Response from Oxfam: Governance, land grabs and tricky statistics

by Ricardo Fuentes-Nieva and Marloes Nicholls

It is encouraging to read the post from Aid Thoughts. We appreciate the time he put into Oxfam’s analysis on large scale land deals. Indeed, we were hoping that our blog would spark debate and bring more attention to this topic.

As a quick summary, we took two databases, the Land Matrix and the World Governance Indicators and found that land deals are more likely to occur in countries with lower levels across different governance indicators.  We specified that “This analysis is only the first step towards a more in depth research project. Next steps include a more in depth analysis on the determinants of the number and location of deals

Aid Thoughts seems to take issue with the use of this kind of analysis when they are so preliminary. There are two things to say to this:  Firstly, and as Aid Thoughts acknowledges, there is other evidence in the development literature that points to the fact that land deals are concentrated in poorly governed countries. Our conclusions were not based only on our analysis and we used the best evidence at hand (both internal and external) to generate a better understanding of the problem (which Aid Thoughts actually helped with his critical review). So, we stand by our decision to publish the preliminary results.

Now, there are a couple of things to discuss on the technical front of his critique. Here are some:

 

1) Investors or governments?

AidThoughts replaces governance indicators with income per capita because they better explain the existence of land deals. This leads him to suggest that “Maybe investors aim for countries who are more willing to sell off land, not because they are poorly governed, but just because they are poor.” This is an interesting idea but if we put aside the regression tables and reflect for a moment, is it sensible to think that land investors are attracted to countries for being poor? Why would investors be attracted to the characteristics of poverty, such as poor infrastructure, limited public services and low levels of education and health? A more interesting hypothesis that AidThoughts raises, and which we think is worth exploring too, is that it might not  be investors who target countries, but bad governments who sell the land of their citizens.

 

2) Truncated sample bias.

AidThoughts recognizes that running OLS with two control variables, as reported in Table 3, is not serious analysis (and yet he managed to muddle the significance of the estimators in his table). But what’s really puzzling is that, in order to prove his point, he then goes on to throw the entire kitchen sink of governance indicators into the next table (Table 4). These indicators are highly correlated amongst them, and it is difficult to find a sensible explanation to specify the model that way.

He then goes on to say of this table:

“In column (1), prior controlling for income, only one of the relationships we expected to see has returned: countries rated low on the rule of law index are more likely to have land deals. Political stability/violence is also associated with land deals, but unfortunately that wasn’t part of Oxfam’s theoretical model. Now, voice and accountability is positively correlated with land deals! Of course, most of these relationships vanish when we toss in income, although it is worth noting that the rule of law measure keeps its significance and sign. So the relationship between governance and land sales seems to be a lot more complex than the Oxfam brief is suggesting.”

That’s a lot of explanation for a badly specified model that includes highly correlated regressors. But that’s not even the most puzzling part of that table. AidThoughts then tries to explain the number of land deals with the same variables but he does not correct for the truncated sample (look how his sample drops from 212 and 183 in the first two columns to just over 50 in the last two). Ignoring the bias in the observed sample is a mistake and something we had identified as a problem, and that’s why we suggested exploring  a double hurdle estimation to understand the issue better.

 

3) Reported land deals bias.

Aid Thoughts briefly mentions the potential problem of bias in the Land Matrix, but we don’t agree that he identified the right direction of bias. He argues that land deals are more likely to be reported in developing countries by diligent activists than in developed countries like the UK. On the contrary, we argue that land deals are much less likely to be ignored in richer countries with freer press, more access to information and better organized civil societies. Does Aid Thoughts seriously believe that a land deal can be more easily concealed in the UK than in the DRC?

Overall, we are very encouraged by Aid Thoughts’ response. He mentions that he can be convinced of the problem with more data and more, better data is on its way according to conversations we’ve had with the people managing the Land Matrix. So here’s our proposal for Matt: let’s work together – rigorously and objectively – on this issue in the next few months to try to better understand what’s driving the land rush. The problem deserves as much attention as we can give to it.

