Archive for December, 2007


December 30, 2007

Things look bad in Kenya.

There was a general election on thursday. Huge turn-out for the first post-KANU election. Friday, results started to be anounced. The early trends were:
– a bunch of incumbent MPs lost their seats including most ministers
– Raila, the opposition candidate and ODM, his party were leading.

But then a lot of these results were not coming from Kibaki’s strongholds so a reversal was possible. And that happened saturday, at least as far as the presidential race. As it was getting very very close, the Electoral Commission (ECK) announced saturday evening that they won’t announce any further results until the next day. That cause some minor rioting in a few places.

And then sunday.. A fight almost erupted at the ECK when they announced a result in one of the remaining consistuencies. ODM’s officials claimed to have different result. Announcement interrupted and a few hours later, ECK announced incumbent Kibaki’s victory on the state TV with no journalists around. Kibabki was quickly sworn the same day in a private ceremony.

What’s so bad ?
Well, things look fishy:

– ODM won the parliamentary election and by a large margin and that makes a presidential lost hard to swallow (it’s not impossible with single-constutiencies and FPTP. All it takes is for the Kibaki/PNU vote to have been a close second in a bunch of them).
– The saturday evening to sunday morning “pause” looks way too convinient (but then again, one can think that ECK knew saturday evening that Kibaki had won but expected riots and paused to give security forces time to prepare).
– The bedroom swearing-in ceremony screams “stolen election”. I doubt it’s possible to legally reverse that ceremony (but then, the presidential term was expiring on that date and Kenya would have been without a legal president had the swearing in been delayed. I don’t know what kind of reasonning was behind the decision to have 3 days between the election and the end of the term ).
– The officials at some polling stations couldn’t be reached at all during that 16 hours pause (rain has been the official explanation).
– It seems like the late constituencies were not random at all. It’s hard to explain why results from remote places came quickly while results in easily accessible Kibaki strong-holds didn’t. The theory is that they were adjusted to narrow the gap.
– It also seems like in some constituencies, legislative and local results were announced and presidential results delayed, even if presidential results are supposed to be counted first. Those constituencies also went for the incumbent.

So all in all, it looks rigged. And with a tense ethnic climate and tense politics, the opposition’s predictable reaction, claiming victory and taking it to the streets, will make Kenya get ugly, very ugly. As a matter of fact, it has started. A media black-out has been announced, riotting is taking place, Kikuyus (Kibaki’s ethnic group), their houses, their businesses been attacked.



How do you make it corruption-proof ?

December 29, 2007

I’ve mentionned the Malawi Fertilizer Subsidy program before. Well, the very first time I’ve read about it, one word made me nervous: distribution.

See, to receive an EU or US farm subsidy, one has to file paperwork , it’s reviewed by an agency which checks if the requirements are fulfilled and calculates the amount and bam, the check is cut. It’s almost automatic (though my past experience with the EU taught me it can be painful). Politicians set-up the policy but then leave it alone.

In Malawi however, that would be a bit harder to do. First of all, ressources are a lot more limited and with 80% of the population being farmers, requirement would have to be extraordinarly hard to prevent everybody from qualifying. Then, there’s the issue of lack of bureaucracy (isn’t that a funny sentence to type ?). A farmer in France or Iowa have a papertrail on everything, from the size of their land to past production, costs, investments accounts to their financial situation. That’s not the case in Malawi and makes a bureaucratic subsidy impossible. And then there is the complex parliamentary situation which influenced the Bill. Remember, Malawi’s president left his party after election and therefore has no congressional support. And the House is divided between 3 parties, none of them having a majority. So the bill came from a desire to subsidize maize production in order to achieve food sufficiency (maize is the food staple). But in the process, tobacco and i think tea were added (the votes of the party based in the tobacco producing area were needed) making the reach of the bill even larger.

