28 February 2010

Books for Sudan


This looks like a great project. There is a container at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London waiting to be filled with academic books for Juba University. Get down there if you have any and you are based in London; the deadline is the end of March.

More generally – many forms of aid seem to run into bottlenecks – for instance millennium villages might be wonderful but the well trained and motivated implementers can’t easily be scaled up to a national level.

Giving books to university libraries seems pretty scalable to me.


Ranil at AidThoughts has a pop at shrill advocates of cash transfers, migration, and aid transparency.

Being a shrill advocate of cash transfers, migration and aid transparency myself, I feel duty-bound to respond.

What is bugging him is simplistic arguments, but he couches his argument in terms of the complexity of development.

The trouble is, it is precisely complexity which makes market and network-based solutions so attractive – in a world where no single person or organisation can know everything, markets can harness the power of lots of decentralised sources of information.

Market-based solutions like giving aid as cash transfers direct to poor people and allowing greater international movement of people, or network-based solutions like aid transparency to allow for crowd-sourcing scrutiny to both rich and poor country citizens, are attractive relative to the central planning of state provision of public goods precisely because of complexity.

This is not to say that any of these issues are magic bullets. They will not solve the development puzzle. But I would argue that they are $100 bills lying on the sidewalk that aren’t being picked up. There is often a good reason that they aren’t being picked up, such as a guy with a gun standing there telling you not to (border guards); or someone who’s job depends on you being unable to pick it up (aid workers), but that doesn’t stop it being a good idea. That doesn’t stop it being a heinous waste, heinous because waste and inefficiency is so tragic when so many people have so little. And yet we let the dollar bills lie. That is why I am shrill.

And finally, Ha-Joon Chang? Really?

26 February 2010

African Scholar

I get asked quite frequently about how to get a scholarship to study in the UK. Sadly I know little about this, but in the nick of time comes:

tristanreed: African Scholar: info on scholarships for African students, colleges and universities, etc. http://bit.ly/bvCYkS (via @cblatts)

Here’s a thought – there is some evidence to suggest that the prospect of emigration and considerably higher returns to education can increase investment in human capital, outweighing the effect on a nation’s stock of human capital through the emigration itself.

Could better information about scholarship opportunities have a similar effect?

Could a bit of clever marketing both increase the quality of students received by Western universities, and raise investments by individuals in education in poor countries?

How to blog (tech-y edition)

First, write well (I’m still working on this one). Listen to David Roodman.

Then get some decent tools. I use:

Windows Live Writer – Let’s you draft rich-formatted posts (with photos!) offline, and preview you them as they will look on your site. I just discovered this and it is awesome.

FeedDemon – For offline feed-reading. Syncs with Google Reader

Fire Status – Post to Twitter in 2 clicks. It sorts out the links for you and everything

Page2RSS.com – For monitoring sites which don’t have feeds

25 February 2010

Machine Gun Preacher

Sam Childers is a crazy crazy man. He is definitely insane but he might just also be awesome. I’m not sure. Here’s the story.
Sam was a hell’s angel. He drank, took drugs, and got in fights. Then he saw the light and became a Christian. A preacher even? The he got a job in de-mining, which took him to Southern Sudan.
At which point he decided to start going on ARMED RESCUE MISSIONS to save kids from the LRA. He has his own vigilante army, and now runs an orphanage for 300 kids saved from the LRA.
There is already a book and someone is planning a movie. Sometimes, the truth (assuming that this is not an elaborate hoax), is stranger than fiction.
(HT: BoredinPostConflict)

24 February 2010

Towards the Free Movement of People between Uganda and Southern Sudan?

“I think we better abolish the visa regime and I am going to inform my government so that anybody with a South Sudanese or Ugandan travel document can walk into each other’s country and trade freely”, said [Ugandan Minister of Commerce] Otafire. 
He added that the use of visas “was an introduction of the colonialists to differentiate the people and their countries”. 
He said that abolishing travel permits between the two countries will allow open movement of goods and services which will in turn boost the economic development of the two countries. 
The minister added that enhanced trade will also boost relations between the neighbouring countries.

