south africa

*The Horn of Africa: State Formation and Decay*, by Christopher Clapham

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.

China Africa fact of the day America step up to the plate

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.

Africa fact of the day

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.

That is from Chris Giles and David Pilling at the FT.

South Sudan sentences to ponder

Late last month, famine was declared in two counties of the civil-war torn East African country of South Sudan. With 100,000 people at risk for dying of starvation in that area alone and millions more on the brink of crisis-level food shortages throughout the country, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir promised “unimpeded access” to humanitarian aid organizations working there.

A few days later the South Sudanese government hiked the fee for work permits for foreign aid workers from $100 to $10,000.

Here is further information, via Tom Murphy.

African immigrant fact of the day

That’s African immigrants to the United States, here is the fact:

In 2009, 41.7 percent of African-born adults age 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 28.1 percent of native-born adults and 26.8 percent of all foreign-born adults.

The source is here, further information about African immigrants is here.  They speak good English at very high rates — close to three-quarters — and they are more likely than other immigrants to be participating in the labor force.  And their importance is rising:

Though African immigrants represented only 0.4 percent of all foreign born in 1960, this share grew to 1.4 percent in 1980, to 1.8 percent in 1990, and to 2.8 percent in 2000…

There is also this:

People born in the U.S. were roughly four times as likely to report engaging in violent behavior than immigrants from Asia and Africa…

The future of immigration to America is likely African, some south Asian, and Chinese, with Latinos continuing to have a presence as well.

How much is African poverty really declining?

I’ve never been convinced by extant treatments of this topic.  Here is one further stab at the problem, from Afrobarometer (pdf):

New data from Round 5 of the Afrobarometer, collected across an unprecedented 34 African countries between October 2011 and June 2013, demonstrates that lived poverty remains pervasive across the continent. This data, based on the views and experiences of ordinary citizens, counters projections of declining poverty rates that have been derived from official GDP growth rates. For the 16 countries where these questions have been asked over the past decade, we find little evidence for systematic reduction of lived poverty despite average GDP growth rates of 4.8% per year over the same period. While we do see reductions in five countries (Cape Verde, Ghana, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe), we also find increases in lived poverty in five other (Botswana, Mali, Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania). Overall, then, despite high reported growth rates, lived poverty at the grassroots remains little changed. This suggests either that growth is occurring, but that its effects are not trickling down to the poorest citizens in fact, income inequality may be worsening), or alternatively, that actual growth rates may not match up to those being reported. The evidence also suggests, however,that investment in infrastructure and social services are strongly linked with lower levels of lived poverty.

I am not suggesting that these are “the right” numbers, and you might object that they are based on individual responses to questions.  Still, the numbers do show a very definite poverty reduction in the case of Ghana and some other countries with good news, so the responses do not seem entirely unconnected to reality.  In any case I have long been suspicious about how much African growth has been resource-generated rather than based in ongoing gains in agricultural productivity.

If you would like better news from Africa, here are some figures from last year about declining child mortality.  Here are some new results comparing Africa to earlier stages in British history, the original paper is here (pdf).

Malaysia (Africa) fact of the day

Malaysia was the third biggest investor in Africa in 2011, the latest year for which data is available, behind France and the United States, pushing China and India into fourth and fifth positions.

There is also the stock rather than the flow:

France and the United States also have the largest historical stock of investments in Africa, with Britain in third place and Malaysia in fourth, followed by South Africa, China and India.

Note that much of the Malaysian FDI went to Mauritius and also that FDI is not the only measure of foreign economic involvement.  The article is here, hat tip goes to @viewfromthecave.

Is there a Peltzman effect from AIDS treatment in Africa?

Somewhat, it seems.  Plamen Nikolov, a job candidate from Harvard, reports (pdf):

AIDS treatment provides enormous mortality benets to infected individuals but because it immunologically insulates people from more risk-taking, it could, in theory, stir perverse behavioral responses. Therefore, the response of sexual behavior to AIDS treatment in Africa is an important input to predicting the path of the epidemic. Existing estimates from observational studies suggest limited behavioral response, but they fail to take into account possible differences across individuals seeking treatment. Using an encouragement design field experiment conducted in South Africa, I estimate behavioral responses subsequent to AIDS treatment. I find moderate negative responses to treatment for HIV + individuals and mixed results for HIV

Wikipedia knowledge deserts Africa fact of the day

Almost the entire continent of Africa is geographically poorly represented in Wikipedia. Remarkably, there are more Wikipedia articles written about Antarctica than all but one of the 53 countries in Africa (or perhaps more amazingly, there are more Wikipedia articles written about the fictional places of Middle Earth and Discworld than about many countries in Africa, Asia, and the Americas).