So yeah, distributed. Coupons, given by the Ministry of Agriculture to Regional Authority to Local Chiefs to Farmers. That made me nervous. Corruption, patron-client relationship, political rewards were the first words coming to my mind. Especially with a president who is currently trying to build his own political party from scratch. And of course it happenned:

Malawi National Assembly has said it will summon Minister of Defence Bob Khamisa to properly explain why he was found with the fertiliser subsidy coupons and who gave him.
Bwanali claimed in an interview with Capital Radio that he was personally given 2000 coupons by Deputy Minister of Agriculture Binton Kutsaira, though the latter has since refused to say anything on the matter.
Recent media investigations revealed that each minister and loyal DPP members of parliament were given 2000 coupons to be distributed to the party

or this:

Malawian police have impounded 300 bags of fertilizer from ruling party regional governor for the north, Harry Mkandawire, when they stormed his house for search and arrested him.

Eye witness said police stormed Mkandawire’s residence upon a “tip-off” from the public that Mkandawire was frustrating the fertilizer subsidy programme by denying members of the opposition parties from benefitting. Police confirmed the incident and said investigations are underway.

But those two cases are only the tip of the iceberg. After all, we’re talking about a small portion of a multi-million program being misused by the higher levels of the administration. Most of the subsidy did reach farmers and did create results.

The real issue is which farmers it reached. The final decisions were left to the discretion of traditionnal local chiefs. And while some communities have their priorities straight or are fair (those two are not the same), how easily could family feuds, neighbour conflicts, parochialism, conformism or local politics influence the process ? How about efficiency concerns ? After all, nothing says that those who could make the best use of the subsidy (the most industrious poor farmers) are those who seem to need it the most (the poorest farmers).

In short, a top-down distribution process with so many layers of non-neutral decision-makers allows too many misuse and misallocation opportunities. Yet, at least for now, free-market or bureaucratic allocations would probably have a smaller reach.

So readers, brothers, sisters, economists, policy-wonks and africans, how do you make it work ?

Do divided oppositions make incumbents win ?

December 29, 2007

In Africa, that’s it.

You’ve heard it before: too many candidates, the opposition split its vote, blah blah.. It’s right after rigging, media control and pure exclusion of the opposition, one of the most popular ways to explain why so many leaders keep winning elections. Here I’ll assume there’s no rigging (and no candidate exclusion) and I’ll concentrate on presidential elections (who cares about parliaments after all ?).

Four countries on the continent don’t have a president, three of those are monarchies (Morrocco, Lesotho and Swaziland) and one is Libya. Also, Eritrea is an extra-legal dictatorship and Somalia has no government.
In four countries, the president is elected by the parliament (or the congress): in Ethiopia, where the president is ceremonial, in Burundi which is a transition period, in Botswana and in South Africa that I’ll discuss later.

In order for the “split opposition” theory to work, it has to be possible to win even if more than half of the voters didn’t vote for you. That implies it cannot happen in countries with a run-off/two-rounds system. After all, no matter how divided the opposition is, they have the option to regroup during the second round. It has happened in 2000 Senegal election where challenger Abdoulaye Wade won 58% of the votes after getting 31% in the first round while Abdou Diouf had the same score 41% in both rounds or in the 1993 Niger elections where the incumbent was by far the single biggest party (both in presidential and legislative elections) before the opposition formed a large majority coalition against it.
Of course, that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the incumbent does an even bigger score during the second round like in DRC 2006 or Niger 2004 mostly because some of the other candidates and factions decide to endorse him. I’m not sure that should count as a case of divided opposition. If anything, the incumbent’s vote could be divided too if some of the minor candidates have platforms close to him. For instance, in the congolese case the third man, Antoine Gizenga – Lumumba’s deputy prime minister in the 60’s – , probably had more in common with Kabila – the son of a lumumbist revolutionary – than with Bemba – the son of a Mobutu apparatchik – (the fact that Mobutu’s own son joined Kabila’s coalition support the alternative view).
It’s also interesting to note that in the most authoritarian of those countries, the incumbent wins after the first round and by staline-era margin. I fail to see how 5 candidates who getting 5% each are any worse than one who gets 25%, the bad guy still got 75%.
And the prevalence of TRS ? Well, that’s more than half of Africa including all of Francophone Africa (except Gabon who got rid of the second round in 2005 for “fiscal” reasons, not that Bongo ever got close to facing a run-off), Ghana since 1976 and the war-recovering new democracies of Liberia, Guinea-Bissau or Sierra Leone (where a candidate has to win 55% of the vote to avoid a run-off).

