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January 6, 2014

Ignorance of Economics Makes U.S. Agency Complicit in Elephant Deaths



IvoryCrushedByUS2013-11-27.jpg "Crushed ivory falls out of the crusher as the U.S. crushed its six-ton stock of confiscated ivory at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge . . . ." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



The higher the price of ivory, the greater the incentive for ivory poachers to kill elephants. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could have put their cache of ivory on the market, thereby increasing the supply, and reducing the price. If they had done so, they would have reduced the incentive of the poachers to poach. (This is basic price theory that I teach in each of my micro-economic principles classes.) Instead they crushed the ivory and thereby doomed some elephants to death, who otherwise could have been saved.



(p. A3) COMMERCE CITY, Colo.--The U.S. government spent the past 25 years amassing contraband ivory in a warehouse here, with pieces ranging from tiny statuettes to full elephant tusks tattooed by intricate carvings. Ultimately, the pile grew to six tons--equivalent to ivory from at least 2,000 elephants.

On Thursday, the stash collected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was pulverized by an industrial rock crusher as government officials, conservationists from around the world and celebrities gathered to watch the destruction.

The move, which follows similar events in the Philippines and Gabon in recent years, is part of a global effort to combat elephant poaching, on the rise because of growing demand for ivory trinkets in Asia. Proponents argue that crushing the ivory conveys to illegal traffickers and collectors that it has no value unless it is attached to an elephant.


. . .


But critics of the practice said they worry that destroying the coveted commodity, sometimes referred to as "white gold," could instead create the perception that the world's remaining ivory is more valuable--and drive poachers to kill more elephants for their tusks. "This could be self-defeating," said Michael 't Sas-Rolfes, an independent conservation economist.


. . .


While praising efforts to preserve elephants, some in conservation circles consider crushing contraband ivory to be an ineffective strategy.

Kirsten Conrad, a wildlife conservation consultant who has studied the Chinese ivory market, said elephants could be better served if sustainably harvested ivory--from elephants that died from natural causes, for example--were regularly offered for sale.

The proceeds would give communities in Africa an incentive to better protect wildlife, and the steady supply would dissuade speculators in China from stockpiling, as she says they are doing now. A kilo of raw ivory can sell for up to $3,000. "We're losing an elephant every 16 minutes," she said. "We should look really hard at legal trade."



For the full story, see:

ANA CAMPOY. "Crushing Illegal Ivory Trade; In Move to Combat Elephant Poaching, U.S. Destroys Six Tons of 'White Gold'." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Nov. 15, 2013): A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 14, 2013, and has the title "Crushing Illegal Ivory Trade; In Move to Combat Elephant Poaching, Government Agency Destroys Six Tons of 'White Gold'.")



IvoryToBeCrushedInUS2013-11-27.jpg "Ivory on display before the U.S. crushed it in Commerce City, Colo., Thursday. On Thursday the government destroyed nearly six tons of seized contraband ivory tusks and trinkets." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.






December 13, 2013

"Government Takes What It Wants"



FreethAndCampbellZimbabweFarmers2013-10-27.jpg "Mike Campbell, 76, challenged Zimbabwe's land redistribution law. He and his son-in-law, Ben Freeth, 38, were beaten by a gang." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. 1) CHEGUTU, Zimbabwe -- Edna Madzongwe, president of the Senate and a powerful member of Zimbabwe's ruling party, began showing up uninvited at the Etheredges' farm here last year, at times still dressed up after a day in Parliament.

And she made her intentions clear, the Etheredges say: she wanted their farm and intended to get it through the government's land redistribution program.

The farm is a beautiful spread, with three roomy farm houses and a lush, 55,000-tree orange orchard that generates $4 million a year in exports. The Etheredges, outraged by what they saw as her attempt to steal the farm, secretly taped their exchanges with her.

"Are you really serious to tell me that I cannot take up residence because of what it does to you?" she asked Richard Etheredge, 72, whose father bought the farm in 1947. "Government takes what it wants."

He dryly replied, "That we don't deny," according to a transcript of the tapes.



For the full story, see:

CELIA W. DUGGER. "White Farmers Confront Mugabe in a Legal Battle." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., December 28, 2008): 1 & 10.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date December 27, 2008 and has the title "White Farmers Confront Mugabe in a Legal Battle.")


FreethInjuriesAfterBeating2013-10-27.jpg











"Mr. Freeth circulated photographs of his injuries online after the invasion of his farm." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.







November 27, 2013

Former Botswana President Won Prize for Ceding Power



MogaeFestusBotswanaExPresident2013-10-25.jpg












"Festus G. Mogae, trained as an economist, was Botswana's president for two terms." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A10) JOHANNESBURG -- A foundation dedicated to celebrating and encouraging good government in Africa awarded its annual prize on Monday to Botswana's former president, Festus G. Mogae. He was honored for consolidating his nation's democracy, ensuring that its diamond wealth enriched its people and providing bold leadership during the AIDS pandemic.

Mr. Mogae, 69, a man with a modest style, will receive $5 million over the next 10 years and $200,000 per year thereafter for the rest of his life. Over the coming decade, the foundation may also grant another $200,000 a year to causes of Mr. Mogae's choice.

The award, the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, is bestowed by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, named after its founder, a Sudanese billionaire.



For the full story, see:

CELIA W. DUGGER. "Botswana's Ex-President Wins Leadership Prize." The New York Times (Tues., October 21, 2008): A10.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date October 20, 2008.)







November 1, 2013

Sound Economic Policies Benefit Africa More than Sachs' Profligate Interventions



TheIdealistBK2013-10-22.jpg
















Source of book image: http://images.huffingtonpost.com/2013-09-02-TheIdealist.jpg





(p. A19) Nina Munk's new book, "The Idealist," is about the well-known economist Jeffrey Sachs and his "quest to end poverty," as the subtitle puts it.


. . .


The quest began in 2005, when Sachs, who directs the Earth Institute at Columbia University, started an ambitious program called the Millennium Villages Project. He and his team chose a handful of sub-Saharan African villages, where they imposed a series of "interventions" in such areas as agriculture, health and education.


. . .


With almost every intervention, she documents the chasm that exists between the villagers and those running the project. At one point, the Millennium Villages Project persuades the farmers in Ruhiira to grow maize instead of their traditional crop, called matoke. "The results were fantastic," she reports, a bumper crop. Except there were no buyers for the maize, so some of it wound up being eaten by rats. In Dertu, Sachs's staff decided it should set up a livestock market. It flopped. Efforts to convince villagers to start small businesses largely failed. The critical problem of getting clean water to the villages was enormously expensive.

Ultimately, reports Munk, Dertu was scaled back by the Millennium Villages Project while Ruhiira is today lauded as one of the project's most successful villages. "There is no question the lives of people in Ruhiira have been improved," Munk told me. "I've seen it." But she is dubious about what that means -- other than the fact that if you pump millions of dollars into an isolated African village, the villagers' lives will be better.


. . .


That things in Africa are getting better is undeniable. Child mortality is down, as is the number of people living in extreme poverty. In his book, "Emerging Africa," Steve Radelet, the former chief economist for the United States Agency for International Development, gives credit to such factors as more democratic governments, a new class of civil servants and businesspeople, and sounder economic policies. Sachs wants us to believe that the Millennium Villages Project has also helped show the way.

"The Idealist" makes it tough to believe it's the latter.



For the full review, see:

JOE NOCERA. "Fighting Poverty, and Critics." The New York Times (Tues., September 3, 2013): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date September 2, 2013.)


The book under review is:

Munk, Nina. The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty. New York: Doubleday, 2013.


The Radelet book mentioned is:

Radelet, Steven. Emerging Africa: How 17 Countries Are Leading the Way. pb ed. Washington, D.C.: Center for Global Development, 2010.







July 11, 2013

Millions Die Due to Precautionary Principle Ban of DDT



(p. 248) . . . , malaria infects 300 million to 500 million people worldwide, causing 2 million deaths per year. It is debilitating to those who don't die and leads to cyclic poverty. But in the 1950s the level of malaria was reduced by 70 percent by spraying the insecticide DDT around the insides of homes. DDT was so successful as an insecticide that farmers eagerly sprayed it by the tons on cotton fields--and the molecule's by-products made their way into the water cycle and eventually into fat cells in animals. Biologists blamed it for a drop in reproduction rates for some predatory birds, as well as local die-offs in some fish and aquatic life species. Its use and manufacture were banned in the United States in 1972. Other countries followed suit. Without DDT spraying, however, malaria cases in Asia and Africa began to rise again to deadly pre-1950s levels. Plans to reintroduce programs for household spraying in malarial Africa were blocked by the World Bank and other aid agencies, who refused to fund them. A treaty signed in 1991 by 91 countries and the EU agreed to phase out DDT altogether. They were relying on the precautionary principle: DDT was probably bad; better safe than sorry. In fact DDT had never been shown to hurt humans, and the environmental harm from the miniscule amounts of DDT applied in homes had not been measured. But nobody could prove it did not cause harm, despite its proven ability to do good.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






March 14, 2013

Foreign Aid Is Not Effective



BeyondGoodIntentionsBK.JPG
















Source of book image: http://img1.imagesbn.com/p/9781580054348_p0_v1_s260x420.JPG



(p. C8) In 2002, Tori Hogan was a 20-year-old intern for the international nonprofit Save the Children, helping write a report on the effect of humanitarian aid on children. In a dusty refugee-camp high school in Kenya a teenage student told her: "A lot of aid workers come and go, but nothing changes. If the aid projects were effective, we wouldn't still be living like this after all these years." That remark ended Tori Hogan's "dreams of 'saving Africa,' " she writes in "Beyond Good Intentions," a book that bypasses sweeping condemnations of the aid industry to reach sometimes less satisfying zones of nuance.


. . .


The most savage writing on this topic comes from authors who have devoted chunks of their lives to conflict zones. In "The Crisis Caravan" (2010), Dutch journalist Linda Polman quotes, to devastating effect, Sierra Leone rebels who claim that they launched mass amputations in 1999 to compete with Congo and Kosovo for international attention and development aid. Michael Maren, the author of "Road to Hell" (2010), lost his child to the aid effort in Somalia.



The book under review is:

Hogan, Tori. Beyond Good Intentions: A Journey into the Realities of International Aid. pb (appears there was no hb edition) ed. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press, 2012.

(Note: ellipsis added.)



The Polman book mentioned above, is:

Polman, Linda. The Crisis Caravan: What's Wrong with Humanitarian Aid? New York: Metropolitan Books, 2010.


The Maren book mentioned above, is:

Maren, Michael. The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity. New York: The Free Press, 1997.






March 10, 2013

Ibrahim's Celtel Provided Private Infrastructure to Aid African Growth



LessWalkMoreTalkBK2013-01-29.jpg

















Source of book image: http://media.wiley.com/product_data/coverImage300/04/04707432/0470743204.jpg



I was searching for a biography of the entrepreneur Mo Ibrahim who founded the innovative African cell phone company Celtel. The closest I have been able to find so far is Less Walk, More Talk which looks promising, but which I have not yet read.

Arguably, cell phones in Africa have provided important infrastructure that has made it somewhat easier to be productive there, and hence made a contribution to economic growth.



The book is:

Southwood, Russell. Less Walk More Talk: How Celtel and the Mobile Phone Changed Africa. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2009.






January 19, 2013

Capitalism Would Bring Economic Growth to Bitouga, and Thereby Save the Elephants



BurningIvoryInGabon2013-01-12.jpg "SEIZED AND DESTROYED; Gabon burned 10,000 pounds of ivory in June to show its commitment against poaching, but elephants are still being slaughtered." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A5) But as the price of ivory keeps going up, hitting levels too high for many people to resist, Gabon's elephants are getting slaughtered by poachers from across the borders and within the rain forests, proof that just about nowhere in Africa are elephants safe.

In the past several years, 10,000 elephants in Gabon have been wiped out, some picked off by impoverished hunters creeping around the jungle with rusty shotguns and willing to be paid in sacks of salt, others mowed down en masse by criminal gangs that slice off the dead elephants' faces with chain saws. Gabon's jails are filling up with small-time poachers and ivory traffickers, destitute men and women like Therese Medza, a village hairdresser arrested a few months ago for selling 45 pounds of tusks.

"I had no idea it was illegal," Ms. Medza said, almost convincingly, from the central jail here in Oyem, in the north. "I was told the tusks were found in the forest."

She netted about $700, far more than she usually makes in a month, and the reason she did it was simple, she said. "I got seven kids."

It seems that Gabon's elephants are getting squeezed in a deadly vise between a seemingly insatiable lust for ivory in Asia, where some people pay as much as $1,000 a pound, and desperate hunters and traffickers in central Africa.


. . .


In June, Gabon's president, Ali Bongo, defiantly lighted a pyramid of 10,000 pounds of ivory on fire to make the point that the ivory trade was reprehensible, a public display of resolve that Kenya has put on in years past. It took three days for all the ivory to burn, and even after the last tusks were reduced to glowing embers, policemen vigilantly guarded the ashes. Ivory powder is valued in Asia for its purported medicinal powers, and the officers were worried someone might try to sweep up the ashes and sell them.

Some African countries, like Zimbabwe and Tanzania, are sitting on million-dollar stockpiles of ivory (usually from law enforcement seizures or elephants that died naturally) that someday may be legal to sell.


. . .


(p. A10) The growing resentment of the government is undermining conservation efforts, too, with villagers grumbling about not seeing a trace of the oil money and saying Mr. Bongo should not lecture them about poaching for a living.


. . .

The children here eat thumb-size caterpillars, cooked in enormous vats, because there is little else to eat. Many men have bloodshot eyes and spend their mornings sitting on the ground, staring into space, reeking of sour, fermented home-brew.


. . .


International law enforcement officials say the illicit ivory trade is dominated by Mafia-like gangs that buy off local officials and organize huge, secretive shipments to move tusks from the farthest reaches of Africa to workshops in Beijing, Bangkok and Manila, where they are carved into bookmarks, earrings and figurines.

But often the first link in that chain is a threadbare hunter, someone like Mannick Emane, a young man in Bitouga. Adept in the forest, he was trained nearly from birth to follow tracks and stalk game, and was puffing idly on a cigarette he had just lighted with a burning log.

He conceded he would kill elephants, "for the right price."

"Life is tough," he said. "So if someone is going to give us an opportunity for big money, we're going to take it."

Big money, he said, was about $50.

His friend Vincent Biyogo, also a hunter, nodded in agreement.

"When I was born," he said, "I dreamed of a better life, I dreamed of driving a car, going to school, living like a normal human being."

"Not this," he added quietly, staring at a pot of boiling caterpillars. "Not this."



For the full story, see:

JEFFREY GETTLEMAN. "In Gabon, Lure of Ivory Is Hard for Many to Resist." The New York Times (Thurs., December 27, 2012): A5 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 26, 2012.)



BitougaManResentsGovernment2013-01-12b.jpg "A man in Bitouga, where people live in extreme poverty and say they resent the government's telling them not to poach." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT story quoted and cited above.






January 15, 2013

"Modern Cognitive Capacity Emerged at the Same Time as Modern Anatomy"



SpearTipsPinnaclePointSouthAfrica2012-01-11.jpg

"ARTIFACTS; The excavations have uncovered caches of advanced stone hunting tools, including spear tips and other small blades, or microliths, which suggest that modern Homo sapiens in Africa had a grasp of complex technologies. The research team's report challenges a Eurocentric theory of modern human development." [This photo shows spear tips; another photo included with the article showed three small blades (aka microliths).] Source of quoted part of caption and of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.





(p. D3) At a rock shelter on a coastal cliff in South Africa, scientists have found an abundance of advanced stone hunting tools with a tale to tell of the evolving mind of early modern humans at least 71,000 years ago.


. . .


"Ninety percent of scientists are comfortable that fully modern humans and human cognition developed in Africa," Dr. Marean said. "Now they have moved on. The questions are, how much earlier than 71,000 years did these behaviors emerge? Was it an accretionary process, or was it an abrupt event? Did these people have language by this time?"

Like many other archaeologists, Dr. Marean and his team have concentrated their investigations in the caves and rock shelters overlooking the Indian Ocean. In a global ice age beginning 72,000 years ago, many Africans fled the continent's arid interior, heading for the more benign southern shore. Access to seafood and more plentiful plant and animal resources may have increased populations and encouraged technological advances, Dr. Marean said.

The well-preserved artifacts at Pinnacle Point, collected over a recent 18-month period, led the researchers to conclude that the advanced technologies in Africa "were early and enduring." Other archaeologists who reached different conclusions may have been misled by the "small sample of excavated sites," they said.

Richard G. Klein, a paleoanthropologist at Stanford University who has favored a more sudden and recent origin of modern behavior, about 50,000 years ago, questioned the reliability of the dating method for the tools, noting that "there is another team that has already argued for a much longer" time period for the toolmaking culture.


. . .


The hypothesis of earlier African origins of modern human behavior and cognition has been gaining strength over the last decade or two. Two archaeologists, Alison S. Brooks of George Washington University and Sally McBrearty of the University of Connecticut, led the charge with publications of their analysis of increasing evidence of African art and ornamentations expressing a modern cognitive capacity and symbolic thinking.

In a commentary accompanying the Nature report, Dr. McBrearty, who was not involved in the research, wrote that she believed that "modern cognitive capacity emerged at the same time as modern anatomy, and that various aspects of human culture arose gradually" over the course of subsequent millenniums.



For the full story, see:

JOHN NOBLE WILFORD. "Stone Tools Point to Creative Work by Early Humans in Africa." The New York Times (Tues., November 13, 2012): D3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date November 12, 2012.)



