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Published: Sat, 21 Oct 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Sat, 21 Oct 2017 01:24:17 -0400


How Niger Is Kind of Like Benghazi

Thu, 19 Oct 2017 14:20:00 -0400

It's always exciting to watch a partisan talking point emerge in real time. Take the tortured analogy between the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the ambush that just killed four American soldiers in Niger. As the talking point metastasizes on Twitter, it's already being echoed by a member of Congress, with Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) declaring that Niger "might wind up to be Mr. Trump's Benghazi." It isn't what she means, but there is one fundamental similarity between the two attacks: Both were the foreseeable effects of aimless intervention. The best way to prevent such meaningless deaths is to stop such meaningless interventions before they get off the ground. President George W. Bush first sent U.S. troops to Niger in 2005. President Barack Obama sent an additional 100 special forces there in 2013. About 800 American troops there now. The U.S. is building a second, $100 million drone base in the country. With so much military activity in Niger, American fatalities were bound to happen. A lot of questions remain about this particular ambush; the Senate Armed Services Committee, chaired by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), is likely to seek more details about how the attack occurred. What McCain will almost certainly not address is the point of the U.S. mission in Niger in the first place, just as none of the investigations into Benghazi bothered to reflect on how the U.S.-backed intervention in Libya destabilized the country and created the environment in which Benghazi could take place. The ranking Democrat on the committee, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), signaled that he might look at the broader issues at play. "I think the administration has to be more clear about our role in Niger and our role in other areas in Africa and other parts of the globe," Reed said on CNN. "They have to connect it to a strategy. They should do that. I think that the inattention to this issue is not acceptable." That's true. But Reed isn't exactly innocent of inattention himself. He has been in the Senate since 1997, but he didn't raise concerns about the U.S. presence in Niger before this week. In the immediate aftermath of the Niger ambush, I predicted that most Americans would forget about the U.S. troops in Niger soon enough. I was almost right—the issue had in fact receded into the background again before Trump blasted it back into the news cycle by making what should've been routine condolences into the latest episode of the Trump Show. The four American troops killed in Niger are not the first U.S. service members killed outside of the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq since 9/11. They are not even the first American fatalities outside the two major wars since Trump took office. A Navy SEAL was killed in action in Somalia in May to little fanfare. Trump did not remark on the death, either adeptly or boorishly. So the U.S. presence in Somalia, which Trump has expanded, did not make a major impression on the American news cycle. This weekend's truck bombing in Mogadishu, Somalia, killed nearly 300 people, but it quickly fell off the news cycle as well. Revelations that the bombing may have been a retaliation for a failed U.S. operation did not substantively register either. There are also a number of important differences between the ambush in Niger and the attack in Benghazi, most of which serve to display the craven opportunism at work in tying the two together. In Niger, hundreds of U.S. troops are on the ground to help local forces fight terrorists. It's not surprising some terrorists would shoot back, and that sometimes they'd hit. It's remarkable that there have not been more casualties. Benghazi was not the same kind of war zone. The U.S. government had spent a year at that point insisting its intervention in the Libyan civil war had not destabilized the country, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Clinton herself pushed the idea that the attack on the consulate in Benghazi was a spontaneous one, linked to other protests, some of which were violent, at embassies across the Muslim world that day. The Obam[...]

U.S. Troops Will Stay in Niger and You'll Forget About It Again Soon Enough

Thu, 05 Oct 2017 10:58:00 -0400

(image) Three U.S. troops killed in Niger became the first American casualties of a campaign launched by President Barack Obama in 2013 to assist French forces in rooting out Islamists in Mali.

"What," a probably small number of Americans are asking today, "are U.S. troops doing in Niger?"

Well, it's not quite simple. When the U.S. moved into Libya and took out Col. Moammar Qaddafi in 2011, it led to a stream of fighters and weapons from the Libyan regime spreading through the region as far as Nigeria and Syria.

In 2012, Tuareg rebels once in the employ of Qaddafi overthrew a democratic government in Mali the U.S. once pointed to as "one of the most enlightened democracies in Africa." The French, once Mali's colonial masters, soon followed. In 2013, they declared victory but promised to keep troops in the country as long as necessary.

This spread of fighters and weapons empowered Islamists in the region, feeding a resurgence of Al Qaeda in the Maghreb. Libya, North Africa, West Africa, and even the U.S., will be dealing with the consequences of the 2011 intervention for a long time.

While not at all simple, these "unintended consequences" were totally predictable. What ought to be simple is for U.S. foreign policy makers to accept that military intervention and regime change creates chaotic conditions in which extremism thrives. Libya and Iraq are just two recent examples.

Nevertheless, the U.S. insists it will continue joint counterterrorism operations with the Niger military.

The U.S. has been expanding its military footprint in Africa, especially in West Africa. In 2014 the U.S. deployed a "special security team" to Nigeria to help in the search for 300 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram. Only a couple of dozen of the girls were rescued. The U.S. is also building a drone base in a volatile region in Niger, and it runs numerous military intelligence operations across Africa.

The Obama administration was tight-lipped on U.S. activities in Africa, and most U.S. media and voters showed little interest in the evolving theater in the war on terror.