If I were British, I’d be proud of DFID

by Kate Orkin

Back home in South Africa, I’d probably score points for criticising donors as self-interested imperialists. My doctorate from the Department of International Development at Oxford has trained me to be highly critical of the aid sector. Nonetheless, I’d like to tell the anti-aid ranters in Monday’s Telegraph that if I were British, I would be proud as anything of DFID.

There are lots of arguments as to why aid should be delivered in the way DFID delivers it, and why Mr Pascoe is misinformed. Direct budget support is best practice because builds government capacity and ensures alignment with government priorities (and for an independent assessment of DBS, see here).  The worst disasters are poorly managed ones, and these are often rooted in poor governance or a lack of capacity, which won’t be fixed by more sacks of grain. Structures of patronage, illegitimate regimes, or a lack of government accountability are often propped up by repeated disaster relief, which Mr Pascoe advocates. And so on.

I’m not going to make those arguments here. I think the defenders of aid sometimes get so obsessed with showing results that they forget to talk about the human side of what they do.

So, firstly, I want to provide a counter to the ad hominem attacks directed at those in the aid sector, a “bunch of chancers and middle managers”. For the last four years I worked as a part-time research assistant for a research project which DFID co-funds and did a lot of fieldwork in Ethiopia. I don’t know the consultants subcontracted by DFID whom Mr Pascoe speaks about.[1] But I have watched DFID staff in action with critical eyes.

Whatever politically correct language they use, many donors are patronising of the African government staff they work with and see them as in need of “capacity building”. DFID staff members are often different. They build respectful, trusting relationships with government staff. In Ethiopia, they speak Amharic and learn the names of their counterparts’ children. Instead of summoning regional officials to the capital, they go on regular field visits. They speak about the country’s targets and priorities as their own. Donor representatives from other countries, whom I interviewed, speak with admiration about the ability of DFID staff to negotiate with government and their specialised expertise in the sector they work in, which is rare in donor advisors in “field” postings. The most talented Ethiopians in the NGO sector aspire to work at DFID, even though they would earn less than in other international organisations. That is a tremendous compliment.

Second, Mr Pascoe argues that British aid achieves objectives that “desirable but not necessary” and that beneficiary countries are doing fine without British help. India is the easiest example for him to choose, although inequality and poverty are often as bad in middle-income countries as poor ones, as argued here. The argument becomes less palatable when one examines countries like Ethiopia, the recipient of the second largest amount of British aid.

Allow me to tell you about the village where I did my PhD fieldwork in Ethiopia. Yes, the country’s human rights record is patchy. DFID withdrew its aid in 2005, and has reinstated it with conditions. But the government has been good at delivering social services with donor money and conditions for children are improving.

When I first visited in 2008, the school was woefully under-resourced: textbooks were shared between two or three children, teachers were often absent and the school only taught up to Grade 6. Partly in response to criticism that access to education had expanded without adequate attention being paid to quality, the government has embarked on an ambitious quality improvement programme, with DFID as the largest bilateral contributor. Country-wide, in 1991, roughly one in five children were in school. Today, that number is close to four in five.

In 2010, when I last visited, each child in the school had a textbook for each subject. The school had just received its school improvement grant directly from the district as part of the quality improvement programme and added it to parent contributions to build two new classrooms. The district allocated two teachers. Girls now complete primary school in the village. They are old enough that they can walk to the nearest town for secondary school without their parents worrying about their safety.

Ethiopian doctors earned dubious fame for their excellence in treating fistula, a debilitating injury in childbirth that is particularly common in very young or malnourished mothers. In 2010, 15-year-old girls in this village say that early marriage is illegal, want to delay marriage until they complete school, and plan to use contraception to space their children. Thanks to the mainstreaming of gender issues in the national education plan, the school runs tutorial classes for girls and assigns a teacher to monitor girls who drop out.

DFID’s whole contribution to Ethiopian education was £61 million in 2011-12. The opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics and Paralympics cost around £81 million. Indeed, the entire aid budget in 2011 (£8.6 billion) was significantly less than the government spent on hosting the Olympics (£9.3 billion).

