Your Friday African Round-Up

Democracy in Africa has constructed a tremendous resource for anyone interested in learning more about African political economy.  It is called “Decolonising the University: The African Politics Reading List” and contains many interesting sub-sections, including: African Political Thought, Pre-colonial Politics, Slavery and the Role of Traditional leaders,  the Politics of Ethnicity, the Politics of Religion, Agricultural Politics and Land Reform, amongst many others.

In other news, in what I would like to call “How is this Artist Still Alive?”, a Zimbabwean artist has created a statue of President Mugabe that has drawn widespread ridicule.  When I first saw the piece, I thought this artist better be on the lam.  But, no, the only person who seems to like the art (and thank goodness for that for the artist) is Mugabe himself.  Feast your eyes:




Africa is two countries

Rur roh. I’ve used the term “Sub-Saharan Africa” both in teaching and in my research many times.  However, I just learned that the phrase is neither politically or geographically correct.  Yikes!

A recent Quartz article makes the following points:

First, the term isn’t geographically correct in some cases. For instance,  “The UN Development Program lists 46 of Africa’s 54 countries as ‘sub-Saharan,’ [but] four countries included are on the Sahara, while Eritrea is deemed “sub-Saharan” but its southern neighbor Djibouti isn’t.”

Second, development agencies aren’t consistent in their labeling.  In its definition of Sub-Saharan Africa, the World Bank includes the 46 countries as the UN Development Program  but also includes Sudan and Somalia.

Third, instead of treating Africa as a single country (sadly still commonplace in the media), we tend to treat it as two (Sub-Saharan and Northern Africa).

The article also delves into the history of the term, noting that Sub-Saharan Africa replaced the more politically incorrect terms “Tropical Africa” and “Black Africa” that were prevalent in early research.  Some argue that the new term is equally problematic:
Tatenda Chinondidyachii Mashanda, a politics and international affairs scholar at Wake Forest University argues that “[it] is a way of saying ‘Black Africa’ and talking about black Africans without sounding overtly racist.”

Brian Larkin, a  Columbia University anthropologist, would agree, arguing that dividing Africa into Northern African and Sub-Saharan Africa reflects “‘racist’ colonial theories that thought northern Africa more culturally developed.” 

Time to re-think how I will describe my data the next time I write a paper with African countries!


The White Savior Complex

TMS Ruge has an excellent and thought-provoking post about the white savior complex in Africa.  It’s provocative title is “Your White Savior Complex is detrimental to my development.”  A white colleague of his who work on microfinance in Uganda wants to be mindful of the white savior complex but also needs to have photos of her working in Uganda to make it clear to donors that she is doing her job.  She asks Ruge for advice and he provides some with brutal honesty:

“If the problem you are trying to fix over there isn’t fixed right where you are, what gives you the qualifying authority to go there? And by leap-frogging the issues in your backyard, are you really solving the problem or just moving sand grains around on a beachhead? Why are problems over there yours to fix?

You are raising funds to empower women but not raising funds to strengthen the social infrastructure that left these women disenfranchised. The skin you are in, allows you to simply inject short cut solutions to “other people’s problems.” Fundamentally, social infrastructures in your village made you a strong, independent woman with enough access to be able to think ‘why don’t these women over there have the same privilege that I do?’. You identified the illness, but opted for a corrosive bandaid instead of a difficult, but necessary surgical procedure.

There are many people in Uganda, like me, working to fix our broken social systems by incessantly petitioning our government to address them. After all, they have one job! Is what you are doing helping us strengthen our case against the government or weakening our agency and endorsing the government’s abdication of its duties? “

African underdevelopment solved


It’s hard to know where to start with such an insulting and stupid statement.  According to  Mila, we don’t need to worry about African underdevelopment because Africans are already happy as they are.  They only need “some” clean water you know.

This quote was from an article last year in The Telegraph.  In it, she talks about pairing up with an ethical mining company in Zambia and Mozambique (hence the rubies in the photo above).  She was especially impressed with the fact that the company had a policy of not using child labor.  Here is what she had to say:  “My husband’s foundation in the States, Thorn, is against child [exploitation]. After having my own child, it puts it all into perspective. The idea of her at the age of nine having bleeding sores and working 20 hours a day for pennies… It’s pure slavery.”  I love how it took having her own baby to put things in perspective.  Actors weighing in on economic topics are easy targets;  what bothers me is not her views per se but the idea that anyone would assume she speaks with any authority.  It’s not that being an actor discredits you from speaking intelligently on important topics, but it shouldn’t give you an automatic platform either.

