Sleep deprived lies the head that wears the crown

In a short article called “C.Africa president who led coup says power ‘too tiring’,” the new president of the Central African Republic complains candidly about the downsides to being the chief executive.  He seems to deaf to the irony of whining about a job he took by force in a “bloody coup” last March.  The article reports that:

In a public meeting with representatives from political parties, Michel Djotodia complained that the assembled group could sleep easy while he lay awake worrying about national security, sometimes even forgetting about his wife lying next to him. “Sometimes you don’t even have thoughts about your wife! Sometimes, I wake up suddenly to ask the security minister what is happening!” he said, describing how ruling a country wracked by sectarian conflict had played havoc with his nocturnal routine.

He goes on to say that he hoped things were getting better so he could cede the job and get back to some better sleep.  Given that French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius characterized the state of the CAR as “total chaos,” that day might not be too soon.

Here is our coup leader looking a bit sleep deprived:


Slave trade legacies

I just came across another interesting looking paper on slave trade legacies.  It is by Warren Whatley and titled “The transatlantic slave trade and the evolution of political authority in West Africa.”  My reading list is getting long but this will definitely be added to it.
I trace the impact of the trans-Atlantic slave trade on the evolution of political authority in West Africa. I present econometric evidence showing that the trans-Atlantic slave trade increased absolutism in pre-colonial West Africa by approximately 17% to 35%, while reducing democracy and liberalism. I argue that this slavery-induced absolutism also influenced the structure of African political institutions in the colonial era and beyond. I present aggregate evidence showing that British colonies that exported more slaves in the era of the slave trade were ruled more-indirectly by colonial administrations. I argue that indirect colonial rule relied on sub-national absolutisms to control populations and extract surplus, and in the process transformed absolutist political customs into rule of law. The post-colonial federal authority, like the colonial authority before it, lacked the administrative apparatus and political clout to integrate these local authorities, even when they wanted to. From this perspective, state-failure in West Africa may be rooted in a political and economic history that is unique to Africa in many respects, a history that dates at least as far back as the era of the transatlantic slave trade.

Borders, Ethnicity and Trade

My stack of reading material is increasing daily.  The latest addition is called “Borders, Ethnicity and Trade” and it is forthcoming in the JDE (click here for an earlier, ungated version).  The paper looks to be really interesting on the topics of geography and ethnicity.  Below is the abstract:

This paper uses unique high-frequency data on prices of two agricultural goods to examine the additional costs incurred in cross-border trade between Niger and Nigeria, as well as trade between ethnically distinct markets within Niger. We find a sharp and significant conditional price change of about 20 to 25 percent between markets immediately across the national border. This price change is significantly lower when markets on either side of the border share a common ethnicity. Within Niger, trade between ethnically distinct regions exhibits an ethnic border effect that is comparable, in its magnitude, to the national border effect between Niger and Nigeria. Our results suggest that having a common ethnicity may reduce the transaction costs associated with agricultural trade, especially the costs associated with communicating and providing credit.

More path dependency from the slave trade

I just came across an interesting new working paper on the issue of social capital, slavery, and literacy.  The author’s name is Nonso Obikili and the paper is called “The Impact of the Slave Trade on Literacy in Africa: Evidence from the Colonial Era.”  I haven’t read the paper carefully yet but it looks promising. Here is the abstract:

Recent studies have highlighted the importance of Africa’s history of slave exporting to its current economic development. In this paper I show that differences in investment in education may be one of the channels through which that history has affected current development. I combine data on literacy rates of administrative districts from the colonial censuses of Nigeria and Ghana from the 1950’s with data on slave exports of different ethnic groups. I find a negative and signicant relationship between slave export intensity before the colonial era and literacy rates during the colonial era. I also use contemporary data on literacy rates from the 2010 Nigerian Literacy Survey and find that this negative relationship is still present and significant. Thus, I show that the slave trades affected development through channels other than inter-ethnic group confliict or formal nation-state level institutions.

A Death Sentence in Uganda

The NY Times Lens Blog has a heartbreaking slide show and story called Breast Cancer as a Death Sentence in Uganda.

Apparently there is only one hospital in the country that treats cancer and, for a variety of reasons, women often wait until it’s too late to make the trip to the capital.  By the time they do, the cancer has metastasized and there is little that can be done.  Here are some excerpts:

“Jessy Acen would get one shot (of chemo) and then wait two weeks until she got the next shot, so instead of going back and forth to her village — which was a $10 bus ride — she would sleep outside of the hospital on a cardboard box while she was waiting for the next round of chemo. She had two sons back in her village that she hadn’t seen in several months and it was just a heartbreaking.”

“Some who have the resources are able to get radiation. Many of them have to bribe themselves to the front of the line. There’s one radiation machine that sometimes serves four different countries. People coming from South Sudan, Congo, Uganda and parts of Kenya all go to this one radiation machine so there are lines and lines of people waiting.”

h/t scarlettlion

Climbing the ladder in Sub-Saharan Africa

It’s not easy, according to the World Bank’s Thomas Bossuroy.

Here’s the money ‘graf:

Many African economies have grown quickly, and education has expanded dramatically. But growth has been mostly driven by extractive industries rather than labor-intensive sectors like agriculture or manufacturing, and educational systems are performing poorly. As a result, social mobility seems to have remained low, and the weight of the social background still determines most of individual trajectories.


