29 January 2010

Dances with Smurfs

In which South Park nails the movie Avatar. It IS Dances with Wolves. But with Smurfs.

Suburban Superstar

The best part of my morning commute, after BBC Network Africa, and after jumpstarting the heap-of-junk car, and after rally-driving through ditches and river-beds, is the kids. The kids who relentlessly, without fail, coming tearing out of their huts at full pelt towards the road/path screaming and yelling, desperately, wholeheartedly, till their lungs are fit to burst, what is probably the one word that they know of English.


And the kids who stand shyly by the path until the car window is exactly level with them whereupon they scream with all their enthusiasm and might,


It's slightly less impressive on the evening commute, when despite the apparent passing of the day, the cry is still, a screeching, wholehearted, joyful, "morning". One day they will scream


and I will be very happy.

28 January 2010

Markets in Everything

Footballers bribed officials to play for China, newspaper alleges 
200,000 yuan (£18,000) buys international call-up, claims Shangai report, as sports minister says corruption is deeply rooted

26 January 2010


1. Why you should be angry about waste and inefficiency and corruption: His name is Khot.

2. Clemens on migration as the best way to help Haitians.
To say that we shouldn't because it wouldn't be the end-all solution is like saying that a lifeboat shouldn't fill its ten empty seats just because there are 100 people in the water.
3. Juba Diary: Part 3.

4. Statistics in the media.

5. Paul Romer on how to prevent skilled emigration weakening domestic policy in Jamaica: give voting rights to the diaspora.

6. UK Foreign Policy Watch: It's time we owned up to horrific abuses to Kenyans during the Mau Mau uprising.

7. Bad Contracting:
for years the state department had only one person in Iraq monitoring invoices during the early stages of the DynCorp contract, despite the complexity of the paperwork.

This meant many invoices were not questioned and as a result there is "no confidence in the accuracy of payments of more than $1bn to DynCorp", the report says."
8. The Newest Security Contractors in Iraq: Ex-combatants from Sierra Leone

9. Richard Dowden has a quasi-blog at the Royal African Society (no RSS feed)

25 January 2010

24 January 2010

On building effective states

The Charter Cities blog has a bit of an extended advert for Crown Agents discussion on experience in outsourcing customs administration.
"Outsourcing customs management to Crown Agents succeeded in dramatically increasing customs revenue. In Angola, revenue jumped more than 50% in the first year of operation (2001), doubled in two, and tripled by 2004, a time during which oil prices remained low and Angola lowered tariffs to meet GATT commitments. Mozambique saw a similar increase. In Bulgaria, revenues jumped 19% the quarter in which the Crown Agents-led teams began operation.
Countries can take on otherwise intractable institutional challenges when they invite the help of outsiders. In the case studies described here, countries leveraged external institutions to tackle corruption in the collection of customs. In so doing, the governments enhanced revenue streams and gave themselves additional capacity with which to address chronic underfunding of public investment or other obstacles to sustained economic development.
Great! Just make sure that you have the capacity to write a decent contract so you don't get ripped off, and then make sure that your new improved revenues don't create conflict over control of the State; as Acemoglu says in a new paper;
"Because the availability of more efficient means of taxation increases the potential benefits of controlling state power, it also intensifies costly political conflict aimed at capturing the control of the state. This indirect effect counteracts the benefits from more efficient taxation and may dominate the direct benefits."

The Cost of US Border Control

At $3,000 per arrested migrant, is more than the annual per capita income of 85% of the world's population.

Herd Insurance

From the BBC
A new insurance scheme has been launched in northern Kenya which offers herdsmen a chance to protect their livestock against drought.
The animals are for many people the equivalent of their bank account, so insuring their herds may be a way of avoiding future economic crises.
Awesome. Southern Sudan could really use this, there is a huge stock of wealth stored in cattle.

Hat-tip: TH

20 January 2010

Dear NGOs, Put some clothes on you scruffs!

"The Ministry of Health have asked me to request that NGO staff consider the appropriateness of their attire when visiting the MoH for meetings e.g. where possible avoid wearing shorts/combats/flip-flops to avoid any unnecessary embarrassment in such situations."

Juba School

A friend is supporting a local primary school here in Juba. Many of the kids come from IDP families, and the teachers have been working without pay for years. She recently managed to persuade Borders USA to donate some books to create a school library, which were handed over at the end-of-year ceremonies. How about that for good corporate publicity!

Donations are welcome, but transport is also a constraint. There are already piles of donated stuff in New York and London waiting to be brought to Juba - if anyone is heading over with spare luggage space any help is welcome!