President Trump, for his part, has made it clear he'd rather defer decision-making to the military and explicitly rejected the idea of transparency in U.S. military action, claiming it only helps the enemy.

U.S. fatalities might be the only time American military misadventure in Africa gets any attention. Members of Congress interested in curbing the executive branch's war powers (like those trying to force a vote on U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen) ought not forget the importance of asserting their role in warmaking when it comes to U.S. involvement in Africa.

Europe's Anti-GMO Stance Is Killing Africans

Tue, 05 Sep 2017 06:42:00 -0400

Fifteen years ago, The Economist ran an article headlined "Better dead than GM-fed?" It focused on the refusal of some African countries to allow imports of American food aid, because it contained genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This was when extreme hunger threatened some 15 million people, before Africa's decade of economic growth spurred by high commodity prices as well as some economic reforms.

Some of the reasons for the refusal of U.S. food aid, such as Zambia's then-president Levy Mwanawasa's statement that GMOs were "poison," were just silly. American's have been eating GMO foods for decades and there is not an iota of evidence that GMOs are detrimental to health. Other reasons were more serious.

Much of Africa's agricultural produce is still destined for Europe and the European Union has been waging a war on GMO foods for decades. The reasons for the EU's anti-GMO stance, ostensibly, are health concerns. In reality, the EU is trying to protect its farmers against their more productive American competitors. Thus, were the U.S. food aid inadvertently to "contaminate" Africa's crops, Africans would be in trouble.

While imports of GMOs are not barred from Europe by law, the EU food labelling system obliges companies to indicate if the food or feed they produce contains GMOs. This labelling applies when GMOs account for at least 0.9 percent of the food or the feed. Since Europeans have been brainwashed into believing that GMO foods are unsafe, scary labelling could dampen European demand for African agricultural produce. As such, much of Africa has not only refused to grow GMOs, but also refused U.S. food aid.

Today, scholars can estimate the cost of Africa's refusal to grow GMO crops. According to a recent study in the journal PLoS One, delays in the introduction of disease-resistant cooking banana (matoke), insect-resistant cow pea, and corn (maize) "have resulted in significant economic and human health costs, including malnutrition and stunting."

"If Kenya had adopted GE [genetically engineered] corn in 2006," the study estimates, "between 440 and 4,000 lives could theoretically have been saved. Similarly, Uganda had the possibility in 2007 to introduce the black sigatoka resistant banana, thereby potentially saving between 500 and 5,500 lives over the past decade."

Each year of delay in the introduction of GMO crops to Africa increases the death count as well as revenue loss for African farmers. For example, insect-resistant Bt cowpea was supposed to become available to farmers in Benin, Niger and Nigeria this year. The authors of the study worry that anti-biotech activists could delay its introduction or postpone it indefinitely.

"A one-year delay in approval [of the insect-resistant Bt cowpea]," they estimate, "would especially harm Nigeria, as malnourishment is widespread there... [and] cost Nigeria about 33 million USD to 46 million USD and between 100 and 3,000 lives."

European restrictions on GMOs, the study argues, have serious costs. The same, however, goes for EU and U.S. agricultural subsidies, which undermine their African competitors and cost European and American taxpayers billions of dollars each year. I have a better idea. Let's keep our money and let African compete with us on an even playing field.

George Clooney Leaves Free Market Solutions Out of Proposals to Fight World Poverty

Thu, 01 Jun 2017 14:05:00 -0400

Actor and activist George Clooney took to the Wall Street Journal editorial page last week to propose unconventional solutions to global humanitarian crises. Clooney's "plan" has three basic components: Recognize those trying to implement change from the ground up, work to address corruption, and involve charitable behaviors from businesses. The commentary, "Let the Private Sector Help Tackle the Migration Crisis," initially sounds compelling, but despite what is suggested by the headline, Clooney fails to discuss how the free market can solve problems. His mention of the private sector as a humanitarian solution highlights the role of philanthropy, not free enterprise. Wealthy individuals (such as Clooney himself) donating time and money to the developing world is admirable, but does not have the same effect as entrepreneurship. Consider the example of Azuri Technologies, which provides solar energy to households in Sub-Saharan Africa on a pay-as-you go basis. The company has sold 100,000 solar units since their launch in 2011. Solar can help the 600 million Africans who live without access to electricity, many of whom still rely on kerosene lamps. Also take a look at the high-profile company Bridge International, which builds "schools-in-a-box"—standardized schools and curriculum with tuition less than $1 a day. While Bridge is often tainted by controversy, mostly from fights with teachers' unions and governments, their standardized model and use of technology address many shortcomings of public education in Africa and Asia. In Kenya, the World Bank estimates that 47.3 percent of public school teachers have failed to show up for work on a given day. At a Bridge school, the teacher absentee rate is less than 1 percent. In comparison with the remarkable benefits of free enterprise, Clooney's strategy is much less impressive: "We need to harness the power of business to advance humanitarian solutions. With ample resources and less bureaucracy, the private sector can play a much more important role in addressing famine, providing health care and education, and delivering clean water. Business leaders increasingly want to incorporate humanitarian efforts into the work of their companies. The international yogurt manufacturer Chobani, for example, not only helps resettle refugees but also employs and educates them so they can enjoy a better life. This needs to become the norm, not the exception, for 21st-century businesses." Chobani is, first and foremost, a producer of yogurt. Founder Hamdi Ulukaya then donates to benefit refugees in Europe and the Middle East and employs refugees in the U.S. By providing jobs, Ulukaya, may help settle some refugees. Yet by only including this business-first, charity-second approach in his plan, Clooney fails to fully harness the power of free enterprise. In highlighting charity as part of his solution, Clooney seems to forget that customers' willingness to pay for products that improve their lives is not a Western phenomenon. In the developing world there are no perfect solutions. Yet free enterprise provides measurably better alternatives. Tales of philanthropy are more glamorous than profit-seeking businesses, but also more rare. So, Mr. Clooney, if you desire to incorporate the private sector into your humanitarian solution, embrace its problem-solving ability, not just the generosity of a few of its members.[...]