Actionable Ideas for Shared Prosperity

Nancy Birdsall and Owen Barder both have fantastic lists of new development ideas, the most radical (and awesome) of which is I think Owen's "global minimum income guarantee backed by cash payments to the world's poorest people."

Go and read and revel in the development-policy-beyond-aid awesomeness.

Owen also points to the campaign for Aid Transparency website, which although being a great cause, really need to work on their marketing a bit.

There is lots of information about consultation papers and TORs and Technical Advisory Groups (TAG) and Steering Committees and Secretariats and Official Statements and OECD-DAC and the OECD DAC's Creditor Reporting System (CRS) and what all of this means for the DAC's Working Party on Statistics (WP-STAT) and HOLD ON A SECOND ISN'T THIS EXACTLY THE KIND OF SUBTERFUGE THAT TRANSPARENCY IS DESIGNED TO OVERCOME!!!

OK OK I know project governance is important, but as Owen argued in Beyond Planning, the Paris/Accra agenda is failing because donors have little incentive to do what they say. So how about doing some simple naming and shaming huh?

So here is Bill Easterly and Tobias Pfutze's (2008) transparency ranking of aid agencies by their public reporting on their operating costs, and on their reporting to the OECD.

GEF (Global Environment Facility), at least in your transparency practices in 2008, you sucked. So did you UNFPA. No gold stickers for you. Bad agency, bad!

23 February 2010


Yes, it is devil spawn, but I've kind of figured out how to use it (this helps), and so I am mostly posting interesting links there rather than saving them all up for a links blog post (which my housemate always complains about). There is a little box on the right of the webpage, or you can click here. I'll try and remember to keep up some lengthier stuff here and not descend entirely into stunted sentences.

19 February 2010

More on Tourism and Poverty

Matt and Ranil make some good points about the distribution and poverty-incidence of tourist spending in poor countries. This I completely accept, but I am still stunned by the aggregate figures. Even a small proportion of this going into the hands of poor people is going to be significant, and something worthy of a bit more study and attention to see how the impact can be increased. Jonathan Mitchell and Caroline Ashley from ODI look at these issues in various papers (which I am yet to properly read), but they are in a minority. I have TWO degrees in development economics and have been taught loads about aid, but next to nothing about the poverty impacts of tourism.

Inspired by David Roodman here are a couple of graphs showing the approximate relative size of resource flows to poor countries, and the attention these issues get from academics interested in poverty (measured by Google Scholar hits).

Maybe just a little bit unbalanced?

18 February 2010

Tourism and Poverty

"Spending by tourists in developing countries is almost three times the level of official development assistance."
(ODI launch for "Tourism and Poverty" by Jonathan Mitchell and Caroline Ashley)

I am mildly amazed. I knew that private remittances exceeded official development assistance but tourist spending as well?! Where is TourismWatch Bill Easterly? Why does this issue get so little attention?

17 February 2010

How to blog

“Keep your posts organized. Cut words, but not necessarily ideas. Tell stories. My longest post is also by far the most read. Figure out why. Read other blogs and analyze what works for you and what doesn’t.”
David Roodman

How to work in Development

Step One:

Listen to Michael Jackson when you are growing up. “Heal the World” is in your DNA. You are an idealist.

Step Two:

Go to school and study Development/Economics/Anthropology/Politics/Sociology/Geography. Cultivate and refine your idealism.

Step Three:

Do lots and lots of unpaid work. Or even pay to work. So you can get that essential developing country experience. Fall in love with somewhere in Africa/Asia/Latin America. Put a human face on your idealism.

Step Four:

Get your first real development job. Awesome. You’ve made it. Until you are disillusioned almost immediately. Everything is more difficult than you imagined. Nobody seems to care like you do. Nobody seems to want to heal the world. What do you do with your idealism now?

Step Five:

Actually the swimming pool on a Sunday is pretty nice. And if that new consultancy contract works out you’re going to be raking it in. Tax free! And you’ll get to ride in a shiny white landcruiser and sit in the A/C all day, and go to the pool on Sundays. Ha! You used to be so na├»ve! Idealism ischmealism.