Others have questioned Pascoe’s arguments about the irrelevance of soft power in general or the projection of British influence in particular. I’m not sure that’s the point. Textbook by textbook and classroom by classroom, UK aid marked “from the British people” is being delivered by representatives the British people can be proud of, and it is changing lives. I hope that knowledge guides Justine Greening’s line-by-line review.



[1] As a side note, one wonders if margins are high across the board, or only for organisations prepared to bid for work in Afganistan.

A Cost-Effective New Initiative That Puts Power in Poor People’s Hands

By Daniel Altman

One of the ideas making waves in global development has been that poor people know better than anyone else how to improve their standards of living.  Some experts have recommended replacing conditional cash transfer programs (rewarding poor people for behaviors such as vaccinating their children) with unconditional cash transfer programs (just giving money to the poor).  But to make real change happen, there is a more direct route.

The poor will only be able to raise their own standards of living if they have power.  Giving them a few dollars here and there may help them to invest in small businesses or improve their access to education, but they still won’t become powerful agents of change.  Perhaps not by coincidence, many poor people live in countries where power is centralized amongst a small elite.

Poor people will only be able to change their lives in a long-term, sustainable way if they have real power in their societies.  Clearly, no government or foreign donor is willing to give them enough money, without any conditions, for this to happen.  Yet there is another, comparatively inexpensive way to do it.

A new development initiative would just give guns to the poor.  As evidence from around the world has suggested, guns are a fast track to power.  Several developing countries have conducted randomized controlled trials of this concept by giving guns to poor villagers in a non-systematic way.  In almost every case, villagers with guns have been empowered to change their living standards much more than villagers without guns.

This kind of initiative has shown promise even in wealthy countries such as the United States.  Here, poor people with guns are disproportionately powerful in society, wielding influence at both the local and national levels.  Moreover, many gun owners have come to believe that their living standards are higher than they actually are, adding psychic benefits to the concrete benefits of gun ownership.

With funding for development programs becoming scarcer every day, the emphasis must be on cost-effectiveness and accountability.  Just giving guns to the poor scores highly on both of these criteria.  After all, what better way to guarantee accountability than at the end of the barrel of a gun?

Daniel Altman is founder and president of North Yard Economics, a non-profit consulting firm serving developing countries, and an adjunct associate professor of economics at the Stern School of Business.

Screaming Men: New Voices in African Cinema

Viva Riva! was the first major feature film from the DRC.

by Itay Sharon

Most depictions of Africa, particularly those parts still riven by conflict, fall into the poverty porn category. A welcome antidote to all the depictions of hellish war and crippling poverty, though, is the increasing presence of African cinema on the world stage, often from surprising places. Cinema gives us a different depiction of Africa, one which can eventually replace the mainstream representations that appear so exploitative. They can also play a part in educating an unknowing public about the reality of lives in poor places. Two films making their way around the festival circuit do this in different ways, one for the Congo and the other for Chad – and represent alternative paths that African cinema might take going forward.

Viva Riva! (Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2010)

Introduced by the director Djo Munga as “The first major feature film to come out of the Congo”, Viva Riva! is obviously influenced by Hollywood, while retaining distinctly Congolese flavours. Riva (Patsha Bay), charismatic, charming and wealthy from selling oil, is on the run from his former Angolan employers. The tensions between the DRC and Angola, recently centred on oil-disputes, are in full evidence, primarily through racism: an Angolan gangster taunts his nemesis by saying: “Congolese nigger…your country is the worst piece of shit I’ve ever seen. Maybe you should have remained colonised”.

What’s particularly refreshing is the way in which the problems of development are dealt with in a matter-of-fact way. Electricity cuts out at the worst moments, prompting audience laughter rather than pity. Kinshasa is depicted as a largely lawless society where everyone and everything has a price. Army generals, police officers and the clergy are all as corrupt as one another, and everyone manipulates in order to survive. Inequality, the immense status material wealth confers and the fluidity of class are all depicted in broad brush strokes:  ‘The strongest man in Kinshasa’, a local gangster named Azor, lives in a mansion surrounded by his fleet of cars, army of bodyguards and a superiority complex rooted squarely in his wealth. He refers to Riva as a “peasant” only to find himself broke and powerless soon after, for oil is king in a country that has no royalty, and his success is dependent on his patronage by others.

