Burkina Faso Fun Facts

While we try to sort out if another anachronistic president for life has been given the boot, here’s some quick facts about “his” country.

While Compaore has ruled for 27 years and the country only became independent in 1960, this is the 6th Coup d’etat in BF.

The capital of BF is Ouagadougou.

BF is one of 16 land-locked countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Per capita GDP is around $1500 and a large majority of the population engages in subsistence agriculture.

BF is a member of the CFA, which means its exchange rate is pegged to the Euro (which doesn’t seem like a good idea to me at least).

Residents of BF are called Burkinabes and residents of the capital are called Ouagalais.

BF used to be Upper Volta.

It’s good to have a vision

I know almost nothing about the London mayoral elections, but I hope that there are candidates with better visions then these two.  An article in the Weekly Standard highlights the vision of one David Lammy, a MP and mayoral candidate wants to use taxpayer money to erect more statues around London.  That sounds like an excellent use of taxpayer money.  I don’t know what London could use, but I really doubt more statues is the answer.  And not just any statues either.  Here are some of his ideas:

David Beckham, Adele, Zadie Smith, Daniel Day-Lewis and David Bowie.  Of Adele, he says that a statue of her would be “an inspiration to people in my constituency of how, with with hard work and determination, they can succeed in the arts.”  I don’t know Adele’s work, but presumably she has some talent too?  I could be the hardest worker and have the most determination of any singer possible, and I would still completely suck at it.

But Lammy sounds downright appealing next to the possibility of Russell Brand, who has also hinted that he wants to be mayor.  Here are some awesome tidbits from the article:

“Brand said he was “open-minded” about the idea that the US government was behind the 9/11 attacks, highlighting what he described as the “interesting” relationship between the families of former US president George Bush and al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

Brand is on record as saying voting is a waste of time and is planning to stand on an independent “anti-politics” ticket.

In a recent book, Brand admits he “can’t get my head around economics”, declares his support for “collectives”, and says he wants to ban fracking and the monarchy.”   I’m not sure what he means by collectives, but I completely believe his admission about not understanding economics.  I am sympathetic to his last point about the monarchy though.


How you gonna get them off of the farm after they’ve seen Miss Uganda milking a cow?

Back in August, we reported that the Ugandan Army had apparently commandeered the annual Miss Uganda pageant and were going to use it as a vehicle to “promote agriculture” in accordance with the wishes of Uganda’s World Bank endorsed dictator, Museveni.

But even then, I never really thought they would actually do it.

But they did it. Every last bit of it.

“A former mushroom and poultry farmer has been crowned Miss Uganda following a major rebranding of the annual beauty pageant, which saw the glamour of the catwalk ditched for an army-sponsored boot camp on a farm.”

Now you may be asking yourself, what’s the big deal? It’s just harmless fun, right?

People, agriculture “employs” 82% of the Ugandan labor force while producing 23% of Uganda’s GDP.

Ugandan farmers need tractors and combines and milking machines (i.e. capital). They don’t need hotties pretending to milk cows.

And in the absence of a huge influx of capital, Uganda needs to get its people OUT OF AGRICULTURE and into anything else. Manufacturing, services, you name it. Just somewhere in the other 18% of the labor force that is producing 77% of GDP!

(I know I am slightly abusing accounting identities here, but the overall point is, I believe, a valid one).

Finally, I wonder if it mattered at all the the winner’s pops is commissioner of aid liaison in the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development?

Schooling ain’t Learning, India edition

I love the NY Times Fixes column, and the one yesterday from Tina Rosenberg is a definite keeper. In it, she describes the enormous gulf between student enrollment and student learning in India.  She writes,

“96 percent of school-age children are enrolled — in part due to a 2009 law making education free and compulsory for children ages 6 to 14. India is winning the battle to get children into school. But last year, only 40 percent of third graders could read a first-grade-level paragraph and more than one-third couldn’t even read words. Of fifth graders surveyed, fewer than half could read a second-grade-level story — and 5 percent couldn’t even recognize letters.”

It is thanks to a program called ASER, the Annual Status of Education Report, that we know how little these students are learning.  Much more importantly, their parents and communities now know too.  Here is a description of how the program works:

“Right now, all over rural India, this is happening: Two local volunteers with a few days’ training come into the village. They knock on randomly selected doors, asking to see all children ages 6 to 16 who live there. In the front yard of the house, they test the children one by one in reading and math. A crowd gathers: parents, neighbors, sometimes the whole village. Children jump up and down, shouting, “Test me! Test me!”

Each test is a single sheet of paper. The volunteers record the highest level in reading and math the child can manage comfortably. Then they to go another house: 20 chosen at random from various parts of the village. During October and November, volunteers will test between 600,000 and 700,000 children, including some in every rural district in India.”

There are myriad reasons that Indian students are attending school but not learning, but the leader of the ASER project believes it’s mostly due to a law that says teachers must teach from a textbook appropriate to that year of schooling.  While that seems pretty reasonable, it actually is damaging if students are falling behind.  By the time they get to the fourth grade, for example, they may have no chance of mastering the material for that grade.