Similarly, South Africa uses a proportional system for its parliament. If ANC ever gets less than half of the vote, nothing stops the rest of the parties to form a majority after the election.

But then you have the First Past The Post countries where it is possible for someone to get elected even if the majority voted against him, as long as he has a plurality. There’s thirteen of the countries, aforementioned Gabon and elections-delaying Angola included.
In most past cases, the winner did have a majority of the votes which makes the number of opposition candidates arithmetically irrelevant. In Seychelles, for instance, former sole legal party SPPF has won every single election with a clear majority, no matter how many parties/candidates ran against it. Tanzania, Botswana, Mozambique, Gambia or Uganda are in the same case. Zimbabwe would have been too had the ruling ZANU not needed additional appointed seats to have a majority after the 2000 parliamentary elections.
That leaves us with exactly four countries where an united opposition could have made or did make a difference in the final outcome: Nigeria, Malawi, Zambia and Kenya.

In the 1979 Nigeria election, there was no incumbent as it was a return to civilian rule election. However, Shehu Shagari was the military’s favorite and won the election with just 34% of the votes beating Obafemi Awolowo’s 29% and Nnamdi Azikiwe’s 17%. Four years later, Shagari was re-elected with 47%, while Awolow had 30% and Azikiwe 14%. An Awolowo-Azikiwe common platform could have won the election and wasn’t a far fetched idea as they had been part of the center-left United Progressive Grand Alliance (Azikiwe leading NCNC and Awolowo leading Action Group) that got defeated in the 1964 parliamentary election. However, that is assuming that Shagari’s vote was maximized both times and it wasn’t. As a matter of fact, both Awolowo and Azikiwe had the luck of being the sole candidates of their respective ethnic groups (Yoruba and Igbo) while Shagari had to face other northern/muslim/hausa candidates. And the two other northern candidates in 1979 got 20% of the vote and the three other northern candidates in 1983 got 10% of the vote. Given the ethnic vote patterns so prevalent in Nigeria (the 1959 results look like a census with minor alliance switches) at the time, it is fair to assume that it’s Shagari vote that got divided, not the opposition’s. Quite oddly, the cancelled 1993 election, which came after an ambitious political engineering process that involved the creation of two state funded and ideologically delimited national parties, managed to at least partially break the ethnic voting reflexes. While the winner, MKO Abiola, a Yoruba, did have large margins in southern states, he also won or narrowly lost many northern states. It seemed like many northerns realized having a center-left president was more important than having a northern one (the fact that Abiola was muslim and that both candidates had running-mates from the other side of the country probably had an impact too). Later elections produced interesting outcomes like Olesegun Obasandjo sweeping nationally while loosing his home state or open negotiations and campaigns about the ethnic origin of his successor. Basically, PDP, the ruling party, is the sort of large, flexible, all-encompassing grand political alliance that are really hard to challenge, especially if the challengers are frindge parties/candidates (like quasi-fascist Buhari) or rogues who can’t conceile their personnal ambitions (like former vice Atiku).

In Zambia, the opposition didn’t take any chances during the first multiparty election, it went to the polls united in the Movement for Multiparty Democracy and its candidate won 75% of the vote and ousted independance hero Kaunda. He would get reelected with a similar score 5 years later but former single-party UNIP boycotted the election and the other candidates were, i think, former MMD members. However in later elections, MMD’s candidate won by far less convincing margins. Less than 30% and just 2% more than the runner-up in 2001 and 42% in 2006 (but that’s incumbent bonus). I’m not totally up to date on the details of Zambia’s political situation but I do suspect that the opposition vote was as split as the ruling party vote. After all, 2006 runner-up, Michael Sata left MMD after not being picked as the presidential candidate, on top of having been close to Kaunda in the 1980’s.