Bossuroy also points out that while education is often an important factor in upward mobility, the overall low quality of education in many Sub-Saharan African countries makes this factor very weak in the region.



Always good to dream big

I’m late to this story, but I was recently reading about President Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia.  While many African countries have made great strides in democratization in recent years, Mr. Jammeh is apparently not a fan.

In 2011he claimed that he “will rule for “one billion years”, if God wills.”  Apparently God still wills it as he hasn’t stepped down.   And what about critics who say that he wins elections through intimidation and fraud.  They can “go to hell”!

Other great claims by the big man of Gambia:

1. In 2007, he noted that he could personally cure HIV/AIDS with herbs.

2. He can also cure infertility in women.

3. In 2008, he threatened that any homosexuals in the country would be beheaded.  He later backed off that threat, but in 2013 stated: “Homosexuals are not welcome in the Gambia. If we catch you, you will regret why you are born. I have buffalos from South Africa and Brazil and they never date each other. We are ready to eat grass but we will not compromise on this. Allowing homosexuality means allowing satanic rights.”  Note: what is up with the buffalo and grass references?

The 2011 article about the president that I referenced above ends with this awesome statement: “The tiny West African state is a popular tourist destination.”  Really? As compared to what?  Somalia?

Hijacking the African statistical development program

African Arguments has an interesting article on the intersection of academia and politics.

The economist Morten Jerven has an excellent new book out called Poor Numbers: How We Are Misled by African Development Statistics and What to Do about It.  Jerven was supposed to give a speech Tuesday at the United Nations Economic Commission on Africa (UNECA) about his work but it was cancelled for political reasons.

Jerven alleges that Pali Lehohla, South Africa’s Statistician General, issued an ultimatum to UNECA that “if they let me speak he would withdraw all South African delegates from the UNECA meetings.” 


Lehohla, pictured above in the yellow suit, admitted his disagreement with Jerven’s work.  Apparently it has touched a nerve throughout Africa.  Here are some allegations:

1.  Lehohla argues that Jerven  “has not done his research” and “that we agreed as statisticians that we shall not engage him any further until he can demonstrate that he has done scholarly work on Statistical Development in Africa.”

2. Mr Lehohla adds that “Morten Jerven will highjack the African statistical development programme unless he is stopped in his tracks.”  Given what I’ve read of African statistical agencies in Jerven’s work, I can only hope that he does highjack their program.

3.  Dimitri Sanga, former Director of the African Centre for Statistics at the UNECA, characterizes Jerven’s work as “sulphurous.” I’m not even sure what that means but it sounds like an insult.
4. The Zambian Statistical Office accuses Jerven of “sneaking 

into CSO premises and collecting information on such a big institution without any authorization at all.” As if that weren’t slanderous enough, the go on to add that

It is clear that Mr. Jerven had some hidden agenda which leaves us to conclude that he was probably a hired gun meant to discredit African National Accountants and eventually create work and room for more European based technical assistance missions.”

Jerven took the high road in the controversy and stated that “It is unfortunate that some people perceive my book as a criticism of the people working in African Statistics, when my intent is to elevate the discussion on how to support African countries in improving their statistical systems.”

It is rare that academic work makes such waves in the real world and I think the backlash is actually encouraging because it opening up debate (and shedding more light) on issues that rarely get discussed.  It reminds me a bit of the reaction that Krugman got in East Asia when he compared growth in the region to the Soviet experience, arguing that much of the growth was fueled by factor accumulation and not productivity.  The initial reaction was sharply negative but a couple of years later Krugman was invited to Singapore to discuss ways in which the country could raise productivity.  Hopefully something similar will happen in this case.

Domestic Abuse in Central Africa

Africa Review has a scary graphic on attitudes towards domestic violence in Central Africa:


I don’t know what the answer is but I assumed these numbers would be correlated with women’s education.  A cursory look at female literacy rates for these countries, however, doesn’t seem promising.  For 2011, 25.4% of adult females were literate in Chad, 44.2% in the CAR, 57% in Congo, D.R., and 78.4% in the Republic of Congo.

And I thought I was the hammer

I’m all for high education standards (I have been nicknamed “the hammer” by two separate colleagues over the years), but either the University of Liberia needs to rethink their entrance exam or Liberian high schools need to step up to the challenge.

The BBC reports that the university has lessened its overcrowding problem by not admitting a single student for next year’s class.  According to school authorities, all 25,000 students who took the admission exam failed.  The education minister had this to say about the situation:

“I know there are a lot of weaknesses in the schools but for a whole group of people to take exams and every single one of them to fail, I have my doubts about that,” Ms David-Tarpeh said. “It’s like mass murder.”

I agree that something seems fishy. For example, the university said that the applicants “lacked enthusiasm” and good English skills.  How do you test for enthusiasm and why is that part of the exam?  The fact that they paid $25 to take the test seems to indicate that they have enthusiasm for learning and for investing in their future.

On the other hand, I would question the Education Minister’s equating the situation to a “mass murder.”  That seems like a curious (and terrible) analogy anywhere, but especially the political hell that Liberia has undergone in the last couple of decades.