So what to do about the situation?  Well, the Fixes column isn’t titled that by chance.  Rosenberg details a really interesting initiative called Read India. Here’s some of their innovative ways to battle this problem:

“Volunteers run weeklong Read India learning camps in thousands of villages each year. They test every child in the village, then share the results at a village meeting. At camp, third-, fourth- and fifth-grade children who are far behind in reading or math spend three or four hours a day using activities, games and colorful materials to work on the basics. Children almost always move up at least one level during the course of the week. Camp comes back to the village two months later.

Read India also works in the classroom. In parts of Haryana, Bihar and Uttarakhand states, teachers set aside the last hour or 90 minutes of the day to use Pratham’s methods. The same teachers who were getting zero results with their normal methods saw big gains when they grouped children by level and worked on basic skills.”

Very cool stuff.

Maceo: Take me to the Bridge!

For $6/month, your kid gets an hour more of actual instruction than the public school gives in schools that average 35% higher scores in reading and 20% higher in math than the public schools do (I know, I know, selection bias and all, but still……).

This is the choice for many poor but not destitute Kenyans. Priced out of expensive private schools and seemingly condemned to horrid public ones, these parents now have another choice: The for-profit Bridge schools.

They accomplish this by giving their teachers 300 hours of training, then giving them semi-scripted lessons and closely monitoring performance.

To me, this seems like a huge win, but the Atlantic managed to find one Western nay sayer.

Meet Kate Redman of UNESCO:

“Such an education is unlikely to spur the imaginations of the students or encourage critical thinking or social mobility. It is more likely to lead to rote-learning, and would likely leave little flexibility. There is no evidence it can serve as a permanent approach.”

and of course she also adds this:

“The school curriculum is more than the inculcation of basic skills. It is also a reflection of culture and cultural diversity,” she said. “Only by creating a national curriculum, incorporating cultural understandings, can authorities address particular local and national challenges.”

The problem with Ms. Redman’s lines of attack are of course that in the 30 years since Kenya ditched their colonial era school system, their public schools have not been able to even master “rote-learning”.

People, believe me, “rote-learning” is a very very good thing. Especially when compared to “no-learning”.

I’d like to ask Ms. Redman how many years are Kenya’s poor supposed to wait. How many generations of kids have to get screwed over, before UNESCO gets Kenya’s public schools to work?

I am happy (and frankly stunned) to report that the article quotes a World Bank executive who strongly supports the Bridge’s program.

EPN’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day/Month

The news from Mexico has certainly taken a turn for the worse in recent weeks.  While not so popular at home, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has been a darling in international circles for his willingness to take on controversial reform, especially in the case of privatizing Pemex.  Media headlines tended to be dominated by his bold reforms and the optimistic future of Mexico.

This week, however, I saw my first “Mexico as a failed state” headline in a couple of years and it’s not hard to see why.  Here’s a sampling of some horrible news coming out of Mexico right now:

Mass Graves Dot Hillsides Around Iguala as Search for Missing Students Continues

Mexican Military Executed at Least 12, Federal Panel Says

Criminals Turn to Metal Theft as Mexico Underworld Fragments

US Police Corrupted by Mexico’s Cartels Along Border


No wonder we are seeing protests that look like this:


Whatever happened to the 22nd amendment?

People, sometimes it seems to me like the Shrub is still in the Oval. Wars going badly in Afghanistan and Iraq? Check. Massive privacy violations by the NSA? Check. Gitmo open for business? Check.

And now, apparently, we may be re-affirming the Bush administration’s twisted logic on the geographic specificity of our commitment not to torture?

Why do we even have elections at all up in here?

Crime and Impunity in Mexico

Given the horrible news coming out of Mexico these days, this Economist article on crime and governance in Mexico is well-timed.  I think N. Parish Flannery (@LatAmLENS) summed it up best when he tweeted, “I think the Mexican version of Crime and Punishment is just Crime and …”

Here is the Economist graph showing both a rise in crime in recent years coupled with an incredible amount of impunity.


Perhaps the gruesome discovery of mass grave after mass grave in Guerrero, none of which seem to hold the missing students, will represent a turning point in this trajectory.

“I got sunshine on a cloudy day”

The BBC recently reported Chinese President Xi Jinping’s disturbing comments about art to a conference in Beijing of “authors, actors, scriptwriters and dancers.” While the Communists have always kept artists on a strict, “socialist” leash, in recent years Chinese artists have increasingly pushed the boundaries of what the state will allow in artistic expression.

Now the President has made it clear what he considers art to be, and not surprisingly there is no overlap between what his and my definition.  I’m sure much of the audience felt the same.  Here are some of his comments:

“He told artists, authors and actors that their work should present socialist values and not carry the “stench of money”.

Fine art works should be like sunshine from blue sky and breeze in spring that will inspire minds, warm hearts, cultivate taste and clean up undesirable work styles.

Works of art should present patriotism as the main theme and foster “correct” viewpoints of history, nationality and culture, as well as strengthen pride in being Chinese.

Yikes, this sounds like some terrible art.