Results for “africa”
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African Successes

From Shanta Devajaran at the World Bank’s blog Africa Can…End Poverty, a post on African Successes.

In recent years, a broad swath of African countries has begun to show a remarkable dynamism. From Mozambique’s impressive growth rate (averaging 8% p.a. for more than a decade) to Kenya’s emergence as a major global supplier of cut flowers, from M-pesa’s mobile phone-based cash transfers to KickStart’s low-cost irrigation technology for small-holder farmers, and from Rwanda’s gorilla tourism to Lagos City’s Bus Rapid Transit system, Africa is seeing a dramatic transformation. This favorable trend is spurred by, among other things, stronger leadership, better governance, an improving business climate, innovation, market-based solutions, a more involved citizenry, and an increasing reliance on home-grown solutions. More and more, Africans are driving African development.

A very interesting list of examples and case studies follows.  My colleague at the Independent Institute, Alvaro Vargas Llosa has also edited a recent book on this theme titled, Lessons from the Poor.

Question: How does focusing on successes change our view of development?

Hat tip J-J Rosa.

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.

African-American CEOs have baby faces

Media analysts have argued that a major factor in Barack Obama’s
political success is his nonthreatening demeanor, to counteract the
stereotype of the threatening black man. Researchers wondered if there
might be a similar counter-stereotypical pattern for black CEOs, even
on a purely visual level. They asked people to rate pictures of CEOs
for baby-facedness, warmth, and competence. Relative to white CEOs,
black CEOs were rated as more baby-faced – and, consistent with prior
research on baby-faced stereotypes, seen as warmer and less competent.
For blacks, being baby-faced meant earning more money, the study found,
whereas white CEOs earned less money if they were baby-faced. According
to the authors, this confirms that blacks need “disarming mechanisms”
to be successful in corporate America.

Here is the link, which reports some other interesting (and separate) results.  The core source is Livingston, R. & Pearce, N., “The Teddy-Bear Effect: Does
Having a Baby Face Benefit Black Chief Executive Officers?”

Psychological Science (October 2009).  Here are some photos and charts.

African Film Library

It is now on-line and offers access to many of the very best African cinema.  You can pay for and download African movies, with 24-hour access; here is a brief summary.  This is a landmark cultural achievement.  Even for many cultural omnivores, African cinema remains a largely untilled pasture.  Even Wikipedia does not have a good article on African cinema.  I've seen about thirty African films in my life and loved roughly twenty of them.  My advice is to select randomly or to pursue their recommended and "most popular" features.

Africa fact of the day

About 10 percent of infants die in their first year of life in Africa
— still shockingly high, but considerably lower than the European
average less than 100 years ago, let alone 800 years past. And about
two thirds of Africans are literate — a level achieved in Spain only
in the 1920s.

Here is more.  The article makes additional interesting observations.

China-Africa fact of the day

Based on official statistics, since 2003, the number of Africans in
Guangzhou has been growing at 30-40% annually. Based on a report in the
Guangzhou Daily, there might already be 100,000 in the community. They
come from Nigeria, Guinea, Cameroon, Liberia, and Mali. Amongst these,
Africa’s most populous country Nigeria claims first place.

They primarily live in village-districts in the city of Guangdong
(like Dongpu, Dengfeng Jie, Yongping Jie). They do their business in a
few large-scale China-Africa commerce malls.

Here is more information and I thank David Shor for the pointer.

Africa’s World War

The subtitle is Congo, The Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe and yes the book truly explains all of these things or at least gives it a noble try.  The author is Gérard Prunier.  I've been stunned by how much I've learned from this book, which is clear without denying the underlying complexities.  I rate it as one of the two excellent books of the year so far, the other being Ted Gioia's book on the history of the blues.

You'll find a very critical review of the book here but I was more impressed by the book than by the review.  I liked this excerpt:

Interviewer: What model of democracy do you see as suitable?

Kabila: I cannot say now, you are asking too much.  Being a head of state is not like being in a restaurant.  I have to have time to think about it.

Claims about Africa

The conversation confirmed an opinion that has crystallised over the
past few years: if, as a westerner, you are going to visit Africa, the
earlier in your life you do it, the better. By the time you are in your
twenties, your head is so stuffed with preconceived opinions, mostly of
the ethically self-flagellating variety, you can barely see, let alone
interpret, what is going on outside you.