So far, so individual. But things begin to fall apart: brawling, shooting, and lots more violence and sex follow, but the film loses its focus and identity and isn’t sure where it wants to end up. One scene towards the end that divides me is when Riva finally goes to see his parents and a row ensues over Riva’s disappearance 10 years prior and the death of Riva’s brother. On the one hand, I think Munga leaves this so late in the film that it almost seems out of context and its impact is minimised, but on the other, you realise this is Munga venting his frustration at years of civil war that he largely blames on his parents’ generation. You feel that Viva Riva! could have benefited significantly from dealing with this issue earlier in the film and given it more than just a passing glance. This point is not fully explored enough to make any lasting impact.

Viva Riva! was a big winner at the African Academy Movie Awards recently and has been warmly received by critics, but I am not as convinced. It could have been so much more.

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New rules for Africa’s resource scramble

by Jim Cust

Natural resource extraction in Africa is a big deal. Particularly when it comes to sub-soil assets such as oil, gas and minerals. Between 2000 and 2008, ODA flows to sub-Saharan Africa increased from $12bn to $36bn per year. In contrast the value of natural resource rents rose from $39.2bn to $240bn. And this is just the beginning. Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler’s much-touted estimates (based on the World Bank’s 2006 Wealth of Nations research) put the value of known sub-soil assets in SSA at only one-fifth of those of the OECD ($25,000 per sq. kilometre versus $125,000 per sq. kilometre in the OECD). It seems likely then that much of Africa’s wealth is yet to be discovered. This is consistent with what we know- that many countries remain only partially explored. For example, the Zambian government’s most up-to-date geological survey reportedly date from the 1950s!

Getting better public geological information and incentivising exploration are just the first in a chain of complex decisions facing many of these countries. Even once you know what you have, and it’s coming out of the ground, opportunities for abuse and mismanagement are rife. Securing the full value of resource rents for government remains challenging. Gold exports from the Eastern DRC have been estimated to be around $1bn per year. In contrast treasury receipts from these exports reached only around $20,000 in 2008. This is an extreme example, but this story is all too familiar.

Money, evidently, goes missing. One part of the problem is a lack of scrutiny; governments need to be held to account by their citizens and companies by their shareholders. For this kind of scrutiny to take place, transparency in operations and disclosure of payments is important. It is for this reason we should all welcome the UK government’s recent announcement.

The Observer newspaper reported yesterday that George Osborne and Vince Cable are working together towards EU legislation requiring all extractive industry companies to disclose any payments made to resource rich governments. It is hoped this legislation will cover all companies, European or otherwise, listed on European markets. Osborne made this case for decisive legislative action before a meeting of G20 finance ministers in Paris on Saturday.

The movement to strengthen governance in extractive industries has seen a succession of victories in recent months. The inclusion of disclosure provisions in the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation, passed in July 2010, requires all extractive companies to report all payments made to governments in each country they operate in. Furthermore this extends not just to U.S. companies but to any company publicly listed in the States (for example BP). More recently in December it was announced the EU will seek to implement equivalent legislation by the end of 2011. At the end of January this year Nicholas Sarkozy, in response to an open letter from Bono of the ONE Campaign, pledged French leadership and support for this process. Furthermore, Sarkozy has put the future of Africa at the heart of his aims for France’s chairmanship of the G20 this year.

These breakthroughs come on the back of work by initiatives such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which has led the implementation of voluntary country-by-country disclosure, and the Publish What You Pay coalition, a network of civil society organisations, who have lobbied G20 governments to take action.

However there is work yet to do. Many companies operating in Africa will remain uncovered by these reforms. Canada’s parliament recently rejected by a narrow margin a Bill that would have extended similar provisions to the many important (and many smaller) mining companies listed in Toronto. Furthermore an important minority of the new players in the extractives sector, particularly those operating in Africa, originate from outside the OECD. Other G20 nations such as Brazil (home to Vale, the world’s second largest mining company) plus China and India should be encouraged to take similar steps (Hong Kong already has a form of these rules in place).