(With apologies to the ~20% who actually work like dogs for little pay and do great things. Specifically people like these. You are my heroes).

Ernest Hemingway's "The Snows of Kilimanjaro"

I’m halfway through and I’m loving it. It presumably made its way into my household because of the title (when you move to Africa you accumulate lots of books about Africa), but it has really very little to do with Kilimanjaro, besides the opening chapter which is a spacey-ethereal-dying-dream sequence. The rest is semi-autobiographical and flits around between rural America and war-time Europe. Great writing. The kind that makes you want to write.

More arguments for aid as direct cash transfers to individuals

Following up from my recent comment on Owen’s lack of emphasis on cash transfers reluctance to more vocally advocate cash transfers in his recent CGD paper "Beyond Planning" (required reading) (also - is there a better way of saying giving aid directly to poor people? “Cash transfers” is rubbish), I noticed that this is especially odd given his stated position that aid should not be seen as being temporary.
“the richest people in the world have a duty to support the poorest people in the world – whether they are in the same country or not – as a matter of social justice rather than charity. This is a principle that we accept within our own countries – few of us think that we should aim to exit altogether from national insurance, state pensions or unemployment benefits in our own countries. The same principle should apply globally: there will always be people who are relatively rich and people who are relatively poor, and we should be aiming to evolve institutions which are effective at transferring income from the best off to the worst off around the world. And we will be doing that for the foreseeable future.”
If this is true – then why is international aid funnelled through governments whereas domestic aid is given to individuals? (yes I know that there is large implicit domestic aid through social service provision but that is not the comparison which Owen is making – which is with national insurance and unemployment benefits). Why do we trust people in our own countries to choose how they want to spend their money but not people in poor countries? Why do we think we are better able to know how individuals across the planet want to spend their money than people in our own countries? Are we being just a teensy bit patronising and racist? Now there are probably good political economy reasons for why we have to pretend that aid is temporary – but if you are going to argue that aid should be a permanent subsidy – then should you not also be arguing for it to be given to individuals rather than governments? Especially in places where governments are particularly unaccountable to their populations?

There is an argument that public-sector aid can be transformative – creating sustainable improvements so that aid can then be withdrawn. But then as Banerjee notes, we generally aren’t very good at knowing how to do big transformative development.
“Perhaps making growth happen is ultimately beyond our control … Perhaps, we will never learn where it will start or what will make it continue. The best we can do in that world is to hold the fort till that initial spark arrives: make sure that there is not too much human misery.”
So if;

a) we agree with Owen ethically and are committed to continue to supply aid indefinitely, and/or

b) we believe Banerjee that actually we have no clue how to do big grand macro development,

then surely, we dispense with inefficient governments and NGOs and go straight to the citizen? At least with a bit more than the 0.2% (I just made that up) that currently goes from all aid to PROGRESA-type schemes? And yes to please those who think most people are irresponsible and need to be told how to spend their money (you know who you are J xx), then make it somehow conditional like PROGRESA.

Frankly, given the documented successes of PROGRESA-type schemes I am confused why more aid is not given directly to beneficiaries rather than being mediated through multiple inefficient bureaucracies. Is it really just because it would put too many development experts out of a job? Isn’t that what we are aiming for anyway with all the talk of sustainability?

15 February 2010


Because I love you all my dear readers, no longer shall you have to type in “.blogspot”. That is a 9 key-stroke (36%) reduction. Bada-bing.

10 February 2010

Randomisation, Microfinance, and Female Empowerment

All in one paper!

New in World Development (Ungated here) Nava, Ashraf , Dean, Karlan and Wesley, Yin find that
“using a randomized controlled trial, we examine whether access to and marketing of an individually held commitment savings product lead to an increase in female decision-making power within the household. We find positive impacts, particularly for women who have below median decision-making power in the baseline, and we find this leads to a shift toward female-oriented durables goods.”
Shame that it is difficult to interpret the size of the effect because the dependent variable (for decision-making power) is an index based on whether the respondent, spouse or both decide on 9 different decisions.

