Must reads on Kenya

Kenya’s dangerous path toward authoritarianism by Neha Wadekar in The New Yorker.

Kenyatta’s grand plan to silence Kenya’s free press by George Ogola in African Arguments.

This is how you capture the rise of Kenya’s vibrant contemporary art scene by Abdi Latif Dahir in Quartz Africa.

Central Kenya’s Biting Poverty by Dauti Kahura in The Elephant.

Crackdown on the media in the best fashion of past despots by Macharia Gaitho in The Nation.

Uhuru must resist temptation to take Kenya back to KANU days by Rasna Warah in The Nation.

Vested interests may stifle U.S. arms embargo on South Sudan by Fred Oluoch in The East African. [“Kenya — whose Mombasa port is the main entry for arms destined for South Sudan — has remained cagey on the issue.”]

The U.S. “official” infatuation with Kenya, in numbers

I’ve spent some time looking at “Official Development Assistance” (“ODA”) numbers for Africa to test my perception that the U.S. seems, for some reason that is hard to pin down, to give an inordinate amount of “development” money to Kenya.

At play Monkeys at play on UN vehicle

Sure enough. Going through the ODA summaries by country from the OECD, for each of 47 countries in continental Africa, we find plenty of verification of this. The U.S. is the leading bilateral ODA donor for 25 of the 47, including Kenya (Kenya’s number two donor is Japan). Kenya is the number three recipient of bilateral ODA from the U.S. for a 2010-2011 annual average (the most recent listing) of $642M, behind only the Democratic Republic of Congo at $1,053M and Ethipia at $791M.

On a per capita basis this is $15.53 for DRC, $15.43 for Kenya and $9.34 for Ethiopia. What about “need” based on poverty? PIn the DRC the Gross National Income (GNI) per capita is $190; in Ethiopia $400. Kenya, on the other hand, has a GNI per capita of $820, more than double that of Ethiopia and well more than four times that of the DRC.

Across the continent as a whole, Kenya ranks ninth in per capita U.S. ODA. Three countries of those getting more per capita are special cases: Liberia and South Sudan, post-conflict states where the U.S. has a special historic relationship and responsibility relating to the founding of the country itself and Libya, an immediate post-conflict situation where the U.S. government was instrumental in supporting the removal of the prior regime. All of the recipients ahead of Kenya except for the DRC have relatively small populations.

Among the five countries of the East African Community, Kenya receives both the largest amount and the most per capita in ODA from the U.S., even though its GNI per capita is by far the largest:

Country        GNI Per Capita      U.S. Bilateral ODA      Per Capita      Rank/Reference

Burundi           $250                             $48M                      $5.58        2 (1-Belgium 161M)

Kenya             $820                              $642M                   $15.43       1 (2-Japan $139M)

Tanzania         $540                             $546M                    $10.74          1 (2-UK $219M)

Rwanda           $570                             $167M                   $15.32           1 (2-UK $121M)

Uganda           $510                              $388M                   $11.24           1 (2-UK $163M)

————-
And a sampling of other countries of interest:

Somalia           —-                                 $90M                      $9.38           2 (2-UK $107M)

C.A.R.           $470                                $16M                      $3.56           3 (1-France $29M)

Malawi          $340                                $140M                    $9.69           1 (2-UK $126M)

Mali               $610                                $232M                  $14.68          1 (2-Canada $106M)

Niger             $360                                  $97M                     $6.02          1 (2-France $56M)

Chad              $690                                $124M                    $10.75       1 (2-France 45M)

Is Washington, DC a logical place from which to fight global poverty? (Updated)

I thank those of you who have been reading some of my older posts while I have been primarily away from the blog the past few weeks.

Let me take time now to throw out a couple of “macro” observations as an observer of “development” practice in recent years and a life long observer and frequent past participant in American politics.  The first is just how strange it is from one perspective that organizations like USAID and especially the Millennium Challenge Corporation are located “inside the beltway” in Washington, DC.

Don’t get me wrong, Washington certainly has its share of poverty, but in general the Washington inhabited by agencies like USAID, the MCC and the World Bank operates in the thrall of the micro-economy generated by the brokering of the American federal government’s expenditures on the order of $4 Trillion annually.  It is a sui generis antiseptic boomtown quite disconnected from the economy of the rest of the cities and towns even of the United States, much less the rest of the world. Especially that of those facing the extreme poverty that the Millennium Development Goals were intended to overcome.

It just seems to me that we might, say, move one of our agencies like the MCC to West Virginia, for instance.

West Virginia is one of our poorer states, and one where we have this terrible problem of conflict between the need for jobs and the immediate and long term environmental harm done by strip mining and “mountain top removal” for coal.  West Virginia has an economy rooted in natural resources and agriculture, like most of the world, and unlike the District of Columbia–but it is close by, just a short drive.  Long serving Senator Robert Byrd was for many years famous especially for bringing federal agencies outside Washington to his state of West Virginia.  While this was widely derided as “pork barrel politics” by people from other states, those federal agency jobs go somewhere.  Putting a poverty fighting agency there might directly fight poverty as well as help us learn more about how to be most helpful elsewhere.