In Malawi’s first multi-party election, an opposition divided between 2 candidates wasn’t enough to save incumbent Hastings Banda as Bakili Muluzi (UDF) got ahead with 47% of the vote. How am I sure the opposition was divided ? Well, Banda’s score (33%) in 1994 and the number of people who voted against multiparty rule in the 1993 referendum (35%) are virtually the same. Then Muluzi got re-elected with a 52% majority in an election where the former ruling party (MCP) and the other half the opposition (AFORD) had a common candidate. That move seemed to have badly hurt AFORD as in the 2004 election, they had been replaced by another “third way” coalition that gathered a quarter of the vote tying MCP but behind UDF’s candidate 35%. The real odd moment was Bingu wa Mutharika’s defection from UDF less than a year after the election. That political situation with a president with no allies in a parliament divided between three parties has a lot to do with some policy decisions in Malawi.

Finally, there is the only case where an incumbent got re-elected because of a split opposition. Daniel Arap Moi managed to get won with just 36% of the vote in 1992 just ahead of three opposition candidates who would have had 63% of the vote had they not runned separately. It’s also telling that two of them represented factions of a party that had split just months before the election. In 1997, Arap Moi did a better score, 40%, but once again could have been beated had Kibaki (31%) or Odinga (10%) dropped out of the race. In 2002, having learned its lesson, most of opposition formed a large coalition and its sole candidate, Kibaki won a 62% landslide. Though Arap Moi couldn’t run, his appointed successor had plenty of name recognition as he was independance hero Jomo Kenyatta’s son. However, the opposition honeymoon was short-lived. Government disagrements and a constitutional referendum split it and last thursday Kibaki and Odinga once again ran against each other. This time, however, a come-back of the big evil KANU is very unlikely and other issues make the election complicated.

So, no, assuming there’s no rigging, split votes rarely change the outcome.

But to be fair, there are other ways in which incumbents can benefit from a divided opposition. First of all, closer elections are harder to rig, so are Run-offs. Also a divided opposition looks unprincipled. The failure to put personnal ambitions apart for the greater good tells voters that no candidate has a monopoly on integrity and that makes voting for the devil you know or along ethnic lines or not voting at all very tempting. Also incumbents have the state apparatus working for them which gives them more name recognition, an extensive political network, the state ressources and media exposure. An opposition coalition could have all of those but a bunch of lone rangers only increase the noise-to-signal ratio in political discussions.
But all in all, united or divided, oppositions (and former ruling parties) have real staying power and chances only when they manage to make sense politically. Yes, that means ideology. In Cape Verde, for instance, former opposition coalition MpD managed to stay relevant after changes in leadership and defeats because it became a center-right party that represents more than an alternative to the bad guys. And former sole party PAICV managed to come back to power, in the tightest presidential election ever, because it’s clearly a center-left party. In Ghana or Senegal too, the political field is quite clear (and I’d argue that it is in Ivory Coast one of these days) and elections meaningful. And in Seychelles, Botswana or Mauritius the lack of political alternance is really a reward to incumbents, as there too, parties do stand for something.
The real problem then is facing politically vague, establishment, all-encompassing, “unity” parties like Nigeria’s PDP, Tanzania’s TANU, South Africa’s ANC, Namibia’s SWAPO, Rwanda’s FPR or Uganda’s NRM. Sort of like Mexico’s PRI (before Vox), India’s Congress, the Peronistas, or Malaysia’s and Singapore’s ruling coalition, they are virtually the only national parties with an extremely wide (geographical, social) reach, an historical role and – because they incorporate politically diverse factions – an incredible policy flexibility (how can you attack Mbeki or Museveni from the right when they’re viewed as pro-business by the business community and by some of their disapproving supporters ?). What serves as an opposition to those are fringe parties (Inkhata ? Azania People’s Organization? Freedom Front Plus? a coalition of those?) usually perceived as un-fitted to rule and those congress parties have to mess up real bad or experience a meaningful split in their coalition to ever loose. And more often than not, they do come back. So opposition leaders and supporters, tighten up your platform before making deals and day-dreaming about unity.

