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Monday mbalimbali

27 April 2015

I Was Raped in Burkina Faso and My Rapist’s Trial Will Take 10 Years — an account of a Peace Corps volunteer

#BlackLivesMatter, the international papal edition — a brief explainer about the first genocide of the 20th century, of the Herero and Nama peoples in Namibia

At Sea, Devoured by Our Indifference — Somali-Italian writer Igiaba Scego on the inequalities in migration

International Political Economy and the 2014 West African Ebola Outbreak — my article with Adia Benton in the African Studies Review is available for free download until May 15

Why does Africa have so many languages?

Happy Meb Crush Monday.


diaspora and development in Africa

12 April 2015

On Wednesday, renowned economic historian Paul Tiyambe Zeleza came to give a talk at Hampshire College. His talk drew on his latest book, Africa’s Resurgence: Domestic, Global and Diaspora Transformations. The event was well attended and provoked a lot of interesting questions. The part that stuck with me most was Zeleza’s discussion of the growing importance of the diaspora in Africa’s future.

zeleza flyer

Going beyond the power of remittances in shaping individuals’ lives, Zeleza talked about the many different ways the diaspora contribute to development back home — and how they have been for generations. He talked in particular about an initiative he’s started, The Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program, which generously supports African-born academics in the U.S. and Canada in pursuing partnerships and research opportunities with academic institutions in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. Paul is himself part of the diaspora — a Malawian born in Zimbabwe, educated in Canada, and working in the U.S.

I’m lucky to have and come across a number of students who remind me of what a young Paul Zeleza might be like today. A few of them are engaging in just the kind of diaspora-driven development projects Paul talked about on Wednesday. A couple are raising funds for these projects. I don’t normally use this blog as a forum to solicit charity donations, but these are great projects led by thoughtful people who are trying to give back to the places they’re from.

If haba na haba readers know of other worthy diaspora-driven development programs worth supporting, please share them (with links) in the comments!

politics in everything: trees in Africa

26 March 2015

Along with Pretoria, cities across former British colonies in Africa bear the stamp of jacaranda including Blantyre in Malawi; Harare and Bulawayo in Zimbabwe; Nairobi and Nakuru in Kenya; and Kampala, Fort Portal and Mbale in Uganda, where they are associated with exam season, coming at the end of the school term. Even in Kenya’s dusty little border town with Ethiopia, the jacaranda tree stands out as a marker of British presence – Moyale on the Kenyan side has jacaranda trees around its administrative centre, while Moyale on the Ethiopian side has none.

When the ANC came to power in 1994, its environmental policy has been critical of “exotic” trees like eucalyptus, seeking their removal on the grounds that they are “not African”, says this South African environmental scholar, who sees the environmental policies of the ANC mirroring the earlier strains of white nationalism that sought to use South Africa’s unique flora and fauna to create a strong nationalist identity.

These excerpts are from one of the best news articles I’ve read this year, “Not just trees: The politics of the jacaranda, eucalyptus and hyacinth in Africa” by Christine Mungai, of the Mail & Guardian. Follow her on Twitter. I can’t wait to read more of her work.

She has forever changed the way I’ll look at jacaranda.

Malawi, road side impressions along the M1 between Blantyre and Lilongwe. Hansueli Krapf/Wikimedia Commons