Update: On the topic of US aid transparency, here is great piece from Jennifer Lentner (@intldogooder) on Oxfam America’s “The Politics of Poverty” Blog: “More U.S. international aid data released–now what? A user’s perspective”.  Jennifer interviews Hon. Albert Kan-Dapaah a former minister in the Ghanaian government and former chair of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee.  He finds the current data important but “pretty scanty” toward meeting the needs of public officials and of civil society watchdogs.

New bi-partisan legislation—the Foreign Aid Transparency Act of 2013—would open the books on US foreign aid. More transparency will enable people like Hon. Albert Kan-Dapaah to hold their governments accountable for how they invest US resources. Learn more and contact your representatives here.

And stay tuned to Politics of Poverty to get more user perspectives on aid transparency data!

IRIN Africa | KENYA: “Perfect storm” brewing among urban poor

IRIN Africa | KENYA: “Perfect storm” brewing among urban poor | Kenya | Children | East African Food Crisis | Economy | Food Security | Urban Risk.

The Kenya Lobby, Corruption, and Hunger

Here is a link from the newly published digest of 2009 foreign lobbyist disclosure filings for Kenya from ProPublica and the Sunlight Foundations.

Assume some focus this year is on the MCC vote coming up for December 15 and the ICC indictment situation on a similar timeframe. New Congressional leadership and staff to cultivate for the new year. And then there’s the corruption.  [Update: here is a story from this fall in The Hill magazine entitled “Kenya turns to K Street to help reshape image”.]

Today at the Voice of America, John Githongo contradicts Government of Kenya spokesman Alfred Mutua regarding criticism of Kenya as a “swamp of corruption” in the wikileaked cables:

Kenya government spokesman Alfred Mutua said the comments are “malicious and a total misrepresentation of Kenya and its leaders.” However anti-corruption crusader John Githongo called them “quite accurate.” Githongo investigated domestic bribery and fraud as a journalist, and later as Permanent Secretary for Governance and Ethics of Kenya under the presidency of Mwai Kibaki.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation is expected to be worse next year:

NAIROBI, 30 November 2010 (IRIN) – Kenya is likely to witness worsening food security, significant disease outbreaks, and further pockets of conflict in 2011, as well as a continuing flow of refugees from Somalia, say aid officials.

“There is a fear of La Niña compromising the [food security] gains made,” said Aeneas Chuma, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator at the 30 November launch of Kenya’s 2011 Emergency Humanitarian Response Plan (EHRP) appeal. Most of the US$525 million funding requested is expected to meet food security and refugee needs.

At present, the number of food aid beneficiaries has dropped to 1.2 million from a peak of 3.8 million during the 2009 drought due to favourable October-December 2009 short rains and March-May 2010 long rains. But numbers are expected to rise, with poor rains in eastern and northeastern regions, as well as lower levels in western areas.

“Why 300 million more people are suddenly poor”–release of “Multidimensional Poverty Index” and Ethiopia

Why 300 million more people are suddenly poor, by Jina Moore at the Christian Science Monitor:

Kigali, Rwanda In November, 300 million more people around the world were suddenly poor – on paper, at least. The latest numbers on poverty from the United Nations, released Nov. 4, include a new measurement for poverty and reveal some surprises.

The Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) raises the number of poor by 21 percent, to more than 1.7 billion. According to the MPI, sub-Saharan Africa is still home to the greatest proportion of the world’s poor, but more than half of the total number of poor lives in South Asia.

These numbers, and the new index that produced them, are part of the UN’s annual Human Development Index (HDI), a statistical touchstone. It covers everything from the number of women who die in childbirth to how many people have Internet access and can sway decisions on US policy, influence where nonprofits spend money, and help determine where donors give.

For years, the HDI has set the standard for just how little a person has to live on to be considered poor. The answer? $1.25. But some researchers have long said income alone doesn’t define poverty.

“There are some things money can’t buy,” says Sabina Alkire, cocreator of the index and director of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, which launched the index in collaboration with the UN. “It might not buy electricity; it might not buy a public health system, or an education system.”

Ms. Alkire’s index looks at poverty more experientially. It uses existing survey data and categorizes households as poor if they lack three or more of the 10 poverty indicators, which are spread across health, education, and basic standards of living. “For the first time ever, it measures poverty by looking at the disadvantages poor people experience at the same time,” she says.

Examining more than income changes the equation. It doubles the poor in Ethiopia, where 39 percent of people live on less than $1.25 a day. But 90 percent are “multidimensionally poor,” or lacking at least three of the 10 indicators.

. . . .