PS: I just realized that political systems in Botswana and Ethiopia strongly favour the ruling parties. Lower Houses are elected in single member constituencies using plurality. BDP’s share of seats in the parliament is consistently much larger than its share of the votes (scroll down). And in Ethiopia, I would bet that the opposition vote was large but concentrated in the (under-represented) cities where it has won all of its seats.

When the OAU became the Dictator’s Club

December 23, 2007

In October 1965, in Accra, this resolution was adopted by the second ordinary session of the assembly of the heads of state and government;

AHG/Res. 27 (II)


The Assembly of Heads of State and government meeting in it Second Ordinary
Session in Accra, Ghana, from 21 to 25 October 1965,

Desirous of consolidating the fraternal links that unite us,


1. Not to tolerate, in conformity with article 3, paragraph 5, of the Charter, any
subversion originating in our countries against another Member State of the
Organization of African Unity;

2. Not to tolerate the use of our territories for any subversive activity directed
from outside Africa against any Member State of the Organization of African

3. To oppose collectively and firmly by every means at our disposal every form
of subversion conceived, organized of financed by foreign powers against
Africa, OAU of its Member States individually;


Notice that this is resolution #27 and the 26 earlier resolutions dealt with the internal works of the OAU (granting diplomatic immunity to its representatives etc..) or liberation/decolonization stuff (we condemn Apartheid, Jim Crow, Rhodesia and stuff) or even better thanking the host and with only resolution 10 and 17 have some sort of historical and political importance.
Now sure one could argue that the principle of non-interference and a quick mention of opposition to sedition were already in the charter but they felt the need to restate it and to devote an entire resolution to the “problem”.

This is why Capitalism won

December 21, 2007

Now here’s a great idea! A simple cure for “Myspace Photo” syndrome – you know, that all-too-common self-portrait, where you’re off-center, with your head half cut-off, one arm sticking up all awkward holding the camera? Well, no more! Now your candid shots can look like fine art photos with the help of this ingenious hand-held extendable camera arm.

An Urban Outfitters web exclusive.

The problem with Ayittey

December 20, 2007

I had a lightbulb moment when I read this:

“if political elites spent less time criticizing government and more time setting debates within the context of the institutional structure and demands of the lawmaking process, citizens might not be so critical of the political process”

The sentence is totally unrelated to anything african. It’s from a political science study examining american citizen’s relation to the belief that government should be run like a business. But yet it applies.

Since the first time I’ve stumbled upon George Ayyitey‘s work something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on had disturbed me. After reading more articles, watching more speeches, listenning to more interviews, I started to think it was small factual mistakes or suspect little rhetorical figures or his nativist libertarianism. But I just realized it’s somehow bigger.

Ayyitey is one of the rare african voices heard in the “why is Africa so bad ?” big debate. Of course, him being African and all that, he wouldn’t touch the racial-cultural-iq-savages-nigger angle with the ten feet pole. And he’s definetly not part of the “save them by sending billions” advocacy group. He starts by tautologically stating that Africans are poor because Africa (as an economy) is poor. That statement is more brave than it seems to be. A lot of us have a hard time wrapping our minds around the simple idea that oil, diamonds, timber or cocoa are already part of that low GDP. But the real fun is into looking for explanations.