There are some countries that are crammed with a dense amount of floating virtual information, such as Germany (with an average of one article tagged for every 65 square km), while others remain as virtual deserts, such as Chad (with an average of one tagged article every 17,000 square km).

Sharp divides between the Global North and the Global South can likewise be seen when looking at the number of geotagged articles per person. Austria, Iceland and Switzerland all have around one geotagged article for every 1,000 people, while in China or Guinea there is just over one article for every 500,000 people.

Here is the full article, interesting throughout and with a good map.  For the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.

The future of Africa?

I'm still thinking about this fascinating article from the NYT magazine last week, titled "Is There Such a Thing as Agro-Imperialism?".  Here are two excerpts:

…one of the earth’s last large reserves of underused land is the billion-acre Guinea Savannah zone, a crescent-shaped swath that runs east across Africa all the way to Ethiopia, and southward to Congo and Angola.


…as of earlier this year, the Ethiopian government had approved deals totaling around 1.5 million acres, while the country’s investment agency reports that it has approved 815 foreign-financed agricultural projects since 2007, nearly doubling the number registered in the entire previous decade. But that’s far from a complete picture. While the details of a few arrangements have leaked out, like one Saudi consortium’s plans to spend $100 million to grow wheat, barley and rice, many others remain undisclosed, and Addis Ababa has been awash in rumors of Arab moneymen who supposedly rent planes, pick out fertile tracts and cut deals.

Foreign investment can do wonders but the interaction between such investment and corrupt foreign governments can also be negative if workers and citizens are not granted adequate rights.  This article caused me to revaluate possible paths for some African futures.  The Coase theorem is finally kicking in.  I see corrupt politicians deciding it is more profitable, and also more secure, to "sell off" their countries than to oppress them in the traditional manner.  I see a new kind of tax farming, based on the extraction and exploitation of resources and raw materials, with African labor along for the ride.  It will mean higher living standards and better infrastructure, but probably not along a path that will look very appealing to most Western observers.

What I’ve been reading

1. Fredrik deBoer, The Cult of Smart: How Our Broken Education System Perpetuates Social Injustice.  A well-written, highly intelligent book, inveighing against various aspects of the current meritocracy, and how they contribute to what the author calls “social injustice.”  People who do educational policy, or who think about inequality should read this book.  But ultimately what is his remedy?  I would sooner attack homework, credentialism, and bureaucratization than testing.  And yes, IQ is overrated, but the correct alternative view emphasizes stamina and relentlessness in a manner that I don’t think will make deBoer any happier.  To lower the status of smarts, in the meantime, I fear is not going to do us any good.

2. Chris Ferrie and Veronica Goodman, ABCs of Economics (Baby University).  Is this for a 5 or 6 year old?  It seems good to me, though perhaps the part where they teach “Nash equilibrium” is a stretch.  I say calculus should be available in the fifth grade, stats in the eighth grade, so full steam ahead.

3. Christopher I. Caterine, Leaving Academia: A Practical Guide.  Did you realize that most of the supposed advantages of academia, such as control over your own time, do not exist to the extent they once did?  The advice in this book, such as about how to prepare your resume, seems correct to me, although that it needs to be given does not convince me of the marketability of these academics in the private sector or indeed anywhere at all.

4. Robert D. Putnam, The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again.  A fact-rich, well-reasoned and indeed reasonable take on numerous American trends, most of them related to social solidarity.  A good book, provided you are not looking too hard for what the title and subtitle would seem to promise.

5. Greg Woolf, The Life and Death of Ancient Cities: A Natural History.  A very useful introduction and overview to its chosen topic, a good and readable book for urbanists who are looking for general historical background.

Notable are two new books on liberalism abroad.  The first is Ingemar Stahl: A Market Liberal in the Swedish Welfare State, edited by Christina and Lars Jonung, and The Hand Behind the Invisible Hand: Dogmatic and Pragmatic Views on Free Markets and the State of Economic Theory, by Karl Mittermaier, with other contributions, concerning South Africa, and free on Kindle at least for the time being.

Why herd immunity is worth less than you might think

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column.  The evidence in favor of at least partial herd immunity continues to pile up, but still don’t get too cheery.  One worry is that herd immunity might prove only temporary:

First, many herd immunity hypotheses invoke the idea of “superspreaders” — that a relatively small number of people account for a disproportionate amount of the contagion. Perhaps it is the bartenders, church choir singers and bus drivers who spread the virus to so many others early on in the pandemic. Now that those groups have been exposed to a high degree and have acquired immunity, it might be much harder to distribute the virus.

