"How was school today and please don’t forget to bring milk on your way back home". This simple conversation between Halima, a 36–year-old woman from Dodoma and her young daughter on their mobile phones was almost impossible 15 years ago: only 2 percent of Tanzanians had a phone and only one of two children attended a primary school (Figures). Today those figures reach 50 and almost 100 percent respectively. Daily life has evolved in Tanzania with technology and education as the main drivers.
Information and Communication Technologies
Politicians, pundits, and (sometimes) development practitioners have been arguing that 2012 will be a make-or-break year in Kenya’s history, similar to 1963 or 1992. Is the 2012 challenge real or just a case of pundits playing Cassandra? Specifically there are three challenges coming together.
First are national elections. The last general elections ended in a catastrophe. If the 2012 elections are again violent, Kenya’s image as a peaceful, mature democracy may be tarnished for a generation. Investors and tourists would be even more reluctant to come to Kenya and quick to dismiss the “friends of Kenya” (including your blogger) who strongly believe in the strengths of this country and its medium-term potential.
A tremendous amount of development research is all but unknown in the countries that are the subject of that research. In Kenya, this is the case with path-breaking papers like the Kremer-Miguel Worms study and the Cohen-Dupas insecticide-treated net pricing experiment.
To increase the visibility of such policy-relevant work, we’re producing a "Kenya 2011 Poverty Research Review" that will be published early next year as part of our larger Poverty Update report, which will be widely publicized in Kenya.
The Poverty Research Review will give an overview of poverty-related research on Kenya published in 2011 in journals or working paper series. There is a wide pool of work to draw from: a search on "Kenya" and "poverty" in Google Scholar produces 12,900 references for works produced in 2011.
As an experiment, I’m going to try drawing from the wisdom of crowds for this project. Please help me with your suggestions for high-quality papers on poverty-related issues in Kenya that you would like to see highlighted in our review.
Who would have thought, 20 years ago, that a poor African country would become a powerhouse of global innovation in Information and Communication Technology (ICT)? Definitely not me! As student on a long road trip through Africa in 1990, I often struggled to make expensive calls home to Europe. Making an international call typically involved finding an Indian-African merchant, who was one of the few people with a phone that could connect you to other parts of the world, in theory. In practice, I often waited for at least an hour and, when I was lucky enough to get through, paid the equivalent of what today would be about 600 Shillings per minute.
Now zoom back to today and look at the abundance of mobile devices, even in the poorest parts of Africa, and incredibly low calling rates. This year Kenyans could call the US from their cell phones for as little as 3 Shillings per minute! Something extremely remarkable must have happened. In describing the transformation of the telecom industry over the last 10-15 years in Africa, especially in Kenya, the term “revolution” is not an exaggeration.
Since 2000, the Kenyan ICT sector has grown on average 20 percent each year, outperforming every other sector by a wide margin (the second best performer was hotels and restaurants which grew at 8 percent). The ICT sector has been driving growth in Kenya: without it, instead of the 3.7 percent average growth it achieved, the economy would have seen lackluster growth of 2.8 percent (barely enough to keep up with population growth).
Over the last decade, there has been increasing enthusiasm for empowering poor people by giving them information. For instance, sharing information about absentee teachers and doctors, the availability of drugs in clinics, and the effectiveness of development projects will enable poor people (the intended beneficiaries of these programs) to demand better services—and get them.
I share this enthusiasm and may even have contributed in a small way to it. But at a recent aid data conference, I thought I’d consider the criticisms that such efforts have received, and some responses.
1. They already know. Poor people don’t need to be told that the teacher is absent from the public primary school. Their children have been telling them this for years.
Emerging from decades of violent conflict, with more than half its population living below the national poverty line and three quarters of the population never having attended school, South Sudan may seem like an unlikely place for setting up a successful, modern manufacturing business.
However, we recently saw an exciting example of what the private sector can achieve even under these conditions: the Southern Sudan Beverages, Ltd (SSBL) plant, which produces beer, soft drinks, and bottled water for the local market.
SSBL started production in 2009 after investing $37 million to build the facility; a $15 million expansion is now underway. The plant looks like a modern manufacturing enterprise—with one exception: it is largely self-contained, with its own generators and a treatment plant for the water that is pumped up from the White Nile.
Fifteen years ago, Easterly and Levine published “Africa’s Growth Tragedy”, highlighting the disappointing performance of Africa’s growth, and the toll it has taken on the poor. Since then, growth has picked up, averaging 5-6 percent a year, and poverty is declining at about one percentage point a year. The “statistical tragedy” is that we cannot be sure this is true.
Take economic growth, which is measured in terms of growth in GDP. GDP in turn is measured by national accounts. While there has been some progress, today, only 35 percent of Africa’s population lives in countries that use the 1993 UN System of National Accounts; the others use earlier systems, some dating back to the 1960s.
To show that this is not an arcane point, consider the case of Ghana, which decided to update its GDP last year to the 1993 system. When they did so, they found that their GDP was 62 percent higher than previously thought. Ghana’s per capita GDP is now over $1,000, making it a middle-income country.
I felt privileged to speak to the freshman class of Princeton University, my alma mater, at the annual “Reflections on Service” event organized by the Pace Center. In my speech, I drew on my work on the 2004 World Development Report, Making Service Work for Poor People and since then in South Asia and Africa, as well as my village immersion experience living and working with a woman in Gujarat, India who earns $1.25 a day.
Both sets of experiences taught me how government programs—in health, education, water, sanitation, agriculture, infrastructure—that are intended to benefit the poor often fail to do so because they are captured by the non-poor who are politically more powerful. I suggested to the students that, in addition to getting a good education and undertaking volunteer activities, they consider using their education to inform poor people, so that they can bring pressure to bear on politicians for pro-poor reforms. The two examples I used to illustrate—citizen report cards in Bangalore and public expenditure tracking surveys in Uganda—were from the 1990s; with the penetration of cell phones in Africa and South Asia, getting knowledge to poor people in 2011 should be easier.
In March at Oxford, I had the opportunity to debate John McArthur on the Millennium Villages Project (MVP) evaluation, which is the subject of a paper I co-authored with Michael Clemens of the Center for Global Development.
I am at Oxford for the annual conference of the Center for Study of African Economies, which runs through Tuesday.
Here's the program with links to many of the conference papers.
I'll present a short version of the paper, which was co-authored with Michael Clemens of the Center for Global Development. This will be followed by a presentation from John McArthur, CEO of the Millenium Promise organization. Our session will be the last of the conference, on Tuesday 6-7 p.m. UK time (2-4 pm East Coast U.S. time.)
For background, here are the first, second, third, and fourth earlier posts on the paper and check out our podcast, the MVP response, and commentary from Julian Jamison, Chris Blattman, Eric Green, and Bill Easterly and Laura Freschi.
Here's also video of an extended talk on the MV paper which Michael and I gave in DC in December: