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:




In Chicago, the dead vote. In Zimbabwe, the dead (will) govern

President Robert Mugabe, 92 years old, frequently leaves his country for health care in Singapore and Dubai.  Given his advanced age, each leave elicits questions/hopes that maybe this is finally it.  Maybe he won’t be coming back to wreck further havoc on his country.

Mugabe crushed many hopes by reappearing Saturday after a prolonged absence.  And what did he have to say? Here’s the transcript:

“It is true that I was dead,” the world’s oldest head of state said. “And I resurrected. As I always do.”

“Are we speaking to a ghost?” someone asked him.

“Once I get back to my country, I am real,” Mugabe said.

Zimbabweans shouldn’t worry so much about his health though because Mrs. Mugabe told citizens that her husband “would rule from the grave.”  How reassuring! That’s gives new meaning to the phrase “president for life.”

Priorities, Zimbabwe edition

Thanks to @ali_naka for this gem from Zimbabwe.  Here is a photo of at least one Zim school that could badly use some funding:


and here is a photo of Cabinet Ministers’ Benzes:


Maybe they could hold small tutorials in the air conditioned cars!




What Mugabe’s birthday is not like..

What is Mugabe’s birthday you ask?


Zimbabwe’s state-run (ha! what a surprise) newspaper has put out a 16-page cringe worthy paean to the country’s dictator.*  The photo above comes from an article detailing “massive” and lavish celebrations for Mugabe’s 92nd birthday.  This during a time where there is a terrible drought, forcing 3 million people to rely on food aid “mainly supplied by the United States and the European Union.”

In a post last month, we discussed the unbelievable fact that some international creditors seemed to be reconsidering their stance against debt relief for Zimbabwe.  I hope they are reconsidering their reconsideration.

*I like to imagine workers at the newspaper are as clear-eyed and cynical as any Zimbabwean and crack each other up trying to outdo themselves with these paeans. .. How much is too much?  Did we go to far?  No worries, in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, there is no “too far” when it comes to boot licking?

What’s really going on with Zimbabwe?

The FT has an interesting piece on Western governments’ new attitude towards Zimbabwe.  They write that “Zimbabwe is close to striking a landmark deal with western multilateral institutions that would see it clear billions in arrears of unpaid debt, access new funds for its troubled economy and end more than 15 years of international isolation.”

I find this odd.  Why are Western governments suddenly so eager to work with a pariah state like Zimbabwe to get back in the good graces of the international community?  As Nelson Chamisa, an opposition MP, noted, “re-engagement would “embolden the dictatorship” and weaken the opposition. ‘Zimbabweans cannot understand why there’s been an easing of the pressure . . . Nothing has changed.'”  Indeed, nothing has changed on the surface.

Mugabe is 91 years old and there will clearly be a change of power sooner or later.  The article mentions that but it still isn’t obvious to me why the change of heart.  Zimbabwe owes the IMF over $100 million and it has been in “continuous arrears” since 2001.  And that’s just the beginning.  It also owes the World Bank about $1.2 billion and $600 million to the African Development Bank.

Western governments tried to pressure China to pony up new loans to help Zimbabwe out but they wisely said no deal.  Somehow the new negotiations involve Algeria lending the dysfunctional government $900 million.  I’m not even sure where to start with this.  Why is  Algeria, a very poor country, loaning another poor (and poorly managed) country $900 million?  How does Algeria even have that much money just laying around that it can loan it out?  And what do Algerians have to say about the worst loan idea ever?  Clearly the Zimbabwean government doesn’t have a stellar track record on loan repayment, so why would any government want to loan them more?  Especially an underdeveloped one that could obviously use those $900 million at home.

So what’s really going on here?  Is Algeria being pressured to loan this money?  If so, why?  If not, what are they expecting as a reward for doing so?  They clearly aren’t loaning the money altruistically or in expectation of huge financial dividends.

Does anyone have any ideas or backstory to this news?