The United Nations’ 'Lords of Poverty'

Tue, 23 May 2017 07:00:00 -0400

In 2004, I attended a gathering of African libertarians in Mombasa, Kenya. Our goal was to discuss economic reforms that sub-Saharan Africa needed in order to achieve higher rates of growth and a greater reduction in poverty. In many a developing country, taxi drivers are founts of wisdom, and so I struck up a conversation with the man who drove me from the airport to the hotel. When he asked me what brought me to Kenya, I responded that I was partaking in a conference about economic development. My taxi driver shook his head and muttered, "You all fly here for a few days, stay at the nicest hotels, and nothing ever changes." Our hotel in Mombasa was nothing special and libertarian gatherings are not, as a general rule, opulent affairs (especially in Africa!), but my brief conversation with the Kenyan taxi driver was instructive. Clearly, he assumed that I was a part of the travelling circus of thousands of officials from aid agencies, international organizations and NGOs, who enjoy business-class travel to some of the world's most exotic destinations, where they are housed and dined at the taxpayers' expense. To wit, consider a recent story from the Associated Press, which found that the United Nations' World Health Organization "routinely spends about $200 million a year on travel—far more than what it doles out to fight some of the biggest problems in public health including AIDS, tuberculosis or malaria." According to the WHO's internal documents, which were obtained by the AP, "staffers are breaking the rules by booking perks like business class airplane tickets and rooms in five-star hotels." "On a recent trip to Guinea, where WHO director-general Dr. Margaret Chan praised health workers in West Africa for triumphing over Ebola," the AP found, "Chan stayed in the biggest presidential suite at the Palm Camayenne hotel in Conakry. The suite has an advertised price of 900 euros ($1,008) a night." Some aid specialists, including the inestimable William Easterly, who is the Professor of Economics at New York University and co-director of the NYU Development Research Institute, have long complained about this sort of behavior. In his 2007 book, The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good, Easterly drew the readers' attention to the aid establishment's ineptitude in stimulating growth in poor countries and attempting to implant Western institutions "from the top down." Graham Hancock's 1994 book, The Lords of Poverty: The Power, Prestige, and Corruption of the International Aid Business, is still worth reading. As the author explains, much of foreign aid is used to subsidize opulent lifestyles within the aid establishment. "Only a small portion of [aid money]," Hancock writes, "is ever translated into direct assistance. Thanks to bureaucratic inefficiency, misguided policies, large executive salaries, political corruption, and the self-perpetuating 'overhead' of the administrative agencies, much of this tremendous wealth is frittered away." President Donald Trump is said to be considering large cuts to foreign aid. Those cuts cannot come soon enough. But Trump should take his reform agenda (provided that it is genuine) a step further and order a thorough audit of our international commitments. American membership in hundreds of international and supra-national agencies should be evaluated on a cost-benefit basis (I volunteer to sit on such a panel and wield an axe on behalf of the U.S. taxpayer) and withdraw from ineffective or outdated organizations. That, alas, is the only way to put an end to the travelling circus of the Lords of Poverty. P.S.: For those interested, I tried to summarize the most pertinent arguments against foreign aid in a 2009 Cato paper, "The False Promise of Gleneagles: Misguided Priorities at the Heart of the New Push for African Development."[...]