Basically, when facing an economic failure, one has few options: it could be a government failure, an institutional failure, a market failure. Ayittey goes for the government failure but not in the sense that would include the failure of governments to prevent market failures, instead we’re talking about the narrow sense, failure caused by governments and their policies. And when talking about bad policies, one can wonder if they were badly planned, unplanned or if something else went wrong, Ayittey goes for badly planned from the start. But then, where they badly planned because of incompetence or malevolence ? Ayittey focuses on malevolence. But malevolence can take many forms and have many motives, is it self-serving ? Is the benefit political or personnal ? Here Ayittey seems to say personally self-serving, namely, corruption. But even corruption includes a large array of practices from the custom officer taking a bribe for looking the other way to the minister receiving a kickback on a government contract to pure looting of the national coffers. Ayittey’s articles mainly mention the latter.

In short, Ayittey again and again states that Africa is poor because it’s ruled by kleptocratic dictators. It’s not exactly a dissenting opinion. The majority of the population anywhere in Africa agrees and the minority that doesn’t agree would about a past leader or someone they don’t have a (political, financial, ethnic) tie to. Yet, it’s not a new or interesting opinion either. Sure you can spend days discussing the Mobutu-Abacha-Mugabe-Idi Amin axis of evil or the Babangida-Bongo-Moi school of corrupt political trickery but how it won’t show you there’s a way out, let alone showing you the way out.

My problem with Ayittey is that he’s distracting. As a scholar, an economist, I somehow expect him to properly analyze problems and carefully propose solutions. Yet I don’t even see the beginning of an attempt. And no, motivational talks about the existence of “cheetahs” who are about to take on “hippos” have no other effect than to make a few geeks important about themselves. Likewise, pessimistic predictions about prospects for undescribed “reforms” that end up with suggesting a reduction of the political offer (you have to read it) are not a way to start finding solutions anymore than an eulogy that quickly mentions misguided policies but really focuses on corruption, democracy and corruption (did i mention corruption ?).

There is a real urgency, people. With commodities prices going up, governments in Africa are engaging in yet another round of underfunded mamouth infrastructure projects, multi-billion ambitious industrial plants, renegotiations on mineral ressources royalties or city beautification and there’s no one to explain why it didn’t work before. Nor there’s really anyone to explain and discuss which ideas from Asia would really make a difference and which wouldn’t. And the discussions about the IMF and World Bank recommandation remain emotional because no informed african voice is evaluating the policies themselves and their effects.

So yes, it may be fun to think of new ways to use the word “vampire” or it may be challenging to stuff every editorial with examples of corruption in 5 different countries and 5 different decades or it may make sense to scream “small government, now !” while praising Botswana (one of the higher rate of public investments in the world) and it may be lucrative to recycle the same speech for myriad of organizations. But it’s all a waste of time, as constructive and relevant as blaming the West / Colonialism / IMF / Multinationals / Slavery / Racism like so many of his fellows do. May be that’s the real issue, not a failure of leadership but a failure of the intellectual sphere.

Links as a bribe

December 20, 2007

I’ve been suffering from a small case of writer’s block. And I really don’t want to disappoint my dear five readers. So… Would links do ?

– Chris Blattman discussing the vicious incentives of fundraising.
– A little known story about a 1963 african students protest against racism in the USSR.
– A new hypotesis on why pygmies are so short.
– The US Army (i think) discussing the 1964 Dragon “hostage rescue operations” in Congo (you know, the “rape of Kisangani”, fighting the Simbas etc..)
– An interview of Norman Borlaug, the very politically incorrect father of the Green Revolution.
– A series of Irin articles on urbanization issues in Nigeria: Abuja, the planned capital with unplanned difficulties, Kano, the dirty economic center (I bet Onisha and Aba are worse) and Calabar, the clean sleepy provincial town.
– Snazzy explainning taxation in Lagos.

how the Market™ responds

December 13, 2007

Because Africa is not exactly the biggest consumer market in the world, companies don’t tend to have an assigned distributor or a branch/office in each country. Some companies simply have one distributor for the whole continent, sometimes located on the continent (very often in South Africa), sometimes not (the Middle East and Europe often are responsible for Africa) . But that happens less often than you’d think.

