Blood is thicker than tarmac

There’s an interesting NBER working paper this week called “The Value of Democracy: Evidence from Road Building in Kenya.”  The authors find that regions that share the same ethnicity as the president also get favored when it comes to road building.  In the 1963 to 2011 period, these areas get twice as much roadwork funds allocated to them and have four times the amount of paved roads built.

In some sense this is unfortunate but not all that surprising.  What is surprising and hopeful is that this relationship between ethnicity and roads goes away when Kenya has democratic government.

Here is a photo of a road in what must have been a president’s home region:



and here’s one perhaps from an ethnicity not as lucky:




“The friendliest slum in the world”

What do slum residents think about the increasing popularity of slum tourism?  Jason Patinkin, on Informal City Dialogues, tries to find out first hand in Nairobi.

First he searches for a tour and finds that there are several to choose from.  The advertise with promises such as “The friendliest slum in the world,” “Raw” and “eye-opening,” as well as assurances that the money spent on the tour will help the local community.

After a 4-hour walking tour in Kibera, Jason returns the next day to interview residents about their feelings towards these tours.   While far from scientific or comprehensive, he reports some interesting findings:

1. Most residents don’t like having their pictures taken, even after guides explained that there was no ulterior motive behind it.  The reasons they cited are (a) it was offensive, “equating people to animals;” (b) the photos might be used for profit without the locals receiving a portion; and (c) the photos might be “used to scam would-be donors into giving money to fake aid programs.”  The last one was the most surprising to me.

2. Not surprisingly, the people who directly profited from the arrangement seemed happy with it.  He finds that employees at the curio workshop (one of the stops on the tour) actually pay a percentage to the guides.  Jason finds this to be exploitative, but the members reassure him that they are happy with the system.

3. Even those who did not directly profit had a positive image of the tours.  Jason writes: “To Frederick Otieno, 28, who sells water and washes cars with a youth group, tourists mean potential donors. “When muzungu (white people) go to see animals, it is mostly the government that benefits,” he said. “We’d rather prefer that the muzungu comes to see us because they [might] come and fund a school here.” Otieno’s hope isn’t so far-fetched. In some blocks of this Kibera neighborhood, almost every other storefront is a local or foreign NGO, and volunteers and interns flock to the area every summer.”

Personally I feel way more comfortable on a photo tour of wildlife than I do people.

Private education, not just for rich kids anymore

One of the best books on development that I’ve read in the last few years is The Beautiful Tree: A Personal Journey Into How the World’s Poorest People Are Educating Themselves by James Tooley.  I recommend it all the time to grad students in development.  Surprisingly, there are tens of thousands of private schools that operate on a shoestring and educate poor children in developing countries.  It was a surprise to Tooley as well, and the story of him uncovering this phenomena in country after country is fascinating.  It is especially interesting how education bureaucrats are ignorant of what’s going on and always profess vehemently to him that there is no way this is happening in “their country.”  But yet it is…and providing better education (and sometimes cheaper once you figure in all the hidden fee for public schools).

I think this is an under-researched topic so I am happy to see a new working paper this morning by Bold, T.; Kimenyi, M.; Mwabu, G.; Sandefur, J. on private education in Kenya.  The title of the paper is The high return to low-cost private schooling in a developing country and here’s the abstract:

Can market solutions provide cost-effective alternatives to failing public service delivery systems in developing countries? Existing studies from the U.S., Latin America and Asia provide little evidence that private schools lead to large gains in academic performance relative to public schools. Using data from Kenya – a poor country with weak public institutions – we find a large effect of private schooling on test scores, equivalent to one full standard deviation. This finding is robust to endogenous sorting of more able pupils into private schools. The magnitude of the effect greatly exceeds the most cost-effective interventions to increase public school performance documented in the literature. Combining household survey and administrative data, we estimate median expenditure per pupil is just $41 per annum in the private sector, compared to $84 in government primary schools.