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coolest paper I’ve read this week

7 June 2014

In India, Muslims face significantly lower child mortality rates than Hindus, despite Muslim parents being poorer and less educated on average. Because observable characteristics would predict a Muslim disadvantage relative to Hindus, previous studies documenting this robust and persistent pattern have called it a “puzzle” of Muslim mortality. This paper offers a simple solution to the puzzle in the form of an important sanitation externality. Most of India’s population defecates in the open, without the use of toilets or latrines, spreading fecal pathogens that can make children ill. Hindus are 40% more likely than Muslims to do so, and we show that this one difference in sanitation can fully account for the large (18%) child mortality gap between Hindus and Muslims. Building on our finding that religion predicts infant and child mortality only through its association with latrine use, we show that latrine use constitutes an externality rather than a pure private gain: It is the open defecation of one’s neighbors, rather than the household’s own practice, that matters most for child survival. The gradient and mechanism we uncover have important implications for child health and mortality worldwide, since 15% of the world’s population defecates in the open. To put the results in context, we find that moving from a locality where everybody defecates in the open to a locality where nobody defecates in the open is associated with a larger difference in child mortality than moving from the bottom quintile of asset wealth to the top quintile of asset wealth.

That is the abstract for “Sanitation and health externalities: Resolving the Muslim mortality paradox,” available here.

HT @alanna_shaikh.

leaving before the fat lady sings

27 May 2014

I’m about to board a plane home out of Blantyre, Malawi. When I originally scheduled my trip to observe Malawi’s elections, I expected seven days following Election Day would be sufficient time for the electoral commission to tally and announce the results. While that might have been true for previous elections, this one had turned out to be… special. 


Photo of today’s front pages in Malawi’s two major daily newspapers.

I’ll be following updates from the states when I land, but if you want to keep tabs on the ever-changing situation, I recommend following some folks on Twitter: Boni Dulani, Blessings Chinsinga, Levi Kabwato, and MEIC_2014. (Apologies for not linking directly, I’m composing this on my phone.)


Malawi’s election saga continues

25 May 2014
Malawians queue to vote at Namadwe polling station in Thyolo District on May 20, 2014. Taken by Kim Yi Dionne. All rights reserved.

Malawians queue to vote at Namadwe polling station in Thyolo District on May 20, 2014. Taken by Kim Yi Dionne. All rights reserved.

Now five days after Malawi’s tripartite election should have ended, there is still no official declaration as to who won the presidential race. Unofficial results and a parallel vote tabulation project Peter Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has won, and he was trailed by Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), and then current President, Joyce Banda of the People’s Party (PP).

Both Banda and presidential candidate Atupele Muluzi of the United Democratic Front (UDF) have held press conferences proclaiming massive irregularities in the vote counts. Banda’s press conference was perhaps the most surprising – it was the first time I heard a sitting president allege that the opposition has rigged the vote. She mentioned in particular the problems the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) was having in transmitting vote counts from the constituencies to the tally center headquarters in Blantyre. Interestingly, the government-run media house, Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), did not air her press conference live. Shortly thereafter, MBC’s Director General, Benson Tembo, was put on forced leave (he has since been reinstated).

MEC [originally] stood by their counting process, saying though their electronic data capture system’s problems required them to do a manual tally, their counts were still consistent with the tallies made in the constituencies.

Then, yesterday afternoon, President Banda held a press conference saying that in her position as the president, she was nullifying the elections and ordering fresh elections to happen in 90 days. (She claimed she would not be a candidate in those fresh elections.) Banda asserted she had the power to nullify the election results under Malawi’s constitution (at first she cited Section 82(2), and a later press conference corrected herself by citing Section 88(2)). Section 88(2) reads:

The President shall provide executive leadership in the interest of national unity in accordance with this Constitution and the laws of the Republic.

After seeing many on Twitter cite this section of the constitution, I pointed them to what is said in Section 88(5):

The President and members of the Cabinet shall not use their respective offices for personal gain or place themselves in a situation where their material interests conflict with the responsibilities and duties of their offices.