Yes, the Population of Africa Will Grow Tremendously This Century

Tue, 16 May 2017 07:00:00 -0400

In my Reason column last week, I wrote about Africa's economic prospects in view of the continent's explosive population growth. A number of readers wrote to me in response to the article and I will attempt to address their most important concerns below. First, readers wondered if my population estimates reflected the expected changes to the total fertility rate (TFR) among African women. Indeed, they have. The population data in the original article came from the United Nation's database, which adjusts for different fertility rate scenarios. Holding TFR constant, the world would contain 26 billion people in 2100. Of those, 16 billion would live in Africa. Contrast that with the "low" fertility variant, which estimates a global population of 7.3 billion (3 billion in Africa). In my article, I referenced the "medium" fertility variant, which assumes a global population of 11.2 billion and African population of 4.4 billion. Second, a number of readers wanted to know how Africa's population can grow so fast, considering that it is economically so backward. In the past, economic output supplied a Malthusian check on population growth. That does not seem to be the case anymore. Why? I tried to answer that question elsewhere. Simply put, economic freedom (and, consequently, growth) benefits not only the people who have it, but also people who don't. Consider a concrete example. Between 1960, the year of African independence, and 2015, the income gap between sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and the United States has actually widened. In 1960, average GDP per person in SSA amounted to 6.31 percent of the same in the United States. Over the next 55 years, incomes in SSA adjusted for inflation grew by 55 percent. But they grew by 203 percent in America. That meant that in 2015, SSA amounted to 3.21 per cent of American income. However, the gap in life expectancy, which is the best indicator of the overall standard of living, between the two has shrunk! In 1960, SSA life expectancy was 58 percent that of the United States. Over the next 55 years, SSA life expectancy grew by 47 percent, while American life expectancy grew by 14 percent. So, in 2015, SSA life expectancy rose to 75 percent that of the United States. To put it in terms of years, SSA life expectancy rose from 40.17 years to 59 years, while US life expectancy rose "only" from 69.77 years to 79.16 years. Africans, in other words, did not have to become rich in order to start experiencing longer and better lives. Instead, all of Africa benefited from the technological advances that occurred elsewhere. The airplane, an American invention, flies life-saving medicines into the deepest Congo. Synthetic insulin, a Canadian invention, saves lives in South Africa. The photocopier, another American discovery, is making it easy for poor kids to learn how to read in Angola. Third, assuming that a) the African population will grow as expected and b) economic conditions do not improve sufficiently to soak up all the additional workers, what will the future generations of Africans do? The European TFR is well below replacement rate of 2.1 and the average age of Europeans is increasing. Already 17 percent of Europeans are over the age of 65. The African population, in contrast, is going to remain relatively "young" for decades to come. In 2014, 84 out of 100 Africans had a cell phone and 20 out of 100 used the internet. It is unlikely that future generations of young Africans will want to sit around and see their lives wasted away in dysfunctional places like Niger or Burundi—when better alternatives are possible. Whereas the United States is separated from Africa by a vast ocean, mass movement of people from Africa to Europe is relatively easy. So the obvious answer to the African conundrum seems to be immigration to Europe. If you like these statistics, please visit Human Progress. [...]

Namibia President Warns About ‘Fake News’ While Taking Credit for High Press Freedom Ranking

Thu, 11 May 2017 17:54:00 -0400

(image) The southern African country of Namibia ranked number 24 in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index, which was released last month, placing it above the U.S., which was at 43 this year, but representing a drop of 7 places—putting Namibia in the two thirds of countries that dropped in the rankings between 2016 and 2017.

Namibia's president, Hage Geingob, nevertheless took credit for Namibia's relatively high position—the highest in Africa and higher than countries like the U.S., the United Kingdom, and France.

"As long as I am given the mandate to lead this great country, the freedom of the press is guaranteed," the president said at World Press Freedom Day celebrations held in the capital of Windhoek, according to The Namibian.

"This is not to say that we are happy with the status quo in our country," Geingob said in his speech. "Far from it. We want our media to be the freest in the world. We are talking about being number one, not just in Africa, but in the world."

But, like most heads of state around the world, Geingob has a peculiar view of what constitutes a free press. Geingob warned about the need for "accountability," and suggested it could be imposed by the government, to combat the emergence of "fake news."

The media "must guard against becoming lap dogs or attack dogs. They must be the watchdogs," Geingob said. But that's not a free press—in a free and open media environment there will be outlets that act as lap dogs, others that act as attack dogs, and still others that embrace the role of watch dog. The point is that a free market of ideas and speech produces a diverse and self-regulating press.

Warnings about "fake news" and calls to "do something" about it invariably ignore the nature of a free press.

What's more, media watchdogs in Namibia blame Geingob's government for the deterioration of press freedom in the country.

The Namibian chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Namibia) noted in a statement reported by The Namibian that while the government markets the country as a human rights and press friendly jurisdiction, the same government regularly threatens members of the media.

"Critical journalists find a refuge on the internet, where they are not subject to control, but self-censorship is common in the state-owned media," the statement said.

The director of MISA-Namibia said the drop in rankings was not surprising. "It was expected, considering some of the issues around media freedom, especially how our leaders such as the president and the information minister have insulted and intimidated journalists, as well as some attempts to regulate the media," Natasha Tibinyane told The Namibian. "They should be ashamed of themselves."

Politicians rarely have a sense of shame of their own, but a free press can certainly help politicians discover it.