Overheard office quote of the Day

“Why doesn’t Ban Ki-Moon unite his own country [North and South Korea], before he worries about uniting Sudan?”

The Hitchhiker's Guide to Sudan

Juba has something of a shortage of affordable public transportation. This means that for many, hitchhiking around town is a pretty good alternative to relying on matatus or expensive boda-bodas ($2 a trip). You often see the back of an SPLA truck packed with a whole class of kids in their school uniform.

So giving lifts on my way to and from work seems like a natural way of paying back lifts received in the past, and building up some karma points. Except apparently the UN has guidelines against giving lifts, especially to kids, because of sexual abuses by peacekeepers in the past. And I was always told never to accept lifts from strangers. So am I then encouraging a habit which could ruin someone’s life?

What’s more important: the direct tangible benefit of aid, or the potential for future unintended consequences?

Building a constituency for Africa

Owen says that there are unfair global rules which are creating a poverty trap for Africa, and that these rules won’t be changed because Africans are not a constituency to which Western leaders are accountable.
“Africa seems to be likely to be caught in the jaws of this trap for as long as there is no political process that allows African countries to obtain more power and influence within these international institutions than their relative economic weaknesses entails.”
I have less faith in international institutions. How about building a constituency for Africa in the West by:

1. Campaigning to influence voter’s and decision-makers

2. Allowing some more Africans to move to the West

I don’t know if these would work, but I do know that lobbying by the private sector does. Nathan points to a study which found a 22,000% return on lobbying by firms for tax cuts. Can lobbyists for development achieve those kind of returns?

Sam Bowles on tackling Inequality

“Suppose instead what we did is this: We said, ‘Look, when somebody turns 18, he gets a quarter of a million dollars and, after that, you’re on your own,’” Bowles says. “Once you’ve got your quarter-million, you’ve got to make a decision: ‘Should I go to college or do I want to start a business?’—which you could do with a quarter of a million.” 
“They just get a check. And they get it no matter what—Rockefeller, the poorest person in America, everybody gets it,” Bowles says. “There’s nothing you can do to get more; there’s nothing you can do to get less.” 
Such a system eliminates the disincentives to work in the current social safety net. “The problem with the welfare system is that as soon as you get a job, they start taking your money,” Bowles says. “This basically says, ‘You’ve got this nest egg and, if you go out and get a job, you keep the whole thing—except for whatever taxes you pay.”
Sante Fe Reporter (via Marginal Revolution)

How to painlessly balance the budget

We could auction off 10 million U.S passports. Suppose we could sell each for $200,000 --- that would yield a one time payment of 2 trillion dollars. Now that I think of it, that's a pretty good idea! 
As these "international superstars" sort across our cities, many of them will buy homes. This will help to slow down home price declines and thus slow down mortgage defaults. This will prop up the balance sheets of banks and make them more likely to make loans and this will help the economy to rev up again.
--Matthew Kahn on an untapped revenue opportunity (via James Choi)

08 February 2010

On the importance of motivation for results

So the other day I was idly browsing the tinterwebs for some info on the different tribes of Southern Sudan (yes I am that kind of geek). Tribe, ethnicity, language, and religion were all explicitly excluded from the 2006 census and the 2009 household poverty survey because they are too contentious, so I was assuming that hard data is difficult to come across. Not so.
Joshua project is a research initiative seeking to highlight the ethnic people groups of the world with the least followers of Jesus Christ.
And oh the data is copious. And detailed. I am slightly creeped out and utterly amazed all at the same time.

06 February 2010

On the velocity of money in Southern Sudan

This note is only 4 years old.