Some specialists have raised objections to the new index, including the director of research at the World Bank, which publishes its own income measure for poverty. Among the criticisms is that the measure is still a single standard, even if it looks at many factors.

“If my bosses were to ask for my recommendation on using the MPI as a factor in allocating USAID resources among countries or programs, I would recommend against doing so,” says Don Stillers, an economist for the US Agency for International Development, in an e-mail message. “Rather, I would emphasize the ongoing need to pay attention to evidence on each major dimension of poverty in each country we work in.”

. . . .

Indeed, Alkire of HDI admits her index isn’t perfect. She acknowledges that good data are hard to come by, and not all types of data that researchers want even exist. “These are messy numbers, and comparisons are fraught with danger,” she says. But she also thinks her approach gives existing information more context and helps correct misperceptions.

This seems to me to represent incremental progress in understanding actual living conditions at the type of “overview” level that inevitably influences political decisionmaking and overall public awareness.  While the USAID economist is right about the need to look at specifics country-by-country, comparisons are necessary and inevitable.  The Ethiopia example seems especially useful in evaluating the performance of the Meles regime which claims credit for a significant level of “growth” and seems to use that as political capital with donors to excuse or divert attention from political repression.

Speaking of Ethiopian governance, Meles has attacked the EU Election Observation Mission for its report issued this week on the May election, which he called “trash“.  Thijs Berman, the Chief Observer, responded as reported by VOA:

“If we say 27 percent of the results in the cases we observed had changed between the polling station and the final aggregation, then this is something that warrants a serious investigation about what went wrong and is this something that can be corroborated by other investigations in the rest of the country,” Berman adds.

Tensions about the EU mission have been building, even before the election.  The government had laid down strict rules for conduct of the observers, arguing that a previous EU mission observing the disputed 2005 election had violated its mandate. The government has also criticized the long delay between the May 23 election and the release of the final mission report.

But Berman tells VOA the report was ready months ago.  He says the release was delayed and the report eventually released in Brussels after it became clear he would not be allowed to present it officially to Prime Minister Meles. “In more than 80 missions in more than 50 countries, it has never happened that the inviting government refuses the presentation of the final report before the first, who are entitled to get this information, namely the Ethiopian citizens.  Which is bad for the long-term future of Ethiopia because real stability can only be brought about by improving the democracy in Ethiopia,” he said.

“In Southern Sudan, for the money”

“In Southern Sudan for the Money”

JUBA, Sudan, April 9 (Reuters) by Ed Cropley – The only thing that’s cheap in southern Sudan is life.

One of the world’s poorest regions, where four out of five people are illiterate and one in five children fails to make it to their fifth birthday, the south’s economy has been turned on its head since the end of a 22-year civil war in 2005.

A flood of foreign aid workers and more than $2 billion a year in oil revenues under a peace deal with the central government in Khartoum has transformed the south into one of the most expensive corners of Africa.
. . . .

Nobody knows how many people live in the city, although some say its population has trebled in the last five years under the weight of tens of thousands Kenyans and Ugandans out to make a quick buck.

“Earning $100 is difficult in Kenya. Here it’s easy,” said Amos Njay, a Nairobi taxi driver hoping a year in Juba will set him up in a trucking business.

Africans are not the only ones with an eye on the cash.

Foreign aid workers, holed up behind barbed-wire fences and armed guards in semi-permanent tented camps on the banks of the Nile, boast of earning $10,000 a month tax-free and with all their living expenses taken care of.

“You know what they say: in places like this you only get missionaries, mercenaries and misfits. Me? Sure, I’m just here for the money,” said one U.S. aid contractor knocking back a cold beer in a bar on the banks of the Nile.

Other drinkers ranged from dapper pro-democracy activists from the U.S. International Republican Institute to former soldiers whose lives are spent treading in the heels of conflict across the globe, cleaning up mines and unexploded bombs.
. . . .

One Recent Study: “African Poverty is Falling…Much Faster than You Think!”

A recent study by Maxim Pinkovskiy of M.I.T. and Xavier Sala-i-Martin of Columbia:

Our results show that the conventional wisdom that Africa is not reducing poverty is wrong. In fact, since 1995, African poverty has been falling steadily. Moreover, contrary to the commonly held idea that African growth is largely based on natural resources and helps only the rich and well‐connected, we show that Africa’s income distribution has become less rather than more unequal than it was in 1995, and therefore, that a great deal of this growth has accrued to the poor.
. . . .
Not only has poverty fallen in Africa as a whole, but this decline has been remarkably general across types of countries that the literature suggests should have different growth
performances. In particular, poverty fell for both landlocked as well as coastal countries; for mineral‐rich as well as mineral‐poor countries; for countries with favorable or with unfavorable agriculture; for countries regardless of colonial origin; and for countries with below‐ or above median slave exports per capita during the African slave trade.3 Hence, the substantial decline in poverty is not driven by any particular country or set of countries.