It was obvious Banda was grasping at straws to try to block a Peter Mutharika presidency. Perhaps she is concerned that once he’s president, he will use his power to make things difficult for her, as she was the one who pursued Peter Mutharika for treason after the death of his brother, former President Bingu wa Mutharika.

No constitutional or legal scholar believed Section 88(2) gave Banda the power to nullify elections. Only hours after Banda’s press conference, Malawi’s High Court set aside Banda’s order that MEC stop counting votes. Counting resumed.

Then, last night, MEC announced they would do a manual recount because of some serious anomalies. (The recount would cover all three elections: presidential, parliamentary, and local government.) The anomalies include having vote tallies that exceeded the number of registered voters in certain constituencies. Malawi’s electoral law requires an announcement of election results by MEC no later than eight days after the election. Even if we consider May 22 the end of the election (because of delays, some polling stations did not complete voting until May 22), the official declaration by MEC of election winners would be required by May 30. I am confident MEC won’t declare official winners by then. They say it will be less than a month. I’ll just leave you with what Blessings Chinsinga has to say about that:

when politicians monitor how you respond to their handouts

24 May 2014

photo (1)

Political scientists who question the efficacy of the exchange of goods for votes point in particular to the problem of monitoring: if a politician gives someone something in exchange for their vote in the era of secret ballots, how can that politician know the citizen actually voted for him?

A Malawian politician offers a great example of a workaround to this problem. From Thursday’s copy of The Nation, I bring you the story of MP candidate in Rumphi West Constituency, Jane Kabogodo Gondwe. Gondwe made a donation to a local health center (beds, mattresses, a drip stand, trolleys). Once she figured out she was losing the race for MP, she went back to the health center to take all of her donations back.

Gondwe gave a large donation, meant to benefit a group of people. Alternatively, she could have given small handouts to individual voters. Monitoring individual voters is hard. Keeping tabs on whether a larger group of people have supported you is much easier — and if they fail to hold up their end of the bargain (at least as you see it), you can just go and take your large donation back.

some updates on Malawi’s election

23 May 2014

Three days after the polls in Malawi were scheduled to close for the tripartite election, we still don’t know who the president will be. The Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) has said it won’t announce preliminary results until 30% of ballots have been tallied, and this morning (Malawi time) they reported having only 12% of ballots tallied. A friend has just told me that someone currently at the national tally center reports they’re now up to 22% of votes tallied.

Unofficial reports have been broadcast directly from polling centers following the counting at centers and reports to the constituency-level MEC officials. Many in Malawi are closely following Malawi Broadcasting Corporation and Zodiak Radio to hear these unofficial reports. Some of us are even trying to calculate our own tallies from the reports.

Depending on the time of day and the political preferences of the person talking/tweeting/posting to Facebook, the lead for the presidential race has wavered between Lazarus Chakwera, the candidate from the Malawi Congress Party, and Peter Mutharika, the brother of the late president Bingu wa Mutharika, and the candidate from the Democratic Progressive Party. Definitely out of the running are current president Joyce Banda of the People’s Party as well as the son of former president Bakili Muluzi, Atupele Muluzi of the United Democratic Front.

Front pages of Malawi's two major daily newspapers on May 22, 2014. Taken by Kim Yi Dionne. All rights reserved.

Front pages of Malawi’s two major daily newspapers on May 22, 2014. Taken by Kim Yi Dionne. All rights reserved.

Technically, the Malawi Electoral Commission has eight days to tally the results (and even after that, I’m not sure what the “punishment” is for not having electoral results by the deadline). Given the frequency with which they’ve had to delay activities (whether it’s checking the voters’ rolls or distributing election materials or opening polling centers), I’m not holding my breath. Plus, I’ve spent a lot of time in the MEC offices in the past two weeks I’ve been in Malawi. I would charitably refer to it as organized chaos, with an emphasis on the latter.

MEC staff prepare electoral materials to be distributed across the country. Taken May 15, 2014 at MEC Headquarters in Blantyre, by Kim Yi Dionne. All rights reserved.