Gettin' by with a Senke

The idea blatantly stolen from Miles Estey's "Gettin' By" series, here are the economics of riding a Senke (cheap Chinese motorbike) boda-boda (motorbike taxi) for a living in Juba (taken from the South Sudan Business Week).
"Meet Senke Rider Who Out Earns GOSS (Government) Staff"
John Modi started borrowing a Senke to earn a few Sudanese Pounds after arriving back in Juba from a Ugandan refugee camp, and failing to find a job. After 6 months he had saved $750, enough to buy his own Senke.
"I am out of the house by 7am to drop my first client to work… I end my work at 8pm, take my supper and relax with my boys in our hood."
Modi has 3 regular customers who he takes to work and back every day, giving him something of a regular wage. The rest depends on the day, and whether it is raining or not.
"The income from a Senke is not regular … the tricky part of being self-employed is how to save the money. Income that comes in drips is hard to save. If one is not careful that money slips through the fingers."
A standard fare in Juba is $2. Modi tries to save the money from the first 10 trips ($20), and use anything on top of that to cover his daily expenses, such as lunch ($2.50), breakfast ($2) and a "White Bull" beer at the end of the day ($1). He also gets another $20 a day from his 3 regulars, paid in a lump sum at the end of the month.
"It also helps that compared to Senke business in neighbouring Uganda, in South Sudan, the costs are lower."
These costs amount to just under a dollar per day for insurance, plus the one-off cost of $115 for a licence plate, and some occasional $5 fines from the traffic police.
"If I had taken up a job in my management profession in Uganda, I wouldn't be earning half of this money."
There is of course, unmentioned in the article, a reasonable risk of death or injury. I see a smashed-up motorbike on the tarmac on a weekly basis, and it is only getting worse as more and more roads are paved in Juba. Bumpy dirt roads at least impose something of a speed limit. Still, I'm betting that $40-$50 a day puts you pretty high in the income distribution in Southern Sudan.

(Photo Credit: White African on the Rise of the Motorcycle Taxi in Africa)

French policy taking money from the poor?

Sanou Mbaye, a Senegalese economist does a comparison of different European money transfer markets.

Whilst the UK, Italy, Spain, and Portugal are taking steps to try and keep costs low for sending remittances, the French approach relies upon a monopoly for Western Union:
"which controls up to 90% of the total formal transfer volume within Africa's 16-member Franc Zone. Western Union charges fees as high as 25% on transfers to these countries, compared to an average global benchmark of 5%, and has required that Franc-Zone countries sign exclusivity agreements, thereby preventing foreign-exchange bureaux, post offices, and micro-finance institutions from carrying out money transfers."
HT: Duncan Green

05 February 2010

On information overload

If information overload is such a problem, why don't we do something about it? We could if we wanted to. How many of us bother to tune our spam filters? How many of us turn off the little evanescent window in Outlook that tells us we have a new email? Who signs off of social media because there's just too much junk? Who turns off their BlackBerry or iPhone in meetings to ensure no distractions? Nobody, that's who — or very few souls anyway. 
Why? First, there is the everlasting hope of something new and exciting. Our work and home lives can be pretty boring, and we're always hoping that something will come across the ether that will liven things up. If I turn up the filtering on the spam filter or turn off the smartphone, I might miss out on an email promising a new job, a text message offering a new relationship, an RSS feed with a new news item, and so forth. Every new communication offers the frisson of a possible life-changing information event, though it seldom delivers on the promise.
Tom Davenport in the FT

Wisdom on Sudan

"If [Southern Sudan] chooses secession, an independent state will be born as soon as the vote is announced. But independence is more than secession. Independence cannot happen without a whole range of agreements on fraught questions. Assets need to be divided – oil revenues, water, national infrastructure and other assets. Nationality needs to be defined. Any new currency will need to come into circulation at a price that is sensitive to the interests of many different economic groups. Somaliland and Eritrea are two nearby political entities that have recently fought wars after secession, in part because these issues were not addressed."
Edward Thomas, Chatham House

it is vital that the international community encourage and support negotiations on postreferendum arrangements
Jon Temin, US Institute of Peace (HT: Maggie Fick)

Development "Dream Manifesto"

Duncan Green, Head of Research at Oxfam presents his "dream manifesto" for the upcoming UK elections, restricting himself to "things that don't require big dollops of government cash." Here is my attempt at a coherent summary:

1. UK Aid - New money for climate adaptation, improve predictability and quality, untie it.

2. International action - push for Eurozone Financial Transactions ("Tobin") Tax, push for International Arms Trade Treaty, Raise development at G8 and G20, reform World Bank + IMF

3. Domestic Regulation - Increase reporting requirements for multinational companies in UK tax havens, regulate UK company behaviour abroad

4. Debt - Outlaw "vulture funds"

5. Rights - consistently condemn abuses of.

Migration is apparently a write-off.

