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.

From the comments, on AstraZeneca vaccine trial resumption

America is really, really messed up.

The only place with such intensely wasteful discussions about a disease is the U.S. And it is getting increasingly easy to ignore the U.S. as the world continues to respond to this pandemic.

And it is not just the British based trial. This is from Reuters on Sept. 14 – “Clinical trials for the coronavirus vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca PLC and Oxford University resumed in Brazil on Monday after the country’s health regulator got confirmation over the weekend that its British equivalent MHRA had approved the restart, a company representative said.

The Federal University of Sao Paulo, which is running the trials, said in a statement that 4,600 of the planned 5,000 volunteers have been vaccinated in Brazil without any of them reporting any serious health issues.”

This from the Times of India on Sept 20th -“The phase-III human clinical trial of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Oxford University and being manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII) will begin at the Sassoon General Hospital in Pune next week. Dean of the state-run Sassoon General Hospital Dr Muralidhar Tambe told this to on Saturday.

“The phase-III trial of ‘Covishield’ vaccine will begin at Sassoon hospital from next week. It is likely to start on Monday. Some volunteers have already come forward for the trial. Around 150 to 200 volunteers will be administered the vaccine candidate dose,” he said.

Regulators in Japan and South Africa also have no problem with the trial continuing.

That is from Easy-Peasy.  And I did google to ensure that those claims about foreign trial resumption are correct, for instance Japan resumed no later than October 2.  This is one reason — not the only! — why I am puzzled when Derek Lowe claims on Twitter that American perhaps cannot go any faster with its vaccine.  If you think Japan and the Brits are irresponsible, by all means let us know.  Otherwise…it is time to speak up in favor of maximizing expected value.

The public is fine with Human Challenge Trials

A vaccine for COVID-19 is urgently needed. Several vaccine trial designs may significantly accelerate vaccine testing and approval, but also increase risks to human subjects. Concerns about whether the public would see such designs as ethically acceptable represent an important roadblock to their implementation, and the World Health Organization has called for consulting the public regarding them. Here we present results from a pre-registered cross-national survey (n= 5; 920) of individuals in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand, South Africa, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The survey asked respondents whether they would prefer scientists to conduct traditional trials or one of two accelerated designs: a challenge trial or a trial integrating a Phase II safety and immunogenicity trial into a larger Phase III efficacy trial. We find broad majorities prefer for scientists to conduct challenge trials (75%, 95% CI: 73-76%) and integrated trials (63%, 95% CI: 61-65%) over standard trials. Even as respondents acknowledged the risks, they perceived both accelerated trials as similarly ethical to standard trial designs, and large majorities characterized them as “probably” or “definitely ethical” (72%, 95% CI:70-73% for challenge trials; 77%, 95% CI 75-78% for integrated trials). This high support is consistent across every geography and demographic subgroup we examined, including people of diverging political orientations and vulnerable populations such as the elderly, essential workers, and racial and ethnic minorities. These findings bolster the case for these accelerated designs and can help assuage concerns that they would undermine public trust in vaccines.

Here is the paper by David Broockman,

Where and when does herd immunity kick in?

Here is the abstract of a new paper by Axel S LexmondCarlijn JA Nouwen, and John Paul Callan. So herd immunity yes, but at some point after fifty percent:

We have studied the evolution of COVID-19 in 12 low and middle income countries in which reported cases have peaked and declined rapidly in the past 2-3 months. In most of these countries the declines happened while control measures were consistent or even relaxing, and without signs of significant increases in cases that might indicate second waves. For the 12 countries we studied, the hypothesis that these countries have reached herd immunity warrants serious consideration. The Reed-Frost model, perhaps the simplest description for the evolution of cases in an epidemic, with only a few constant parameters, fits the observed case data remarkably well, and yields parameter values that are reasonable. The best-fitting curves suggest that the effective basic reproduction number in these countries ranged between 1.5 and 2.0, indicating that the curve was flattened in some countries but not suppressed by pushing the reproduction number below 1. The results suggest that between 51 and 80% of the population in these countries have been infected, and that between 0.05% and 2.50% of cases have been detected; values which are consistent with findings from serological and T-cell immunity studies. The infection rates, combined with data and estimates for deaths from COVID-19, allow us to estimate overall infection fatality rates for three of the countries. The values are lower than expected from reported infection fatality rates by age, based on data from several high-income countries, and the country population by age. COVID-19 may have a lower mortality risk in these three countries (to differing degrees in each country) than in high-income countries, due to differences in immune response, prior exposure to coronaviruses, disease characteristics or other factors. We find that the herd immunity hypothesis would not have fit the evolution of reported cases in several European countries, even just after the initial peaks; and subsequent resurgences of cases obviously prove that those countries have infection rates well below herd immunity levels. Our hypothesis that the 12 countries we studied have reached herd immunity should now be tested further, through serological and T cell immunity studies.

They offer an implied exposure estimate of 72% for Afghanistan, 67% for Ethiopia, 74% for Kenya, and 80% for Madagascar.  Pakistan clocks in at 72%, South Africa at 71%.  Notice those are not case counts, rather it is working backwards, using a model, to infer exposure rates from the data we do have, assuming that not all cases are being measured.

Here is mostly good NYT coverage on herd immunity theories, though in my view unfair on T-Cell immunity issues — they confuse uncertainty with “there is no reason to believe anything here.”  Here is a new and good NYT article on the Swedish approach.  The different pieces still do not all fit together.

Via Alan Goldhammer.

Addendum: From Catinthehat in the comments:

It’s a simple homogeneous model Ni(t+1)= Ni(t) * Ro * Si(t) / Ntot -> Infected at time t+1 = Infected at time t * Ro * the proportion ( of the population) susceptible at time t. where t is discretized.
They fit the step t to an infection duration , then they fit Ro, to reproduce the shape of the curve for each country and at each step they multiply the infected by a parameter p (the undetected case ratio) to fit to the total population. This acts as an accelerant to the epidemic . Each country has its own p.
The main issue is that you can look at any epidemic curve and fit it that way and you will rather automatically reproduce this high immunity threshold which comes from your homogenous model.

In Europe you can’t assume the undetected ratio is so high ( 1000x to 2000 x) so you must conclude social distancing stopped the epidemic, because your strategy would not fit experimental data.

In the countries fitted , the paper must conclude the epidemic raged fairly undetected, fairly quickly and infected most of the population.

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.