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:

mugabe

 

 

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 polity is always fully governed*

Just discovered @MaxCRoser and his incredible data visualizations.  Here’s one showing how democracy, autocracy and colonialism has changed over the last 100 years:

The-Shares-of-World-Citizens-living-under-different-political-systems_Max-Roser

(note: The figure doesn’t scale very clearly; here’s a link to a Washington Post article about it with much larger and clearer graphic.)

It’s amazing what a small percentage of the world’s population lived in a democracy in 1900 (around 10%).  Thankfully that number climbed significantly over the century.

*except for the small percentage listed as “no data”! The “no data” category disappeared around mid-century and is making a comeback.  I’m curious what “no data” means and why it’s on the rise. Would Yemen qualify?

Heroes of Democracy

The WSJ has a fun piece today on the travails of being a poll worker in India.  The country has a rule that there must be a poll station no further than 2 km from every residential community, which means that the polling agents assigned to rural areas have their work cut out for them.

The US Postal Service has the motto “Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed round” but that’s nothing compared to what these poor guys face. They should come up with a similar motto including crocodiles, snakes, elephants, mountains, and crushing heat.

Here are some details of the trials they face:

“There are basically two ways to get to Hanspuri (a town with 261 voters). Going overland would require hacking through dense jungle filled with snakes and across the mountain ridges that serrate North Andaman island—all while carrying the polling machines and other equipment in backpacks. The more practical water route—through the mangrove forests and up the coast—has its own risks, among them: hungry crocodiles and the risk of capsizing.”

Poll workers travel with camel caravans to reach settlements in the deserts of Rajasthan.

Election officials recently had to contend with a herd of wild elephants that blocked the way to two polling stations. Eventually, forest rangers came to the rescue.

Polling officials trekked five hours through a forest carrying a 10-plus-pound polling machine to reach a settlement with just two voters near the Chinese border.

Phase two of the journey required lugging the two voting machines—a precaution in case one malfunctioned—as well as water, food and camping gear to the village. On sections of the path, the poll workers and their escorts had to walk in single file over makeshift bridges roughly the width of gymnastics balance beams.”

Click here for a slideshow of some these obstacles.

Of the 261 voters in Hanspuri, roughly 80% voted.  While that’s a pretty high turnout, if I were that poll worker who took days to trek there, I would be plenty hacked at those who didn’t vote.

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:

kenya_roads2

 

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

kenya_roads

 

 

Mexico in transition

I am currently enjoying Jo Tuckman’s excellent Mexico: Democracy Interrupted.  The book is an important reminder that even though Mexico’s one party rule ended almost 15 years ago, the country is still in a period of transition, and a lot of what worked under the monopoly of the PRI is no longer possible.

For instance, here’s an interesting example of the age-old Mexican corporatism in current times (word of warning: acronyms abound in Mexico)

The Secretariat of Government Relations [SEGOB] recently called a meeting with a number of institutions to talk over a new agricultural development plan.  One of the groups, UNTA (the national union of agricultural workers and campesinos (peasants)), was angry that the National Council of Rural and Fisheries Organizations [CONOR] and the National Council of Campesino Organizations [CONOC] and the National Campesino Confederacy were also invited to the meeting. [question: how many campesino unions are there in Mexico?]

When I saw that the group was angry, however, I am unfortunately not exaggerating.  Members stormed out of the meeting and “tore down fences that protect the streets General Prim and Abraham González with the intention of demonstrating at the main entrance of the Secretariat. The police commander [who identified himself as] Spartacus, a negotiator for the police, tried to reach an agreement with some members of the UNTA, but he was ignored and they continued to beat at the police with sticks and stones.”

The protest, which lasted about 20 minutes, injured 6 police offers and 19 UNTA representatives (according to the group).

Perhaps the most amazing part of this story is that after these attacks, the government relented, allowing them to enter the Secretariat offices and begin negotiating again.

h/t Mexico Voices