The research discussed in the passages quoted above, appeared in Nature:

Brown, Kyle S., Curtis W. Marean, Zenobia Jacobs, Benjamin J. Schoville, Simen Oestmo, Erich C. Fisher, Jocelyn Bernatchez, Panagiotis Karkanas, and Thalassa Matthews. "An Early and Enduring Advanced Technology Originating 71,000 Years Ago in South Africa." Nature 491, no. 7425 (22 November 2012): 590-93.






November 15, 2012

Organic Farming Too Unproductive to End African Starvation



(p. 6) There is no shortage of writing -- often from a locavore point of view -- in support of more organic methods of farming, for both developed and developing countries. These opinions recognize that current farming methods bring serious environmental problems involving water supplies, fertilizer runoff and energy use. Yet organic farming typically involves smaller yields -- 5 to 34 percent lower, as estimated in a recent study in the journal Nature, depending on the crop and the context. For all the virtues of organic approaches, it's hard to see how global food problems can be solved by starting with a cut in yields. Claims in this area are often based on wishful thinking rather than a hard-nosed sense of what's practical.


For the full story, see:

TYLER COWEN. "ECONOMIC VIEW; World Hunger: The Problem Left Behind." The New York Times, SundayBusiness (Sun., September 16, 2012): 6.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated September 15, 2012.)






March 9, 2012

Web Sites Expose Petty Corruption



RamanathanSwatiBribeSite2012-03-07.jpg "Swati Ramanathan, a founder of the site I Paid a Bribe, in India." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. B1) The cost of claiming a legitimate income tax refund in Hyderabad, India? 10,000 rupees.

The going rate to get a child who has already passed the entrance requirements into high school in Nairobi, Kenya? 20,000 shillings.

The expense of obtaining a driver's license after having passed the test in Karachi, Pakistan? 3,000 rupees.

Such is the price of what Swati Ramanathan calls "retail corruption," the sort of nickel-and-dime bribery, as opposed to large-scale graft, that infects everyday life in so many parts of the world.

Ms. Ramanathan and her husband, Ramesh, along with Sridar Iyengar, set out to change all that in August 2010 when they started ipaidabribe.com, a site that collects anonymous reports of bribes paid, bribes requested but not paid and requests that were expected but not forthcoming.

About 80 percent of the more than 400,000 reports to the site tell stories like the ones above of officials and bureaucrats seeking illicit payments to provide routine services or process paperwork and forms.

"I was asked to pay a bribe to get a birth certificate for my daughter," someone in Bangalore, India, wrote in to the Web site on Feb. 29, recording payment of a 120-rupee bribe in Bangalore. "The guy in charge called it 'fees' " -- except there are no fees charged for birth certificates, Ms. Ramanathan said.

Now, similar sites are spreading like kudzu around the globe, vexing petty bureaucrats the world over. Ms. Ramanathan said nongovernmental organizations and government agencies from at least 17 countries had contacted Janaagraha, the nonprofit organization in Bangalore that operates I Paid a Bribe, to ask about obtaining the source code and setting up a site of their own.



For the full story, see:

STEPHANIE STROM. "Web Sites Shine Light on Petty Bribery Worldwide." The New York Times (Weds., March 7, 2012): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date March 6, 2012.)



RaguiAntonyBribeSite2012-03-07.jpg











"Antony Ragui started an I Paid a Bribe site in Kenya." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.








March 1, 2012

The Impact of Cheap Smart Phones on Africa





WalesJim2012-02-26.jpg








Jimbo Wales

Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


















(p. 2) PHONING: A friend of mine bought me an Ideos phone on the street in Kenya for about $80. This is an Android phone that's a bit smaller than an iPhone, but a lot cheaper. This is really exciting because at that price point, hundreds of thousands and soon millions of smartphones are going to be sold across Africa. The impact for people's access to knowledge in some very difficult places is enormous.


For the full interview, see:

Jimmy Wales as interviewed by KATE MURPHY. "DOWNLOAD; Jimmy Wales." The New York Times, SundayReview (Sun., February 12, 2012): 2.

(Note: the online version of the interview is dated February 11, 2012.)






January 9, 2012

Pedro de Verona Rodrigues Pires Wins Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership



PiresPedroDeVeronaRodrigues2011-11-14.jpg














"Pedro de Verona Rodrigues Pires" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A10) MONROVIA, Liberia -- Pedro de Verona Rodrigues Pires, the former president of Cape Verde, the desertlike archipelago about 300 miles off the coast of West Africa, has won one of the world's major prizes, the $5 million Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership.

The record of governing in Africa has been poor enough lately that the Mo Ibrahim Foundation decided not to award the prize for the past two years. In many African countries, leaders have refused to leave office after losing elections, tried to alter constitutions to ensure their continued tenure or gone back on pledges not to run for re-election.


. . .


Mr. Pires served two terms -- 10 years -- as president until stepping down last month. During that period, the foundation noted, Cape Verde became only the second African nation to move up from the United Nations' "least developed" category. The foundation says the prize is given only to a democratically elected president who has stayed "within the limits set by the country's constitution, has left office in the last three years and has demonstrated excellence in office."



For the full story, see:

ADAM NOSSITER. "Ex-President of Cape Verde Wins Good-Government Prize." The New York Times (Tues., October 11, 2011): A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated October 10, 2011.)





May 12, 2011

"The Frozen Body of Someone Desperate to Enter the United States"



(p. 279) In August 2001, as an American Airlines 777 jetliner arriving from overseas descended toward John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and lowered its landing gear, the frozen body of a man fell into a marsh beneath the field's approach lanes. The body, believed to be that of a young Nigerian, was buried in a plain wooden casket in City Cemetery, the resting place of New York indigents popularly known as Potter's Field. No one will ever know for certain, but it appears the young man, who carried no identification, had hidden in the wheel well of the jet, hoping to steal into the United States. If, as police speculated, he was from an African village, he might not have known that the air outside a jetliner at cruise altitude may be minus-80 degrees Fahrenheit, and that wheel wells are unheated; they are also not pressurized, rendering breathing almost impossible at a jetliner's cruise altitude. Or the victim might have known these things and climbed into the wheel well anyway because he was desperate. The unknown man's death (p. 280) marked the third time since 1997 that the frozen body of someone desperate to enter the United States had fallen from the wheel wells as a jetliner from overseas lowered its landing gear on descent toward JFK. In the man's pockets were a few minor personal effects and a street-vendor's map of Manhattan.

Contemplating this tragedy I thought, first, of the horror the man must have experienced as the plane's mindless hydraulic mechanisms drew the landing struts and wheels up to crush him. Somehow he avoided being crushed--only to realize as the air craft ascended that it was getting very cold and the air was getting very thin, and he was going to die gasping and shaking. Then I contemplated what the man's final thoughts might have been. Fear, of course; regret. Perhaps, at the last, dread that his own death might consign the rest of his family in his village to a life of suffering: for the desperation of many trying to reach the West from the developing world is motivated by their desire to work extremely hard and to live on the edge here, sending part of their incomes back home to those even worse off.



Source:

Easterbrook, Gregg. The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse. Paperback ed. New York: Random House, 2004.





January 17, 2011

UNESCO Condemns Africans to Live in a Poorer Past: More on Why Africa is Poor



DjenneMaliBrickBuildings2011-01-12.jpg "As a World Heritage site, Djenné, Mali, must preserve its mud-brick buildings, from the Great Mosque, in the background, to individual homes." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 4) DJENNÉ , Mali -- Abba Maiga stood in his dirt courtyard, smoking and seething over the fact that his 150-year-old mud-brick house is so culturally precious he is not allowed to update it -- no tile floors, no screen doors, no shower.

"Who wants to live in a house with a mud floor?" groused Mr. Maiga, a retired riverboat captain.

With its cone-shaped crenellations and palm wood drainage spouts, the grand facade seems outside time and helps illustrate why this ancient city in eastern Mali is an official World Heritage site.

But the guidelines established by Unesco, the cultural arm of the United Nations, which compiles the heritage list, demand that any reconstruction not substantially alter the original.

"When a town is put on the heritage list, it means nothing should change," Mr. Maiga said. "But we want development, more space, new appliances -- things that are much more modern. We are angry about all that."


. . .


Mahamame Bamoye Traoré, the leader of the powerful mason's guild, surveyed the cramped rooms of the retired river boat captain's house, naming all the things he would change if the World Heritage rules were more flexible.

"If you want to help someone, you have to help him in a way that he wants; to force him to live in a certain way is not right," he said, before lying on the mud floor of a windowless room that measured about 6 feet by 3 feet.

"This is not a room," he said. "It might as well be a grave."



For the full story, see:

NEIL MacFARQUHAR. "Ancient City in Mali Rankled by Rules for Life in Cultural Spotlight." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., January 9, 2011): 4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated January 8, 2011 and had the title "Mali City Rankled by Rules for Life in Spotlight.")



DjenneMaliResidents2011-01-12.jpg "Many residents of Djenné say they long for more modern homes, but Unesco preservation guidelines limit alterations to original structures." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






December 16, 2010

Ridley Debunks Gates' Aid to Africa; Gates Responds; Ridley Responds to the Response



GatesRiidleyArmWrestling2010-12-15.jpgBill Gates and Matt Ridley arm wrestle. Source of image: online version of the Gates WSJ commentary cited below.



In a few weeks I will comment at length on Matt Ridley's wonderful recent book The Rational Optimist. It delightfully debunks much that deserves debunking, although I think it wrong on its central claim that no rewards are needed for innovation.

Part of what Ridley debunks is the case for aid to Africa. As one of the aid givers, Bill Gates is not fond of being debunked.


Gates responds in:

BILL GATES. "Africa Needs Aid, Not Flawed Theories." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., NOVEMBER 27, 2010): C1-C2.

(Note: the online version of the Gates commentary is dated NOVEMBER 26, 2010.)


Ridley responds to Gates' response in:

MATT RIDLEY. "Africa Needs Growth, Not Pity and Big Plans." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., NOVEMBER 27, 2010): C1-C2.

(Note: the online version of the Ridley commentary has the same date as the print version.)


Ridley's book is:

Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. New York: Harper, 2010.





August 13, 2010

"Intimidation, Threats and Violence Against the White Farmers" in Zimbabwe



ForcingWhiteFarmerOffLand2010-08-04.jpg"A man tries to force a white Zimbabwean farmer off of his land in "Mugabe and the White African."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. C9) Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson's "Mugabe and the White African" is a documentary account of the efforts of Mike Campbell and his son-in-law, Ben Freeth, to hold onto their farm. It tracks their precedent-setting lawsuit against Robert Mugabe, the authoritarian Zimbabwean president, in a regional African court, as well as events on the ground in Zimbabwe: intimidation, threats and violence against the white farmers still holding out after a decade of land seizures by the government.

Many viewers will leave "Mugabe and the White African" thinking that they have seen few, if any, documentaries as wrenching, sad and infuriating, and those feelings will be justified. What has happened (and continues to happen) to the Campbells, the Freeths and some of their white neighbors is not only unjust but also a horrifying, slow-motion nightmare. That sensation is reinforced by the movie's political-thriller style, partly a result of the covert filming methods necessary in a country where practicing journalism can get you thrown in jail.



For the full movie review, see:

MIKE HALE. "Fighting His Country to Keep His Farmland." The New York Times (Fri., July 23, 2010): C9.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated July 22, 2010.)





June 10, 2010

Mr. Africa Carries a Gun to Keep the Press Free



RadioMogadishuStudio2010-05-19.jpg"Anchors read the latest news from around the world this month in the studio at Radio Mogadishu, which opened in 1951." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A6) This is a typical day at Radio Mogadishu, the one and only relatively free radio station in south central Somalia where journalists can broadcast what they like -- without worrying about being beheaded. The station's 90-foot antennas, which rise above the rubble of the neighborhood, have literally become a beacon of freedom for reporters, editors, technicians and disc jockeys all across Somalia who have been chased away from their jobs by radical Islamist insurgents.


. . .


Somalia has become one of the most dangerous places in the world to practice journalism, with more than 20 journalists assassinated in the past four years. "We miss them," Mr. Africa said about his fallen colleagues.

He cracked an embarrassed smile when asked about his name. "It's because I'm dark, really dark," he said.

Mr. Africa used to work at one of the city's other radio stations (the city has more than 10) but decided to move on after fighters with the Shabab dropped by and threatened to kill the reporters if they did not broadcast pro-Shabab news. Mr. Africa called the Shabab meddlers "secret editors" and now he carries a gun.

"I tried to get the other journalists to buy pistols," Mr. Africa remembered. "But nobody listened to me."

Another reporter, Musa Osman, said that his real home was only about a mile away.

"But I haven't seen my kids for months," he said.

He drew his finger across his throat and laughed a sharp, bitter laugh when asked what would happen if he went home.

The digs here are hardly plush. Most of the journalists sleep on thin foam mattresses in bald concrete rooms. The station itself is a crumbling, bullet-scarred reflection of this entire nation, which has been essentially governmentless for nearly two decades.


. . .


They air the speeches of insurgent leaders, they say, and stories about government soldiers robbing citizens.

"If the government does something bad," Mr. Africa said. "We report it."



For the full story, see:

JEFFREY GETTLEMAN. "Mogadishu Journal; A Guiding Voice Amid the Ruins of a Capital City." The New York Times (Tues., March 30, 2010): A6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review is dated March 29, 2010.)





February 26, 2010

The "Bongo System" of Corruption in Gabon: More on Why Africa is Poor



BongoGabon2010-01-27.jpg "The image of Ali Bongo, the son of longtime ruler Omar Bongo, blanketed Libreville." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A5) The "Bongo system," as people here refer to it -- forsaking roads, schools and hospitals for the sake of Mr. Bongo's 66 bank accounts, 183 cars, 39 luxury properties in France and grandiose government constructions in Libreville -- is etched in the streets of this languid seaside capital, where he ruled for 41 years, and also in the minds of its inhabitants.


. . .


A Western family here spoke of embarrassment at visiting a government minister whose house is packed with the latest flat-screen televisions and other expensive electronic gadgets, and whose garage was full of luxury cars. The top aide to a leading opposition figure, discussing the "Bongo system," said: "You had to bring a suitcase to the palace. Bongo didn't write checks." The president, he said, "calls everybody to the palace, and the money is handed out. That's how the country was run."

He spoke of a "sandwich system" of vote-buying employed by the ruling party in rural districts: notables are called together for a meeting, and at the end, when all are tired, a tray of "sandwiches" is passed around. Inside each "sandwich" is up to $600.

Looking around at an outdoor restaurant, he asked not to be named because he said: "It's a police state. They mess up your life."


. . .


On paper, the government's budget allocations for health, education and transportation were impressive, "huge," said the Western development official. "But in reality, it was actually about 20 percent of what was on paper," the official said. "The rest was embezzled," he added, asking to remain anonymous because identifying him would complicate his work in the country.


. . .


"It's a tiny number that benefits from the country's riches," said a cigarette vendor, Price Nyamam, squatting on the pavement in the poor Rio district. He said he had degrees in economics and sociology. "You are obliged to do work that doesn't correspond to your aspirations."



For the full story, see:

ADAM NOSSITER. "Libreville Journal; Underneath Palatial Skin, Corruption Rules Gabon." The New York Times (Tues., September 15, 2009): A5.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date September 14, 2009.)

(Note: ellipses added.)


GabonDumpForaging2010-01-27.jpg "Foraging for food at the main dump." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





January 23, 2010

Corrupt African Official Enjoys Malibu Estate, While "People Starve" and Obama State Department Sleeps



ObiangTeodoroMalibuEstate2010-01-16.jpg "The $35 million estate belonging to Teodoro Nguema Obiang, the agriculture minister of Equatorial Guinea and the son of its ruler, in Malibu, Calif., in the lower center of the frame." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) Several times a year, Teodoro Nguema Obiang arrives at the doorstep of the United States from his home in Equatorial Guinea, on his way to his $35 million estate in Malibu, Calif., his fleet of luxury cars, his speedboats and private jet. And he is always let into the country.

The nation's doors are open to Mr. Obiang, the forest and agriculture minister of Equatorial Guinea and the son of its president, even though federal law enforcement officials believe that "most if not all" of his wealth comes from corruption related to the extensive oil and gas reserves discovered more than a decade and a half ago off the coast of his tiny West African country, according to internal Justice Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement documents.

And they are open despite a federal law and a presidential proclamation that prohibit corrupt foreign officials and their families from receiving American visas. The measures require only credible evidence of corruption, not a conviction of it.

Susan Pittman, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement in the State Department, said she was prohibited from discussing specific visa decisions. But other former and current State Department officials said Equatorial Guinea's close ties to the American oil industry were the reason for the lax enforcement of the law. Production of the country's nearly 400,000 barrels of oil a day is dominated by American companies like ExxonMobil, Hess and Marathon.

"Of course it's because of oil," said John Bennett, the United States ambassador to Equatorial Guinea from 1991 to 1994, adding that Washington has turned a blind eye to the Obiangs' corruption and repression because of its dependence on the country for natural resources. He noted that officials of Zimbabwe are barred from the United States.

"Both countries are severely repressive," said Mr. Bennett, who is now a senior foreign affairs officer for the State Department in Baghdad. "But if Zimbabwe had Equatorial Guinea's oil, Zimbabwean officials wouldn't still be blocked from the U.S."

Shown the Justice Department (p. A19) documents that detail the accusations of corruption against Mr. Obiang, Senator Patrick J. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who wrote the law restricting visas, expressed frustration and anger with the State Department, which is responsible for issuing visas.