Here is the link, courtesy of  I am interested in the claim that there is an optimal time in one’s life to travel.  Many people do not get to travel much until their children leave the house.  But when are the cognitive returns to travel the highest?  I believe one must first know some theory before travelling — perhaps even some false theory — otherwise the travel does not come as a sufficient shock.  In other words, the more you read and ponder social reality, the lower is your optimal cognitive age for travel.

Which books to take to Africa?

Niall writes me:

I have an optimization problem that I thought you and other loyal MR
readers, like myself, could help me with.

The Question: How should I go about selecting books to bring with me for
a year of field research in rural Africa?

1. I have a limited amount of weight I can carry on the flight
2. There is little or no access to additional books where I will be
3. I only expect to return to the US once during that year

Thanks for continuing the to make MR the most educational blog on the web.

Sadly I do not know this fine gentleman.  But I’ll suggest the following five books: Moby Dick, The Bible (but it must be a serious translation), Plato’s Dialogues, Homer’s Odyssey, and a long, fun book of science fiction or fantasy that you haven’t already read.  LOTR would be a fine first choice if it fits that bill, otherwise ask around.  The basic principles are that the works should be long, deep, divisible into smaller parts, capable of sustaining rereadings, culturally central in some way, and last of all you need one piece of pure fun.  Readers, can you improve upon these tips?

I’ll add that if you read some language other than English, and thus read more slowly in that language, pick a book or two there as well.

What books should you read on Africa?

Chris Blattman offers up his list in two parts, here and here, the second relying on suggestions from Elliot Green.  I’ll add a few suggestions to these lists, including P.T. Bauer’s West African Trade, Stanislav Andreski’s The African Predicament, The Da Capo Guide to African Music, Martin Lynn on the palm oil trade, and Robert Klitgaard’s Tropical Gangsters

But I am forgetting lots so please help out in the comments…

Are African wages too high?

One thing that has always struck me in the African countries I have
worked is that the real wages (i.e. wages adjusted for the cost of
living) of African formal sector workers seem to be incredibly high, at
least compared to that of workers in China or India. Given that firms
in China and India seem to be more productive than their African
counterparts, it creates a double disadvantage for African workers, and
raises the question of why the situation continues. Why don’t
manufacturing wages fall in Africa, stimulating more jobs for more
people at wages still higher than those available in agriculture or
informal business?

Why, when I run a survey in rural Uganda, do
youth with the same education and experience expect a wage three to
four times higher than the youth I worked with in India? I don’t
begrudge anyone anywhere a living wage. It’s the relative differential
that puzzles me, and that could be keeping Africa from doing business

There are probably lots of plausible reasons. Perhaps
we ought to consider (and get data on) the informal sector in Africa,
which could be larger and have more moderate wages than the formal
sector ones. It may be that all my notions and data about African wages
are erroneous.

Another possibility, however, is that the largest
employers of skilled workers in most African countries are
international NGOs and the local government. They are competing, in
many cases, for the same pool of skilled and semi-skilled workers as
the manufacturers and service sector firms. Neither the government or
NGOs, moreover, seem to set wages according to the local market or
local conditions, and it requires little imagination to wonder whether
they set their wages higher than the market would normally do.

That’s from Chris Blattman, a political science professor at Yale; here is Chris’s consistently interesting blog.

Ruggedness: how bad terrain helped parts of Africa

There is controversy about whether geography matters mainly because of
its contemporaneous impact on economic outcomes or because of its
interaction with historical events.  Looking at terrain ruggedness, we
are able to estimate the importance of these two channels.  Because
rugged terrain hinders trade and most productive activities, it has a
negative direct effect on income.  However, in Africa rugged terrain
afforded protection to those being raided during the slave trades.
Since the slave trades retarded subsequent economic development, in
Africa ruggedness also has had a historical indirect positive effect on
income.  Studying all countries worldwide, we find that both effects are
significant statistically and that for Africa the indirect positive
effect dominates the direct negative effect.  Looking within Africa, we
provide evidence that the indirect effect operates through the slave
trades.  We also show that the slave trades, by encouraging population
concentrations in rugged areas, have also amplified the negative direct
impact of rugged terrain in Africa.

That’s a new paper by Nathan Nunn and Diego Puga.  Some say the paper is here, not I.  Others say you can get it here.  I say you can get an html version here.  Here is one quick summary of the argument.  Here are Nunn’s other papers on the slave trade, and how it continues to affect current African development.