The international community has a vital role to play, to establish global governance around extraction companies and flows of funds out of resource-rich countries. Such actions can also bolster the efforts for reform from within these resource-rich countries.

The recent announcements create real momentum to level the global playing field in transparency and can galvanise the G20 nations around a clear development agenda. This agenda may not be built on aid flows or debt relief, but may prove to be more important for the future of Africa. Transparency is a good place to start but would be the wrong place to stop.

Jim Cust is a PhD student in Economics at the University of Oxford. He works on the Natural Resource Charter: naturalresourcecharter.org

Considering the counterfactual and the subsidising of subsistence in Malawi

By Anonymous, currently working in Malawi

Working in Malawi, I am always pleased to see interest in the country’s Input Subsidy Program. While it may not generate the same column inches as recently introduced legislation wrongly deemed to outlaw farting; a forthcoming paper written by Dorward and Chirwa evaluating the first 4-5 years of the program has drawn a response from Max Lawson on Max Lawson’s Oxfam blog From Poverty to Power.

According to the blog:

Thanks largely to the subsidy Malawi has had seven years of economic growth, based on agriculture, which has had a major impact on reducing poverty, helping to halve child mortality rate. For me the key point is the huge role a government subsidy like this can play in getting an economy back on its feet and in stimulating (rather than stifling) growth and poverty-reducing private sector development.

I, like Max Lawson, instinctively want to like the AISP for a number of reasons. This is a domestically led program in a country where all too often policies are driven by the priorities of donor countries. 85% of Malawians work in the Agricultural sector, yet agriculture has often been overlooked by policy makers as development partners fight over initiatives in Health and Education.  The program is also ambitious – distributing fertilizer to 1.6 million farmers is a hugely impressive logistical achievement in such a poor country. There is also something eminently satisfying about seeing a small country like Malawi asserting its right to set its own economic policies in the face of criticism from the developed world that reeks of hypocrisy, given the agricultural subsidies employed there.

While there is little doubt, that judged against the narrowest stated objectives of the policy, namely to achieve food self-sufficiency and increased income of resource poor households, the impact of the policy has been impressive. Notwithstanding challenges in collating reliable agricultural statistics, there seems little doubt that the program has led to major gains in crop production and statistics provided do seem to suggest a degree of poverty alleviation.

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On the opportunity cost of the Malawi fertiliser subsidy

By Anonymous, a former ODI Fellow

In 2005, Malawi undertook one of the most ambitious drives to develop its agricultural sector witnessed in a generation.  The initiative involves targeting fertiliser and seed inputs using ‘smart subsidies’, aimed at supporting the poorest smallholder farmers in the country.   The policy was launched following a drought which left close to five million people in need of food aid.  Between 2005 and 2009, Malawi’s maize production doubled and real per capita GDP increased by 40%.

Andrew Dorward and Ephraim Chirwa have written a series of papers chronicling the program’s development – their most recent paper was released last month.  They have been consistently supportive of the program, arguing that fertiliser subsidies have increased food availability, increase real wages and led to wider economic growth and poverty reduction.  However, this has come at a cost. In 2008/9, the program cost over $250m.  At 16% of the national budget and 5.6% of GDP, the money spent is equivalent 147% of total health spending and 175% of education expenditure.

When analysing a project of this scale, the concepts of opportunity cost and sustainability should form the main criteria for assessment. Not concepts such as operational efficiency – the focus of Dorward’s and Chirwa’s most recent work.  I would argue that the fertiliser subsidy program performs poorly on these criteria for two main reasons.

First, it is unclear that the benefits of the scheme actually outweigh the costs.  In 2008, Dorward and others estimated the benefit to cost ratio of the program in 2006/7 – a year of good rains and relatively low fertiliser prices.  The estimate was 1.06 – a small net benefit – and had a wide variance.  However, in later years, fertiliser prices have been considerably higher – suggesting that if the same methodology was applied, the results would be negative (costs>benefits).  The paper rightly argues that many of the benefits of the program are hard to measure, so have been excluded from this metric. But there are also unknown costs, for example the displacement of the private sector in the agricultural industry by massive government intervention.