"The fact that someone like Mr. Obiang continues to travel freely here suggests strongly that the State Department is not yet applying the law as vigorously as Congress intended," Mr. Leahy said. The law was partly inspired by the accusations of corruption surrounding Mr. Obiang's family and the Equatorial Guinean government, Mr. Leahy's staff said.

"There are many instances of corrupt foreign officials plundering the natural resources of their countries for their own use while their people starve," Mr. Leahy said. "The law states clearly that if you do that, you are no longer welcome in the United States."




For the full story, see:

IAN URBINA. "A U.S. Visa, Shouts of Corruption, Barrels of Oil." The New York Times (Tues., November 17, 2009): A1 & A19.

(Note: The title of the online version of the article is "Taint of Corruption Is No Barrier to U.S. Visa"; the online version of the article is dated November 16, 2009.)





January 12, 2010

World's Poor Care More About Food and Illness than Global Warming



(p. A21) The saddest fact of climate change--and the chief reason we should be concerned about finding a proper response--is that the countries it will hit hardest are already among the poorest and most long-suffering.

In the run-up to this month's global climate summit in Copenhagen, the Copenhagen Consensus Center dispatched researchers to the world's most likely global-warming hot spots. Their assignment: to ask locals to tell us their views about the problems they face. Over the past seven weeks, I recounted in these pages what they told us concerned them the most. In nearly every case, it wasn't global warming.

Everywhere we went we found people who spoke powerfully of the need to focus more attention on more immediate problems. In the Bauleni slum compound in Lusaka, Zambia, 27-year-old Samson Banda asked, "If I die from malaria tomorrow, why should I care about global warming?" In a camp for stateless Biharis in Bangladesh, 45-year-old Momota Begum said, "When my kids haven't got enough to eat, I don't think global warming will be an issue I will be thinking about." On the southeast slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, 45-year-old widow and HIV/AIDS sufferer Mary Thomas said she had noticed changes in the mountain's glaciers, but declared: "There is no need for ice on the mountain if there is no people around because of HIV/AIDS."




For the full commentary, see:

BJORN LOMBORG. "OPINION; Time for a Smarter Approach to Global Warming; Investing in energy R&D might work. Mandated emissions cuts won't.." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., DECEMBER 15, 2009): A21.





December 5, 2009

Malaria "Weakly Related to Temperature"; "Strongly Related to Poverty"



(p. A17) In the West, campaigners for carbon regulations point out that global warming will increase the number of malaria victims. This is often used as an argument for drastic, immediate carbon cuts.

Warmer, wetter weather will improve conditions for the malaria parasite. Most estimates suggest that global warming will put 3% more of the Earth's population at risk of catching malaria by 2100. If we invest in the most efficient, global carbon cuts--designed to keep temperature rises under two degrees Celsius--we would spend a massive $40 trillion a year by 2100. In the best case scenario, we would reduce the at-risk population by only 3%.

In comparison, research commissioned by the Copenhagen Consensus Center shows that spending $3 billion annually on mosquito nets, environmentally safe indoor DDT sprays, and subsidies for effective new combination therapies could halve the number of those infected with malaria within one decade. For the money it takes to save one life with carbon cuts, smarter policies could save 78,000 lives. . . .

Malaria is only weakly related to temperature; it is strongly related to poverty. It has risen in sub-Saharan Africa over the past 20 years not because of global warming, but because of failing medical response.




For the full commentary, see:

BJORN LOMBORG. "Climate Change and Malaria in Africa; Limiting carbon emissions won't do much to stop disease in Zambia." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., NOVEMBER 2, 2009): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated Nov. 1st.)





September 11, 2009

Aid Dependency "Kills Entrepreneurship"



MoyoDambisa2009-09-03.jpg

Dambisa Moyo. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.








(p.11) You argue in your book that Western aid to Africa has not only perpetuated poverty but also worsened it, and you are perhaps the first African to request in book form that all development aid be halted within five years.

Think about it this way -- China has 1.3 billion people, only 300 million of whom live like us, if you will, with Western living standards. There are a billion Chinese who are living in substandard conditions. Do you know anybody who feels sorry for China? Nobody.





Maybe that's because they have so much money that we here in the U.S. are begging the Chinese for loans.


Forty years ago, China was poorer than many African countries. Yes, they have money today, but where did that money come from? They built that, they worked very hard to create a situation where they are not dependent on aid.


What do you think has held back Africans?


I believe it's largely aid. You get the corruption -- historically, leaders have stolen the money without penalty -- and you get the dependency, which kills entrepreneurship. You also disenfranchise African citizens, because the government is beholden to foreign donors and not accountable to its people.


If people want to help out, what do you think they should do with their money if not make donations?


Microfinance. Give people jobs.



For the full interview, see:

DEBORAH SOLOMON, interviewer. "Questions for Dambisa Moyo; The Anti-Bono." The New York Times, Magazine (Sun., Feb. 22, 2009): 11.



DeadAidBK.jpg
















Source of book image: http://media.us.macmillan.com/jackets/500H/9780374139568.jpg





July 21, 2009

Foreign Aid to Africa "Underwrites Brutal and Corrupt Regimes"



DeadAimBK.jpg














Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.




(p. A13) It is one of the great conundrums of the modern age: More than 300 million people living across the continent of Africa are still mired in poverty after decades of effort -- by the World Bank, foreign governments and charitable organizations -- to lift them out if it. While a few African countries have achieved notable rates of economic growth in recent years, per-capita income in Africa as a whole has inched up only slightly since 1960. In that year, the region's gross domestic product was about equal to that of East Asia. By 2005, East Asia's GDP was five times higher. The total aid package to Africa, over the past 50 years, exceeds $1 trillion. There is far too little to show for it.

Dambisa Moyo, a native of Zambia and a former World Bank consultant, believes that it is time to end the charade -- to stop proceeding as if foreign aid does the good that it is supposed to do. The problem, she says in "Dead Aid," is not that foreign money is poorly spent (though much of it is) or that development programs are badly managed (though many of them are). No, the problem is more fundamental: Aid, she writes, is "no longer part of the potential solution, it's part of the problem -- in fact, aid is the problem."

In a tightly argued brief, Ms. Moyo spells out how attempts to help Africa actually hurt it. The aid money pouring into Africa, she says, underwrites brutal and corrupt regimes; it stifles investment; and it leads to higher rates of poverty -- all of which, in turn, creates a demand for yet more aid. Africa, Ms. Moyo notes, seems hopelessly trapped in this spiral, and she wants to see it break free. Over the past 30 years, she says, the most aid-dependent countries in Africa have experienced economic contraction averaging 0.2% a year.



For the full review, see:

MATTHEW REES. "Bookshelf; When Help Does Harm." Wall Street Journal (Tues., Mach 17, 2009): A13.



The reference to the book under review, is:

Moyo, Dambisa. Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009.





January 25, 2009

A Salute to the Sudanese Medicine Men


One might expect that the Sudanese medicine men mentioned below, might have undermined the British physicians, as potential competition. So either there is more to the story than is sketched below, or else these Sudanese medicine men in 1939 placed the mission of saving lives, above their own narrow short-run self-interest. If it was the later, then they deserve our belated salute.

(p. 236) Meningitis was a vicious disease. The death rate had always been high, and nothing they did had much effect. The British physicians concentrated on nursing the sick and trying to limit the spread of the disease. The only thing different this year came in the form of three small sample bottles of sulfa that had been sent to their clinic for the treatment of strep diseases and pneumonia. Strep diseases were not the problem of the moment in Wau. This meningitis was caused not by strep but by the more common cause, a related germ called meningococcus. Still, they had the new medicine, they had nothing else, and they had nothing to lose. Someone decided to try it on a meningitis patient.

. . .

(p. 237) . . . There were twenty-one patients in the first group. The doctors hoped to save at least a few of them.

A few days later, all but one were still alive. The physicians immediately wired for more sulfa. Once it arrived, one of the British doctors stayed at the hospital while the other two went village to village, administering sulfa to every meningitis patient they could find. They asked the help of local "medicine men," as they called them, tribal healers whose dispensation was needed before the natives would accept treatment. The Sudanese healers knew how deadly the disease was. They told their people that the physicians had "magic in a bottle." They told them to take the shots. The physicians traveled day and night, injecting patients in grass huts, under trees, and along roadsides, The results, they wrote, were "spectacular." Within a few weeks, they treated more than four hundred patients. They saved more than 90 percent of them. They knocked out the epidemic before it could get started.



Source:

Hager, Thomas. The Demon under the Microscope: From Battlefield Hospitals to Nazi Labs, One Doctor's Heroic Search for the World's First Miracle Drug. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007.

(Note: ellipses added.)




November 29, 2008

The 10 Million Dollar Bookmark and the 35 Billion Dollar Egg


Zimbabwean100BillionDollarNote.jpg "A vendor arranges eggs on a new 100 billion Zimbabwean dollar note in Harare July 22, 2008. Zimbabwe's central bank introduced new higher-value 100 billion Zimbabwe dollar notes on Monday as part of a desperate fight against spiralling hyperinflation, the bank said. An egg now costs $35 billion." Source of caption and photo: http://www.daylife.com/photo/03ORa153k8bVA

(p. A1) Robert Mugabe has kept his embattled regime in Zimbabwe afloat on a sea of paper money. Now, he'll have to try to do it without the paper.

The Munich-based company that has supplied Zimbabwe with the special blank sheets to print its increasingly worthless dollar caved in to pressure on Tuesday from the German government for it to stop doing business with the African ruler.

Mr. Mugabe's regime relies on a steady supply of the paper -- fortified with watermarks and other antiforgery features -- to print the bank notes that allow it to pay the soldiers and other loyalists who enable him to stay in power. With an annual inflation rate estimated at well over 1 million percent, new notes with ever more zeros need to be printed every few weeks because the older ones lose their worth so quickly.

. . .

Zimbabwe's central bank stopped posting inflation figures in January, when it stood at a relatively modest 100,580%. A loaf of bread costs 30 billion Zimbabwean dollars.

. . .

Mr. Mangoma uses a 10 million Zimbabwe dollar bank note, worth 0.0008 of a U.S. cent, as a bookmark because he doesn't "care if I lose it."



For the full story, see:

MARCUS WALKER and ANDREW HIGGINS. "Zimbabwe Can't Paper Over Its Million-Percent Inflation Anymore; Under Pressure, German Company Cuts Off Shipments of Blank Bank Notes to Mugabe." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., JULY 2, 2008): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

ZimbabweBasketCash.jpg



"Harare produce seller Chipo Chivanze needs a basket of cash to make change because of Zimbabwe's battered currency." Source of caption: print version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above. Source of photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.




July 25, 2008

African Farmer-Entrepreneurs, and U.S. Companies, Creating Another Breadbasket


(p. A14) ARSI NEGELE, Ethiopia -- Babou Galgo, a 61-year-old farmer, proudly showed off his prized harvest from last season: two shiny gold medals from the regional and federal government and a slick certificate praising his "outstanding performance in increasing agriculture production and productivity."

What he had done was boost his corn yields on his small farm in southern Ethiopia an eye-popping sevenfold over the past several years. Even more impressive, he had boosted the well-being of his family as well: With the added income, they moved out of a traditional mud-brick tukul and into a brick and concrete house furnished with a refrigerator, television and DVD player, rare luxuries for a farmer in one of the world's poorest countries.

Indeed, not long ago, Mr. Galgo would have had no need for a refrigerator as meager yields had him struggling to feed his family. "It's the seeds," he says, noting the reason for his reversal of fortunes. "Hybrids."

Africa's nascent push to finally feed itself is turning the clock back to the early part of 20th-century America. It was in the 1930s and '40s when Iowa-based Pioneer Hi-Bred International popularized hybrid seeds in the U.S., swelling corn yields throughout the Midwest. Seven decades later, African farmers and U.S. companies are trying to recreate the same boom that turned America into the world's breadbasket, only this time in the harsh climate -- environmental and political -- of Ethiopia and greater Africa.

. . .

Farmer Galgo is ready for another upgrade. Sitting in his comfortable living room, beneath wall murals of Jesus and a peace dove, he tells Mr. Admassu, "I want to expand my land and buy a tractor. A big tractor, with a lot of power."



For the full story, see:


ROGER THUROW. "Agriculture's Last Frontier; African Farmers, U.S. Companies Try to Create Another Breadbasket With Hybrids." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 27, 2008): A14.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




April 18, 2008

Ban on DDT is a Lethal Vestige of Colonialism


(p. A16) Environmental leaders must join the 21st century, acknowledge the mistakes Carson made, and balance the hypothetical risks of DDT with the real and devastating consequences of malaria. Uganda has demonstrated that, with the proper support, we can conduct model indoor spraying programs and ensure that money is spent wisely, chemicals are handled properly, our program responds promptly to changing conditions, and malaria is brought under control.

Africa is determined to rise above the contemporary colonialism that keeps us impoverished. We expect strong leadership in G-8 countries to stop paying lip service to African self-determination and start supporting solutions that are already working.


For the full commentary, see:

Sam Zaramba. "Give Us DDT." Wall Street Journal (Tues., Jun 12, 2007): A16.




March 15, 2008

Motive Power Really Does Matter: More on Why Africa is Poor


TrainCongo.jpg "A crowded train traveling through Katanga Province. Goods and people are crammed in, and bathrooms are used for storage." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A4) In large swaths of Congo, a vast country the size of Western Europe, roads are impassable or nonexistent, large riverboats no longer ply the waterways and air travel is prohibitively expensive, leaving many people to rely on an increasingly dangerous railway system long past its prime.

Fresh from its first democratic elections in nearly 50 years and still struggling to emerge from civil war, Congo is trying to get its trains running again. But it has a long way to go.

. . .

The bathrooms in first class become filthy soon after a trip begins. In second and third class, the bathrooms are used for storage. In one car, five large bags of charcoal were stuffed into a bathroom, and people relieved themselves in buckets or out windows.

The railway employs over 13,000 people, but the last time paychecks were sent out was in May, and that was payment for the spring of 2005. So many employees do not go to work, and bribes are widespread.

"Sometimes it's difficult to resist temptations," said Agustín, the police chief at the Kamina station, who gave only his first name. "I do bad things."

"I haven't been paid in 29 months," he added. "How am I supposed to send my children to school?"

Léon, a conductor and machinist who gave only his first name, thinks the problem begins in Kinshasa, the capital. "This is a state-owned company," he said. "It's bankrupt because of the government. The way things are going, we won't last two years."


For the full story, see:

WILL CONNORS. "Congo by Rail: Filthy, Crowded and Dangerous." The New York Times (Tues., September 4, 2007): A4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


TrainControllerCongo.jpg "A train controller relays the position of a train to another station. Because pay is so infrequent, many employees do not go to work and bribes are widespread." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.




February 29, 2008

"The No. 1 Need that Poor People Have is a Way to Make More Cash"

 

  Moving water is easier with the 20-gallon rolling drum.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. D3)  . . . , the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, . . . , is honoring inventors dedicated to “the other 90 percent,” particularly the billions of people living on less than $2 a day.

Their creations, on display in the museum garden until Sept. 23, have a sort of forehead-thumping “Why didn’t someone think of that before?” quality.

. . .

Interestingly, most of the designers who spoke at the opening of the exhibition spurned the idea of charity.

“The No. 1 need that poor people have is a way to make more cash,” said Martin Fisher, an engineer who founded KickStart, an organization that says it has helped 230,000 people escape poverty.  It sells human-powered pumps costing $35 to $95.

Pumping water can help a farmer grow grain in the dry season, when it fetches triple the normal price.  Dr. Fisher described customers who had skipped meals for weeks to buy a pump and then earned $1,000 the next year selling vegetables.

 

For the full story, see: 

DONALD G. McNEIL Jr.  "Design That Solves Problems for the World's Poor."  The New York Times  (Tues., May 29, 2007):  D3.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

FilterForDrinkingWater.jpg TechnologiesForPoor.jpg   The photo on the left shows a woman safely drinking bacteria-laden water through a filter.  The photo on the right shows a "pot-in-pot cooler" that evaporates water from wet sand between the pots, in order to cool what is in the inner pot.  Source of photos:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

 




"The No. 1 Need that Poor People Have is a Way to Make More Cash"

 

  Moving water is easier with the 20-gallon rolling drum.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. D3)  . . . , the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, . . . , is honoring inventors dedicated to “the other 90 percent,” particularly the billions of people living on less than $2 a day.

Their creations, on display in the museum garden until Sept. 23, have a sort of forehead-thumping “Why didn’t someone think of that before?” quality.

. . .

Interestingly, most of the designers who spoke at the opening of the exhibition spurned the idea of charity.

“The No. 1 need that poor people have is a way to make more cash,” said Martin Fisher, an engineer who founded KickStart, an organization that says it has helped 230,000 people escape poverty.  It sells human-powered pumps costing $35 to $95.

Pumping water can help a farmer grow grain in the dry season, when it fetches triple the normal price.  Dr. Fisher described customers who had skipped meals for weeks to buy a pump and then earned $1,000 the next year selling vegetables.

 

For the full story, see: 

DONALD G. McNEIL Jr.  "Design That Solves Problems for the World's Poor."  The New York Times  (Tues., May 29, 2007):  D3.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

FilterForDrinkingWater.jpg TechnologiesForPoor.jpg   The photo on the left shows a woman safely drinking bacteria-laden water through a filter.  The photo on the right shows a "pot-in-pot cooler" that evaporates water from wet sand between the pots, in order to cool what is in the inner pot.  Source of photos:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

 




February 28, 2008

William F. Buckley, Jr. Will Be Missed



BuckleyWilliam.jpg"William F. Buckley Jr. in 2004." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT obituary cited below.


