Thursday, November 4, 2010

Big Bag of African Politics

In addition to the US midterm elections, a number of African countries are holding their own elections. An eye-witness account of peaceful goings on in Zanzibar.

Ethiopia and the UK both deny the implications of a recent Human Rights Watch report. Based on interviews with 200 people, they find that people are denied food aid, agricultural subsidies, university slots, and other government programs if they are not members of the ruling party.

Freschi reviews the review of a new book on Ethiopia's mid-1980s famine. The conclusion: totally man-made - "the direct and in all likelihood inevitable result of deliberate policies in Addis Ababa by the Stalinist government of Mengistu Haile Mariam." The post also includes this delightful picture of Ethiopia, land "where nothing ever grows/ no rain nor rivers flow."

Mauritius has accomplished most of the MDGs, an underappreciated achievement. But part of being a developmentalist is never believing amazing progress is actually progress: "Charan is worried the government will use the positive MDG figures as an excuse to ignore other social problems"

The Economist discusses Kenya's growing importance economically and politically in Africa, designs on South Sudan, and the various factions. While that piece is only cautiously optimistic, Zutt believes that Kenya's new (August 2010) constitution will do a lot of good:
It subjects the presidency to more checks and balances.  It strengthens parliamentary oversight of the executive.  It devolves power to 47 elected county governments, introducing for the first time in Kenya a meaningful decentralization.  It protects the rights of citizens, and particularly women and vulnerable groups, through an ambitious bill of rights.  It requires all sitting judges to be vetted to determine their eligibility to continue to serve.
Only 1/5 of the projects undertaken by foreign governments to grow food in Africa (aka land-grabbing) have actually started growing food and even where they have, yields have been 1/4 of expectations. Despite this, more businesses are also beginning to look at increasing African agricultural production.

Africa is a Country points out that the average age of African leaders is 76, while the average age in OECD countries is 51. Penn  notes
I am not sure what to take away from this: whether this is a representative sample, then we’re talking about different kinds of political systems (with rules about term limits or the extent of pressure from civil society groups), different ideas about the links between age and experience, various types of regimes (including life presidents and dictators for the African countries cited), and, finally,  it is not like having younger leaders have led to better policies (whether social, economic or political) in the ‘First World.’
CGD encourages the inclusion of Nigeria in the G-20 because of its large population size. The Economist is bullish on African economic growth, predicting a number of countries with more than 5% GDP growth in 2010 and 2011.

In response to the debate about how to evaluate the progress of the Millennium Villages, Blattman proposes a different baseline comparison: the Institutions and Accountability package. The increased attention caused by the MV project gets national and state governments working ... in those areas. States learn by doing and get better at delivering their public goods to everyone.
By this argument, the kind of research we need to get built around the Millennium Villages are process consultants (to learn how to deliver services better) or people who think about how policy and institutional change actually happens, so the lessons and examples can spread beyong the example villages. We also need lots of close observation so that we can see why some interventions work well together, and why some don’t.
These questions are beyond and in addition to the questions of positive externalities, whether there are results in economic levels or economic growth, and how rigorously we can identify the causal effets.

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