Monday mbalimbali

23 March 2015


random read: politics and patronage in Pakistan’s public sector

13 March 2015

In many developing countries, public sector absence is both common and resistant to reform. One explanation for this is that politicians provide public jobs with limited work requirements as patronage. We test this patronage hypothesis in Pakistan using: (i) a randomized controlled evaluation of a novel smartphone absence monitoring technology; (ii) data on election outcomes in the 240 constituencies where the experiment took place; (iii) attendance recorded during unannounced visits and; (iv) surveys of connections between local politicians and health staff. Four results support this view. First, while doctors are present at 42 percent of clinics in competitive constituencies, they are present at only 13 percent of clinics in uncompetitive constituencies. Second, doctors who know their local parliamentarian personally are present at an average of 0.727 of three unannounced visits, while doctors without this connection are present at 1.309 of the three visits. Third, around 40 percent of inspectors and health administrators report interference by politicians when they try to sanction doctors. Fourth, the effect of the smartphone monitoring technology, which almost doubled inspection rates, is highly localized to competitive constituencies. Last, we find evidence that program impact is in part due to the transmission of information to senior officers. We test this by manipulating the salience of staff absence in data presented to officials using an online dashboard. These effects are also largest in politically competitive constituencies. Our results have implications for the study of bureaucratic incentives in fragile states and are potentially actionable for policymakers trying to build state capacity.

That is the abstract of a paper titled “The Political Economy of Public Employee Absence: Experimental Evidence from Pakistan.”


“random read” is a new series of posts on haba na haba highlighting research papers using experiments. Feel free to email me any you find interesting that could be part of the series!

on being diagnosed with cancer

19 February 2015

Today Oliver Sacks — a neurology professor at NYU and a prolific writer — wrote an op-ed for the New York Times, “My Own Life,” on learning that he has terminal cancer. Lots of friends are sharing it on Facebook, drawing quotes they find moving. The passage that stuck most with me was:

I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.

This will involve audacity, clarity and plain speaking; trying to straighten my accounts with the world. But there will be time, too, for some fun (and even some silliness, as well).

I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends.

I know this feeling. Perhaps a bit more than I’d like. On the day before Thanksgiving, I was diagnosed with cancer. To be more specific, I was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML).

A small, hypolobated megakaryocyte (center of field) in a bone marrow aspirate, typically of chronic myelogenous leukemia. (Image courtesy of Difi Wu, shared with CC license via Wikimedia Commons)

A small, hypolobated megakaryocyte (center of field) in a bone marrow aspirate, typically of chronic myelogenous leukemia. Image courtesy of Difi Wu, shared with CC license via Wikimedia Commons

CML is not terminal cancer. I’m not dying. Not much more than the rest of you, anyway. (Maybe even less.) As we wrote in the family Christmas letter this year, “If one has to have cancer, CML is the best one to get (Kim’s exceptional taste appears to extend to health ailments!).”

There is a treatment for CML — in fact, there’s more than one treatment option. I have elected to take a daily pill. I have been taking it for just over two months now, and all things going well, I will take it every day for the rest of my life. I just checked in again with my oncologist a week ago and my prognosis is pretty great. My body is already responding to the treatment and I’m not experiencing strong side effects from the medication.

But a couple of months ago, I was a mess. Every time I remembered “I have cancer”, I thought about my two-year-old. My seven-year-old. My husband. My best friend. And thinking about my mom really did a number on me. Recalling it now causes my eyes to well up.

But back to the passage in the op-ed by Sacks. When I told a friend and colleague about my diagnosis, she encouraged me to scale back on work. (She was diagnosed with cancer and tough as she is, the cancer and the treatments really wiped her out. She is in remission now.) After suggesting I scale back, she promptly said that I should do what I wanted, that everyone is different and maybe working full-tilt was actually the best option for me. That maybe I’m the kind of person who would benefit from just moving on as usual. She said that having cancer did not make her a better person or make her reconsider her life.

My experience was different. Like my friend, I don’t think that cancer has made me a better person, but I have reconsidered my time. Sure, my diagnosis is not on the same level of Oliver Sacks. But my diagnosis clarified for me how I want to spend the time I’ve been gifted with. For better or worse, there are plenty of things I’ve decided I have no time for. And there are fewer things I find worth being away from my family for.

Monday mbalimbali: the week in images

16 February 2015
  • Photos that gave Americans their first glimpse of Apartheid in 1950 111425379.jpg
  • Mobutu’s ruins in Gbadolitemobutu
  • Putting the New England snow in perspective snow
  • Why I’m concerned about the Wednesday UCLA game at ASU.curtain
  • Making light of the recent brawl in South Africa’s parliamentsona2015
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