The Prospects for Progress in Africa

Tue, 09 May 2017 07:00:00 -0400

Recently, I came across a stunning statistic. By mid-century, there will be more Nigerians than Americans. Nigeria is one of the world's worst run countries and its unemployment rate hovers around 24 percent. A dysfunctional country and an exploding population do not mix very well. What is true of Nigeria is also true of large parts of the African continent. As we speak, one out of seven inhabitants of the planet lives in Africa. By mid-century, one in four people on Earth will be African. If the current trends continue, somewhere between one third and one half of the world's population will live in Africa by 2100. African unemployment is not easy to guesstimate, but South Africa, the continent's economic powerhouse, suffers from an unemployment rate of 27 percent. How, I wonder, are all of these people going to make a living? This column is, generally speaking, the very definition of optimism. I am, for example, largely sanguine about the impact of automation on America's unemployment rate. Our country has lived through profound economic changes in the past and risen to the challenge. At the time of the American Revolution, for example, over 90 percent of Americans worked in agriculture. As late as 1900, 40 percent of Americans did so. Today, 1.5 percent do, while feeding the country as well as much of the rest of the world too. All that surplus labor was soaked up by manufacturing and, later, services. Adjusted for population growth, a record number of Americans today has a job, dislocation emanating from the IT revolution notwithstanding. Relatively speaking, the United States is well placed to deal with automation, robotics, and perhaps even artificial intelligence. Our state-run primary and secondary education systems sucks, but American universities are second to none and the number of college-educated Americans is at an all-time high. We have a decent legal system and business environment. The welfare state, while technically bankrupt, can provide a cushion for the temporarily unemployed in extremis (and after cuts elsewhere). That does not mean that America does not need reforms, hence the "relatively speaking" at the start of this paragraph. But we are in better shape to face the challenges of the future than many other nations. Unfortunately that is not true of Africa. The African legal system, the African business environment, and all levels of Africa's state-provided education are, compared to the rest of the world, abysmal. The continent is far too poor to afford even a rudimentary social welfare net. So what are the hundreds of millions of people, mostly young, to do in the coming decades? Much of Asia has escaped from poverty through labor-intensive and export-oriented industrialization. Africa, by contrast, is actually de-industrializing. This is not happening because of free trade, since Africa remains the least economically free region in the world. Rather, African workers cannot compete with much more productive Asian labor due to a number of factors that include lack of decent education and skills, bad financial and transport infrastructure, Byzantine bureaucracy and heavy regulation, and so on. To make matters worse, automation and robotics are bound to make Africa's workers even less competitive in the future. Simply put, it is difficult to see how the Asian route out of poverty can be repeated on the African continent. And in order to leapfrog Asian-style industrialization into an American-style modern economy, Africa would need well-functioning rule of law, property rights, and a welcoming business environment. It has none of those. That leaves agriculture, but even here the outlook is not promising. The continent is rapidly urbanizing and few Africans see their future in farming. In any case, farming in the rest of the world is increasingly dominated by large and mechanized agricultural concerns, not small [...]

A Universal Basic Income in Africa

Mon, 27 Feb 2017 16:10:00 -0500

Foreign aid has traditionally taken the form of in-kind assistance: sending meals or medicine, helping build houses or schools, and so on. This can lead to all kinds of unfortunate side effects, as when free food from abroad undercuts local farmers. There is also a recurring mismatch between what the planners in aid agencies think a community needs and what the people on the ground actually want. And so a small group of forward-looking aid workers has embraced a cheaper, more flexible, and less paternalistic approach: Just send people cash instead. The leading player here is GiveDirectly, a U.S.-based charity buoyed by the rise of mobile payments, which have made it much easier to send people money without passing through political or bureaucratic middlemen. The group has been sending conditionless cash aid to East Africa for several years, with encouraging results. It is now preparing an ambitious experiment in a universal basic income. In this setup, everyone in several Kenyan villages, not just the neediest citizens, will be eligible to get money. (I reported on this privately funded experiment back in December, and you can read that story for an outline of the plan.) Now The New York Times has published a dispatch from the first village to get the funds. Here's an excerpt: The villagers had seen Western aid groups come through before, sure, but nearly all of them brought stuff, not money. And because many of these organizations were religious, their gifts came with moral impositions; I was told that one declined to help a young mother whose child was born out of wedlock, for example. With little sense of who would get what and how and from whom and why, rumors blossomed. One villager heard that GiveDirectly would kidnap children. Some thought that the organization was aligned with the Illuminati, or that it would blight the village with giant snakes, or that it performed blood magic. Others heard that the money was coming from Obama himself. But the confusion faded that unseasonably cool morning in October, when a GiveDirectly team returned to explain themselves during a town meeting. Nearly all of the village's 220 people crowded into a blue-and-white tent placed near the school building, watching nervously as 13 strangers, a few of them white, sat on plastic chairs opposite them. Lydia Tala, a Kenyan GiveDirectly staff member, got up to address the group in Dholuo. She spoke at a deliberate pace, awaiting a hum and a nod from the crowd before she moved on: These visitors are from GiveDirectly. GiveDirectly is a nongovernmental organization that is not affiliated with any political party. GiveDirectly is based in the United States. GiveDirectly works with mobile phones. Each person must have his or her own mobile phone, and they must keep their PIN secret. Nobody must involve themselves in criminal activity or terrorism. This went on for nearly two hours. The children were growing restless. Finally, Tala passed the microphone to her colleague, Brian Ouma. "People of the village," he said, "are you happy?" "We are!" they cried in unison. Then he laid out the particulars. "Every registered person will receive 2,280 shillings"—about $22—"each and every month. You hear me?" The audience gasped and burst into wild applause. "Every person we register here will receive the money, I said—2,280 shillings! Every month. This money, you will get for the next 12 years. How many years?" "Twelve years!" To read the rest, go here. To see some testimonials from the villagers, go here. And stay tuned—I've been writing a feature for Reason on the long, messy history of the basic-income idea. It'll cover GiveDirectly and a great deal more.[...]

