Archive for the 'is congo next to africa ?' Category

Is it the audience ?

January 17, 2008

The Bayesian Heresy (approvingly) quotes my post on Ayittey and adds:

I think another way to think about it is that his main audience is western not African– his talks are geared to the style of those of his main audience.

I have doubts about such causality but most importantly I’m really not sure the West is his main audience. Ayittey does have an African audience, if not on the continent, at least within the immigrant communities. I do get the feeling that most of it is young, western-educated (if not living in the west), technology-friendly and rather prosperous but it’s not impossible that, in anglophone African countries, or at least in his native Ghana, a bigger (and less-priviledged) audience that I’m not directly aware of is reached by him through local newspapers or any other form of intervention public intellectuals use. And that’s not counting the fact that Ayittey has a certain stature among africanist scholars.

I would bet that both audiences validate each other. The African one viewing the western audience as proof of expertise and the western one viewing the African audience as a authenticity/legitimacy signal. Not that it really matters to what I’m trying to say.

If you really want to play the signal game and guess who is Ayittey targetting instead of assuming he says what he says because that’s what the hell he thinks, I’m still not sure the West is his main target.

Yes, his position on aid does look like part of the West would like it. But then again, the debates on aid to Africa in the West are always framed in a very particular way. Either one wants to save poor helpless Africans or one thinks it’s too expensive or useless or that Africa needs to save itself. Ayittey’s position somehow doesn’t exactly fit. He’s not asking for less aid, he’s asking for smarter aid, he’s not saying “Africans are hopeless” or “farewell to alms”, he’s arguing against “No Dictatorship (or mismanaged economy) Left behind”, he’s asking for a different sort of ties to the aid instead of arguing for or against tied aid. And on top of that, one shouldn’t ignore the fact that both aid itself, or the recent campaigns (form and content) aren’t as popular among Africans, especially middle-class Africans, as westerners usually think. It’s seen as humiliating and useless at best and racist and a-tool-of-neo-colonial-imperialism-domination (*breathes*) at worse.
Yes, Ayittey uses a lot of free-marketer/pro-capitalist/libertarian/economic right vocabulary and one could see how his ideas about the lack of economic freedom in Africa would be attractive to the IMF, the Cato Institute or the Heritage Foundation but then he does something no self-respecting western right-wing or libertarian would do or like: he talks, a lot, about political freedom and ties to economic freedom. I suspect his african audience wouldn’t very receptive to Bryan Caplan-like arguments against democracy or to one that would replace Pinochet with Museveni or Ian Smith or Houphouet-Boigny and argue that a pro-market dictatorship is a good thing.
And then you have little details like Ayittey’s distrust of multinational corporations, foreign investment in natural ressources and other things one would expect western audiences to like a lot (and libertarians to find refreshlingly counter-intuitive). Honestly, who is really supposed to get excited by the idea of “small-scale indigeneous people-based market solutions” to Africa’s economic woes ? And what kind of non-african is supposed to be moved by his attacks on colonial, post-colonial, western (mostly french) and chinese economic involvement in Africa (good example) ? Had the western audiences been so important, he would probably have written something called “In Praise of De Beers (or UMHK or Zambia Mining Agreements)” with arguments parallel to those of Paul Krugman’s famous piece and mentions of the economic performance of Botswana or pre-independance Katanga.
And finally, Ayittey does argue again and again that contrary to what Nkrumah, Senghor or Nyerere have argued, pre-colonial African societies were not socialist but free-market and capitalist. Here too, I have a very hard time imagining anyone but Africans thinking that whatever pre-colonial societies were has any relevance on our societal choices. (and if you want my opinion, anyone who thinks that somehow all the economic or political systems in pre-colonial Africa perfectly fit into modern western categories like socialist/capitalist/freemarket/statist/democracy is at best wrong, at worse a crank. And Nyerere would have been the closest, had he added more market interactions, more voluntary settlement and more political decentralization to his villagization scheme.)