I write on Weds., Feb. 27th, at about 1:30 PM. As I ate an early lunch a couple of hours ago, I was listening to U.S. Senate speeches on C-SPAN. After a good speech on Iraq by Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator Joe Lieberman appeared and interupted the proceedings, asking the Senate's indulgence for him to speak for 10 minutes on a special topic.

He announced that William F. Buckley, Jr. had passed away today (2/27/08); and then he delivered a heartfelt, sometimes humorous, and wholly appropriate tribute to Buckley.


I have mentioned a couple of my favorite Buckley stories in an earlier entry.

Lieberman emphasized that Buckley cared about ideas, and that is most important to emphasize. Listening to Buckley speak was entertaining, and educational.


Strange what we remember--when I think of Buckley, the following episode always comes to mind.

Sometime while I was an undergraduate at Wabash (1971-1974), my mentor Ben Rogge arranged to have his friend Bill Buckley give a speech on campus. Ths speech was paid for by another of Rogge's friends, Pierre Goodrich, the founder of Liberty Fund.

After the speech there was to be a special reception for members of the John Van Sickle Club, the small libertarian club on campus, of which I was a member.

The speech was well-attended, and some non-members of the Club got wind of the reception and tried to gain admittance. They were turned away, and were miffed, and complained.

The issue made it into the college newspaper, and I wrote a letter to the editor defending the John Van Sickle Club, using one of Rogge's favorite sayings: "he who pays the piper, calls the tune."

Some of the details are fuzzy, but I ended up in Rogge's office, and heard from him that he was not happy with my letter. He felt that Goodrich might be embarrassed by the campus turmoil on the issue.

I remember feeling devasted that Rogge was annoyed with me. I apologized profusely (although I still think I had a point). Rogge must have seen my cresfallen appearance, because he changed his tone and ended the conversation by saying that I shouldn't worry about it, because Goodrich probably would never see the newspaper article and letters, anyway.

The online version of the New York Times obituary for Buckley is at:

DOUGLAS MARTIN. "William F. Buckley Jr. Is Dead at 82." The New York Times (Weds., February 27, 2008): ?.





January 20, 2008

Qaddafi's Nomadic Defense of Socialism

 

   Inside a nomad tent near Kabul.  Source:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. 

 

(p. A4)  In some instances, politicians seek to use nomadic traditions to justify their policies, just as American politicians try to exploit nostalgia for America’s rural past to justify farm subsidies, said Robert Rotberg, a professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, who studies failed states in Africa and Asia.  “Take Qaddafi in Libya,” he said, referring to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.  “He would say, you Westerners don’t understand us because we have a nomadic ethos that is essentially socialist, and so we have to nationalize our country’s oil industry to be true to our tradition.”

 

For the full story, see: 

ILAN GREENBERG.  "Memo From Almaty; Ancient Nomads Offer Insights to Modern Crises."  The New York Times   (Weds., August 8, 2007):   A4. 

 




January 9, 2008

"At First, We Were Laughing at Him"

 

KamkwambaWilliamWindmillEntrepreneur.jpg   Source of the image:  online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

 

Below are some excerpts from one of the unique, sometimes funny, sometimes inspiring, front page stories that are a signature feature of the Wall Street Journal

Rupert Murdoch, the new owner of the WSJ, is rumored in the press to dislike stories such as the one quoted below.  I hope the rumors are wrong.  

 

(p. A1)  MASITALA, Malawi -- On a continent woefully short of electricity, 20-year-old William Kamkwamba has a dream: to power up his country one windmill at a time.

So far, he has built three windmills in his yard here, using blue-gum trees and bicycle parts. His tallest, at 39 feet, towers over this windswept village, clattering away as it powers his family's few electrical appliances: 10 six-watt light bulbs, a TV set and a radio. The machine draws in visitors from miles around.

. . .  

(p. A13)  The contraption causing all the fuss is a tower made from lashed-together blue-gum tree trunks. From a distance, it resembles an old oil derrick. For blades, Mr. Kamkwamba used flattened plastic pipes. He built a turbine from spare bicycle parts. When the wind kicks up, the blades spin so fast they rock the tower violently back and forth.

Mr. Kamkwamba's wind obsession started six years ago. He wasn't going to school anymore because his family couldn't afford the $80-a-year tuition.

When he wasn't helping his family farm groundnuts and soybeans, he was reading. He stumbled onto a photograph of a windmill in a text donated to the local library and started to build one himself. The project seemed a waste of time to his parents and the rest of Masitala.

"At first, we were laughing at him," says Agnes Kamkwamba, his mother. "We thought he was doing something useless."

The laughter ended when he hooked up his windmill to a thin copper wire, a car battery and a light bulb for each room of the family's main house.

The family soon started enjoying the trappings of modern life: a radio and, more recently, a TV. They no longer have to buy paraffin for lantern light. Two of Mr. Kamkwamba's six sisters stay up late studying for school.

"Our lives are much happier now," Mrs. Kamkwamba says.

The new power also attracted a swarm of admirers. Last November, Hartford Mchazime, a Malawian educator, heard about the windmill and drove out to the Kamkwamba house with some reporters. After the news hit the blogosphere, a group of entrepreneurs scouting for ideas in Africa located Mr. Kamkwamba. Called TED, the group, which invites the likes of Al Gore and Bono to share ideas at conferences, invited him to a brainstorming session earlier this year.

In June, Mr. Kamkwamba was onstage at a TED conference in Tanzania. (TED stands for Technology Entertainment Design). "I got information about a windmill, and I try and I made it," he said in halting English to a big ovation. After the conference, a group of entrepreneurs, African bloggers and venture capitalists -- some teary-eyed at the speech -- pledged to finance his education.

 

For the full story, see: 

SARAH CHILDRESS.  "A Young Tinkerer Builds a Windmill, Electrifying a Nation Mr. Kamkwamba's Creation Spurs Hope in Malawi; Entrepreneurs Pay Heed."   The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., December 12, 2007):  A1 & A13.  

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

 




January 4, 2008

"Not Even an Unchallenged Autocrat Can Repeal the Laws of Supply and Demand"

 

   "Essentials like bread, sugar and cornmeal have all but vanished in Zimbabwe after the government commanded merchants nationwide to counter 10,000-percent-a-year hyperinflation by slashing prices in half and more. The shelves at this grocery store are mostly bare."  Source of the caption and the photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

(p. A1)  BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, July 28 — Robert G. Mugabe has ruled over this battered nation, his every wish endorsed by Parliament and enforced by the police and soldiers, for more than 27 years. It appears, however, that not even an unchallenged autocrat can repeal the laws of supply and demand.

One month after Mr. Mugabe decreed just that, commanding merchants nationwide to counter 10,000-percent-a-year hyperinflation by slashing prices in half and more, Zimbabwe’s economy is at a halt.

Bread, sugar and cornmeal, staples of every Zimbabwean’s diet, have vanished, seized by mobs who denuded stores like locusts in wheat fields. Meat is virtually nonexistent, even for members of the middle class who have money to buy it on the black market. Gasoline is nearly unobtainable. Hospital patients are dying for lack of basic medical supplies. Power blackouts and water cutoffs are endemic.

Manufacturing has slowed to a crawl because few businesses can produce goods for less than their government-imposed sale prices. Raw materials are drying up because suppliers are being forced to sell to factories at a loss. Businesses are laying off workers or reducing their hours.

The chaos, however, seems to have done little to undermine Mr. Mugabe’s authority. To the contrary, the government is moving steadily toward a takeover of major sectors of the economy that have not already been nationalized.

. . .

(p. A8)  . . .  Most of the goods on store shelves this week were those people did not need or could not afford — dog biscuits; ketchup; toilet paper, which has become a luxury here; gin; cookies.

At various locations of TM, a major supermarket chain, aisles of meat coolers were empty save a few plastic bags of scrap meat for dogs. Flour, sugar, cooking oil, cornmeal and other basics were not to be found. A long line hugged the rear of one store, waiting for a delivery of the few loaves of bread that a baker provided to stay in compliance with the price directive.

The government’s takeover of slaughterhouses seems ineffectual: this week, butchers killed and dressed 32 cows for the entire city. Farmers are unwilling to sell their cows at a loss.

The empty grocery shelves may be the starkest sign of penury, but there are others equally worrisome. Doctors say that at most, there is a six-week supply of insulin and blood-pressure medications. Less vital drugs like aspirin are rarities.

“You can boil willow bark, just as Galen did,” one physician quipped.

 

For the full story, see: 

MICHAEL WINES.  "Caps on Prices Only Deepen Zimbabweans’ Misery."  The New York Times (Thurs., August 2, 2007):  A1 & A8.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

   "Women in Esigodini, Zimbabwe, cook melons into mash.  Meat has been so scrace that melons have been their main source of nutrition."  Source of caption:  print version of the NYT article cited above.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 




December 5, 2007

Measuring Trends in Government Corruption

 

CorruptionWorldBankGraph.jpg   Source of graph:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. A6)  Africa, often stereotyped as a place of epic corruption and misrule, emerges in a World Bank report as a continent of great variety, with some countries — Tanzania, Liberia, Rwanda, Ghana and Niger — making notable progress over the past decade, and others — Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast and Eritrea — moving backward.

The report, released yesterday and based on the most comprehensive data on governance in more than 200 countries, found that not just poor countries struggled with corruption and flawed government.

. . .

The report, “Governance Matters, 2007: Worldwide Governance Indicators 1996-2006,” was written by Mr. Kaufmann and the World Bank researchers Aart Kraay and Massimo Mastruzzi. It was posted on the Internet at www.govindicators.org. Data came from an ideologically diverse array of groups that included Freedom House, Transparency International, the Heritage Foundation, Reporters Without Borders and the State Department.

“This is the best data source on governance now,” said Steven Radelet, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, a Washington research group. “It is of huge importance in development. Ten years ago, there was no data. Fifteen years ago, we didn’t talk about this stuff.”

. . .  

The report found that the gains and losses balanced out such that the average quality of governance worldwide over the past decade was little improved.

 

For the full story, see: 

CELIA W. DUGGER.  "World Bank Report on Governing Finds Level Playing Field."  The New York Times  (Weds., July 11, 2007):  A6. 

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 




October 30, 2007

United States Cotton Subsidies Hurt Poor African Farmers

 

Dan Sumner did his dissertation many years ago under T.W. Schultz, a great economist, and a great human being.  (Dan was a friend of mine in grad school--we were members of a club that gathered once a month to discuss the works of Bertrand Russell.) 

 

Eliminating billions of dollars in federal subsidies to American cotton growers each year would reduce American cotton production and exports, raise world prices by about 10 percent and modestly improve the incomes of millions of poor cotton farmers in Africa, according to a new study by Oxfam, the aid group.

Agricultural economists at the University of California, Davis, who conducted the study for Oxfam, found that a typical farm family of 10 in Chad, Benin, Burkina Faso or Mali — Africa’s major cotton producers — that now earns $2,000 a year would have an extra $46 to $114 a year to spend if American subsidies were removed.

“Fifty to a hundred bucks is a lot of money to these people,” said Daniel Sumner, chairman of the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the university. “It’s not right to think that changing U.S. subsidies will turn very poor people into middle-class households by our standards. That’s a generational process. But it’s money in their pocket.”

. . .

Dani Rodrik, an economist at Harvard who is skeptical of the importance of reduced agricultural subsidies, said he found Oxfam’s new estimates credible, but said the gains forecast were relatively small.  . . .

. . .

But the authors of the report said that removing American subsidies would permanently shift the price of cotton upward, with prices subsequently fluctuating around a higher average. 

 

For the full story, see: 

CELIA W. DUGGER.  "Oxfam Suggests Benefit in Africa if U.S. Cuts Cotton Subsidies."  The New York Times  (Thurs., June 21, 2007):  A12.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 




October 16, 2007

How the Congo Government 'Inspires' Technology Entrepreneurs: More on Why Africa is Poor

 

KapingaMichelineCellPhone.jpg  "Micheline Kapinga of Kamponde, Congo, uses a cellphone on the only site in the village that is sometimes able to capture a signal."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below. 

 

I AM just back from Tanzania in East Africa.

In the mornings, disregarding the protests of the armed guards at my lodge near Arusha, I jogged along muddy footpaths. After the heavy rains, and under a low, misty sky, the fields looked as ruined as a battlefield. Very poor farmers and their children stared curiously at me as I passed.

In the afternoons, I attended the TEDGlobal 2007 conference, held by the Technology, Entertainment and Design organization in the modern Ngurdoto Mountain Lodge. The contrast between the two experiences troubled me.

TED conferences, mostly held in Monterey, Calif., are invitation-only affairs, are attended by the aristocracy of Silicon Valley and are known for their adventurousness in drawing together wildly disparate trends in technology, business and the arts.

On this occasion, Bono, the Irish rock star and champion of African causes, had persuaded the conference’s organizer, Chris Anderson, to invite the usual crowd, as well as African entrepreneurs, activists, health care professionals and artists to this tropical, leafy region midway between the Serengeti Plain and Mount Kilimanjaro.

. . .

At least one of the African attendees of the conference was representative of the kind of technological entrepreneurialism that the show advocated.

Alieu Conteh, the chairman of Vodacom Congo, was born in Gambia, in West Africa, 55 years ago and moved to Congo in 1981. For years, he was a successful coffee buyer and exporter.

Congo is about the size of Western Europe and has an estimated population of 65 million people. It is one of the least-developed nations in the world, with less than 300 miles of roads, most of them in poor condition.

In 1997, Mr. Conteh recalled in an interview, he heard Laurent D. Kabila, then the country’s president, deliver a speech in which he called upon his countrymen to rebuild Congo’s infrastructure after the 30-year dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko. Mr. Conteh, who had no experience in telecommunications, said he was inspired. He decided to build the nation’s first GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) digital network.

At the time, according to Mr. Conteh, fewer than 10,000 people living in Congo — mainly business people, foreigners and government employees — had mobile handsets. They paid $7 to $10 a minute to make a call, using an older technology. Less than 15,000 homes had a telephone landline.

Mr. Conteh said he went, cap in hand, to the minister of communications to ask for the country’s first GSM license. In January 1998 he got it — but he first had to pay the government a license fee of $100,000. Over the years, and with little explanation, he said, the government, which is often terribly short of money, increased the license fee, first to $400,000, then $2 million.

  

For more of the commentary, see: 

JASON PONTIN.  "SLIPSTREAM; What Does Africa Need Most: Technology or Aid?"  The New York Times, Section 3  (Sun., June 17, 2007):  3. 

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 




October 1, 2007

Mugabe Driven by Quest for Power, More than from Paranoia, or Marxism: More on Why Africa is Poor

 

No one outside of Mr. Mugabe’s inner circle, of course, can say with certainty why he has pursued policies since 2000 that have produced economic and social bedlam. For his part, Mr. Mugabe says Zimbabwe’s chaos is the product of a Western plot to reassert colonial rule, while he is simply taking steps to fight that off.

Among many outside that circle, however, the growing conviction is that Zimbabwe’s descent is neither the result of paranoia nor the product of Mr. Mugabe’s longstanding belief in Marxist economic theory. Instead, they say, Zimbabwe is fast becoming a kleptocracy, and the government’s seemingly inexplicable policies are in fact preserving and expanding it.

. . .

Mr. Mugabe’s government declares currency trading illegal, but regularly dumps vast stacks of new bills on the black market, still wrapped in plastic, to raise foreign exchange for its own needs, business leaders and economists say.

The nation’s extraordinary hyperinflation, last pegged by analysts at 10,000 percent a year, is an economic disaster that, by all accounts, the government needs to address. Yet after it ordered merchants in July to slash their prices, cadres of policemen and soldiers moved into shops to enforce the new controls, scoop up bargains and give friends and political heavyweights preferential access to cheap goods.

. . .

Mr. Mugabe’s 25-bedroom mansion in Borrowdale, the gated high-end suburb of Harare, the capital, is the locus of a boomlet that has spawned luxury homes for government and party officials. (Mr. Mugabe said his mansion was built with goods and labor donated by foreign governments.)

Mr. Mugabe arrived to open Zimbabwe’s Parliament this month in a Rolls-Royce. Equally telling, the legislature’s parking lot was crammed with luxury cars.

Such riches have been accompanied by a steep decline in living standards for just about everyone else. The death rate for Zimbabweans under the age of 5 grew by 65 percent from 1990 to 2005, even as the rate for the world’s poorest nations dropped. Average life expectancy here is among the world’s lowest, according to the United Nations.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

MICHAEL WINES.  "News Analysis; Zimbabwe’s Chaos: The Powerful Thrive."  The New York Times (Fri., August 3, 2007):  A8. 

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 




September 19, 2007

Pyramids Can Take Many Forms: More on Why Africa is Poor

 

My Wabash economics prof Ben Rogge used to say that rulers have always liked to spend the people's money to build pyramids intended to proclaim the glory of the ruler.  But in modern times the rulers have to be a tad more subtle than the Egyptians, so, for instance, in Brazil they build Brazilia, instead of actual pyramids. 

And according to the story below, summarized from the May 2007 IEEE Spectrum, in Africa, they build large dams.

 

Small dams could help deliver electricity to much of Africa's population, but since they lack the prestige of larger-scale projects, few of them get built.

. . .