Anyway, the Mail & Guardian from South Africa has an article today about blood rubies (unfortunately, it’s gated).  The gist of it is that this so-called “ethical” company that Mila is ambassador for is actually not so ethical after all.  The title of the piece is “Villagers digging for rubies were shot and left to die.”  In Mila’s estimation, as long they had some clean water and sunlight, they probably died happy.

h/t the always great @texasinafrica

Rule of Law, Zimbabwe Edition

When a University of Zimbabwe graduation ceremony had to be delayed 45 minutes because Bobby Mugabe’s hat did not fit, people you KNOW someone is getting fired (if the hat don’t fit you must get fired).

That someone turns out to be “Ngaatendwe Takawira, an assistant registrar, who said she has been in charge of the university’s graduation ceremonies since 1996”

Why was Mugabe wearing a mortarboad at the ceremony? Silly Question. He’s the Chancellor of all of Zim’s state universities, innit he?

The twisty thing here is that Ms. Takawira is not taking her punishment passively.

She claims that (a) they had a hat there that fit Bobby the whole time, (2) The Chancellors office gave her the hat size she bought, and (3) Bobby M called off a fitting saying he was too busy. She’s filing suit with a lawyer and everything.

My question to you people is this: DOESN’T SHE KNOW WHERE SHE IS LIVING?

There are few places on earth where “L’etat c’est moi” rings truer than Mugabeville.

If she keeps pushing this, she may find that she ends up a lot more than just fired.

The Long-Term Effects of Protestantism

I just came across a couple of interesting new working papers on the historical effects of Protestantism.  The first builds on Robert Woodberry’s work on the effect of the printing press in Sub-Saharan Africa. In “The LongTerm Effects of the Printing Press in SubSaharan Africa,” Julia Cage and Valeria Rueda find “that, within regions located close to missions, proximity to a printing press significantly increases newspaper readership today” and that there is “a strong association between proximity to a printing press and contemporary economic development.”

Rossella Calvi and Federico Mantovanelli, in a paper titled “Long-Term Effects of Access to Health Care: Medical Missions in Colonial India” also find some positive long-term effects of Protestant missions, but this time in India.  They show that “a 50% reduction in the distance from a historical medical facility increases current individuals’ body mass index by 0.4.”  The path dependence “is not driven by persistence of infrastructure, but by improvements in individuals’ health potential and changes in hygiene and health habits.”

“With make-believe data, the best you can achieve is make-believe results”

Thanks to Morten Jerven (@MJerven) for pointing me to this article questioning the credibility of the Ghana Statistical Service.  As the article notes, much of the criticism the agency has received comes from an Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, an economist and banker who unit recently was the Deputy Governor of the Bank of Ghana.  Now he is a candidate for the opposition party, which means there might be a political agenda behind his criticisms.  Even given this, his criticism might still be right.

The article gives all the details and the back and forth between the critics and the agency, but here is the best part:

[Dr. Bawumia’s] lecture, last month, at the Central University College dubbed “The IMF Bailout: Will the Anchor Hold?,” among other things, pointed to the data presented to the IMF for the bailout. “If you have make-believe data, you will end up with counter-productive or inadequate responses to economic policies,” he said.  “If your data are not credible, the anchor cannot hold. With make-believe data as the basis, the best you can achieve is make-believe results, which will soon be exposed, as we are witnessing currently.” 

The Printing Press and Early Development in Africa

I just ran across an interesting looking working paper called “The Long-Term Effects of the Printing Press in Sub-Saharan Africa” (co-authored by Julia Cage and Valeria Rueda).

Here is a preview of their results:

We find that proximity to the closest location of a mission with a printing press has a positive and statistically significant impact on the probability of reading the news. A one-standard deviation increase in the proximity to a mission with a printing press increases the probability of reading the news on a monthly basis from 3 to 14% of a standard deviation, depending on the specifications. In contrast, proximity to a mission without a printing press has no significant impact on newspaper readership. Moreover, we also find that a one-standard deviation increase in the proximity to a mission with a printing press increases contemporary economic development by around 10% of a standard deviation.

My “to-read” pile has just gotten bigger.