So in short, no matter I disagree with Ayittey, I don’t think his western audiences have much to do with it. Unless we decide that they really really love long detailed anecdotical tales of high-level corruption in Africa. But then, Hollywood would have produced more “King of Scotland”-like movies. Whatever happened to Oliver Stone’s project on Mobutu ?


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)

Your habitus

November 14, 2007

Yes you can live, laugh and love in Nigeria, be an educated professional, have read Bourdieu and Weber and yet your cultural predispositions will make you write this: understand in any depth the layers of social dysfunction in Nigeria, perhaps we need to analyse its own specific forms of habitus. We need to understand the expectations that create the need for the Big Man in any organisation beyond simple ethnography; the historical patterns that have generated an all-encompassing master-slave power relationship, such that any marginal economic advantage generates the production of master and slave identities, and such that paying a house-help 4000 naira per month is deemed perfectly acceptable by many; and to use habitus to shed light on the enduring agrarian episteme that mitigates against driving in a straight line in Abuja, or to understand the social positioning of say the police.

First, this is a complete misreading of Bourdieu. Habitus, a concept redefined (and not created) by Bourdieu to reconcile free will and determinism, socialization and the individual is about the individual.
Basically, me, you, everyone develop through socialization over our lifetime certain dispositions, a structure through which we perceive, think and act in the world. That’s habitus. Though it is constantly affected by our experiences and major events (like reading Bourdieu or being the victim of ethnic cleansing) can deeply change it at any point, it tends to be durable: the construct, especially early ones, last much much longer than the experience itself. It also tends to be transposable (i think that’s a french word). Experience in one social setting can influence one’s perception (and therefore behavior) behavior in another. As an example, one can get the habit of thinking in terms of country’s “national soul” through years of watching soccer with his friends and family and apply that same thinking scheme later when discussing Nigeria’s problems. The world view can remain unchanged despite contradictory evidence. One can keep think in terms of nation’s soul when discussing Nigeria even if Bastian Schweinsteiger dribbles, Cris is a solid defender and France won a World Cup.
Groups can actually have a common habitus (or rather individuals can share part of their habitus) because and only because they have common or similar experiences. Basically sets of individuals who socialized the same way, experienced similar things will tend to have their view of the world and of themselves affected in the same way. And social classes, because they tend to define one’s socialization in a lot of ways are the most relevant form of group when discussing habitus. The example here would be two upper class africans who went to french schools in two different countries and who have a deeper common understanding with each other than with their countrymen.

Now it would be interesting to know how Nigeria, a 50 years old country of 150 millions inhabitants and almost a million square kilometers with deep religious, ethnic, historical, social, intellectual and class divisions would have ONE COMMON HABITUS. How did it develop ? Which are the events that influenced every Nigerian in the same way ? The 1996 Gold Medal ? Independance ? The fall of the Naira ? It would also be interesting to know how it would explain things as different as driving patterns, the salary of a house help and the mythical need for a Big Man.

Well, our compassionate observer suggests an “enduring agrarian episteme” for driving patterns. Let’s ignore details like an urban history that started a century after Rome, or the fact that at least a quarter of the population probably never spent more than a few days outside cities and ask how did Calabar excaped its fate at least more than Lagos. And somebody better tell urban planners, traffic managers, transportation analysts, crossing lights designers that they’re loosing their time. It’s all because once upon a time, everybody lived in the bush.
And someone must tell economists that they too have been loosing their time discussing price-setting, supply and demand or incentives. A slave-master power relationship explains why people, in a country with plenty of cheap unemployed labour, pay their house help 4000 naira a month. A slave-master relationship probably explained why the colonists used forced labour or why europeans felt the need to bring millions of slaves to the America or why bosses don’t pay more than the minimum wage in call centers in the civilized world. And nevermind the wage, why doesnt the slave-master relationship explains why there is house help to start with ? I guess that’s ok, no historical ethos when your domestic employees are well paid (by your standards).
And expectations that create a need for a Big Man ? Well, the most fundamental flaw of the Big Man theory is that nobody ever choose them. Or at least, in Africa, nobody ever selected a Big Man in a free and open election. Or no majority ever decided to grant someone more power hoping that he would make things better. Nigeria had had since its independant one free election and it was cancelled. Military dictators, riggers and elected leaders who are quick to behave like dictators weren’t there because of anybody’s expectations. They got there because they could and did use force. And when people bend to their power, it’s simply because they don’t have the choice or think they don’t have the choice. May be I should suggest Weber’s work on the sociology of politics and government which is far more enlightenning and relevant than the protestant ethics.

