those in the UK (I did some work on this briefly for the British government).

Namely, a poor reputation for vocational training relative to formal academic education, training providers struggling to link graduates with jobs, and the best vocational training often coming from employers themselves. In the UK, this led to the widely-mocked government-recognition of McDonalds training.

There are also some great interviews with young Southern Sudanese giving a flavour of the everyday ordeals which have been all too common for this generation.

Emmanuel Maniol, 24: “I am 24 years old and I was born in Khartoum. My family left Lakes in 1983 because of the war. In 1995 my uncle came to Khartoum and my parents decided that I should return to the south so that I could receive education in English, because in Khartoum the schools teach only in Arabic.

We took a plane from Khartoum to Wau. This was possible because the government was helping the IDPs [internally displaced people] to return and so they arranged our fight. We reached Wau by plane and they left us there. The only way for us to reach Lakes state was on foot, so I walked with my uncle from Wau to Rumbek. Many others were walking with us, and the journey took us fifteen days [my emphasis] because I was still small and could not walk very fast. There were many challenges for us along the way. There were still many wild animals in the bush then and I was very afraid, and there was never enough food.

How to dance (for men)

"The head, neck and upper body come out as the key features that are important for good dancing and that surprised us," said Neave, whose study is published in the journal Biology Letters. "When you see brilliant dancers, you'll see their bodies, heads and necks are all doing ever so slightly different things in time to the music."

Will Brown, a psychologist at the University of East London, said more work was needed to disentangle why dancing is attractive and its biological significance.

"When you have so much movement data from a relatively small sample of dancers, you might get chance associations between certain moves and dance attractiveness," he said.

From the Guardian (not the only thing I ever read, honest). HT: Herrmann

02 September 2010


That is twi (pronounced “chwee”, the principal native language of Ghana), for Welcome.

I was just welcomed to Ghana by a sign in the airport which read something as follows:



Ghana warmly welcomes all visitors of goodwill.

Ghana does not welcome paedophiles and other sexual deviants.

Indeed, Ghana applies extremely harsh penalties for such sexually aberrant behaviour.

If you are planning to engage in any such activities, we suggest that you go elsewhere.

Fortunately for me I am a visitor of goodwill and not a sexual deviant. I am here visiting IPA Ghana and doing a bit of work on setting up a new project.

Tips on things to see and do are very welcome!

31 August 2010

The DFID plot thickens….

A couple of weeks ago I criticised the Guardian for over-hyping some re-thinking of old commitments by the new DFID Minister. The writer either misunderstood what was going on, or was just pushing a partisan anti-tory line. Which is disappointing if it means that the paper which is supposed to represent British progressive internationalist opinion is letting party politics come before analysis, and misses the actually important question of where the detailed alternative proposals are.

Well on Sunday we got a bit more information on the direction we are headed in:

The government is to introduce a wholesale change to Britain's overseas aid budget by demanding that projects in the developing world must make the "maximum possible contribution" to British national security, according to a leaked Whitehall paper.

This is a terrible terrible idea. The last time there was a new Conservative government it abolished DFID altogether and moved it back into the foreign office. This time they promised not to do that because it might look nasty, but this move has the potential to have much the same effect.

And this is all the more depressing when we have a supposedly progressive and internationalist party in the coalition.

Given Vince Cable’s bold and admirable public defence of open immigration,

"It's no great secret that in my department and me personally, we want to see an open economy, and as liberal an immigration policy as it's possible to have."

it is pretty disappointing that the Lib Dems have shown no interest in defending DFID.

25 August 2010

Gettin’ by in Lagos

The BBC documentary, Welcome to Lagos, now on YouTube. This is really really good.

HT: Marginal Revolution

Is Khartoum deliberately weakening the Southern economy?

The Central Bank of Sudan has stopped sending oil revenues in hard currency to Juba again. Instead, the revenues which GoSS are entitled to are being sent in local currency, causing a major shortage of foreign currency in the South. This is a problem for importers, who now can’t pay for their imports.

The Minister of Finance in the South has publicly stated that “It is an attempt by the National Congress Party to stifle the southern Sudanese economy” (AFP).