A Privately Funded Experiment in a Universal Basic Income

Thu, 08 Dec 2016 14:25:00 -0500

(image) A U.S.-based group is preparing a pilot program in Kenya that will test the effects of a universal basic income—the increasingly popular concept of giving virtually everyone in a community unconditional payments on a regular basis. Unlike past large-scale experiments of this sort, this one is being run and funded privately.

The organization behind the effort is GiveDirectly, a charity whose work in Africa is based on the idea of giving people cash without restrictions on how the money can be spent. (The underlying anti-paternalist principle is that the needy know their needs better than outsiders do.) That outlook led naturally to an interest in the basic income, and so the organizers conceived a randomized control trial:

• In one set of villages, every adult will receive monthly payments equivalent to 75 cents a day for two years.

• In another set of villages, every adult will receive such payments for 12 years.

• In yet another set of villages, the adults will receive a single lump-sum payment equivalent to what the two-year group will be receiving.

• The last set of villages is the control group, so they don't get any money at all.

The aim here, GiveDirectly's Ian Bassin explains, is "to isolate the effects of what most people consider a 'basic income'—that is, a permanent payment over time—from something resembling more traditional temporary supports. For example, when someone knows they have a long-term, guaranteed floor below which they cannot fall, do they take more risks like starting a business or going back to school? And does that security produce greater overall returns?"

The current plan is for 41 villages to go on the 12-year plan, 80 to go on the two-year plan, 80 to get the lump sums, and 100 to be in the control group. (The size of each category could shrink if GiveDirectly doesn't hit its fundraising target.) To answer the first question that probably popped into your minds: No, a villager can't change which deal he's getting by moving from one town to another. Once enrollment has started in a village, no new arrivals can take advantage of the payments there. Conversely, if you're already enrolled in the program, you still get the money if you leave your village. After all, one potential outcome the researchers want to look for is whether people will use their payments to move somewhere with greater opportunity.

The group expects the experiment to cost about $30 million, and they have thus far raised around $23 million toward that. (The lump-sum payments are being funded separately, with the money coming from GiveDirectly's ongoing efforts in Kenya. They expect the costs there to be a little higher than $6 million, which is well within the program's usual annual budget.) One village in the 12-year group is already receiving funds—sort of a test case to work out any logistical kinks in advance. If all goes according to plan, the rest will start receiving their money early next year.

Happy Birthday, Botswana

Tue, 04 Oct 2016 07:00:00 -0400

Last Friday, Botswana celebrated 50 years of independence. The former Bechuanaland Protectorate gained independence from Great Britain on September 30, 1966 and has thrived ever since. In far too many African countries, "Independence Day" has been a cause for lamentation, not celebration. Regrettably, African independence came at the worst possible moment. The 1960s was a decade when many Western countries seemed to have suffered a collective mental breakdown. In contrast, the USSR seemed to be doing rather well. The Soviets eclipsed the United States in the Space Race and, following the Cuban Revolution, communism gained a permanent foothold in the Americas. Appalled by the injustices of the colonial rule—and ignoring some of its benefits—Africans cast away the European yoke along with some of its more beneficial features: representative democracy, property rights, rule of law, free enterprise, and international trade. Understandably, but catastrophically, many African countries opted for the opposite of what the West had to offer and embraced socialism instead. Not so with Botswana—a country that has been politically and economically freer than the rest of Africa for much of the last half-century. Why? Seretse Khama, the first president, was a tribal chief who maintained the tradition of public meetings, or kgotlas. Kgotlas were the traditional way in which Africans made local decisions. It was a good way in which to keep the chiefs honest and accountable. When I visited the country in 2007, a game warden I spoke to in the Chobe National Park reminisced about standing behind the minister of education in the line for groceries. A shop manager recognized the minister and motioned her to the front of the line. The minister flatly refused. The exceptional humility of Botswana's politicians is just one positive consequence of such "grassroots democracy." Khama's economics were also out of step with the times. He maintained a relatively "hands-off" approach to the economy, which was, for decades, the freest in Africa. Personally, I think that Khama, in addition to being a highly educated man (he was a graduate of Balliol College, Oxford) was prevented from economic experimentation by geopolitical necessity. Back then, Botswana was surrounded by the immensely powerful South Africa in the south, South Africa–dominated South West Africa in the west, and Rhodesia in the east. Neither government would have tolerated a Marxist state in its midst. And so Khama did a couple of sensible things—he kept the market economy he inherited and did not even bother to waste money on an independent military. Today, the prosperity and stability of Botswana is a testament to his enlightened leadership. Economic freedom in Bostwana has constistently been higher than the African average. Thanks to this higher economic freedom, Botswana's per-person GDP has increased rapidly. It passed the African average in the mid-1970s and has made steady progress since. Botswana's life expectancy quickly recovered from the HIV/AIDS epidemic, rising to retake its place above the continental average. While autocracy mired many of its African neighbors, Botswana maintained a relatively high level of democracy for the continent. Botswana has managed to control corruption within its borders better than Africa as a whole. Enabling much of this progress, Botswana's rule of law has also exceeded Africa's for decades. [...]