And here's my "dream manifesto" drawing heavily from CGD's Commitment to Development Index and some recent Collier-Venables work on trade preferences.

1. Migration - Massively scaled up guest worker programme

2. Trade - Push for reform of "Everything But Arms", the EU's preferential trade policy for the least-developed countries, so that it does not include current restrictive "Rules of Origin" clauses (which mean poor countries can't just be part of the global economy and jump into the value-chain, they have to create an entire product from scratch)

3. Security - Stop exporting arms to corrupt dictatorships with poor human rights records. Britain has the highest export/GDP ratio of any rich nation.

4. Technology - Get rid of overly restrictive copyright rules which prevent the transmission of technology

5. Aid - Let's have some serious experimentation in giving aid directly to individuals. Do it with vouchers, do it via mobile phone, whatever, just do it.

Three of these; on trade, security and technology, are only difficult because they take on the interests of some major companies. And major companies have lobbying power. Who else has lobbying power? That's right. NGOs.

04 February 2010

Beyond Planning

I have finally read Owen Barders' new paper: "Beyond Planning: Markets and Networks for Better Aid", required reading for aid-policy-wonks. It's pretty heavy going, so here's my attempt at a quick summary/intro/review.

The Paris/Accra agenda is failing. And it will continue to fail because of the political economy of aid organisations. NOBODY has any incentive to specialise, do what the recipient government wants, or commit to long-term funding.

The way to fix these incentives is through adding markets and networks to the mix.

Markets by having donors contract out more of aid implementation.

Networks by, er, having some kind of wikipedia-facebook-social-network-for-aid-type-thing.

Sounds good to me. One thing though, I would have liked to have seen more emphasis on cash transfers to individuals. One of Barder's key problems with aid is the lack of a feedback loop from recipients to suppliers. People in Southern Sudan can't take their receipt back to the UK and say, "er, yeah thanks for the community-peace-building-initiative but I want my money back please". Because in aid, the supplier is also the guy who pays.

There are 2 ways to get this feedback.
The "short chain" way to make aid more accountable to the beneficiaries is to give beneficiaries more control over the organisations that deliver services. One way to do this is to provide aid directly to the intended beneficiaries – for example, in the form of cash transfers or vouchers. 
The "long chain" way to make aid more accountable is to give much greater emphasis to transparency, community engagement, measurement of results and feedback through the political system.
At which point the short chain is dropped and never mentioned again.

You want to give people choice and be accountable for your service provision? JUST GIVE THEM THE MONEY

Sudan Election Poll

From the Sudan Tribune. Probably not entirely representative.


Are NGOs killing civil society?

Paul who was in Juba recently has an interesting hypothesis: 
"International NGOs are killing civil society in developing countries."
I'm left with lots of questions. What is the counterfactual? Was there a flourishing civil society before aid? Is there anywhere without INGOs? If the question is about quality rather than quantity is it even possible to properly test this theory? How about Bashir's NGO expulsion as a natural experiment? How will Northern Sudanese civil society compare (with itself in the past, and with its equivalent in the South) in a few years time? What about militias, aren't they non-governmental organisations?

03 February 2010

The heat has come

A few weeks ago I was feeling a bit cocky as the new arrivals from the UK were wilting in the heat.

"Oh you'll get used to it... you just adjust after a while... etc etc."

The dry-season-proper just arrived and now I am wilting in the heat. I haven't slept well in about 4 days. My bed is too hot despite dampened sheets, which dry out after about half an hour anyway. I'm trying not to fall asleep at my desk.