That logic makes some sense except for one issue: namely, that the identities of potential superspreaders can change over time. For instance, perhaps choir singers were superspreaders earlier in the winter, but with most choral singing shut down, maybe TSA security guards are the new superspreaders. After all, air travel has been rising steadily. Or the onset of winter and colder weather might make waiters a new set of superspreaders, as more people dine inside.

In other words, herd immunity might be a temporary state of affairs. The very economic and social changes brought by the virus may induce a rotation of potential superspreaders, thereby undoing some of the acquired protection.

In other words, the fight never quite ends.  Here is another and possibly larger worry:

Another problem is global in nature and could prove very severe indeed. One possible motivation for the herd immunity hypothesis is that a significant chunk of the population already had been exposed to related coronaviruses, thereby giving it partial immunity to Covid-19. In essence, that “reservoir” of protected individuals has helped to slow or stop the spread of the virus sooner than might have been expected.

There is a catch, however. If true, that hypothesis means that the virus spreads all the more rapidly among groups with little or no protection. (Technically, if R = 2.5, but say 50% of the core population has protection, there is an R of something like 5 for the unprotected population, to get the aggregate R to 2.5.) So if some parts of the world enjoy less protection from cross-immunities, Covid-19 is likely to ravage them all the more — and very rapidly at that.

Again, this is all in the realm of the hypothetical. But that scenario might help explain the severe Covid-19 toll in much of Latin America, and possibly in India and South Africa. Herd immunity, as a general concept, could mean a more dangerous virus for some areas and population subgroups.

There are further arguments at the link.

My Conversation with Nathan Nunn

Here is the transcript, audio, and video.  Here is part of the summary:

Nathan joined Tyler for a conversation about which African countries a theory of persistence would lead him to bet on, why so many Africans live in harder to settle areas, his predictions for the effects of Chinese development on East Africa, why genetic distance is a strong predictor of bilateral income differences and trade, the pleasant surprises of visiting the Democratic Republic of Congo, the role of the Catholic Church in the development of the West, why Canadian football is underrated, the unique commutes of Ottawans, the lack of Canadian brands, what’s missing from most economic graduate programs, the benefits of studying economics outside of the United States, how the plow shaped gender roles in the societies that used it, the cultural values behind South Korea’s success, and more.

Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: If you try to think, say, within Africa, what would be some places that you would be modestly more optimistic about than, say, a hedge fund manager who didn’t understand persistence? What would a few of those countries be? Again, recognizing enormous noise, variance, and so on, as with smoking and lung cancer.

NUNN: If I’m true to exactly what I was just saying, then southern Africa or places where you have a larger population of societies that historically were more developed. South Africa, you have the Afrikaans, and they have a different descent than others. That’s if I’m true to what I was saying. But that’s ignoring that, also within Africa, you had a very large number of successful, well-developed states, and that was prior to European colonialism and the slave trade. So one could look at those cases.

One area that I worked at, the Democratic Republic of Congo, where you had the great Congo Kingdom, the Kuba Kingdom, a large number of other kingdoms, the Luba for example — that would probably be one country. That country today is pretty much as low as — in terms of per capita income — as you can be, right at subsistence. But if we’re predicting just based purely on persistence and historical state formation, that would be one to pick.

COWEN: What do you find to be the most convincing account of Botswana’s relative economic success?

NUNN: A few things. One is, Botswana is pretty small in terms of population. Anytime you have smaller countries, you can have more extreme outcomes. That’s one, that it’s small. But then related to that, it’s, in general, ethnically homogenous, particularly compared to other countries within Africa. The Tswana are the predominant ethnicity. They also have a historical social structure, and I think that was pretty well maintained and left intact. That’s a big part of the explanation.


COWEN: Is it fun to visit Democratic Republic of Congo?

NUNN: Yeah, it’s great. Yeah.

COWEN: Tell us what’s fun. I need to go once I can.

NUNN: Yeah, it’s really, really great. The first time we went as a team — this is James Robinson, Sara Lowes, Jonathan Weigel in 2013 — we were pretty apprehensive. You hear a lot of stories about the DRC. It sounds like a very unsafe place, et cetera. But one thing we didn’t realize or weren’t expecting was just how lovely and wonderful the people are.

And it turns out it’s not unsafe in general. It depends on different locations. In the east, definitely near Goma, it’s obviously much, much less safe. But I think what, for me, is wonderful is the sense of community. Because the places we go are places that haven’t been touched, to a large extent, by foreign aid or NGOs or tourism, I think we are treated just like any other individual within the community.


COWEN: What’s your favorite movie and why?

NUNN: Oh, favorite movie. [laughs] That’s a good question. Favorite movie — in the past it was Dazed and Confused. I must have watched that in university about a hundred times.

COWEN: A wonderful film.

Recommended, interesting throughout.

Monday assorted links