Government revenues average about 17% of gdp in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the IMF. Nigeria has more than 300 times as many people as Luxembourg, but collects less tax. If Ethiopia shared out its tax revenues equally, each citizen would get around $80 a year. The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo is so penurious that its annual health spending per person could not buy a copy of this newspaper.
That is from The Economist.
Several African countries have introduced state loan schemes. But governments have struggled to chase up debts. The private sector is now trying to do a better job. Kepler and Akilah, an all-female college in Kigali, are working with Chancen International, a German foundation, to try out a model of student financing popular among economists—Income Share Agreements. Chancen pays the upfront costs of a select group of students. Once they graduate, alumni pay Chancen a share of their monthly income, up to a maximum of 180% of the original loan. If they do not get a job, they pay nothing.
Africa was the birth-place of Homo sapiens and has the earliest evidence for symbolic behaviour and complex technologies. The best-attested early flowering of these distinctive features was in a glacial refuge zone on the southern coast 100–70 ka, with fewer indications in eastern Africa until after 70 ka. Yet it was eastern Africa, not the south, that witnessed the first major demographic expansion, ~70–60 ka, which led to the peopling of the rest of the world. One possible explanation is that important cultural traits were transmitted from south to east at this time. Here we identify a mitochondrial signal of such a dispersal soon after ~70 ka – the only time in the last 200,000 years that humid climate conditions encompassed southern and tropical Africa. This dispersal immediately preceded the out-of-Africa expansions, potentially providing the trigger for these expansions by transmitting significant cultural elements from the southern African refuge.
That is from Teresa Rito, et.al., in Nature, vis Charles Klingman.
In a word, no. They shut the place down for five years and spent $84 million, to redesign the displays, and what they reopened still looks and feels incredibly colonial. That’s not an architectural complaint, only that the museum cannot escape what it has been for well over a century. Most of the 180,000 art objects there were either stolen or bought under terms of implicit coercion. There is an Africa Gallery covering the crimes of King Leopold in the Congo, but it is easy enough to be transfixed by the art and not really take it in. How about a full room near the entrance devoted to the anti-imperialist E.D. Morel? And while there are now more art works from the post-colonial period, there is no room devoted to the often very impressive art worlds of Central Africa today. Having more African people talk on screens was nice, but it doesn’t do the trick. The colonial still seems glorious, and the post-colonial mediocre.
Despite DRC demands, I do understand that the repatriation of the objects themselves would not be wise, given the current state of the DRC. In 1976-1982, 114 objects were in fact restituted, but most of them ended up stolen (NYT). For me preserving the art comes first, and furthermore the current DRC government is hardly a legitimate spokesperson for the historic civilizations of the region. But might the museum at least have presented the issue in some morally conscious manner?
Before you walk into the museum proper, there is a room devoted to all the sculptures and displays now considered too colonial or too racist for the current museum. Of course this draws more attention to them, and furthermore the dividing lines are by no means always clear. That said, there is a double irony, namely that some of the items in this room are sufficiently obnoxious that their display represents a better apology than any part of what is intended as apology.
This is still all much better than the past, when at one time a human zoo of 267 enslaved Congolese was put on display here, in fact that was the inaugural exhibit in 1897. At least there is now a memorial to those of the enslaved who died of influenza. And the plaque “Belgium Brings Civilization to the Congo” has been taken down. Yet this:
The rapacious monarch’s monogram dots the walls of the palatial museum on the former royal estate, which he used to drum up investment for his colonial ventures at the 1897 World Exhibition.
Oh, and there are colonial statues built into the walls:
One was of black children clinging to a white missionary. Another was of a topless African woman dancing.
They cannot be removed because of cultural heritage laws in Belgium.
The animal displays also no longer seem of our time, more about size and stuffing and the conquest of nature rather than with much of a notion of environmental or biodiversity or animal welfare awareness.