Business management software supplier Sage’s distribution network has the export department of the Paris office covering francophone african countries while a branch in South Africa covers the rest of the continent and I assume some of North Africa goes to the Middle East Branch (I wonder where Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria fall). Apart from the lingustic aspect, there is another reason why it makes sense. In Africa, business law, corporate pratices, accounting standards tend to be closer to those of the former colonizers. So in this case, Gabon has more in common with France than with South Africa. I wonder what effect OHADA would have on that network.
Microsoft goes for geographical regions with Egypt having its own Cairo office, a Johannesburg office for South Africa and its enclaves, an East Africa office located in Nairobi, Kenya, a Southern Africa office in Windhoek, Namibia, a North Africa office in Casablanca , an Indian Ocean office in Mauritius (that supports Djibouti, French Caledonia and French Polynesia in addition to all the Indian Ocean islands that usually belong to Africa) and here’s the twist , a Lagos office for only Nigeria and Ghana and an Abidjan office for the rest of Western and Central Africa. So in this case, the biggest national markets get their own local structure and the rest in bundled in a way that make sense.

Dell’s network is a lot more complicated with local retailers, a Johannesburg office for support on a product, a Paris office on another one and countries “belonging” to various zones depending on the service/product (if you follow the link just go ahead and click on a few countries).
Elevator company Otis has 4 offices in Africa, one in Egypt, one in South Africa, one in Ivory Coast and one in Cameroon. I’m trying very hard to understand the last one.
Caterpillar on the other hand seems to have an official distributor in almost each of the african countries (dealer locator). Construction machines do sell everywhere and with the cheapest product costing more than $100,000, one better have good consumer service.
And then you have Toyota has a presence almost everywhere either relying on the even older network that is former french colonial concession company CFAO or their own local offices.

But my point wasn’t to explore the distribution network of every single company that has an activity in Africa. That whole introduction is really about one odd thing:

M-Audio, an Avid subsidary that specializes in music hardware has a distributor in South Africa and one in Angola.
Propellerhead, a swedish company that makes the aclaimed music software Reason has a distibutor located in Mauritius that covers the whole continent except South Africa and Angola who have their own distributors (and they’re the same as M-Audio’s).
Now, South Africa is the biggest consumer market on the continent and as noted above, every companies have a distributor or an office there. Even notoriously cautious Apple has a South Africa website.
But why Angola ? The country is not particularly big like Nigeria and Egypt, or rich like South Africa, it’s not particularly well-connected to its neighbours like Ivory Coast or isn’t really part of a semi-unified regional market like Kenya or Uganda are.

Well this is why:



That was Kuduro, a music genre that originated in Angola and that mixes rap (sometimes), local rythms and electronic instrumentation and production. You can read (and view) more about its origins, its impact and the influence Jean-Claude Van Damme had on it on GlobalVoices (although I think they somehow overestimate the “message” part).

Now are we really surprised keyboards and music softwares sell enough in Angola for distributors and producers to find that market important enough to separate it from the rest of the continent ? That’s how you find opportunities, brothers and sisters (or that’s the beginning of a possible business cluster, economists).

field survey and africans

December 6, 2007

Chris Blattman reflects on some of the challenges he encountered while running questionnaires for a field study in Northern Uganda:

Take an apparently simple question: “How many children do you have?”

Respondent: Five.
Surveyor: Do all of these children live with you?
Respondent: Well, I have two other children who live with my brother.
Surveyor: I see. So you have seven biological children?
Respondent: No, three of my children belong to my sister who died last year.
Surveyor: So you have four biological children, plus three children you have adopted.
Respondent: Well, one of them lives with his father sometimes. I also take care of the children of my cousin, but he is away at school.

Welcome to the Extended Family™. Now that’s complicated, but Chris Blattman has mentioned ethnic groups in Western Kenya who have a taboo against stating their exact number of children. Now go ahead and try to work with that (on top of understanding the extend family network).