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

From Gallup

18 January 2010

Elbadawi on the "Game" between Juba and Khartoum

I think the outcome is likely to be one of two extreme: should the broad coalition succeed [between SPLM and northern opposition parties], I think we will have a post-conflict democracy that might succeed in keeping the country united, or at least deliver a peaceful confederal system between north and south; or, instead, we could have an inter-state war followed by very conflictive relationship between the two nascent Sudanese states. In this context both the ICC threat hanging over the President of Sudan and the vulnerability of the south would, in my view, tip the balance of power in the NCP toward the hardliners, who favor confrontation with the SPLM and suppression of the northern opposition.
via Shanta Devarajan, World Bank Chief Economist for Africa.

The original paper here.

16 January 2010

10 Questions for 2010

I've been doing a bit of a spring-clean and found a few questions I've been musing over during the past year, half thinking about blogging, but googling in vain. Anyone know anything? Numbers are preferred, but I'd love to hear your thoughts either way.

1. Will increasing urbanisation in Africa improve growth? Is there a relationship between population density or city size and productivity in Africa?

2. What are the determinants of rich country citizen attitudes to aid? Do media debates such as Easterly vs Sachs vs Moyo have any impact?

3. What are the determinants of rich country citizen attitudes to immigration?

4. There are huge gains to "trade" from migration, however as with trade in goods there are winners and losers. Is it possible to compensate the losers and therefore allow for the capture of some of these gains?

5. What is the relationship between barriers to migration and the length of stay? What about internal migration?

6. What are the precise mechanics of aid fungibility? Is there a strategic interaction between government and donors? How do transparency efforts on each side affect this interaction?

7. Is there any evidence for Collier's assertion about a positive relationship between country population size and media quality? Is it even possible to measure media quality?

8. Are there any good cross-country measures of gay rights, and if so what are their correlates?

9. Are there any measures of the danger of countries for tourists? Tourist deaths per tourist? Would publicizing such data affect decisions? Is there an unfair bias against tourism to developing countries due to an incorrect perception of danger?

10. Will there ever be enough data?


This is the killer graph from this recent Michael Clemens talk on labour mobility.

The ratio of rich country citizens to poor country citizens in the world today is roughly similar to the ratio of whites to blacks in 1994 South Africa. Lifting apartheid in South Africa has kickstarted the process of convergence. Incomes for blacks are now catching up incomes for whites. Image what lifting global apartheid could do.

True globalisation means extending opportunity to people born without it but who deserve it just as much as me.

On being a foreign advisor in a developing country government

The land of zero productivity?
It almost seems as if things are deliberately done in the most backwards fashion possible in order to make things as ineffective as possible.... 
My experiences at work have surpassed my original expectations of how bizarre and illogical things here were going to be
or Underpaid civil servants?
My boss has effectively been out on training to Canada, Tunisia, Italy, Washington (ehm... bankland), Japan and a bunch of other places I can't remember, which means that I have barely seen him in the past 3 months. 
For as important as I clearly am :-) , there are other more important people and matters he has to deal with which pile up on is desk or queue up in front of his door. No one else can take decisions, everything waits. 
Halfway through, I mentioned the fact to a colleague, who burst in laughter and told me "Do you know how much he would make just by sitting in office? 500 cedis a month" (about $350). 
I shut up.
and The comforts of daily chaos?
You also get to see all of the glorious idiosyncrasies of a workplace in which many staff are underpaid, underemployed and under-supervised. It's not a secret that many civil services manage the double act of being both understaffed and (on the whole) underworked... 
Many are expected to do an incredible amount of work for salaries that wouldn't get a European gas attendant out of bed... how many readers can really say with any certainty that they could motivate themselves to mechanically enter data into a spreadsheet for eight hours a day (the working day in much of Sub-Saharan Africa is 8:00am to 5:00pm, with an hour for lunch) for the equivalent of $100 per month – or less?

15 January 2010

Some Immigration Numbers

Wronging Rights suggest giving Haitians temporary migration rights to the US to escape the chaos. Blattman wonders about the temporary part.

How hard would it be for the US to take in Haiti?

The population of Haiti is almost 10 million people. (Legal) Immigration to the US is about 1 million per year.

How about a 10 year plan to (temporarily) double inflows and make an entire country of poor people's citizens rich?

What about Britain? How about doubling aid to Africa?