It is nonetheless a spectacular museum, the best chronicle anywhere for the Central African artistic achievement by an order of magnitude, and one of the best and most interesting places in Europe right now. It is worth the rather convoluted one hour trip you must take from Brussels, or if you are visiting Waterloo it isn’t far away at all. For all its flaws (or in part because of them?), go if you can.
The art aside, the other lesson is imperialism and colonialism cast a longer shadow than you might at first think. The realities of cultural constipation remain underrated.
That is a new paper by Gerald D. Jaynes, Department of Economics, Yale University. The abstract is difficult to read, so here is an excerpt from the paper:
The hypothesis underlying my reinterpretation of the origins of contemporary black family structure is, through the late 20th Century, throughout American history, structural differences in the race relations and economic discrimination confronting blacks in rural versus urban locations produced distinct childhood socialization experiences. These distinct socialization experiences exposed urbanized black children (north and south) to large numbers of recusant adults — men and women socially alienated by urban job ceilings and truculently refusing to acquiesce to race relations based in white supremacy. Observation of and interaction with recusant adults and discriminatory economic institutions put urbanized black children at great risk of early projection of a failure to achieve self-verification of an acceptable social identity. The developmental outcome was early adoption of recusant identities and oppositional agencies leading to a polarized choice: either seek self-verification elsewhere by avoiding institutions such as schools, labor markets, and marriage (causing high rates of single parent families), or (attempting to alter one’s reception in such institutions) intensely engage them leading to civil rights activism and a rising black middle class. In contrast, rural black children were more likely exposed to adults seeking self-verification by striving to climb the agricultural tenure ladder a life goal requiring conforming to behavioral norms based in the era’s white supremacist race relations. Failure to self-verify a positive self-image by achieving land ownership or rental tenancy occurred later in life when the adoption of oppositional agencies was greatly mitigated.
Speculative and uneven, but nonetheless of interest.
Supply chain problems in Africa are quite complex, with most of them stemming from the sheer size of the continent. Africa’s land mass is greater than the USA, Europe, and China combined. Within this huge space there are 54 unique markets, few of which provide scale or adequate distribution infrastructure. Further complicating matters, there are over 2,000 languages spoken and very diverse cultural dynamics from one market to the next.
That is from an article by Chuma Asuzu, the piece is interesting throughout, most of all for infrastructure supply chain nerds. I so, so wish there were more articles like this.
For the pointer I thank Omar Mohamed. Omar also recommends this site on manufacturing.
A splendid book, why can’t the rest of you ****ers write books this good? Here is one bit:
…the dynamics of clan works in a significantly different way in Somaliland from the way it does in south-central Somalia. A single clan-family, the Isaaq, occupy the central areas of the territory, and account for by far the greater part of its population. Though the Isaaq clans, inevitably, are divided both between and within themselves, they provide a reasonably solid ethnic core, that contrasts with the far more mixed and complex composition of southern Somalia, with its two major clan-families, Darood and Hawiye, and the further problems created by the presence of the Digil-Mirifle and other minority groups. Somaliland is by no means entirely Isaaq…but its demographic structure means that other clans must either accept Isaaq hegemony and work within it, or else reject the Somaliland state altogether. They cannot expect to control it. At the same time, the fact that the Isaaq clans — characteristically of Somali clan politics — do not form a single united bloc provides other clans with the opportunity to build alliances with one or another group of the Isaaq.
Have you ever wanted to read about how ethnic groups in Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti fit into this same broad picture? Just exactly how Somalian and Ethiopian history intersect, from the 1970s onwards? This here is your book. I’m running to Amazon right now to buy more from this wonderful author. You can buy it here.
That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:
A second dynamic is harder to measure or prove, but is also likely positive: greater national unity…
One source of gain is simply that the colonial era is receding ever further into the past. In the meantime, a wide array of media outlets have helped to further African notions of national unity and cultural coherence. Soccer and other athletic teams compete on the world stage, and African players competing in Europe are portrayed as representatives of their nations, not particular ethnic groups. Commercial brands and celebrities help define national identities. Exposure to international media, most of all through smart phones and the internet, cements the notion that these regions are indeed perceived as nations by the outside world and that such designations are likely to stick. Mobile phones have knit together different African regions, and ethnic groups, in closer economic ties.