The Universal Basic Income: Innovative Social Welfare Reform or Satanic Plot?

Mon, 12 Sep 2016 12:15:00 -0400

(image) The more sour critics of the basic-income movement have occasionally called it a cult, but I didn't think any of them meant that literally. Until now.

Basic-income proposals come in several forms, but the key idea is to center social welfare policy around giving people cash, without attaching conditions that restrict how the money can be spent. GiveDirectly, a U.S.-based charity, has spent several years distributing funds in different East African communities in this anti-bureaucratic manner; one of their aims is to measure the idea's effectiveness. (So far, the results have been positive.) Last month they extended their operations to Homa Bay, a county in Kenya.

There they hit a snag. Elsewhere in Africa, only 5 or 6 percent of the people asked to participate in the program have said no. In Homa Bay County, nearly half turned them down. "As it turns out," Will Le recounts on GiveDirectly's blog, "these challenges have been common for NGOs working in the area. Other development programs focused on HIV, water and sanitation, agricultural development, education, and female empowerment have also faced community resistance."

In Homa Bay County, apparently, the locals are more likely to suspect ulterior motives when someone shows up and says he'll give them something for free. "Potential recipients find it hard to believe that a new organization like GiveDirectly would give roughly a year's salary in cash, unconditionally," Le writes. "As a result, many people have created their own narratives to explain the cash, including rumors that the money is associated with cults or devil worship."

I know virtually nothing about Homa Bay County's culture and history, so I won't speculate about why the people there are more suspicious than in the other communities GiveDirectly has helped. But I can say pretty confidently that it isn't the only place where outsiders bearing gifts won't be trusted, and that any experiments in such transfers' effects will eventually have to take those cultural differences into account. Business Insider reports that GiveDirectly is now thinking about "comparing results across villages where acceptance rates have differed." That's certainly sensible, but a bit of digging into why those rates are different would be wise as well.

(Clarification: While GiveDirectly has plans to launch a full-fledged basic income pilot program, in which members of an entire community receive a long-term income that is enough to live on, the program sparking rumors in Homa Bay County is a more modest set of conditionless cash transfers aimed at the neediest families in the area. I tend to use the phrase basic income loosely—maybe too loosely—as a catchall term that covers a range of related policy ideas; I don't want to conflate these two projects in the process.)

Bonus video: ReasonTV interviewed GiveDirectly co-founder Paul Niehaus last year:

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South African Ruling Party Suffers Worst Results Yet in Local Elections

Tue, 09 Aug 2016 07:00:00 -0400

South Africa held local elections last week. The African National Congress, which has dominated South Africa's politics since the first all-race democratic elections in 1994, has suffered its worst result yet. While the party polled at more than 50 percent nationally, the ANC lost majority control on city councils in Pretoria, the country's capital, Johannesburg, the country's economic powerhouse, and Port Elizabeth. If the ANC fails to entice other parties into forming governing coalitions at the local level, control of some of South Africa's main cities will pass to Democratic Alliance, an opposition party that has, hitherto, only controlled Cape Town. Most observers agree on the reasons for the ANC's poor showing: incompetence and corruption. Below, I look at 10 indicators of institutional quality as measured by the World Bank, Transparency International and World Economic Forum. As can be seen, institutional quality in South Africa is either poor or declining when compared to Botswana, one of the best run African countries, let alone the United States. 1. The World Bank's rule of law indicator shows South Africa's rating declining from an all-time high in 2006. 2. Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index shows the country's corruption rating in permanent decline. 3. The World Bank's Government effectiveness indicator has also been declining since 1996. 4. According to the World Economic Forum, favoritism in decisions by government officials has worsened since a high point in 2009. 5. Similarly, the World Economic Forum has found that government spending has grown increasingly wasteful (though not as wasteful as that of Botswana). 6. Irregular (i.e., undocumented extra) payments and bribes have also been on the rise in South Africa. 7. Moreover, illegal diversion of public funds to private companies, individuals and groups has been increasing. 8. Transparency of government policy making has also suffered, though not as much as that in Botswana. 9. Reliability of policing has actually improved since its nadir in 2009, but still lags behind that of well-run Botswana. 10. Not surprisingly, perhaps, public trust in politicians declined to an all-time low in 2014 and has remained poor. It is that mistrust in politicians that partly explains the ANC's poor performance at last week's polls. The next general election will be held in 2019. By that time, the ANC may be sufficiently weakened and relegated to the opposition benches. A birth of "normal" politics that see a regular turnover at the top will be good for South Africa's democracy as well as for the health of the country's institutions.[...]