Second, the focus on fertiliser to raise crop yields leaves the economy vulnerable to exogenous shocks –all the eggs are in one basket!  For instance, fertiliser won’t work if there is no rain.  At present much of the country’s foreign exchange is used for fertiliser imports – reducing the amount available to import food in the event of a drought.  Money spent on the subsidy could also be used to improve the country’s near non-existent irrigation network (despite Lake Malawi covering a third of the country).  Or the money could be used to diversify the economy away from the volatile agricultural sector.  All of these make the economy more resilient.

There are many other costs and benefits associated with the program.  My point is that it is not enough to state that the fertiliser subsidy program is a success because maize yields have risen, or because the government has improved its logistical operations.  Instead, we should be asking whether this program will help Malawi move away from subsistence farming? What are the complements to subsidised fertiliser? And what are its substitutes inside and outside of the agricultural sector?

Malawi now stands at cross-roads.  On one hand the politically very popular subsidy program could continue to expand, raising its cost and complexity, to a level similar to the wasteful and counter-productive subsidies of the 1970s and 1980s.  On the other hand, the program can be brought under control, both in terms of scope and scale.  This will free up valuable resources to target complementary intervention within agriculture and support other government priorities outside of agriculture.  In order to stimulate a Green Revolution in Malawi, where increased production is used to invest in raising productivity, a holistic approach must be taken, with several interventions being pursued simultaneously.

Ownception

Mind bending stuff...

By Laura Collins

Cobb: What do you want from us?
Saito: Inception. Is it possible?
Arthur: Of course not.
Saito: If you can steal an idea from someone’s mind, why can’t you plant one?
Arthur: Okay, here’s me planting an idea in your head. I say to you, “Don’t think about elephants.” What are you thinking about?
Saito: Elephants.
Arthur: Right. But it’s not your idea because you know I gave it to you. The subject’s mind can always trace the genesis of the idea. True inspiration is impossible to fake.
Cobb: That’s not true.
Saito[to Cobb] Can you do it?
Cobb: Are you offering me a choice? Because I can find my own way to square things with Cobol.
Saito: Then you do have a choice.
Cobb: Then I choose to leave, sir.

I caught myself wryly smiling during the above exchange on a recent trip to the cinema.  It’s a sad life, I know.  For it struck me that Saito’s line of questioning might well be asked of ownership. Ownership, that first principle of aid effectiveness. Ownership that will, in Busan later this year, undoubtably be lauded as an idea but lamented as a target unachieved. Many questions haven’t been – but need to be – asked of ownership. So …

Saito: Ownership. Is it possible?
Me: (Scratches head) ….     …..   Wait, slow down, what do you mean by ownership?
Saito: By partner countries of development strategies. To reverse the practice of conditionality-based agenda setting. It’s essential for development outcomes, you know.
Me: (Scratches head). But what is it? Leadership? Control? Power? Coordination? Responsibility?
Saito: We’ll plant the idea; how it becomes reality will differ upon how that idea is interpreted, understood, implemented…
Me: But then how do we know it’ll achieve what we want it to achieve?
Saito: Here’s me planing an idea in your head: Development Outcomes. What are you thinking about?
Me: Outcomes. But how can I know that the outcomes I’m thinking about look and are the same as your outcomes? If ownership’s inherently internal, how can this idea be an extra-national principle to be implemented by donors and partners?
Saito: Why can’t you plant an idea? Build ownership by training, by capacity building, by suggestion and support during policy development.
Me: Right, but then their not ‘owned’ ideas because we know we gave them to ‘them’. An idea from the outside can always be traced to being from the outside. True ownership of it is impossible to fake.  Hang on, in whom are we planting this idea again? Paris says in ‘government’s’, but Accra reckons ‘country’s’ and I have a feeling Busan’s going to say ‘inclusive’s’…
Saito: Can you do it?
Me: Are you offering me a choice? Because what if I think that the idea of mutual accountability fits better with the idea of partnership, that ownership doesn’t necessarily seem realistic given the financial relationship we’re in?
Saito: Then you do have a choice. On the condition that you have ownership of that choice.
Me: But I thought the choice was whether I would take ownership or not….? Oh, but if ownership is choice and I can choose whether I go along with what you plant or not? Then I choose to say no, sir, every time. Because that shows ownership.