The notion of a nation as an “imagined community,” to use a term from political scientist Benedict Anderson, is under accelerating construction in many parts of Africa. Cultures and cultural expectations are adapting to current borders, even given earlier injustices, thereby contributing to falling rates of violence and conflict.
Unfortunately, Africa is exposed to a lot of “fake news,” perhaps more than Americans are. The good news, if you would call it that, is that Africans seem to be relatively skeptical of social media as a news source, and they put a relatively high degree of trust in international media.
Better yet is that most Africans say that the internet has improved their politics and economics. For instance, 64 percent of Nigerians reported in 2017 that the increasing reach of the internet was good for Nigerian politics. That number compares to just 43 percent in 2014, and positive impressions of a similar nature are common throughout Africa. For all the talk about social media creating divisions (such as in Myanmar), the net effect of modern technology seems to be greater unity, including with respect to national borders.
Do read the whole thing.
Here is a job market paper from Andreas Ferrara, University of Warwick:
This paper argues that the unprecedented socioeconomic rise of African Americans at mid-century is causally related to the labor shortages induced by WWII. Results from combining novel military and Census data in a difference-in-differences setting show that counties with an average casualty rate among semi-skilled whites experienced a 13 to 16% increase in the share of blacks in semi-skilled jobs. The casualty rate also has a significant reduced form effect on cross-state migration, wages, home ownership, house value, and education for blacks. Using survey data from 1961, IV regression results indicate that the economic upgrade, which is instrumented with the semi-skilled white casualty rate, is also associated with an increase in social status. Both black and white individuals living in treated counties are more likely to have an interracial friendship, live in mixed-race neighborhoods, and to have reduced preferences for segregation.
Via John Holbein.
African political leaders have a tendency to favor members of their own ethnic group. Yet for all other ethnic groups in a country, it is unclear whether having a similar ethnicity to the leader is beneficial. To shed light on this issue, I use a continuous measure of linguistic similarity to quantify the ethnic similarity of a leader to all ethnic groups in a country. Combined with panel data on 163 ethnic groups partitioned across 35 sub-Saharan countries, I use within-group time variation in similarity that results from a partitioned group’s concurrent exposure to multiple national leaders. Findings show that ethnic favoritism is more widespread than previously believed: in addition to evidence of coethnic favoritism, I document evidence of non-coethnic favoritism that typically goes undetected in the absence of a continuous measure of similarity. I also find that patronage tends to be targeted toward ethnic regions rather than individuals of a particular ethnic group. I relate these results to the literature on coalition building, and provide evidence that ethnicity is one of the guiding principles behind high-level government appointments.
Chinese travelers are the world’s top tourism spenders, shelling out almost $260 billion in 2017 alone. A growing part of that spend is now happening in Africa, encouraged by relaxed visa rules, increased interested in the continent’s cultural and historical sites, and a initiatives that seek to appeal to Chinese tourists.
Last week, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China launched a joint loyalty program with Kenya’s Stanbic Bank, aiming to create incentives for travel, shopping, and leisure to tourists visiting the two nations. The “I Go Kenya—I Go China” scheme follows the bank’s similar program in South Africa last year, which rewarded its cardholders by offering a range of discounts and special offers from merchants across the travel, hospitality and lifestyle sectors. The state-owned financial behemoth is doing this as part of its plan to internationalize, and push its banking card product abroad.
Meanwhile, Africa is becoming increasingly attractive destination for Chinese tourists. A recent survey by the global travel platform Travelzoo found that the continent was the top destination of choice for Chinese tourists seeking more adventurous holidays in 2018, beating Japan and Australia. Visitors were especially drawn to Morocco, Tunisia, South Africa, Namibia, Madagascar, and Tanzania.