And may be one would realize that serious people wouldn’t propose:

a study of the Nigerian habitus would enable us to formulate explicit responses to the informal patterns of understanding and ways of being and doing that lead to the incessant reproduction of dysfunctional realities across the country, leading to much more powerful self-correcting/authochthonic measures, one might hope. It would definitely lead us away from the over-simplistic idea that if only we could find decent leaders to put in positions of power, everything would change..

So that’s the real use of studying the nigerian habitus. It’s better than the eternal quest for the decent leader who will make everything better. Political scientists, sociologists, economists, philosophers, even health specialists, historians or agronomists have just spend decades discussing institutions, designing policies, forming divergent theories and debating choices, analyzing, fine-tuning their data, experiencing, failling, succeeding, discovering side-effects, finding out what went wrong and yet we need to study Nigeria’s “national soul” to get away from idea that a messiah will come and make things better ?

When asked by a commenter how does one dissect what is the ‘Nigerian habitus’ from what is the ‘Yoruba habitus’ from what is the ‘Hausa habitus’:

I suspect on one level, ethnic/cultural differences do not impinge upon a prevailing pre-modern, pre-industrialised world view. On another level, of course ethnic/cultural differences would condition everything – the Yoruba concept of the Oba differing immensely from anything like an Igbo or Hausa ‘equivalent’ for instance.

Ethnic/Cultural differences, that means different religions, different languages, different philosophy, different environement, different social organizations (in the family, the household, the community, the village, the city, trade), different judicial systems, different histories do not have a bigger influence than a common pre-modern, pre-industrial (that means savage) “worldview”. An Ibo engineer, the Sardauna of Sokoto, a Yoruba market woman, a Tiv farmer, an Ijaw tout in Lagos, an Oron prostitue, an Edo poet, a Fulani nomad mother all have the same pre-modern and pre-industrial worldview that trumps whatever effect their different socialization.

And no, acknowledging that concepts may differ across cultures doesn’t make it better. Do Obafemi Martins, Tunde Adebimpe, Seun Kuti, Wole Soyinka, Olesegun Obasandjo and your random village chief really view authority in the same way ? In the same way as the other 30 millions Yorubas ?

To conclude, what is the process of getting attached to a worldview in which people’s thoughts and actions are deeply and perharps definetly defined by their nationality (or race or ethnicity) ? Well that’s acquiring habitus. And that worldview has a name
and a deep and long history among certain groups. Why don’t we study that habitus ?

if you show it often enough..

November 12, 2007

Have you ever seen this ?

may be here ? or here or here or even here (where they say: “Think about the fact that the wealth presented in this image rested almost completely on the slave trade. “)

Well the picture is a fake.

It’s taken from the famous “Descriptions of Africa”, written by a dutchman called Olfert Dapper who according to the museum named after him never left Holland. Even more interesting is this page that says:

“There is virtually no evidence,” Jones writes, that Dapper “took much interest in what sort of visual material was to accompany his text,” and that it was the publisher, Van Meurs, “who probably did all the engraving himself”

Honestly, one doesn’t even need to know anything about Dapper or his publisher to know it’s a fake. Horses in the middle of the tsetse fly infested area ? A surrounding wall ? Large streets ?
A lot of things actually go against most descriptions from that period. Loango wasn’t much more dense than the rural areas and farmland wasn’t outside the walls. The lack of horses (and carriages) made large streets unnecessary and the vegetation was abundant. There was neither need nor material to build multi-story buildings.