In Uganda, which has plenty of rivers and streams to supply power, Mr. Zachary describes how a small water-power generator, supplied by a small nearby dam, delivers 60 kilowatts of energy to a nearby hospital. The generator would barely be enough to run a single magnetic-resonance imaging machine, a staple in Western hospitals. But it does provide enough power to light the hospital and keep basic equipment running for the 100 nurses and doctors who work there. The entire generation system cost $15,000 to build.

Still, Africa's leaders are unlikely to abandon their preference for big public works, says Mr. Zachary, since they create thousands of construction jobs and reinforce the political might of the central government. 

 

For the full summary, see: 

"Informed Reader; ENERGY; Small Dams Might Help to Electrify Africa."  The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 8, 2007):  B10. 

(Note:  ellipsis added; the original article in IEEE Spectrum is by G. Pascal Zachary.)

 




August 31, 2007

Let There Be Light

 

  One of Mark Bent's solar flashlights stuck in a wall to illuminate a classroom in Africa.  Source of the photo:   http://bogolight.com/images/success6.jpg

 

What Africa most needs, to grow and prosper, is to eject kleptocratic war-lord governments, and to embrace property rights and the free market.  But in the meantime, maybe handing out some solar powered flashlights can make some modest improvements in how some people live.

The story excerpted below is an example of private, entrepreneur-donor-involved, give-while-you-live philanthropy that holds a greater promise of actually doing some good in the world, than other sorts of philanthropy, or than government foreign aid. 

 

FUGNIDO, Ethiopia — At 10 p.m. in a sweltering refugee camp here in western Ethiopia, a group of foreigners was making its way past thatch-roofed huts when a tall, rail-thin man approached a silver-haired American and took hold of his hands. 

The man, a Sudanese refugee, announced that his wife had just given birth, and the boy would be honored with the visitor’s name. After several awkward translation attempts of “Mark Bent,” it was settled. “Mar,” he said, will grow up hearing stories of his namesake, the man who handed out flashlights powered by the sun.

Since August 2005, when visits to an Eritrean village prompted him to research global access to artificial light, Mr. Bent, 49, a former foreign service officer and Houston oilman, has spent $250,000 to develop and manufacture a solar-powered flashlight.

His invention gives up to seven hours of light on a daily solar recharge and can last nearly three years between replacements of three AA batteries costing 80 cents.

Over the last year, he said, he and corporate benefactors like Exxon Mobil have donated 10,500 flashlights to United Nations refugee camps and African aid charities.

Another 10,000 have been provided through a sales program, and 10,000 more have just arrived in Houston awaiting distribution by his company, SunNight Solar.

“I find it hard sometimes to explain the scope of the problems in these camps with no light,” Mr. Bent said. “If you’re an environmentalist you think about it in terms of discarded batteries and coal and wood burning and kerosene smoke; if you’re a feminist you think of it in terms of security for women and preventing sexual abuse and violence; if you’re an educator you think about it in terms of helping children and adults study at night.”

Here at Fugnido, at one of six camps housing more than 21,000 refugees 550 miles west of Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, Peter Gatkuoth, a Sudanese refugee, wrote on “the importance of Solor.”

“In case of thief, we open our solor and the thief ran away,” he wrote. “If there is a sick person at night we will took him with the solor to health center.”

A shurta, or guard, who called himself just John, said, “I used the light to scare away wild animals.” Others said lights were hung above school desks for children and adults to study after the day’s work.

 

For the full story, see:


Will Connors and Ralph Blumenthal.  "Letting Africa’s Sun Deliver the Luxury of Light to the Poor."  The New York Times, Section 1  (Sun., May 20, 2007):  8.

(Note:  the title of the article on line was:  "Solar Flashlight Lets Africa’s Sun Deliver the Luxury of Light to the Poorest Villages.")

 

 EthiopiaMap.gif   Source of map:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 




August 11, 2007

Easily Available Capital and Technology Lower Barriers to Entry in Oil Industry

 

CobaltOilDataAnalysis.jpg   "Cobalt scientists analyze data to help pinpoint oil deposits."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

(p. 1)  HOUSTON.  JOSEPH H. BRYANT, still boyish-looking at 51, jostles with glee among tens of thousands of people here at the Offshore Technology Conference, one of the energy industry’s biggest trade fairs. He is surrounded by newfangled technologies occupying more than half a million square feet of display space: drills stuffed with electronic sensors, underwater wells shaped like Christmas trees, mini-submarines and pipes, pumps, tubes, gauges, valves and gadgets galore.

“There is every little gizmo you need to make this business work,” Mr. Bryant says, joyously. He stops at a plastic model of an offshore oil rig, an exact replica of a huge platform he commissioned while running BP’s business in Angola a few years ago. “I love this stuff.”

Like the pieces of a giant puzzle, the parts showcased here could fit together and build an oil company — and that’s exactly what Mr. Bryant set out to do two years ago after a 30-year career directing energy projects for the likes of Amoco, Unocal and BP. With a team composed largely of retired energy executives, he wants to hunt for oil in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico or offshore West Africa, challenging Big Oil in its own backyard.

The American oil patch, once left to languish during an extended period of low oil prices, is on the rebound. Wildcatters like Mr. Bryant are ready to pounce. With oil prices now hovering around $60 a barrel — three times higher than they were throughout the 1990s — the industry is expanding at a pace last seen decades ago.

“The oil industry has changed dramatically in the last 20 years,” Mr. Bryant says. “Barriers to entry have dropped significantly. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been in the business 100 years or 100 days.”

Easily available capital and technology, once the preserve of traditional oil companies, are reordering the business. Investors are lining up to finance energy projects while leaps in computing power, imaging tech-(p. 7)nology and collaborative online networks now allow the smallest entities to compete on an equal footing with the biggest players.

“There’s a lot of money out there looking for opportunities,” said John Schaeffer, the head of the oil and gas unit at GE Energy Financial Services. “It seems like everyone wants to own an oil well now.”

Still, oil exploration remains a costly business fraught with peril. While the odds have improved, success is elusive; three-quarters of all exploration wells come up dry, either because there is no oil or because geologists miss its exact location. All of which means that Mr. Bryant’s start-up, Cobalt International Energy, which plans to begin drilling next year, faces formidable hurdles.

“There’s no sugar-coating this — at the end of the day, it’s a high risk venture,” Mr. Bryant says. “Financially, we’re definitely wildcatting. It’s either all or nothing.”

 

For the full story, see: 

JAD MOUAWADA.  "Wildcatter Pounces; Oil Riches Lure the Entrepreneurs."  The New York Times, Section 3  (Sun., May 20, 2007):  1 & 7.

 

 BryantJosephOilWildcatter.jpg   Wildcatter entrepreneur "Joseph H. Bryant started Cobalt."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 




July 14, 2007

Mugabe Prints More Money and Beats Up Shopkeepers, as Inflation Soars: More on Why Africa is Poor

 

     "Inflation made food cost a fortune in Harare this week.  The government imposed controls that required vendors to sell some items below cost."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below. 

 

JOHANNESBURG, July 3 — Zimbabwe’s week-old campaign to quell its rampant inflation by forcing merchants to lower prices is edging the nation close to chaos, some economists and merchants say.

As the police and a pro-government youth militia swept into shops and factories, threatening arrest and worse unless prices were rolled back, staple foods vanished from store shelves and some merchants reported huge losses. News reports said that some shopkeepers who had refused to lower prices had been beaten by the youth militia, known as the Green Bombers for the color of their fatigues.

In interviews, merchants said that crowds of people were following the police and militia from shop to shop to buy goods at the government-ordered prices.

“People are losing millions and millions and millions of dollars,” said one merchant in Bulawayo, referring to the Zimbabwean currency, which is becoming worthless given the nation’s inflation, the world’s highest. “Everyone is now running out of stock, and not being able to replace it.”

. . .

Gasoline was reported to be vanishing from stations as the going price, about 180,000 dollars per liter, was slashed by the government to something closer to the officially approved price of 450 dollars per liter. Mr. Mugabe’s government intends to cope with the shortages by subsidizing producers of basic goods. One of the few newspapers not under government control, The Zimbabwe Independent, reported last week that flour, which is controlled entirely by the state, will be sold to bakers for 10 million dollars a ton, half the market price. Similarly, many suppliers of basic goods have been told by the government that they will be allowed to buy gasoline at one tenth the going price, the newspaper reported. The government apparently plans to make up those losses by printing more money. Zimbabwe’s dollar has lost more than half its value in recent weeks because the government has constantly issued new bills to pay its mounting debts.

 

For the full story, see: 

MICHAEL WINES.  "Anti-Inflation Curbs on Prices Create Havoc for Zimbabwe."  The New York Times  (Weds., July 4, 2007):  A8. 

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

CNN on 7/10/07 broadcast a great clip from ITN, that had been courageously recorded undercover by Martin Geissler.  See  "Desperation in Zimbabwe":

http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/offbeat/2007/06/23/vo.mi.ugly.dogs.ap?DPFPR=true

(Note:  ITN is sometimes also called ITV.  "ITN" stands for the International Television Network.)

 

Postscript:  According to an entry on the ITV web site entitled "Mugabe Battles Economic Crises," Mugabe "has warned he will not be restrained by "bookish economics"."  (He makes a great case for cracking open the books, doesn't he?  Or at least for opening the window and looking at what is happening outside?)

For the Mugabe quote on bookish economics, see:

http://itn.co.uk/news/a1d7763de3c4778b619a72cbeab24d6d.html

 




May 1, 2007

Somaliland Works, Without Foreign Aid or Recognition: More on Why Much of Africa is Poor

 

   In Hargeysa, the capital of Somaliland, there is sufficient public safety (in contrast to southern Somalia) for a money exchange to operate with large amounts of money on display.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

HARGEYSA, Somalia, March 1 — When the sun rises over the craggy hills of Hargeysa, it sheds light on a different kind of Somalia.

Ice cream trucks selling bona fide soft serve hit the streets. Money changers, unarmed and unguarded, push cash through the market in wheelbarrows. Politicians from three distinct parties get ready for another day of debate, which recently included an animated discussion on registering nomadic voters.

It’s all part of a Somali puzzle: how one area of the country, the northwest, also known as Somaliland, can seem so peaceful and functional — so normal, in fact — while the rest continues to be such a violent, chaotic mess.

This tale of two Somalias is especially striking now, as thousands of African Union peacekeepers prepare to rescue Mogadishu, the nation’s bloodstained capital, from itself. The internationally backed transitional government that seized Mogadishu in late December with Ethiopia’s help says it cannot survive without foreign aid and foreign peacekeepers to quell clan fighting and an escalating insurgency.

Somalilanders, who have wrestled with their own clan conflicts, find this ridiculous.

“You can’t be donated power,” said Dahir Rayale Kahin, the president of the Republic of Somaliland, which has long declared itself independent from the rest of Somalia. “We built this state because we saw the problems here as our problems. Our brothers in the south are still waiting — till now — for others.”

But Somalilanders are waiting, too: waiting to be recognized. In 1991, as Somalia’s government disintegrated and clan fighting in the south spun out of control, Somaliland, traditionally one of the poorest parts of Somalia, claimed its independence. But no country acknowledges it as a separate state and very few even contribute aid — which makes Somaliland’s success all the more intriguing.

. . .

“It all goes back to the Brits,” according to Hajji Abdi Waraabe, an 89-year-old member of Somaliland’s upper house of Parliament.

When the colonial powers sliced up the Horn of Africa in the 19th century, the British got Somaliland and the Italians got Somalia. While the British relied mostly on clan chiefs to govern, the Italians created an entire Italian-speaking administration and imported thousands of people from Italy to farm bananas, build cathedrals and teach the people how to pour espresso.

One result was that Mogadishu, along the southern coast, became a major commercial hub and one of the most beautiful cities in Africa, but its traditional systems of authority were weakened. That is partly why, many Somalia analysts say, warlords were able to outmuscle clan elders and dominate Mogadishu in the vacuum that formed after the central government fell.

The British, on the other hand, never invested much in Somaliland, leaving it poor and dusty but with its traditions more or less intact.  . . .

. . .

But the one issue that unites most Somalilanders is recognition. Somaliland has its own money, its own flag, its own national anthem and even its own passport.

“And we have peace, a peace owned by the community,” said Zamzam Adan, a women’s rights activist. “You’d think in this part of the world, that would count for something.”

 

For the full story, see:

JEFFREY GETTLEMAN.  "The Other Somalia: An Island of Stability in a Sea of Armed Chaos."  The New York Times  (Weds., March 7, 2007):  A11. 

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

SOMALILANDmap.jpg  Top photo shows women selling jewelry.  Middle photo shows a traffic cop performing a defensible function of government.  At bottom, the map shows Somaliland relative to the rest of Somalia.  Source of photos and map:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 




April 1, 2007

Better than Socialism, but Not Free Market Enough: More on Why Africa is Poor

 

     Voters in line to vote for President in Senegal on 2/25/07.   Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

My old Wabash professor Ben Rogge used to say that rulers liked to build pyramids to proclaim their glory.  He mentioned the Egyptian pyramids, and he mentioned the whole government-created capital city of "Brasilia" in Brazil. 

When rulers in a poor country invest a lot of tax money in infrastructure, such as roads, how much of that is due to their belief in mistaken economic theories, and how much to their wanting to build their own version of the pyramids? 

In either case, at least it can be said that the people probably benefit more from their taxes being used to build roads, than from their taxes being used to build pyramids.  At least the roads can be complementary to transporting goods, and to the mobility of labor. 

But the people would benefit even more if they could keep the tax money to use for their own purposes.

 

(p. A3) DAKAR, Senegal, Feb. 25 — Moudou Gueye was confident that Senegal’s presidential election on Sunday would turn around his fortunes, at least in the short term.

Seven years ago he voted for Abdoulaye Wade, a rabble-rousing professor who, after decades in opposition to Socialist Party rule, sailed into office buoyed by the votes of frustrated young people like Mr. Gueye, who is now 32. They hoped that Mr. Wade, a free-market liberal, would transform this impoverished nation’s economy, which had been stunted by generations of ineffective central planning.

. . .

. . .   Senegal has had relatively robust economic growth that has hovered at around 5 percent over several years (it was lower last year, owing in part to high fuel prices, according to government officials), compared with the 1 percent achieved during much of the Socialist era, and dozens of huge public works projects.

While in some ways the country is better off, economic growth and a building binge have not produced large numbers of jobs in a country struggling to make the transition from an agrarian society based largely on peanut farming to one that harnesses the wealth of a global economy.

. . .

Countering criticism that Mr. Wade is too old to serve another term — his official age is given as 80, but many people suspect he is older — his daughter, Sindiély, who has worked as a special assistant to the president, said he was as sharp and agile as ever.

“It is not a question of age,” Ms. Wade said as she waited to cast her vote in downtown Dakar. “It is a question of dynamism and ideas and what you have planned for your country.”

Along Dakar’s seaside roadway, young men marveled at the cars whizzing below a brand-new overpass, one of Mr. Wade’s long-anticipated public works projects.

Pap Ndiaye, an 18-year-old street vendor who sells baby clothes to people stalled in traffic, said the newly completed road was a sign that the country was moving in the right direction.

“Wade has done a lot for this country,” Mr. Ndiaye said. “Our hope is that he will stay and finish his work.”

Less than a mile away, the road abruptly ends with a bright yellow sign that says “déviation,” or detour. With a hard turn to the right, drivers pour off the broad new highway, and back into the tangled, chaotic streets of one of Dakar’s oldest and poorest neighborhoods.

 

For the full story, see: 

LYDIA POLGREEN.  "Senegalese Vote Hinges on Views of Economic Growth."  The New York Times  (Mon., February 26, 2007):  A3.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 




March 24, 2007

Mugabe Eats Cake As He Ruins Zimbabwe Economy: More on Why Africa is Poor

   Tyrant Mugabe eats cake while his slaves starve.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

JOHANNESBURG, Feb. 21 — President Robert G. Mugabe of Zimbabwe turned 83 on Wednesday to the strains of the song “God Bless President Mugabe” on state-controlled radio, along with an interview on state television, a 16-page paean to his rule in Harare’s daily newspaper and the prospect of a grand birthday party — costly enough to feed thousands of people for months, his critics argued — on Saturday.

Zimbabwe’s economy is so dire that bread vanished from store shelves across the country on Wednesday after bakeries shut down, saying government price controls were requiring them to sell loaves at a loss. The price controls are supposed to shield consumers from the nation’s rampant inflation, which now averages nearly 1,600 percent annually.

. . .

On Wednesday, The Herald, the state-managed newspaper, included in 16 pages of tributes to Mr. Mugabe an editorial calling him “an unparalleled visionary” and “an international hero among the oppressed and poor.”

. . .

“The guy is insensitive,” John Shiri, 41, a teacher at a primary school, told a local journalist. “There is no bread as we are talking, but he will be feasting and drinking with his family and hangers-on when there is no wheat in the country.”

. . .

Tawanda Mujuru, who runs a vegetable stall on Samora Machel Avenue in downtown Harare, said that she would be working in a factory if not for the failure of Mr. Mugabe’s economic policies.

“He has the guts to eat and drink when we are suffering like this,” she said. “Let him enjoy. Every dog has his day. We shall have our day.”

 

For the full story, see:

MICHAEL WINES.  "Mugabe Gets Ready to Eat Cake While Fellow Zimbabweans Can’t Find Bread on Shelves."  The New York Times  (Thurs., February 22, 2007):  A6.

(Note:  ellipses added.) 

 




March 20, 2007

Europe Plays Fair with Africa by Reducing Sugar Subsidies

   Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.