Irony Fail: Mugabe Edition

Robert Mugabe went on a rant the other day about “thieving Kenyans” which was amazing in almost every way, but especially in its total lack of awareness of (1) his own corruption (perhaps he just doesn’t like competition) and (2) of the rampant corruption in Zimbabwe.  It is ranked 156 out of 175 countries on Transparency International’s 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index, making it one of the most corrupt countries in the world.  Here’s the report about Mr. Mugabe abominable rant:

“Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has launched a verbal war with Kenyans. While Presiding over a funds drive in a city church on Sunday where he was the chief guest, Mugabe said that Kenyans are the most arrogant thieves in the world because they steal with high degree impunity.

‘Those people of East Africa shock me with their wizardry in stealing. Sometimes I tend to believe that stealing is in every Kenyan’s blood. These people go to their schools and read good courses but they qualify as the best thieves. You can even think that there is a subject in their universities called Bachelor of Stealing. Whenever they get an opportunity as employees, they never disappoint. They steal enough money to buy their freedom because even the judges who listen to their cases are financially powerless. I urge you my people to be on high alert in case you by bad luck, happen to visit that East African nation. They might infect you with that disease and we don’t want it here. Zimbabweans are honest people who love their country and don’t want such stealing tendencies ‘ He shouted with courage as he advised his nation.”

Here are some salient points:

a. Of course Mugabe was the chief guest.  Duh!

b. What in the world precipitated such a torrid of hatred and why did he think a funds drive at a church was an appropriate venue to unleash it?

c. “Zimbabweans are honest people.”  Umm…

d.  This report is from a Kenyan newspaper, so why in the world did they publish that last line about shouting with courage. What does that even mean?  I believe the shouting part but the courage and advising seem pretty dubious.  It sounds like it was written by Mugabe himself.

There I Fixed It*

Today’s line-up of people who really don’t get it:

1.Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber of Mississippi is “encouraging citizens to pray for the city’s infrastructure, proclaiming ‘Yes….I believe we can pray potholes away.'” And sadly, this is not from The Onion!  I don’t see any problems with this strategy; it’s practically flawless.

2. Venezuelan President Maduro, who has managed to absolutely gut the economy in a few short years, is now pointing to Colombians as the real scourge.  Sounding a lot like a certain buffoon in the US, he stated:

“Who comes from Colombia to Venezuela? These are people who come with no education, without a penny in their pocket, it’s the poor who come fleeing … Venezuela has become a magnet, a guarantee for social rights for the Colombian people. I have to say it, and I ask for your understanding … I don’t offend Colombia by telling the truth, that Venezuela is hurting, because of all the poverty and the misery coming from Colombia … but aside from that, we get drug trafficking, mafias, and here we are, making sure Venezuela is a territory free of drugs, we are the victims, let’s open our eyes. And now, we are the victims of paramilitaries brought by the right, and send by Colombia’s far right.” 

Yeah, that’s right, it’s the poverty and misery from Colombia that’s dragging down the Venezuelan economy.   And deporting 800 Colombians from the border region will almost certainly solve the economic woes.

3. And now for the (unintentional) master of irony, we have first-class economy wrecker Bobby Mugabe, who yesterday proclaimed that there was “no suffering” in Zimbabwe. It’s hard to believe he could say that with a straight face.  He went on to hilariously ask “But what is it that the people are suffering from? Didn’t we give them land?”  That’s right Bobby.  Land redistribution to your cronies should have fixed everything, right?  What are these damned ingrates still complaining about?

*In honor of the very funny “There I Fixed It” Blog

Sheep go to Heaven, Goats don’t go to Harare*

Perhaps the story about Cecil the lion being gunned down by an American dentist has focused attention on Zimbabwe again, but of all the questions I’d like to ask Mugabe though about his economically disastrous and politically lethal policies, this wasn’t one of them:

Why Did Robert Mugabe Ban Goats From A City Where There Are No Goats?