How Hate Speech Laws Actually Work

Tue, 08 Dec 2015 12:00:00 -0500

The most baffling thing about the people—mostly liberals—who push for laws against "hate speech" is their apparent inability to imagine these bans backfiring. In their zeal to punish those who spread sexist, racist, transphobic, or otherwise unfashionable speech, they too often ignore the ways tools of censorship—including hate speech laws—are used to suppress religious, social, sexual, and political minorities around the world. Consider Kenya. "There is growing evidence that the government is using prosecution for hate speech as a tool to silence its opposition critics," John Onyando writes in the Nairobi Star. "The norm is incendiary speech by pro-government politicians and online activists going unchecked while law enforcement agencies enthusiastically pounce on the mildest expressions by critics." Kenya's agency tasked with enforcing laws against hate speech is the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), formed in 2008 to address ethnic conflicts in the nation. In practice, the agency mostly homes in on those who speak out against the Jubilee Alliance, the political coalition associated with President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto. The NCIC has prosecuted Sen. Johnstone Muthama, a leader of the Coalition for Reform and Democracy, which stands in opposition to the Jubilee Alliance; Allan Wadi Okengo, a student activist who criticized Kenyatta on Twitter; student leader Seth Odongo; and blogger Robert Alai, who called Kenyatta an "adolescent president." Okengo, Alai, and Odongo were all sentenced to time in prison. Moses Kuria, a Parliament member from Gatundu South—home constituency of President Kenyatta and his father, former President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta—was also arrested. But the NCIC invited Kuria to participate in a reconciliation program in lieu of trial, an option the other men were not offered. Only after Kuria continued to post inflammatory material online during the proceedings did the commission rescind its reconciliation offer. And no action was taken when, on national television, Kuria told a group of young people whom he had given knives to "cut up someone if you feel like it." "One can't avoid the inference that hate speech is an actionable crime only when perpetrated by opposition leaders and activists," Onyando concludes. Perhaps you think such a selective use of hate speech laws can happen only in countries with especially corrupt or unstable governments. Think again. Because "hate speech" is not narrowly defined, it's up to those in power to decide what qualifies as hate and what doesn't. That often depends on who the speaker is and who has powerful people's sympathies. In 2012, a British teenager who denounced British military actions in Afghanistan was arrested and charged with "a racially aggravated public order offense." The First Amendment theoretically pre-empts such laws in the United States. But a lot of Americans favor them nonetheless. A 2014 YouGov poll found that nearly equal numbers of Americans support and oppose laws that would "make it a crime for people to make comments that advocate genocide or hatred against an identifiable group based on such things as their race, gender, religion, ethnic origin, or sexual orientation." Fully 51 percent of Democrat respondents voiced their support. Meanwhile, colleges and universities—even the public ones that are supposed to follow the First Amendment—have been using the specter of hate speech to justify banning controversial speakers, institute prior review of student newspapers, and implement other forms of censorship and intolerance. At Berkeley, there have been pushes for restrictions on everything from student editorials to fraternity party theme[...]

Terrorism Today: Boko Haram Bigger Than ISIS; Most Western Deaths Have Nothing to Do With Islam; & More

Tue, 17 Nov 2015 15:46:00 -0500


The Global Terrorism Index for 2015, which has tracked the number and severity of terrorist attacks on the planet since 2000, has just been released. Among its findings:

  • The number of terror-related deaths rose by 80 percent from 2013 to 2014, with almost 33,000 deaths in the latter year.
  • Iraq remains the biggest scene of terrorism, with almost 10,000 deaths in 2014 from terrorism.
  • Nigeria's terrorism toll increased 300 percent in 2014, mostly due to the actions of Boko Haram.
  • The Islamic State (ISIS) and Boko Haram account for 51 percent of terrorism deaths, and Boko Haram is the deadlier of the two groups.

Read the full report here.

Between 2006 and 2014, the report notes that about 70 percent of deaths from terrorism in Europe and North America come not from religiously motivated actors who are connected to international groups but from politically motivated "lone wolf" types.

The majority of terrorist attacks in the West are not carried out by well-organised international groups. Instead, the terrorist threat in the West largely comes from lone wolf terrorism. Lone wolf terrorists are individuals or a small number of individuals who commit an attack in support of a group, movement, or ideology without material assistance or orders from such group. For example, the Boston bombings would be a lone wolf attack as the two brothers committed the attacks without any outside support. These types of attacks account for 70 per cent of all deaths in the West from 2006 to 2014.

By contrast, about 19 percent of deaths in Europe and North America came from terrorists motivated by Islamic fundamentalism.

The report, put together by the Institute for Economics and Peace, also estimates that Iraq's economy is only about two-thirds of what it would be absent all the terrorism that places it at the top of the index.

(image) To put some of this in context, it's worth looking at the leading causes of death in Syria, the country whose civil war is not only a battlegroud between ISIS and various Western armies but the cause of millions of refugees in the Middle East and beyond. In the first seven months of this year, ISIS killed around 1,000 Syrians. That terrible number pales in comparison to the nearly 8,000 killed by the Syrian regime led by Bashar al Assad.

That disparity also makes helps explain why the situation in Syria is so complicated. While the United States is currently focused on ISIS in Syria and Iraq, our government has also called for regime change. Iran and Russia are simultaneously fighting ISIS and supporting Assad. French strikes in the area are focused on ISIS as well, which is also an enemy of various Sunni Gulf States (Saudi Arabia and the like) who are otherwise enemies of Iran and Syria.