 

For once, Europe bests the United States in consistently practicing free trade: 

 

BRUSSELS -- The developing world has been adamant that rich nations abandon farm subsidies in order to get a global trade deal both sides say they want. A flood of investment pouring into Southern Africa's sugar industry demonstrates why the poor countries won't back down on this demand.

The hundreds of millions of dollars being spent to ramp up African sugar production is a direct response to European Union plans to slash import duties and subsidies that for years have locked out farmers in developing countries.

The expansion shows how the EU's gradual opening of its farm sector can boost production in some developing countries, offer cheaper prices to European consumers and force inefficient EU producers to close.

 

For the full story, see: 

JOHN W. MILLER  "African Sugar Production Ramps Up EU Plan to Cut Tariffs Shows How Developing Nations Can Benefit."  The Wall Street Journal  (Sat., February 17, 2007):  A4.

 




March 17, 2007

Zimbabwe Official Says People Eat Field Mice as a "Delicacy": More on Why Africa is Poor


   Screen capture from CNN report "A Ruined Land," broadcast on December 19, 2006.

 

(CNN) -- Twelve-year-old Beatrice returns from the fields with small animals she's caught for dinner.

Her mother, Elizabeth, prepares the meat and cooks it on a grill made of three stones supporting a wood fire. It's just enough food, she says, to feed her starving family of six.

Tonight, they dine on rats.

"Look what we've been reduced to eating?" she said. "How can my children eat rats in a country that used to export food? This is a tragedy."   . . . 

This is a story about how Zimbabwe, once dubbed southern Africa's bread basket, has in six short years become a basket case. It is about a country that once exported surplus food now apparently falling apart, with many residents scrounging for rodents to survive.

According to the CIA fact book, which profiles the countries of the world, the Zimbabwean economy is crashing -- inflation was at least 585 percent by the end of 2005 -- and the nation now must import food.

Zimbabwe's ambassador to United States, Machivenyika Mapuranga, told CNN on Tuesday that reports of people eating rats unfairly represented the situation, adding that at times while he grew up his family ate rodents.

"The eating of the field mice -- Zimbabweans do that. It is a delicacy," he said. "It is misleading to portray the eating of field mice as an act of desperation. It is not."

 

For the full story, see: 

Jeff Koinange.  "Living off rats to survive in Zimbabwe."  CNN  POSTED: 3:40 p.m. EST, December 19, 2006.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

RatsZimbabweDelicacy.jpg   Rats for dinner in Zimbabwe.  Source:  online CNN article cited above.

 




March 5, 2007

Mugabe's Hyperinflation Destroys Zimbabwe Economy: More on Why Africa is Poor

 

The article excerpted below does a good job of sketching some of the effects of  hyperinflation on the people of Zimbabwe.  But it does little to illuminate the cause.  As Milton Friedman definitively demonstrated, inflation is caused by government printing too much money.  Mugabe and other tyrants are motivated to print too much money so they will have more money to spend, without having to raise taxes.  The ploy seems to work for a little while sometimes, but in the end it results in inflation.

Gideon Gono is the governor of Zimbabwe's central bank.  Note Mr. Gono's display of chutzpah in his blaming the people for inflation, and note the wonderful just symbolism of the power black out that cut off Mr. Gono's speech. 

(It almost sounds like an outtake from Atlas Shrugged.)

 

(p. A1)  JOHANNESBURG, Feb. 6 — For close to seven years, Zimbabwe’s economy and quality of life have been in slow, uninterrupted decline. They are still declining this year, people there say, with one notable difference: the pace is no longer so slow.

Indeed, Zimbabwe’s economic descent has picked up so much speed that President Robert G. Mugabe, the nation’s leader for 27 years, is starting to lose support from parts of his own party.

In recent weeks, the national power authority has warned of a collapse of electrical service. A breakdown in water treatment has set off a new outbreak of cholera in the capital, Harare. All public services were cut off in Marondera, a regional capital of 50,000 in eastern Zimbabwe, after the city ran out of money to fix broken equipment. In Chitungwiza, just south of Harare, electricity is supplied only four days a week.

. . .

In the past eight months, “there’s been a huge collapse in living standards,” Iden Wetherell, the editor of the weekly newspaper Zimbabwe Independent said in a telephone interview, “and also a deterioration in the infrastructure — in standards of health care, in education. There’s a sort of sense that things are plunging.”

. . .

(p. A6)  The trigger of this crisis — hyperinflation — reached an annual rate of 1,281 percent this month, and has been near or over 1,000 percent since last April. Hyperinflation has bankrupted the government, left 8 in 10 citizens destitute and decimated the country’s factories and farms.

. . .

The central bank’s latest response to these problems, announced this week, was to declare inflation illegal.  From March 1 to June 30, anyone who raises prices or wages will be arrested and punished.  Only a “firm social contract” to end corruption and restructure the economy will bring an end to the crisis, said the reserve bank governor, Gideon Gono.

The speech by Mr. Gono, a favorite of Mr. Mugabe, was broadcast nationally.  In downtown Harare, the last half was blacked out by a power failure.

 

For the full story, see: 

MICHAEL WINES.  "As Inflation Soars, Zimbabwe Economy Plunges."  The New York Times  (Weds., February 7, 2007):  A1 & A6.

(Note:  ellipses in original.)

 

For a lot of evidence on what causes inflation, see:

Friedman, Milton, and Anna Jacobson Schwartz.  A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960. Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 1963.

 




January 23, 2007

International Trade Helps Poor African Cotton Farmer

   Left photo shows Dennis Okelo in the grocery store that he opened with savings from growing cotton, and selling it to Dunavant.  Right photo shows a Dunavant cotton gin in Zambia.  Source of photos:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

(p. 1)  WHERE is he?” the old woman asks. “Where is he?”

Finding Dennis Okelo used to be easy. The old woman — and most other people in a village outside of Lira, the provincial capital of northern Uganda — went directly to Mr. Okelo’s fields. He was always in one of his “gardens,” with his slacks rolled up above his calves and a short hoe close by. Or he was seated outside of his mud-brick house under a banana tree.

Then cotton growing revived in Uganda, and Dunavant Enterprises came to town about five years ago, paying cash on delivery. After three seasons of growing cotton for Dunavant, the world’s largest privately owned cotton broker and one of the biggest family-owned agribusinesses in the United States, Mr. Okelo, who owns less than three acres and has two wives and a passel of children, had saved $300, about double his annual earnings before Dunavant started buying his cotton.

Last summer, Mr. Okelo opened a grocery store, which is where the old woman finally found him: smiling, standing behind the wooden plank that serves as his service counter in a shop the size of a utility shed. The grocery, one of two in the village, carries dried foods, cooking oil, matches, cosmetics, batteries and candy.

“Before Dunavant, no one came to help us,” says Mr. Okelo, 40, who has farmed a variety of crops in these parts for about 20 years.

. . .

(p. 7)  IN his small shop, Mr. Okelo knows nothing of global developments in the cotton trade even though he is a direct beneficiary of them. He started farming during the lean years in Uganda, after the ouster of the country’s notorious dictator, Idi Amin, when the cultivation of cotton lagged so badly that production nearly ceased and farmers treated the crop like a weed.

A few years ago, as Uganda’s production began to revive, Dunavant’s trainers taught Mr. Okelo to grow cotton in straight rows and to use a string to measure precisely the distance between rows, to maximize plantings. Mr. Okelo’s new methods are basic, but in a part of Africa where farmers work the land chiefly with a hoe — and tractors, fertilizer and pesticides are rarities — even basic improvements can lead to large gains in production.

“Cotton is the crop that gives farmers the best money,” Mr. Okelo said. “I want Dunavant to be even closer to me.”

 

For the full story, see: 

G. PASCAL ZACHARY. Out of Africa: Cotton and Cash." The New York Times, Section 3 (Sun., January 14, 2007): 1 & 7.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

 DunvanantWilliamCottonEntrepreur.jpg   William B. Dunavant, Jr.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 




December 25, 2006

Goverment Planning Destroys Poor People's Chance to Develop Themselves: More on Why Africa is Poor

  The refuse from homes demolished by the Abuja city government as part of their master plan.  Source of photo:    online version of the NYT article cited below. 

 

The story below, alas, is not an isolated example.  The lessons from Hernando de Soto's The Other Path, have still not been learned. 

 

“They don’t want to see the common man, the poor man,” said Comrade Daniel, a motorcycle taxi driver, standing in the rubble of his neighborhood.  He lost first his home and then his livelihood to a recent campaign to rid this stately capital of the blemishes of poverty.  “They only care for themselves,” he said.

Mr. Daniel and others who live on the unruly edge of this tidy city in the mossy hills of central Nigeria say that Abuja has declared war on its poorest citizens.

. . .  

. . .  the city’s master plan was ignored for years by corrupt officials who allowed illegal neighborhoods to blossom, unauthorized street markets to spread and torpedo-like motorcycle taxis, called okada, often driven by illiterate young men, to choke the streets.

Much of that expansion was sanctioned — or at least overlooked — by the rulers of the day, and deeds were obtained by many of those who have lost their homes in the recent cleanup.  Mr. Daniel, the motorcycle taxi driver, had a deed to his land, having paid about $160 for a small plot.

In 2003, a new minister was appointed to run the capital, and he declared his intention to hew strictly to the old master plan.  Many political leaders cheered the decision, fretting that Abuja, built at enormous expense as an antidote to Lagos, was headed to the same chaotic fate.

But the declaration effectively rendered much of the daily life of millions of people illegal.  As with most Africans, Nigerians deal mostly in the informal economy, the vast, unregulated, untaxed network that emerges, through the inexorable logic of the marketplace, to fill vital needs left unmet by government and the formal economy.

. . .

The master plan’s housing estates unfurl with the orderliness of a planned subdivision:  town houses and apartments for the well heeled, tract homes and villas for the even better heeled.  But there is little provision for the army of civil servants, whose low wages place the graceful homes of Abuja out of reach.

As for the maids, drivers, security guards and laborers without whom this city would cease to function — people like Mr. Daniel and his sister — there is no place for them at all.  Many have moved farther still, commuting for hours from neighboring states to escape the bulldozers.

The government has said it plans to help resettle those displaced by the demolition, estimated to be in the tens of thousands, but those who have lost their homes say no one has offered them any compensation or a new place to live.  And so they are left with the bitter knowledge that their capital has no place for them.

With their home reduced to rubble, Vashti and Comrade Daniel have moved into the back room of a cousin’s house.  The house they lost was not some tin shack, but a proper house of bricks and mortar.  Mr. Daniel’s income has been slashed by two-thirds by the ban on okada, and he does not know how he will rebuild.

“They say they want to make Abuja like London, but London wasn’t built in a day,” he said.  “Once upon a time they had poor people in London, but they developed themselves.  We just want that chance.”

 

For the full story, see:

LYDIA POLGREEN.  "ABUJA JOURNAL; In a Dream City, a Nightmare for the Common Man."  The New York Times  (Weds., December 13, 2006):  A4.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

The reference to de Soto's book is:

Soto, Hernando de. The Other Path. New York: Harper and Row, 1989.

 

  "Okada" are the motorcycle taxis that the city government of Abuja is trying to ban.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 NigeriaMap.gif   Source of map:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 




November 9, 2006

African Entrepreneur Funds Prize for African Leaders Who Resist Kleptocracy

IbrahimMo.jpg  Billionaire entrepreneur Mo Ibrahim.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below. 

 

At a news conference in London on Thursday, Mo Ibrahim, a 60-year-old Sudanese-born billionaire who made his money in the cellphone business, announced that he was offering a $5 million prize for the sub-Saharan African president who on leaving office has demonstrated the greatest commitment to democracy and good governance.  The money will be spread out over 10 years.

“We must face the reality,” Mr. Ibrahim said, referring to Africa’s leadership record.  “Everything starts by admitting the truth:  we failed.  I’m not proud at all.  I’m ashamed.  We really need to resolve the problem and the problem, in our view, is bad leadership and bad governance.”

. . .

Unlike many projects that aim to help famine-stricken villages or far-flung AIDS clinics, this one is supposed to focus on political leadership — and the post-independence culture of autocrats and kleptocrats that spawned such figures as Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire or Idi Amin of Uganda.

. . .

Africa’s culture of the Big Man clinging to office was built in part, Mr. Ibrahim said, on a sense among many of its leaders that, if they relinquished power voluntarily, they would face penury and powerlessness and would no longer be the font of patronage or the tenant of what he called “the hilltop palace.”

“We want them to have a life after office,” Mr. Ibrahim said.

“Your leaders here become rich after they leave office,” he said, referring to the directorships, book deals and lecture circuit tours that accrue to Western leaders.  “What life is there for our people after office?  Some of our leaders cannot even afford to rent an apartment” in their own capitals, he said.

 

For the full story, see: 

ALAN COWELL  "Prize to Honor Heroes in African Democracy."  The New York Times  (Fri., October 27, 2006):  A11.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 




October 26, 2006

Equatorial Guinea's Kleptocracy: More on Why Africa is Poor

KristofNick.jpg  Nicholas D. Kristof.  Source of image:  online verison of the NYT commentary cited below.

 

The founding president of this country was a witch doctor who murdered tens of thousands, put enemies’ heads on pikes, denounced education and spread land mines on the road out of his country to prevent people from fleeing.  This was then so vile a place that an American diplomat stabbed another to death here in 1971 and claimed in his trial that he had been driven insane partly by the screams of all the people being tortured.

When the president was finally ousted in 1979, he ran off into the bush with $60 million packed in suitcases.  But he was pursued, and in a shootout, the nation’s entire foreign exchange reserves burned up.

. . .

Equatorial Guinea traditionally has been Africa’s poster boy for bad governance.  Even after the old witch doctor was ousted, the kleptocracy continued under Teodoro Obiang, the current president.  A new book about the country, “The Wonga Coup,” notes that in 2004 President Obiang bought a Boeing 737, one of six personal planes, for $55 million, and outfitted it with a king-sized bed and gold-plated fittings in the extra-large bathroom.

Schools and clinics are needy, but Forbes lists President Obiang as the world’s eighth richest ruler, with a net worth of $600 million.  Just last year, “The Wonga Coup” says, the president’s son spent the equivalent of a third of his country’s entire education budget on a vacation home in South Africa and three cars — two Bentleys and a Lamborghini.

 

For the full commentary, see:

NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF.  "Optimism and Africa."  The New York Times  (Tues., October 3, 2006):  A27.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

The book mentioned in the commentary is: 

Roberts, Adam.  The Wonga Coup: Guns, Thugs and a Ruthless Determination to Create Mayhem in an Oil-Rich Corner of Africa.  PublicAffairs, 2006.

 

    Source of book image:  http://images.amazon.com/images/P/1586483714.01._SS500_SCLZZZZZZZ_V65100719_.jpg



October 9, 2006

Entrepreneurship Survives, Even in Mogadishu

  In Mogadishu the nose of one of the two Black Hawk helicopters that were were shot down in 1993.  Source of the photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below. 

 

MOGADISHU, Somalia, Sept. 23 — They call her the “Black Hawk Down” lady.

And in the corner of her dirt yard, beneath rags drying in the sun and next to a bowl of filthy wash water, she keeps a chunk of history that most Americans would probably like to forget.

It is the battered nose of a Black Hawk helicopter, from one of the two that got shot down in Mogadishu on Oct. 3, 1993, in an infamous battle that killed 18 Americans, led to a major foreign policy shift and spawned a big movie.

The Black Hawk Down lady stands fiercely at her gate and charges admission to see it.

“You, you, you,” she said on a recent day, jabbing her finger at three visitors.  “Pay, pay, pay.”

. . .

Ecstatic Somalis ransacked the wreckage, stripping the helicopters and melting down the metal. Some people even ripped insignia patches off the bodies of the soldiers to keep as grim souvenirs.

. . .

But Ms. Elmi had a different plan.  Her husband had died a long time ago, and she had six children to feed.  Two of her older sons were killed, she said, when the helicopter crashed.  She dragged the cracked nose piece, about five feet across but actually pretty light because it was made of fiberglass, back to her house.

. . .  

Ms. Elmi began humbly, charging neighborhood boys the equivalent of a few cents to get a peek at her one exhibit, the last known chunk of wreckage from what Somalis refer to as Ma-alinti Rangers, the Day of the Rangers.

But after the movie “Black Hawk Down” came out in 2001 — and pirated copies found their way to Mogadishu — business boomed.

“So many people came, I cannot count,” she said.  “White people, brown people, black people.”

When asked why they come, she snapped:  “How should I know?  Do you think I am mind reader?”

The entrance fee is now around $3 for foreigners; locals get a discount and pay 75 cents.

. . .

Some people say they fear the Islamists will impose a draconian version of Islam in Somalia, which up until recently had been relatively secular.

But Ms. Elmi said she loved the Islamists.  And she has her own reasons.

“They bring peace,” she said.  “And peace brings tourists.”

 

For the full story, see: 

JEFFREY GETTLEMAN.  "MOGADISHU JOURNAL; From the Ashes, a Chunk of America Beckons in Somalia."  The New York Times  (Thurs., September 28, 2006):  A4.

(Note:  in the print version, but not the online version, there is a subheader placed in the center of the article that reads:  "An entrepreneur feeds a family, thanks to the remnants of a battle.") 

(Note:  ellipses added.)




October 5, 2006

Reforms Make it Easier to Start and Run a Business in Africa


(p. A12) Authors of the report, ''Doing Business,'' by the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation, the bank's private sector arm, say they hope simplifying and easing the rules of the capitalist game will entice more businesses above ground.