Here is more from Abdi Latif Dahir.
Sub-Saharan Africa is slipping into a new debt crisis, with 40 per cent of the region’s countries now at high risk of debt distress — double the proportion of five years ago.
Chad, South Sudan, the Republic of Congo and Mozambique moved into “debt distress” in 2017, the IMF said, which means they have defaulted or cannot service their debts. A much higher number have breached one of the fund’s thresholds for debt or servicing burdens, putting them into the IMF category of highly vulnerable to default.
I think the chances of a populist land grab in South Africa (never very high) have actually gone down over the past few months. Look at the ANC’s actions during its 24 years in power, not its rhetoric. Many bad policies for sure, but never anything close to radically populist, of the sort that would seriously scare the financial markets. Destruction of the (well entrenched and sophisticated) property rights system would certainly do that. So it’s unlikely to happen.
The only time there seemed to be a risk of edging in that direction was when Zuma and his faction started seriously losing support (2016-17). They responded by ratcheting up the populist and racist rhetoric (“white monopoly capital” etc), but ultimately it didn’t work. They lost, and power in the ANC has shifted back to the more market friendly centrists, typified by Ramaphosa.
That’s why I think the risks have gone down (since Zuma was ousted), despite the recent parliamentary vote to “expropriate without compensation”. The sound bite plays well to a certain audience, as other commenters have noted, but I agree it’s mostly just signaling. When you look at the details it’s not as scary as it sounds.
Firstly, they didn’t vote to do it, they voted to set up a committee to investigate doing it, subject to various caveats and constraints, e.g. must increase agricultural production and improve food security; there must be public and expert consultation; appropriate mechanisms, etc. It seems extremely unlikely that the ANC’s intention is to summarily expropriate all land without compensation, nor does it say that in the parliamentary motion or in any ANC policy statement (that is indeed the EFF’s position, but they have less than 10% electoral support). Far more likely is we’ll end up with some sort of watered down constitutional amendment that allows expropriation without compensation in certain defined and limited circumstances, but overall system of property rights remains intact for vast majority of land and other assets.
By the way, I suspect the most outsiders seriously underestimate the strength of South Africa’s constitution and supporting institutions. They have stood remarkably firm over the past few years in the face of concerted attempts by Zuma and his cronies to undermine them. Compared, for example, to a country like Turkey, whose constitution, judiciary, media and civil society have been crushed in the space of a few years by a similarly venal and power-deluded single politician.
That is from Greg.
The National Assembly on Tuesday set in motion a process to amend the Constitution so as to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation.
The motion, brought by the EFF leader Julius Malema, was adopted with a vote of 241 in support, and 83 against.
The only parties who did not support the motion were the DA, Freedom Front Plus, Cope and the ACDP.
The matter will now be referred to the Constitutional Review Committee which must report back to Parliament by August 30.
There has been more coverage of Cape Town possibly running out of water. I do understand that foreign troubles often look worse from a distance, but still in an era when emerging economies have been booming, including in most of Africa, it is hard not to be put off by these developments. I am not sure how to interpret the data quality issues, but it is not obvious that the median wage has increased since the fall of apartheid.
That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one bit:
Or consider Nigerian-Americans, Nigeria being the most populous nation in Africa. Their education levels are among the very highest in the U.S., above those of Asians, with 17 percent of Nigerian migrants having a master’s degree.
Economist Edward Lazear suggests a simple experiment. Consider immigrants to the U.S. from Algeria, Israel and Japan, and rank them in order of most educated to least educated. The correct answer is Algeria, Israel then Japan. Although that’s counterintuitive at first glance, it’s easy enough to see how it works. If you are Algerian and educated, or aspire to be educated, your prospects in Algeria are relatively poor and you may seek to leave. A talented, educated person in Japan or Israel can do just fine by staying at home. These kinds of considerations explain about 73 percent of the variation in the educational outcomes of migrants.
Do read the whole thing.