Whilst I wouldn’t rule this out completely, it’s probably something altogether less Machiavellian.


The Sudanese Pound began weakening against the US dollar in 2008. This increased the cost of importing goods. At some point the elites in Khartoum got sick of the rising cost of their imported goods.

In July 2009 the Central Bank of Sudan began using its foreign currency reserves to buy Sudanese Pounds – bidding up the value of the Pound, and making imports cheaper again.

You can see this on the chart, where the Bank was clearly targeting an exchange rate of around $0.45 to the Sudanese Pound. Assuming that the Pound would otherwise have continued to weaken, this quickly must have turned into an expensive operation. The Bank would have had to keep on spending all of its foreign reserves on buying up Sudanese Pounds.

Eventually, sometime around May 2010, Khartoum ran out of foreign currency, and let the Pound fall in value a bit.

Chances are then that Khartoum has stopped sending dollars to Juba simply because it has so few left itself that it wants to build up a reserve again. None of this takes away though from the economic damage being inflicted upon the South. Good luck Juba.

24 August 2010

How America can save the peace in Sudan

Note: Image from the LSE report Southern Sudan at Odds with Itself

I am optimistic about the chances for peace in Sudan. Khartoum and Juba are interdependent. Both rely heavily on the shared oil revenues (Khartoum about 50% reliant, Juba about 100%), and both could choose to stop production, violently or otherwise.

There is lots of room for a mutually beneficial deal to be done.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean that cool heads will necessarily prevail. Both sides have strong incentives to arm as heavily as possible, just in case a deal doesn’t work out (see Elbadawi on the game between Juba and Khartoum).

The Sudan Tribune recently reported allegations that the SPLA is buying military aircraft (denied by the SPLA).

Well it would make sense for the SPLA to want to buy military aircraft. Khartoum has planes and Juba does not, making the South incredibly vulnerable in any kind of conventional war.

As a result of the logic of the incentives facing Juba, the SPLA gets about 33% of the GoSS Budget, money that could otherwise go on essential infrastructure and social services.

What does any of this have to do with America? How about a no-fly zone for Southern Sudan? A security guarantee – allowing both sides to step down from the brink and focus on working out a deal, and investing in the country?

23 August 2010

The Animal Kingdom

How about that for a new name for Southern Sudan?


So fine, after about 42 different people have sent me the link to the Animal City plan story in Southern Sudan, I feel duty-bound, as probably the best economics blog (previously) in Southern Sudan, to comment.

I think I may have actually seen this poster ages ago, or one very much like it, in the office of the Undersecretary for Transport, but not really registered it because I was running around frantically getting stuff signed or getting revisions to budgets or something, and simply dismissed this as yet another bizarre oddity, not really to be questioned.

Anyway I have sympathy for Peter Martell’s view:

Those 'wacky Africans', eh?

The world giggles at those ‘crazy Sudanese’, as though criticizing them for believing a better future is possible.

The key point, that southerners dare to dream of planning their own nation, of providing decent services and housing for the people to replace the towns left in ruins by decades of war against a regime that brutalized this land, is lost behind the patronising international sniggers of the safari shapes.

But what gets me the most though, is those words in the blank spaces around the Giraffe.

Protected Areas.

As if Southern Sudan, probably one of the least densely populated and least urbanised areas on the planet, is in any danger whatsoever of serious environmental degradation through overpopulation, and needs to maintain some kind of green belt around its cities.

Now this is pure speculation, but I think that the warped vision of urbanisation and economic geography held by the Sudanese government is a reflection of the warped vision of urbanisation and economic geography held by the international development community.

Ideas, memes, spread like viruses. Being a new state, a place like Southern Sudan looks outwards to the rest of the world, to its friends and partners who stood with it during the war, to learn.

And by god we have a responsibility not to give them shit ideas.

Rural idylls are generally not idyllic. People generally move to towns and cities because they are better. This is not a bad thing. Spontaneous, slightly anarchic, urban development is not a bad thing. For a good summary go and read the 2009 World Development Report, an annual “state of the profession” report which the profession hasn’t quite caught up with yet.