MEC staff prepare electoral materials to be distributed across the country. Taken May 15, 2014 at MEC Headquarters in Blantyre, by Kim Yi Dionne. All rights reserved.

As we wait to hear who the eventual winner will be, it’s clear the current president will not go gentle into that good night. Joyce Banda has made allegations of rigging. It’s the first time I’ve heard of a sitting president accuse the opposition of electoral fraud. Though the BBC is giving quite a bit of air time to Joyce Banda as she cries foul, Malawi’s media and political analysts find the claims to be baseless. Her appeal to the high court for an injunction to stop the counting of votes was denied.

Photo of news article published in today’s Daily Times.

One of the voting “irregularities” reported by the People’s Party was the practice of voters choosing candidates from different parties for different offices. For example, in the photo below of a news article printed in yesterday’s The Nation, a People’s Party spokesman interprets split-ticket voting as a sign of fraud. Conversations I had with some Malawian voters before the election, however, suggested that people voting for one party’s candidate for president and another party’s candidate for MP would not be uncommon.

Continuation of an article from The Nation specifying voting irregularities claimed by ruling People's Party. Taken May 22, 2014.

Continuation of an article from The Nation specifying voting irregularities claimed by ruling People’s Party. Taken May 22, 2014.

If you’re interested in following the election results in real time, I recommend going to Twitter and browsing what pops up with the hashtag #MalawiVote2014, and reading tweets posted by @BoniDulani @MEIC_2014 @MalawiNation @electionsmalawi and @jkainja.

some trouble on the road: a manifestation of voter frustration in southern Malawi

20 May 2014

First: everyone doesn’t need to worry about me. I am fine and am being careful and mindful and am with friends who are looking out for me. With that caveat:

We met some small trouble on the road today. A makeshift roadblock by some young men who are upset about not being able to vote. There have been logistical challenges because the electoral commission was woefully unprepared and didn’t get all materials out to polling centers on time. In the southern region, for example, by 9:30AM, only 43% of polling centers had received all the materials (see MESN report released earlier with these details and more). Note that the polling centers were scheduled to open at 6:00am, meaning voters had been just waiting for as long as 3.5 hours, if not longer (many show up early to the polls).

Here is a photo of the roadblock after we made it through:

Makeshift roadblock at Machinjiri Turnoff, Chiradzulu District, Malawi. Taken by Kim Yi Dionne, May 20, 2014. All rights reserved.

Makeshift roadblock at Machinjiri Turnoff, Chiradzulu District, Malawi. Taken by Kim Yi Dionne, May 20, 2014. All rights reserved.

I gave them 1000 MWK and they moved the rocks and whatnot they had placed in the road.

Here is a video of the ringleader, making his demand for money:

He was saying that they were going to use the money to buy their own ballot papers. The ones meant to arrive at their polling center had not yet arrived when we were driving through around 11:00am.

This was in Chiradzulu, a southern district in Malawi. The specific area is known as Machinjiri Turnoff. It’s on the main road between Zomba and Limbe. It’s an area that Boniface Dulani and I predicted opposition candidate Peter Mutharika would have a strong lead.

There are also reports of makeshift roadblocks in Blantyre City, as well as reports of violence in various parts of Blantyre. Blantyre’s polling centers have had very long delays in receiving voting materials and there are reports that at least one center has still not received materials (now more than 10 hours after the center was to open).

I strongly believe violence could have been avoided with better electoral preparation. I would have never predicted violence in Malawi.

Some observations and predictions on today’s election in Malawi

19 May 2014

On the Monkey Cage, Boniface Dulani and I have penned a few observations and predictions about today’s tripartite election.

Both of us will also be tweeting throughout the day from polling centres in the southern region. I will end the night at either the vote tallying center or the election situation room in Blantyre. We will continue posting updates to Twitter until a winner is declared in the presidential race.

Follow Boni on Twitter: @bonidulani.

Follow me on Twitter: @dadakim.

I also recommend following the Malawi Electoral Information Centre, which will be running the Election Situation room: @MEIC_2014.


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