NPR asks why Mugabe has turned against goats, arguing in an “anti-goat manifesto” that “We do not want … the sort of mayhem in other countries where you see goats in the city center.”  I didn’t realize that goats creating mayhem was a real problem in “other countries.”  It appears to be a non-problem in Harare, where there are almost no goats to be seen. According to the article, 98% of all Zim goats live in agricultural areas.  Voila!  Problem solved!

The article goes on to ask why Mugabe would focus on goats when there is 80% unemployment in the country. To ask the question is to answer it.  He doesn’t seem to be able to do anything to actually help the economy, so if he wants to be able to tout a successful public policy, it’s best to choose a problem that doesn’t exist in the first place.

Speaking of goats….

NPR has another story about the proliferation of goats at the Congressional Cemetery in DC.  The president of the cemetery (wow, that’s a weird job title) has hired about 30 goats at the price of $9,000 a month. [perhaps Zimbabwe and the DC cemetery could work out a deal given the going rates for goat rentals in the US??]  The ruminants are a big hit, bringing thousands of people to the cemetery to interact with them.  I understand using the goats to clear and fertilize the land, but the president also says that the goats are wonderful because “a lot of families with kids are coming in to the cemetery and often seeing a goat for the first time.” Hmm, is that a good thing?  It’s not like getting kids to a museum or something. Goats as a gateway ruminant to appreciating cemeteries.

*n.b. The title of this post is homage to one of my favorite songs by Cake: “Sheep go to Heaven, Goats Go to Hell

p.s. In case you haven’t gotten enough goat news today, here is an article about “A Man Trying to Live Life As a Goat.”  It’s definitely worth clicking on just for the photos, but here is a quick and amazing description: “He commissioned prosthetics for his arms and legs so that he could walk, as comfortably as possible, on all fours. He considered constructing an artificial rumen that would digest grass for him to consume, using actual gut bacteria found in goats. He consulted with a behavioural expert on goats, and even watched as a goat was dissected, to learn more about the animal he wanted to be.”  Wow, not sure what to say to that.

Economics is hard, but not that hard

Maize crops were down by almost 50% in Zimbabwe, so the government is importing 700,000 tons of the crop to stave off a crisis.  The Parliament is mad about a lack of food security in the country and is searching for a culprit. They’ve been grilling technocrats from the omnibus agency known as the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development.

There was a lot of hot air, excuses, and (probably empty) promises.  The kicker comes in the last sentence of the article though, which notes that “The Grain Marketing Board (GMB) is also under fire for failure to pay farmers for their grain, a situation that has led to most of them abandoning the crop.”  Doh!!  That’s what I call burying the lede.  I guess we have found the culprit.

h/t to George Ayittey (@ayittey) who does an excellent job of exposing government shenanigans in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The sheepskin effect–Zimbabwe edition

Zimbabwe’s new central bank governor, John Panonetsa Mangudya, has a Ph.D. in Business Administration from Washington International, where all classes are online, all degrees take one year, and the student can choose his or her degree depending on the size of their bank account.

According to the menu of possibilities, a Ph.D. in Business Administration costs $6,900.  That seems like a bargain since the master’s degree in the same discipline is only $600 less–and they both only last a year anyway!

The “university” advertises:

No classrooms!
No deadlines!
Low “fixed tuition”

I put the quotation marks around university on purpose.  I’m wondering why fixed tuition also has quotation marks around it.

I know Zimbabwe doesn’t have it’s own currency anyway, so perhaps it doesn’t matter much if the CB governor knows anything about monetary policy.  As one University of Zimbabwe professor wrote“Mangudya is a substantial figure and well-trained with lots of experience, but the governor’s job is seriously constrained by the dollar economy. Money supply is obviously out of the bank’s control, as are interest rates.”  

Mangudya does seem to have a fair amount of experience but I’m not so sure about the “well trained” part of that sentence.  Does the sheepskin effect still work when the university is Washington International?