Somehow the image keeps appearing and reappearing and people keep being impressed by the greatness of the imaginary and oh so european looking city of Loango. And you can even find serious academic papers using it as “proof” of the advanced development of precolonial central african cities. example (jstor), other example (PDF).
Don’t get me wrong though, it’s not that I believe Loango as a city wasn’t interesting. It’s rather the obvious eurocentricity displayed and the willingness of some to use it as proof of civilization.

But sadly, it can get worse:

Samba Pango; Roi de Loango. Digital ID: 1248472. New York Public Library


Roi D’Angola. Digital ID: 1248473. New York Public Library

full series here

Now, what were they thinking ?
A white Loango King ? With clothing looking half french half inca ?
I’m glad that one is not been used as an example of the different shades of black on afrocentrist websites.

say it aint so

August 17, 2007

This month the Cato Institute discusses anarchy. This guy writes a piece in which Somalia is used as proof that anarchy (well, capitalist anarchy) works better than you think.
I read it and was confused, then i read his paper (pdf) on the same issue and was even more confused.

Basically Peter Leeson presents evidence that statelessness has benefitted Somalia, its economy, its people’s welfare by comparing data on Somalia under Siad Barre to Somalia in a recent period. In the paper at least, the author covers one base by mentioning he believes that anarchy is not superior to any government but to predatory governments. And clearly Siad Barre’s government was predatory.

I expected to see somewhere a rebutal of some of his points, a thoughtful critique and didn’t see any, and now that I think of it, i see why the case of Somalia was used to start with.

Basically, US scholars and economits can construct any arguments they wish on Somalia because none of them know much about it, and none of them would notice a fallacious argument. And, dear, there are many in Peter Leeson’s paper:

Siad Barre being presented as a socialist dictator who “officially” renounced socialism in the early 80’s, implying that he was deeply socialist in his convinctions and then being described as the predatory dictator that he was is simply a tactic that leads us to think that socialist = bad.

well, let’s remember how it happened. First of all, contrary to what is said in Cato article, Somalia was an unstable parliamentary representative democracy from independence in 1960 to 1969. A mix of corruption, un-principled politicians, complex and rapid switches of alliances and tribalist politics explains the “unstable” part. In 1969, a group of young officiers from the army and the police overthrow the government. Though they’re vaguely nationalist and vaguely influenced by marxism, they don’t have anything that sounds like a plan for after the coup. So as often (see: Nigeria 66), the young officiers decide to follow the only rule that they all agree on and make the most senior military person in the country, General Siad Barre, the new ruler. As petty as it may sound in the context, i think it is important to all remember that Siad Barre was not part of the coup, he came in after, in an opportunistic fashion.
And neither has he ever been “socialist”. The last Somalian parliament had 2 marxist MPs. They both were part of the long list of people executed or jailed in the first three years of the regime. That list also included most of the other senior military and various politicians from all backgrounds.

Siad Barre “officially” adopted marxism in 1970 for one reason: he needed military aid to fight his irridentist war on Ethiopia and the USSR was all too happy to help. For the same reason, Siad Barre officially renounced Marxism in the early 80’s: Ethiopia had experienced a revolution, and the new regime was as close to Moscow as any african regime as ever gotten (and there is competion). The USSR refused to help Somalia fight for Ogaden, Siad Barre simply renounced marxism and got american military aid instead.

So consistently describing Siad Barre’s opportunist predatory corrupt militarist nationalist rule as socialist is a fallacity. Especially when during half of his rule, his people were murdered by guns given to him to fight off “communist expansion”.

What Is Somalia ?
The second fallacy in my humble opinion, is the description of Somalia as stateless. Since 1991, two regions of Somalia have experienced government: Puntland and Somaliland. Leeson dismissed them as “limited”, thus making Somalia “stateless”. Apparently, they’re not very efficient at raising taxes and don’t fully control their declared territory (that would turn Nigeria, Sudan, DRC and many others into stateless countries). And these are the regions. Other parts are controlled by alliances of tribal chiefs and warlords and are actually governed too.