A team of 30 researchers found that African countries had made many incremental changes.

''The most surprising thing for me was to see the pickup of reform in Africa,'' said Simeon Djankov, a World Bank economist who four years ago developed the rankings on the ease of doing business.  ''Something has happened this year.  At least two-thirds of Africa's countries have at least one positive reform.''

Tanzania computerized its business and tax registries and reduced delays in customs inspections and the courts.

Ghana has cut the corporate tax rate to 25 percent, from 32.5 percent, and made it easier to export goods.

Rwanda scrapped a law adopted during Belgian colonial rule that had given one official a monopoly on notarizing documents for the entire country.

Ivory Coast slashed the time to register property to a month from more than a year by eliminating a requirement that the urban minister give his consent.

Wealthy donors like the World Bank, the United States and Britain, which focus on spurring economic growth and job creation, are putting heavier emphasis on such changes in deciding where to provide aid.

The Millennium Challenge Account, President Bush's aid program, explicitly uses the bank report's measure of days to start a business as one criterion for deciding who qualifies for large grants.

 

For the full story, see:

CELIA W. DUGGER.  "Africa Moves Up the Ladder of Business-Friendly Regions."   The New York Times (Weds., September 6, 2006):  A12.

(Note:  the online version of the article had this, slightly different, title:  "In Africa, a More Business-Friendly Approach.")   






September 17, 2006

World Health Organization (WHO?) Endorses DDT

MalariaGraphic.gif  Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.

 

The World Health Organization, in a sign that widely used methods of fighting malaria have failed to bring the catastrophic disease under control, plans to announce today that it will encourage the use of DDT, even though the pesticide is banned or tightly restricted in much of the world.

The new guidelines from the United Nations public-health agency support the spraying of small amounts of DDT, or dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane, on walls and other surfaces inside homes in areas at highest risk of malaria.  The mosquito-borne disease infects as many as 500 million people a year and kills about a million.  Most victims are in sub-Saharan Africa and under the age of 5.

 

For the full story, see:

BETSY MCKAY.  "WHO Calls for Spraying Controversial DDT To Fight Malaria." Wall Street Journal  (Fri., September 15, 2006):  B1.




September 11, 2006

Obama Says Africa Needs Less, and Better, Government: More on Why Africa is Poor

  Senator Obama in Kenya.  For the source of the photo, see: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/26/world/africa/26obama.html

 

NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug. 28 — Barack Obama strode into a packed auditorium in Nairobi on Monday and attacked an issue that notoriously bedevils Kenyan society:  corruption.

He urged people to reject “the insulting idea that corruption is somehow part of Kenyan culture” and “to stand up and speak out against injustices.”

. . .

During his speech on Monday, he laid out a tough prescription for Africa’s ills, calling for government cutbacks, more openness and less ethnic politics.

Kenya is one of the more developed countries in sub-Saharan Africa and one of the closest to the West, but it is consistently ranked by international organizations as one of the most corrupt.  Mr. Obama said this corroded its ability to attract investment, fight terrorism and provide security for its own people.

Most of all, he told Kenyans to stop complaining about the injustices of the colonial past and to accept responsibility.  “It’s more than just history and outside influence that explain why Kenya is lagging behind,” he said.

He ended by telling the crowd, “I want you all to know that as your ally, your friend and your brother, I will be there in every way I can.”

Many in the audience left in high spirits.

“He’s inspiring,” said Miriam Musonye, a literature professor.  “He really seems to believe what he says.”

 

For the full story, see:

JEFFREY GETTLEMAN.  "Obama Urges Kenyans to Get Tough on Corruption."  The New York Times  (Tues., August 29, 2006):  A10.

 




September 10, 2006

Against Malaria "DDT Works in Weeks or Months"

Recently I highlighted hedge fund philanthropist Lance Laifer's efforts to fight malaria in Africa.  Here is a letter-to-the-editor of the Wall Street Journal, in which a distinguished physician strongly endorses Laifer's advocacy of the use of DDT against malaria:

Impoverished Africans should be grateful to philanthropist Lance Laifer for his effective outreach to reduce the tragic, needless toll of malaria in sub-Saharan Africa ("Malaria's Toll" by Jason Riley, editorial page, Aug. 21).  For his attempt to focus complacent Americans, Mr. Riley also deserves thanks -- such clarity is obviously desperately needed, as even with all the publicity accorded to the ravages of malaria, someone as educated and intelligent as Mr. Laifer remained blithely unaware of this scourge until last year.

Both Mr. Laifer and Mr. Riley note the lack of attention given by official organizations to the more widespread use of DDT as a malaria control method, despite its long and honorable history for this use.  Even with his money and other resources, Mr. Laifer has been unable to persuade Africans to utilize DDT.  African exporters legitimately fear economic repercussions from wealthy Western trading partners, who continue to demonize this lifesaving insecticide despite the lack of evidence of DDT's adverse health effects in humans.

And where is the Gates Foundation's massive resources in this ongoing struggle to save a half-billion from sickness and millions from death?  This organization asserts its devotion to reducing the toll of TB, AIDS and malaria -- yet none of its funding is aimed toward the cheapest and most effective way to deal with malaria:  increased indoor spraying with DDT.  Maybe Warren Buffett can persuade his friends Bill and Melinda to target their contributions where they will do the most good, in the shortest time, for the most people.  Malaria vaccines are many years away -- DDT works in weeks or months.

Gilbert Ross M.D.
Executive and Medical Director
American Council on Science and Health
New York

 

For the source of the letter, and for other letters, see: 

"Malaria Kills Millions -- We Have the Cure."  Wall Street Journal  (Mon., August 28, 2006):  A13.




September 6, 2006

Unintended Consequences of Sending Food: More on Why Africa is Poor

  Millet in bowl.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

NIAMEY, Niger, Sept. 21 - The images coming out of this impoverished, West African nation have been unrelentingly grim:  hungry children with stick-thin arms and swollen bellies, mothers carrying babies hundreds of miles to look for food after a poor harvest and high prices put local staples out of reach.  A few months ago, those images prompted a torrent of food aid from Western donors.

But now, after a season of good rains, Niger's farmers are producing a bumper crop of millet, the national staple.  This should be a cause for rejoicing, yet in one of the twists that mark life in the world's poorest countries, the aid that was intended to save lives could ruin the harvest for many of Niger's farmers by driving down prices.

The newly harvested millet and the donated food will reach market stalls at the same time, and with prices depressed, poor farming families may be forced to sell crops normally set aside for their own use and use the money to pay off debts.  The effect would be a new cycle of hunger and poverty.

 

For the full story, see:

Burley, Natasha C.  "In Place Where the Hungry Are Fed, Farmers May Starve."  The New York Times  (Thurs., September 22, 2005):  A3.

 

NigerMap.jpg  Source of map:  online version of the NYT article cited above.



August 31, 2006

"DDT Saves Lives, Environmentalists Take Lives"

LaiferLanceMalariaFighter.gif  Connecticut hedge-fund trader, and malaria-fighting activist and philanthropist.  Source of image:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.

 

Inside of a year, and working with George Ayittey of the Free Africa Foundation, Mr. Laifer's efforts have spawned five "malaria-free zones" in Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya.  Expansion to Ivory Coast and Benin is in the works.  He adds that he has the financing to roll out additional zones this year but -- ever the searcher -- first wants to assess what's working and what isn't.  If all is going well, "next year I see us doing something like 100 villages."

Mr. Laifer says a future focus will also be DDT, the pesticide used by Americans and Europeans in the 1940s to win domestic fights against malarial mosquitoes.  Indoor spraying of DDT is by far the cheapest and most effective way to control the disease.  One South Africa province employing DDT saw malaria infections and deaths drop 96% over a three-year span.

Yet Rachel Carson-inspired environmentalists have convinced many public health agencies that the chemical is dangerous.  African nations, fearful that lucrative European and U.S. markets might ban their agricultural exports, make do with less-effective DDT substitutes.  Though DDT, like any chemical, can be harmful in high doses, there's no evidence that using it in the amounts needed to combat malaria has any ill-effect whatsoever on humans.

Mr. Laifer's been unable to spray DDT in any of his malaria-free zones.  "It's the best thing in our arsenal," he says.  "We have a prodigious supply, it's cheap and we know it works.  Our world leaders need to legalize DDT, and people in America need to get mad about this. . . . We need to have people walking around with signs that say, 'DDT saves lives, environmentalists take lives.'"

 

For the full commentary, see:

JASON L. RILEY.  "Malaria's Toll."  Wall Street Journal   (Mon., August 21, 2006):  A11.

 

(Note:  the ellipsis is in the original.)




August 3, 2006

"The More Sweatshops the Better"

JACQUELINE NOVOGRATZ, a veteran of the Rockefeller Foundation and a former consultant to the World Bank, talks enthusiastically about the development of a company in Africa where some 2,000 women earn, on average, $1.80 a day producing antimalarial bed netting.  With the assistance of a $350,000 loan from an American investor, the business started making the nets nearly three years ago and is likely to add 1,000 more jobs within the next year.

''They're in the process of building a real company town there,'' Ms. Novogratz said.

 

Ms. Novogratz is not an outsourcing executive at a multinational company.  Rather, she is the chief executive of the Acumen Fund, a philanthropic start-up based in New York that uses donations to make equity investments and loans in both for-profit and nonprofit companies in impoverished countries.  One of the stars of her small portfolio is the bed-netting maker, A to Z Manufacturing, a family-owned company in Tanzania -- a country where 80 percent of the population makes less than $2 a day.

. . .

''To put it in the baldest possible terms, the more sweatshops the better,'' said William Easterly, professor of economics at New York University and author of ''The White Man's Burden:  Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good.''  Professor Easterly is not advocating the deliberate creation of workplaces with miserable conditions.  ''As you increase the number of factories demanding labor, wages will be driven up,'' he said, and eventually such factories will not be sweatshops.

Ms. Novogratz says it can be difficult to tell well-off, philanthropy-minded Westerners that what Africa really needs is more $2-a-day jobs.  But when they understand the alternatives, she said, such concerns tend to melt away.  Before they found work at the netting factory in Tanzania, for example, many of the women were street vendors or domestic workers and earned less than $1 a day.  A to Z's wages place the women in Tanzania's top quartile of earners, Ms. Novogratz said.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

DANIEL GROSS.  "ECONOMIC VIEW; Fighting Poverty With $2-a-Day Jobs."  The New York Times    Section 3, (Sunday, July 16, 2006):  4.




July 12, 2006

Buffett and Gates Should Strengthen Foundations of Free-Market

If Warren Buffett is as serious about doing good with his wealth, as he was in becoming wealthy, he would ponder the Wall Street Journal's sage editorial page advice:

We can't think of two people less in need of our two cents than Messrs. Buffett and Gates.  But since giving free advice is our business, we'd suggest that they put at least a smidgen of their money back into strengthening the foundations of the free-market system that has allowed them to become so fabulously rich.  There's something to be said for reinvesting in the moral capital of a free society and trying to sustain and export free-enterprise policies.

Capitalism has done very well not just by Mr. Buffett but also by the world's poor, as several hundred million Chinese and Indians might attest.  African nations in particular need property rights and a rule of law as badly as they need vaccines.  On that score we were encouraged by a report this week that the Gateses thanked Mr. Buffett for his gift by presenting him with a book from their personal library:  Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations."

 

For the full editorial, see:

"Mr. Buffett's Gift."  The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., June 28, 2006):  A14.




July 10, 2006

Foreign Aid Is Harmful to African Countries: More on Why Africa is Poor

TroubleWithAftricaBK.jpg Source of book image:  online version of WSJ article cited below.

 

As Robert Calderisi makes clear in "The Trouble With Africa," foreign aid is usually mismanaged, wasted or simply diverted to various precincts of the continent's busy kleptocracies, subverting the evolution of normal markets.

Africa is by no means the only region in the world where corruption seems endemic.  Paul Wolfowitz, the head of the World Bank, addressed the problem of corruption on a trip to Indonesia earlier this year.  Even building a new baseball stadium in the Bronx can involve community-outreach efforts that might better be called payoffs.  But Africa seems to find it especially difficult to set up a legal system that can enforce contracts and compel transparency.

Mr. Calderisi says more explicitly than anyone -- except perhaps George B.N. Ayittey and the late British economist P.T. Bauer -- that foreign aid is almost always harmful to the African counties that receive it.  The fault, he notes, is not in the stars but in the behavior of Africans themselves, especially the leaders who have pocketed so much of the money intended for their citizens.

 

For the full review, see:

Roger Kaplan.  "Bookmarks."  Wall Street Journal  (Fri., June 2, 2006):  W7.

 

The full reference to the Calderisi book is:

Calderisi, Robert. The Trouble with Africa. Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.  (249 pages, $24.95)




May 29, 2006

Kenyan Lawmakers Nearly Double Their Mercedes Mileage Allowances: More on Why Africa is Poor

  The relatively modest vehicle of Francis Ole Kaparo, the speaker of Kenya's National Assembly, contrasts with other Kenyan lawmakers' "Mercedeses, Land Rovers and other typically sleek rides."   Source of photo:   the online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

NAIROBI, Kenya, May 21  —  It has been a trying year in Kenya, one of the worst in decades, as a severe drought killed off crops and cattle and left millions with empty stomachs and uncertain futures.

In such suffering, members of Parliament have been roused to action as seldom before, finding common ground on an issue so pressing that they threatened to stonewall the budget until it was addressed: another big increase in their compensation.

The move last month to reward themselves in a time of crisis infuriated Kenyan voters, most of whom eke out a living on a fraction of what their elected officials earn.  It also reinforced the notion that this was a political drought, one that owed its origins as much to mismanagement in a country that should be able to feed itself as to the vagaries of nature.

. . .

. . . , some say legislators have lost touch with the poor districts they represent.  Per capita income is about $463 a year, which nobody here would expect a lawmaker to survive on.  Minimum wage is $924 a year, still far too little, in most Kenyans' view, for someone taking care of the nation's business.

But the base compensation that legislators earn is about $81,000 a year, tax free, plus a variety of allowances and perks, which can effectively double their take-home pay.  That means those public servants earn more than most Kenyan corporate executives and outstrip the salaries of many of their counterparts in the developed world.

"They are behaving like we are rich and as if there's no famine and poverty in the country," Maina Kiai, the chairman of the Kenya National Commission of Human Rights, complained recently to the newspaper The Daily Nation.  "They want to make as much money as they can."

The latest increase, which cost the country $2.78 million, nearly doubled the mileage allowances that lawmakers receive for their Mercedeses, Land Rovers and other typically sleek rides.

 

For the full story, see:

MARC LACEY. "Nairobi Journal; Crisis Swirls in Kenya, and Politicians Reward Themselves." The New York Times (Mon., May 22, 2006):

 




May 26, 2006

Mugabe's Hyperinflation: More on Why Africa is Poor

 

(p. A1)  HARARE, Zimbabwe, April 25 — How bad is inflation in Zimbabwe?  Well, consider this:  at a supermarket near the center of this tatterdemalion capital, toilet paper costs $417.

No, not per roll.  Four hundred seventeen Zimbabwean dollars is the value of a single two-ply sheet.  A roll costs $145,750 — in American currency, about 69 cents.

The price of toilet paper, like everything else here, soars almost daily, spawning jokes about an impending better use for Zimbabwe's $500 bill, now the smallest in circulation.

But what is happening is no laughing matter.  For untold numbers of Zimbabweans, toilet paper — and bread, margarine, meat, even the once ubiquitous morning cup of tea — have become unimaginable luxuries.  All are casualties of the hyperinflation that is roaring toward 1,000 percent a year, a rate usually seen only in war zones.

. . .

(p. A11)  Those with spare cash put it not in banks, which pay a paltry 4 to 10 percent annual interest on savings, but in gilt-edged investments like bags of corn meal and sugar, guaranteed not to lose their value.

''There's a surrealism here that's hard to get across to people,'' Mike Davies, the chairman of a civic-watchdog group called the Combined Harare Residents Association, said in an interview.  ''If you need something and have cash, you buy it.  If you have cash you spend it today, because tomorrow it's going to be worth 5 percent less.

''Normal horizons don't exist here.  People live hand to mouth.''

. . .

. . . , Mr.  Mugabe's government has printed trillions of new Zimbabwean dollars to keep ministries functioning and to shield the salaries of key supporters -- and potential enemies -- against further erosion.  Supplemental spending proposed early in April would increase the 2006 spending limits approved last November by fully 40 percent, and more such emergency spending measures are all but certain before the year ends.

. . .

Hyperinflation is a cradle-to-grave experience here.  The government recently announced that the price of childbirth, now $7 million, would rise 463 percent by October.  Funeral costs are to double over the same period.

In rural areas, said one official of a foreign-based charity who declined to be named, fearing consequences from the government, even the barest funeral costs at least $6 million, or about $28.50 -- well beyond most families' means.  The dead are buried in open fields at night, she said.  Recently, she watched one family dismantle their home's cupboard to construct a makeshift coffin.

''I'll never forget that,'' she said.  ''The incredible sadness of it all.''

Critics say that Zimbabwe's rulers are oblivious to such suffering -- last year, Mr. Mugabe completed his own 25-bedroom mansion in a gated suburb north of town, close by the mansions of top ministers and military allies.

 

For the full story, see:

MICHAEL WINES.  "Zimbabwe's Prices Rise 900%, Turning Staples Into Luxuries." The New York Times  (Tues., May 2, 2006):  A1 & A11.




