“A” does not equal “A”

In a nice Orwellian move, China’s top censor has denied the fact that there is censorship in China!  To wit, he stated that “China does not censor but ‘manages’ internet content.”

He goes on to helpfully clarify that “the Chinese government blocks some foreign websites because it ‘has the right to choose friends.'”  So…censorship then!  Indeed in Freedom House’s ranking of countries by internet freedom, China comes in dead last at #65.  All that “management” is taking a toll.


Language & Human Capital

One of my favorite former students, Priscilla Gomes, is now working as a technical adviser to PASEC in Senegal.  PASEC stands for Programme for the Analysis of Education Systems and, amongst other things, it has just published an assessment of primary education in 10 Francophone Sub-Saharan Countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad,Congo,Côte d’Ivoire,Niger,Senegal andTogo).  It was quite an undertaking, involving about 40,000 students and almost 2,000 schools.

Here is an executive summary of what they found, entitled “Education System Performance in Francophone Sub-Saharan Africa:  Competencies and Learning factors in primary education.”  The summary is worth checking out in full because the results are really interesting.  What most caught my eye though was some good news about a country that has seen very little good news of late:  Burundi.

Overall, the study found that “70% of early primary pupils are below the “suficient” threshold in language” in these 10 countries.  Burundi stands out in two ways:

  1. “the language of the test, which is also the language of instruction (Kirundi) is familiar to pupils, and
  2. almost eight in ten pupils achieve the “suficient” threshold in language, and seven in ten pupils achieve the mathematics threshold.

The results also show that student results in language and math are highly correlated.  That is, “whatever the country, pupils and schools that are successful in language achieve high scores in mathematics, and vice-versa.”

I have always found the language of instruction to be an interesting issue in human capital formation.  One of my earliest articles studied differences in economic development across British and French former colonies in Sub-Saharan Africa.  I found that ex-British colonies tended to have higher levels of education and hypothesized that it might be because British colonial policy was to train native educators to teach in the local vernacular.


The worst campaign slogan ever

But what do I know?  It actually worked.  Recently elected Tanzanian President John Magufuli ran on a campaign of frugality and hard work.  Incredibly, his slogan was “Work and Nothing Else.”  That sounds eerily reminiscent of General Park in South Korea, who didn’t have to worry about being elected with such a slogan.

I guess the citizenry is so fed up with the corruption of higher officials that they are willing to vote in someone who promises thriftiness and a new perspective on what it means to be a civil servant.  Twitter has had a field day with this perspective though and the results are hilarious.  The hashtag is #WhatWouldMagufuliDo? and here are some of my favorites.

tanzania2tanzania1Screenshot 2015-12-03 08.12.23

h/t @JustinSandefur

The rule of law is a mighty thin reed: Football Edition

I am not a soccer expert (I like FC Barcelona, Arsenal, and the Xoloescuincles of Tijuana), but I am pretty sure that games are 90 minutes.

Well not in Mauritania, at least not if President/Dictator/Serial Coup-monger Abdel-Aziz is in the house!

“A football game in the Mauritanian Super Cup was bizarrely sent to a penalty shoot-out in the 63rd minute of play after the country’s head of state grew tired with the match.

President of the Republic, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, was in attendance for the Super Cup final between FC Tevragh-Zeina and ACS Ksar, though he reportedly influenced the proceedings of the game upon losing interest in the scoreline.

The head of state was said to have become impatient with the tempo of the game, which was held at a 1-1 deadlock, and instead of waiting out the second half and possibly extra-time, he simply ordered that the two teams skip the remaining minutes.”

So my man got bored (can’t say as I blame him), canceled the last 27 minutes of regulation and ordered the teams right into penalty kicks!

That is quite a super-power.

Would it surprise you if I told you that Mauritania was ranked by Transparency International as coming in 124 (out of 175) in absence of corruption?

“Nothing is more persistent than the temporary”

Nick Hannes, a Belgium press photographer, chronicled his year-long expedition across the 15 former Soviet states in a fabulous photo diary called Red Journey.  He attempts (and succeeds) to show the world a different view of these countries than the dreary one usually presented.

The title of this post comes from a quote by a Moldovan press photographer named Nicolae Pojoga.  The author asks Pojoga how long he thought Moldova would be in a  “transition phase” and the latter “laughed bitterly” and responded with the poignant ‘Nothing is more persistent than the temporary.'”

The diary is well worth checking out in full–the photos are amazing and often quite humorous.  It makes one wonder what the back story is behind many of them.  Here are a several of my favorites (from Armenia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan)


There is apparently a book about the journey too which looks worth checking out.  Here is the link to it on Amazon.