I mention this because, anyone who knows about the existence of Somaliland, would be convinced by that argument only if the data showed that Somalians in the south are better off than in Somaliland or Puntland. I suspect that such distinction is ignored and the data non-existent because people are simply better off in Somaliland than in the wild southwest.

Also 1985-1990 are the two years used as a data reference for Somalia under government. Those are the 5 finals years of Barre’s regime, after he lost the Ogaden war, with international aid drying up, with a pan-sahelian drought, with Ethiopia and the diaspora (mostly the affluent Isaac clan) financing a dozen or so rebel groups. Basically, years of decay. Although i’m fairly convinced enough of the evil of Barre to not think the data is off base, i think the chosen years are convinient.

But back to modern Somalia, in 2006, for six months, southern Ethiopia was reunited again, this time by a radical islamist coalition called Islamic Courts Union. The Courts were later overthrown by Ethiopia, officially supporting the “de jure” Trans-National Government, with US backing. So one has to ask, how did somalians react to that short-lived re-unification ?

Well, while some people in the business community had reactions that would make the day or the week or the year of most libertarians (“We heard the TNG will make us pay taxes. We don’t want taxes”), most observers also mention the fact that the Somalian business community, at least in the south, supported the Islamic Courts.
Let me say it again, the business community supported a regime that western governments have described as a totalitarian, talibans-style government.

Is that proof of a desire for strong government ? Well i have too much integrity to say “yes”. The Islamic Courts, just like the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria or the current regime in Iran, had the support of the local business community mostly because of their relative economic liberalism. They supported free trade and most importantly provided one thing that makes trade easier: Law and Law Enforcement. And Peace too.
But suspicion towards TNG is not only rooted in tax rebelion, it’s also caused by Ethiopia’s support in a country where Ogaden is still viewed as an occupied territory (Barre used that card extensively and Ethiopia intervenned in 2006 because the Islamists were using it too), and it’s caused by doubts about its future.
If the local business community wants peace and law and a unified country, does that mean that capitalist anarchy is not even supported by people who are supposed to benefit from it ?

And there’s the data too. First, it’s collected by UN agencies and we’re not sure how. The paper says that neither Siad Barre’s Somalia nor Somaliland has reliable statistics on anything but doesnt tell us how the World Bank, the World Health Organization and others have collected it. Or is stateless Somalia easier to visit ?

And then, there’s something very interesting. Literacy rates and school enrollement, the categories in which Pre-1991 Somalia does better are compared to thing like number of radio owners and phone lines. Honestly, in which world is the decrease of one the lowest literacy rate less important than an explosion of the number of phone lines per 1,000 inhabitants ? There are other categories, of course, some in which the improvements are anectodal, some that are more or less the same.

The main issue, of course is causality.
How do we know that the improvements do not come from Puntland and Somaliland ?
How do we know the improvements are not simply caused by peace (or lack of fighting) ?
How do we know the improvements in radio, telephone and TV ownership are not caused by cheaper and more flexible technology (cellphones) and Chinese imports like everywhere else in Africa ?
And why has the Peter Leeson has data on Somalia that the Somaliland government doesnt have ?
And finally, why isn’t it an argument for local capitalism and isolationism ? After all, American and British and French companies aren’t busy mining, selling, trading, buying anything in modern Somalia.. After all Somalia isn’t part of the WTO, its rulers aren’t following advice from the World Bank, the IMF isnt giving it loans. Trading with Somalia is hard non-somalians. May be DRC would see some improvement too if it was under an embargo (the fishermen on the congo river would make a killing smuggling items on their boats though).

This attempt to show that medieval Iceland is not the only example anarcho-capitalists and libertarians could use to show that statelessness works best will probably be convincing to people who think Mugabé is beating records of longevity as head of state in Africa. For people who know what’s going ? Not so much.