Annual British Official Development Assistance to Africa is about £1.5 billion. Currently Britain has 780,000 African immigrants (excluding South Africa), who send home somewhere between £550 and £1400 per year. So "doubling aid" to Africa would require a one-off increase of African migrants to Britain of between 1 million and 2.7 million people, compared to total annual inflows (from all countries) of 600,000.

How about a 5 year plan to (temporarily) double inflows, and permanently double British aid to Africa?

13 January 2010

Currency Conundrums

Until recently this is how many notes it took to buy a beer in Zimbabwe. The country has now moved to the dollar which has halted the runaway inflation but has drawbacks of its own. One being that nobody has any small change (a friend was apparently given lollipops instead).

No big deal right? Except even in a rich advanced country, over a quarter of payments made are worth less than £1. How are such small value payments made in Zimbabwe?

12 January 2010

Back to Juba

And thank god there were no problems on Air Uganda.

In a statement, the US embassy said it had "received information indicating a desire by regional extremists to conduct a deadly attack on board Air Uganda aircraft" on the Juba to Kampala route.

I'm confused, who would want to attack that route and why?

In other Southern Sudan internet news, the BBC is running some Sudan stats on all its current stories (see above - these figures continue to shock and amaze me no matter how many times I see them), John Akec seems to be blogging again, and how did this post-2011 scenarios paper slip under my radar last year? Did noone tell Michael that blogs are for naked self-promotion?

04 January 2010

Tampons for development?

A new paper by Emily Oster and Rebecca Thornton sheds some doubt on the importance of menstruation as a barrier to girl's schooling.
Policy-makers have cited menstruation and lack of sanitary products as barriers to girls' schooling. We evaluate these claims using a randomized evaluation of sanitary products provision to girls in Nepal. We report two findings. First, menstruation has a very small impact on school attendance: we estimate the impact at 0.4 days in a 180 day school year. Second, improved sanitary technology has no eff ect on reducing this gap: treatment girls were no less likely to miss school during their period. Claims that menstruation is a barrier to schooling are overstated and modern sanitary products are unlikely to a ffect educational attainment.
As a nerdish aside, this is a great lesson in the importance of working out, and stating upfront, the SIZE OF THE EFFECT. Rather than leaping on a statistically significant relationship and drawing conclusions from there, it is really simple but perhaps not done often enough to consider just how big the effect is in real terms, and in this case draw the opposite conclusion that although an effect is statistically significant it is also tiny, and therefore economically insignificant.

Here is Emily at TED challenging what you think you knew about HIV/AIDS.

03 January 2010

Sunday Links

1. New evidence on Gender and attitudes to risk - nurture is more important than nature

2. New evidence on African exports - "While improvements in ports and customs and less bureaucracy will help exporters, the impact of improved inland transit is roughly five times greater."

3. An aid success story - the original M-PESA pilot was funded by DFID (via David Roodman's optimistic take on the future of microsavings)

4. Not a resolution - but my plan for 2010 is getting a "personal mba" (i.e. buying lots of business books). Partly inspired by the likes of Mootbox. Partly by excellent quotes like this:
"Maximum tolerance to failure" v. "idiot-proof". The second is some much pithier. Leave it to 'development' as a whole to over-complicate things. Leave it to business to get things done. 
It's one more reason why the methods of most modern NGOs are hopelessly unsuitable to making things happen: it takes a veteran author coining an elaborate phrase to sum up an idea every mediocre businessperson already knows.

A New (Old) Development Idea for the Conservatives in 2010

When the Conservatives take over the British government this year, how about solving the issue of domestic opposition to immigration and creating exciting new development opportunities in one stroke?

Paul Romer's Charter Cities (hailed as a top ten breakthrough idea for 2010 by Harvard Business Review) - creating new city-states on uninhabited land, governed by advanced democracies, have a little history in the Conservative Party.

According to recently released papers, first Margaret Thatcher, then Oliver Letwin both wanted to create "Asylum Islands."
Mrs Thatcher even bizarrely proposed to the Australian prime minister, Malcolm Fraser, that they jointly buy an Indonesian island to resettle all the boat people. This forerunner of Oliver Letwin's 2003 idea for an "asylum island" to take all of Britain's asylum seekers was only blocked when Singapore complained that it would set up a rival entrepreneurial city
Lee Kuan Yu was no idiot, and saw the potential of a British-Australian-run Charter City in his neighbourhood.

How about it Cameron do you have the balls?

02 January 2010

2000-2009 - A Great Decade

via The Monkey Cage, apparently Paul Krugman has been whining about the "naughties" and how nothing good happened in America. This is why I don't read Paul Krugman. He focuses too much on America.