March 17, 2006

Ethanol Serves Agricultural Lobby

 

The U.S. imposes a 54-cent-a-gallon tariff on Brazilian ethanol, to discourage competition with domestic ethanol, which receives a 54-cent subsidy from taxpayers. The European Union just slapped new duties on Pakistani ethanol.

This should lay bare the fraud that what's going here has anything to do with energy security. It has only to do with the agricultural lobby masquerading its interests behind foolish and misleading rhetoric about energy security.

Take the pressure for flex-fuel mandates, requiring auto companies to build cars capable of running on 85% ethanol. Unmodified cars can already burn fuel comprised 10% of ethanol. If we were honestly keen on diversifying supply and squeezing out imported oil, we'd throw open our dense coastal markets to ethanol producers in Brazil, India, Pakistan, Nigeria and Thailand, displacing perhaps 10 billion gallons of current gasoline use without any vehicle modification or taxpayer subsidy at all.

 

For the full story, see:

HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR.  "BUSINESS WORLD; What's Wrong with Free Trade in Biofuels?"  The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., February 22, 2006):  A15.

 




February 23, 2006

Missing the Boat: More on Why Africa Is Poor



Source of photo: online version of the NYT article cited below.



KHARTOUM, Sudan, Jan. 30 -- Sudan's government pulled out all the stops for the heads of state who swept into town for the African Union summit conference last week. Streets were scrubbed and welcome signs erected. Elegant new villas, outfitted with fancy linen and china, were put up along the Nile.

And then there was the fancy presidential yacht that was supposed to ferry the dignitaries up and down the river for evening soirees. Much like Sudan's hopes of assuming the chairmanship of the African Union at the conference, though, the boat never materialized.

Even after the presidents had come and gone, the yacht was nowhere to be found. It was not on the White Nile, which flows northward from Lake Victoria. Nor was it on the Blue Nile, which swoops into Khartoum from Ethiopia.

But Ibrahim Khalfalla never lost sight of the hulking craft, which has two decks and is 118 feet long and 32 feet wide. He was the man charged with getting the boat from Slovenia, where it was built for an estimated $4.5 million, to Sudan, where President Omar Hassan al-Bashir planned to inaugurate it. And although he missed his deadline, Mr. Khalfalla said he did the best he could under the circumstances.

"This is difficult, so difficult," he said, as the huge tractor-trailer that had been carrying the boat from Port Sudan to Khartoum by road inched close to its destination the other day. "You don't know how difficult."

It was actually rather easy to see how challenging a job this was. Even with the boat a mere 200 feet from the water's edge, serious obstacles remained, like the building that the precious cargo struck while Mr. Khalfalla motioned wildly at the man behind the wheel of the truck.

As the yacht scraped against a brick wall, onlookers let out a groan. Soon workers were atop the boat, prying away bricks.

. . .

But even before the craft hit the water, it was taking on criticism from those who viewed it as an extravagant symbol of just how far removed the government is from the people.

Disparaged in newspapers as "Bashir's boat" and a "million-dollar toy," the craft, with its sophisticated satellite technology, elaborate presidential suite and dining facilities for 76 guests, left critics unimpressed.

The Juba Post, saying the government had "missed the boat," called on officials to donate it to the Red Cross as a floating hospital ship. "Children scrounge for food in Khartoum North," the paper said, not far from "the president's expensive shipwreck."

Another newspaper, The Khartoum Monitor, lamented that the government was using barges to take people displaced from the long war in the south back to their homes while the government imported a luxurious vessel for partying.



For the full story, see:

MARC LACEY. "Khartoum Journal: Sudan Leader Waits, and Waits, for His Ship to Come In." The New York Times (Tues., January 31, 2006): A4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


YachtStuck.jpg Source of photo: online version of the NYT article cited above.





January 30, 2006

Using a T-shirt to Tell the Story of Progress


Source of image: Amazon.com


The protests occurred on ''a cold day in February 1999.'' Ms. Rivoli was watching as students gathered at the gothic centerpiece of Georgetown to demonstrate against the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, and other putative villains of international trade. The crowd, Ms. Rivoli noticed with characteristic acuity, had ''a moral certainty, a unity of purpose'' that permitted it to distinguish black from white and good from evil ''with perfect clarity.'' One woman seized the microphone and asked: ''Who made your T-shirt? Was it a child in Vietnam? Or a young girl from India earning 18 cents per hour? Did you know that she lives 12 to a room? That she shares her bed and has only gruel to eat?''

Ms. Rivoli did not know these things, and she wondered how the woman at the microphone knew. But she decided to find out. In the rest of her narrative, the author tells the story of ''her'' T-shirt, which she purchased for $5.99 by the exit of a Walgreen's in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. ''It was white and printed with a flamboyantly colored parrot, with the word 'Florida' scripted beneath.'' A company in Miami had engraved the front, after buying the shirt from a factory in China. The Chinese manufacturer had purchased the cotton used to make the shirt from Texas. Eventually it will end up as part of a large but little-known market for used clothing destined for resale in East African ports.

. . .

By looking across history to the shifting center of textile manufacturing from Manchester, England, to Lowell, Mass., to South Carolina to Japan and, finally, the developing nations of Asia, Ms. Rivoli discovers a universal truth. Without making light of the horrors experienced by workers, she asserts that their jobs were a little better than other available options (usually farm work) and, what's more, that textile factories led to advances in industrialization and, just as dependably, in living standards. It is not too much to say that she uses the T-shirt to tell the story of progress.


For the full commentary on Rivoli's book, see:

ROGER LOWENSTEIN. "OFF THE SHELF; Travels With My Florida Parrot T-Shirt." The New York Times, Section 3 (Sun., August 21, 2005): 7.


The book is:

Pietra Rivoli. The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade. John Wiley & Sons, 2005. ISBN: 0471648493




January 24, 2006

"Sachs Aid Model Has Financed Tyranny": More on Why Aftrica is Poor


Famine in Niger is no surprise -- desert wastes, locusts and decades of Marxist rule keep it second-to-last on the world poverty list. Famine in the fertile climes of southern and eastern Africa, however, seems more shocking. But there's a common thread: centralized state rule -- incompetent at best -- marked by corruption and sustained by aid. These are the shackles that keep Africans poor: It would be nice if EU and U.S. trade barriers were removed at trade talks in Hong Kong this week, but exports are a distant notion to the 75% of Africans who live off the land.

Niger is little-blessed by nature, but it has also spent its postcolonial era trying various forms of failed government, with Marxism reigning longest. A quarter of the population -- 2.5 million people -- faces starvation. Yet more temperate southern and eastern African countries are on the edge of famine, too, with 10 million affected in southern Africa alone. Again, we find the same economic profile: Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho all lack economic freedom and property rights; all have economies mismanaged by the state; all depend on aid. All these countries have a history of utopian schemes that failed to produce everlasting manna. State farms, marketing boards, land redistribution, price controls and huge regional tariffs left few incentives or opportunities for subsistence farmers to expand. Despite torrents of aid, these cruel social experiments could not turn sands verdant or prevent the granaries of southern and eastern Africa from rotting.

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi believes that allowing Ethiopians to own their land would make them sell out to multinationals. He seems to have overlooked a basic market principle: It demands a willing seller and a willing buyer at an agreed price. If that price is worth selling for, the farmer might have some money to reinvest elsewhere; if that price is worth buying for, the purchaser must have plans to make the land profitable. If there is no sale, owners might have an incentive to invest in their own land and future, having, at last, the collateral of the land on which to get a loan. After decades of socialism, Ethiopia's agricultural sector -- the mainstay of the economy -- is less productive per capita than 20 years ago when Band Aid tried to defeat famine. Although 60% of the country is arable, only 10% has been cultivated. Ethiopia is entirely dependent on donations; but instead of grasping reality, Mr. Zenawi, a member of Tony Blair's "Commission for Africa," is forcing resettlement on 2.2 million people.

In Zimbabwe, the murderous kleptocrats of Robert Mugabe's regime deny that land seizure has pushed their rich and fertile country into famine: Some three million people face starvation today.

. . .

African leaders must be pushed to reduce economic intervention, free financial markets, remove bureaucratic obstacles to setting up businesses, establish property rights and enforce contract law. These are the forces that release entrepreneurial energy. But the ruling cliques will do none of these unless forced to do so as a condition of aid. The Sachs aid model has financed tyranny and corruption for 40 years, leaving Africans destitute. The world trade meeting in Hong Kong will hear cries for "Trade Justice" for Africa, representing more protectionism and more state-run, aid-fueled schemes. What we really need is economic freedom and the rule of law at home: We are perfectly capable of improving our own lot if only allowed to do so.


For the full commentary, see:

FRANKLIN CUDJOE. "The Terms of Trade: Africa Needs Freer Markets -- and Fewer Tyrants." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., December 14, 2005): A20.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: The WSJ identifies Mr. Cudjoe as "director of Imani, a policy think tank in Ghana.")




January 20, 2006

Researchers Want PhDs, "We want development": More on Why Africa is Poor

Researcher asks Kenyans their reaction to a Western men's health magazine.   Image source: online version of article cited below.


(p. 1) LEWOGOSO LUKUMAI, Kenya - The rugged souls living in this remote desert enclave have been poked, pinched and plucked, all in the name of science.   It is not always easy, they say, to be the subject of a human experiment.

. . .

(p. 6) Over the years, the Ariaal have had hairs pulled not just from their heads, but also chins and chests.   They have spat into vials to provide saliva samples.  They have been quizzed about how often they urinate.  Sometimes the questioning has become even more intimate.

Mr. Garawale recalls a visiting anthropologist measuring his arms, back and stomach with an odd contraption and then asking him how often he got erections and whether his sex life was satisfactory. ''   It was so embarrassing,'' recalled the father of three, breaking out in giggles even years later.

Not all African tribes are as welcoming to researchers, even those with the necessary permits from government bureaucrats.   But the Ariaal have a reputation for cooperating -- in exchange, that is, for pocket money.

. . .

The Ariaal have no major gripes about the studies, although the local chief in Songa, Stephen Lesseren, who wore a Boston University T-shirt the other day, said he wished their work would lead to more tangible benefits for his people.

''We don't mind helping people get their Ph.D.'s,'' he said.  ''But once they get their Ph.D.'s, many of them go away. They don't send us their reports.  What have we achieved from the plucking of our hair?  We want feedback.  We want development.''


For the full story, see:

MARC LACEY. "Remote and Poked, Anthropology's Dream Tribe." The New York Times, Section 1 (Sun., December 18, 2005): 1 & 6.




January 5, 2006

Ethiopian Comparative Advantage Squandered through Graft and Corruption: More on Why Africa is Poor

   The source for the image of the book is: http://nasw.org/users/markp/grounds.html

 

One theory of how countries acquire a comparative advantage in a commodity ties the comparative advantage to some natural resource, climate or other "endowment" advantage the country has. This partially 'explains' some comparative advantages, but leaves many others unexplained (like why Japan has a comparative advantage in cars).

But even on the endowment theory's own terms, it would seem that an initial comparative advantage can be squandered. Consider Ethiopia, which is the country in which coffee beans were first discovered, many centuries ago.

(p. 153) . . . Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee, now exported a negligible amount of the bean, largely due to graft and corruption extending from King Menelik down to the country's customs agents, . . .

(King Menelek II ruled Ethiopia from 1889 until his death in 1911.)

 

The quotation is from:

Pendergrast, Mark. Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World. New York: Basic Books, 2000.

 




January 4, 2006

Economic Growth Achieved by Entrepreneurs Taking Prudent Risks

(p. 489) Nor should anyone feel guilty about taking prudent risks.This is a fundamental truth that I learned from Joseph Schumpeter, who believed that without entrepreneurs willing to bring new products and ideas to the market and investors ready to finance them, it would be impossible to achieve real economic growth.The alternative, as we have learned to our sorrow in the twentieth century, is government control of the factors of production with results that can be seen in the devastated landscapes and abandoned factories of Russia and Eastern Europe, and the scarred lives of billions of human beings throughout Asia. South America, and Africa.

Rockefeller, David. Memoirs. New York: Random House, 2002.




December 14, 2005

Good Eating for Experts: More on Why Africa is Poor

Michael Wines, writing from Malawi in Africa:

It makes one wonder why, with so many experts here to do good, the rest of the country not only isn't thriving, but is slipping backward.

. . .

There is even a hilarious poem demonizing "the development set":

We bring in consultants whose circumlocution
Raises difficulties for every solution
Thus guaranteeing continued good eating
By showing the need for another meeting.

MICHAEL WINES. "Letter From Malawi: Amid Squalor, an Aid Army Marches to No Drum at All." The New York Times (Weds., December 7, 2005): A4.




December 6, 2005

Audacious Nigerian Kleptocrat Cross-dresses to Evade Justice: More on Why Africa is Poor

"Workers installing imported marble on a staircase at Mr. Alamieyeseigha's official mansion." Photo by Michael Kamber for The New York Times. Source of photo and caption: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/29/international/africa/29nigeria.html?pagewanted=1

YENAGOA, Nigeria, Nov. 22 - Precisely where in the rogue's gallery of corrupt Nigerian leaders Diepreye Alamieyeseigha will fall is a matter for history to judge. Gen. Sani Abacha, the military dictator who helped himself to at least $3 billion and salted it away in foreign bank accounts, doubtless stole far more.

But General Abacha - who ruled the country from 1993 to 1998 - never fled money-laundering charges in a foreign land by donning a dress and a wig to match forged travel documents, as Mr. Alamieyeseigha, the governor of a small oil-producing state in the Niger Delta, did last week, government officials said.

For their sheer audacity, his antics are likely to earn him a prominent place among the leaders who in the past four decades are believed to have stolen or misspent $400 billion in government money, most of it the profits from Nigeria's oil reserves.

"It is a new low," said Gani Fawehinmi, one of Nigeria's most prominent lawyers and a longtime campaigner for good governance. "And in Nigeria that is saying something."

Mr. Alamieyeseigha is suspected of siphoning millions of dollars in cash and buying an oil refinery in Ecuador along with several houses in London, California and South Africa. He has denied stealing money from the state.

The sordid saga of the governor comes as the federal government has engaged in a broad effort to rehabilitate the country's image around the world.

Long associated with rampant corruption and kleptocratic governments, Nigeria has year in and year out gotten one of the worst scores in Transparency International's world corruption perception index, though this year its rating improved slightly.

Corruption touches virtually every aspect of Nigerian life, from the millions of sham e-mail messages sent each year by people claiming to be Nigerian officials seeking help with transferring large sums of money out of the country, to the police officers who routinely set up roadblocks, sometimes every few hundred yards, to extract bribes of 20 naira, about 15 cents, from drivers. (p. A1)

For the full article, see:

LYDIA POLGREEN. "As Nigeria Tries to Fight Graft, a New Sordid Tale." The New York Times (Tues., November 29, 2005): A1 & A12.




September 24, 2005

World Bank's Favorite New Book

Speaking of Paul Wolfowitz, the new World Bank President:

His favorite new source book is the World Bank's "Doing Business" report, an annual guide to the obstacles that countries impose on their own entrepreneurs. The 2006 version is just out, and for the first time Mr. Wolfowitz had it rank countries, from 1 to 155, on the "ease of doing business." New Zealand ranked first, and the U.S. third (after Singapore), but African nations held down 25 of the last 30 places.

Take Burkina Faso, a landlocked West African country that came in at . . . 154. "If you were in a food supply business," Mr. Wolfowitz says, "registering a business would require minimum capital equal to nearly five times annual income. Fees alone cost 1½ times income per capita . . . to register your land, you have to pay fees, 16% of the value of the land. So the result is in a country of 12 million people, only 50,000 are in the formal" economy.

So why is he optimistic? Burkina has grown for the last decade, he says, and the country has political cohesion. "I had a great meeting with the president of Burkina" on a recent trip, and "I shouldn't say this, but I want to find a way to communicate these results to him and say, do something about it, your country will grow even more."

PAUL A. GIGOT. "Dr. Wolfowitz, I Presume." Wall Street Journal (September 24, 2005): A10.

The "Doing Business" report is in its second or third annual version, and is described enthusiastically in Thomas Friedman's new book The World is Flat. John Devereux suggested to me that one interpretation of the criteria used for the ranking, is that they are a step in the direction of measuring openness to creative destruction.




August 31, 2005

The Abuse of Power

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From a review of a promising book:

Most African countries have been atrociously governed in the past half-century. A lack of institutional checks has allowed an array of incompetent strongmen to rule as they pleased until the money ran out, at which point northern donors often tossed them an extra bundle of cash.

. . .

Kwame Nkrumah, for example, is widely revered. The founding father of independent Ghana, he was also an eloquent advocate of a united Africa. Africans tend to recall him as a man of great personal integrity who strove mightily to drag his country into the industrial age. Mr. Meredith lays out the facts. Nkrumah paid for his grand (and uniformly loss-making) industrial projects by squeezing money out of Ghana's poorest citizens, the peasants, and by borrowing recklessly. He was utterly clueless about money. When his finance minister told him in 1963 that the national reserves were less than $1.4 million, he "sat in silence for fifteen minutes, then broke down and wept."

He not only wrecked the Ghanaian economy; he also snuffed out such political freedoms as the country had enjoyed at independence. He had a law passed in 1958 allowing him to jail anyone suspected of subversive intentions. Twelve parliamentarians objected, on the ground that such a power was sure to be abused. Eleven of them were jailed, which rather proved their point.


ROBERT GUEST. "So Badly Misled." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., August 31, 2005): D10. (A review of: Meredith, Martin. The Fate of Africa. PublicAffairs, 2005.)




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