However, the part of interest to me is the second survey, designed by the Demographic and Health Surveys project, on gender equality and women empowered:

Take one question designed to understand financial independence:

Q. Do you have any money of your own that you alone can decide how to use?
Problem: the primary answer is “no, I don’t usually have any money”. The question measures access to funds rather than decision-making power. A better option might be to first ask “when money is available…”

It turns out, however, that the answer to this question is still, “it depends”. Most of all, it depends on whether the woman earned the money herself.

We had similar problems with almost every other DHS question we adopted.

Q: Are you permitted to go to the health center to buy things on your own, only if someone accompanies you, or not at all?
A. What do you mean by permission? I usually consult my husband, especially if I have to pay money. Also, I can go for a short visit, but I need his permission to stay

Q. Do you yourself control the money needed to buy clothes for yourself?
A. What do you mean by control? You mean I keep it myself? How expensive are the clothes? Who earned the money?

Now my understanding is that the problem with the first questionnaire is cultural. The number of children one has usually differs from the number of children one takes care of. And furthermore, the number of children one takes care of varies depending on what “taking care of” means and some children are “taken care of” by more than one household.

On the other hand the second set of question seems to vary on who earned the money and the meaning of “permission”. And that makes me wonder how it’s interpreted by the data analyzers. Is a woman who consults her husband before making a monetary decision in a dependant relationship or in a healthy one ? Does the women empowerment index go down when women don’t have spending money of their own because they don’t have independent income ?

Somehow, that reminds that causal issues in gender inequality in Africa are probably poorly misunderstood because the surveys are designed with other cultural settings in mind and I wonder how many policies reflect those flaws.

(I need to write a proper post on gender issues in Africa soon)

How did they get away with it ?

December 3, 2007

1887, in Congo Free State, King of the Belgians Leopold II’s private propriety, a company was created to build and mantain a railway which would bypass the fierce (videos) 350 kilometers rapids cutting off the huge naviguable Congo River basin from the ocean.
Lasting from 1890 to 1898, the works on the 366 kilometers railway ended up costing 1,932 lives and were mentionned in Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness“.

In the early twenties, on the other side of the river, in French Congo, colonial concession companies are getting tired of using the belgian railroad and demand their own railroad bypassing the rapids. Built from 1924 to 1934, the 502 kilometers Congo-Ocean costed the lives of 17,000 people by conservative estimates and was mentionned in nobel-prize winner André Gide’s “Travels in the Congo“.

In short, a project conducted at the end of the 19th century by a colonial regime that managed to horrify and disgust fellow colonial nations by its brutality and greed only caused a fraction of the human loss caused by a similar project implimented 30 years later by a colonial regime generally viewed as benign who also had, because of progress, access to better technology and knowledge about the difficulties. (to be fair, on the belgian side, alteration works on the railroad in the 20’s caused 7,000 deaths)

So how is that possible ?

The story is simple: costs.
For a few reasons, the Congo Free State was able to attract far more capital than the neighbouring french colony and therefore, at least for that project, used more machinery and less (forced) labor. Albert Londres who visited the Congo-Ocean site wrote:

“I’ve seen railways built, you usually see machinery. Here, only negros. Negros replace machines, trucks, crane; why not dynamite too ?
To carry 103 kilograms loads of cement, “Les Batignolles” (the contractor) only used a stick and the head of two negroes !”

Furthermore, local labour being already used by Concession Companies, most of the workers were “imported” from what is nowadays Chad and C.A.R. to remedy the shortage. Congo being hot and wet was (and still is) a high malaria risk area, while the workers being from dry regions had little immunity caused even more deaths than the brutality of the work.
And several other “low-cost” decisions were made: making the workers walk from Brazzaville to Pointe-Noire with the loads instead of using the belgian train, a completly inadequate food supply, choosing the hardest possible route because it was shorter and ended in a natural deep-water harbour..

My question however is how did the french get away with that ? Why isn’t that cited as often as the Leopold attrocities as example of the horrors of colonialism ?