I could go further: we could talk about how I could plant an idea to say no to the idea planted by Saito to say yes. Confused? Isn’t that the point?

Observations on Election Day


by Carmine Paolo De Salvo

The big day started with voters being greeted by heavy rain as they arrived at the polling stations in and around Stone Town. I did some ‘unofficial observation’ (just to satisfy my own curiosity) around 11am, when the polling stations had already been open for about 4 hours, initially visiting a couple of polling stations close to my place: the Karume College in Mbweni and a school in Kiembe Samaki. Those areas are very close to each other and both are characterized as CCM (Chama Cha Mapinduzi, the incumbent party) strongholds, since government officials and their families and friends constitute most of the electoral body in these parts.

A list of pictures of registered voters was well visible outside each polling station and made it easier for everyone to find her/his respective voting room. In both polling stations voters’ queues were quite long and many voters, especially women, had decided to sit down outside their respective rooms to wait for their turn to express their preferences. Military forces and police officers where present in each polling station, but there didn’t appear to be any tension or animosity, and indeed they were actually very obliging to me. They let me in and said there was no problem if I wanted to take some pictures (I was dressed as no more than a random tourist and had no government identification document whatsoever. I spoke Swahili to them though and here in Zanzibar Swahili speakers get a better treatment in different circumstances).

Voting operations did not seem to be very quick, maybe because every voter had to fill and fold five different ballot papers (for the President of Zanzibar, President of Tanzania, Zanzibar House of Representatives, Tanzanian Parliament and Local Council). In any case, the whole atmosphere was peaceful and relaxed.

I then moved on to town, which is usually a CUF (Civic United Front, the opposition) stronghold. I had a look at the polling station close to the Ministry where I work and there, too the situation looked tranquil. From there, accompanied by a friend of mine working as a Temco (Tanzania Election Monitoring Committee) observer, I went on to visit some of the more economically deprived areas around town.

We visited three different polling stations in the vicinities of the Kariakoo and Amani areas and the scenes were very similar to the ones that I have already described. These areas are also supposed to be more CCM-inclined. We arrived there around noon and the afflux of people was clearly decreasing (people here tend to go to vote early, as they get up very early as well). The presence of military forces was heavier in these last polling stations, but again incident-free. In one of the polling stations we noticed some a shortage of ballot papers (but just for the Tanzanian Parliament). This clearly showed at least some serious mismanagement. As far as I could understand from some Temco observers, vote counting will be suspended for that constituency and voters will be given the opportunity to vote on another date. But it is important to underline that these are just rumours that I heard and I can’t provide any official confirmation.

Such was my experience of Zanzibari elections. To be honest, my impressions were moderately positive. Of course, problems can still occur, especially when the votes are counted and results announced. I cannot predict what will happen in the next hours, but I am pleased to have witnessed what seemed to be a decent enough democratic exercise. So far, at least.

When the best of aid becomes the worst

By Daniel Altman

Yesterday I attended the “Best and Worst of Aid” conference at New York University, hosted by Bill Easterly and the Development Research Institute. This was an event that welcomed aid critics, but a couple of the speakers were openly pro-aid. Lant Pritchett of Harvard, for example, defended the past sixty years of aid as a necessary backdrop for some important, welfare-enhancing policy decisions in poor countries. And Isabel Guerrero, the World Bank’s vice president for South Asia, outlined some examples of official aid that, she said, had really worked.

Guerrero said she had spent twenty-seven years at the World Bank, and, on that basis, you might have expected her to cherry-pick some incredible successes. Her examples may indeed have been great achievements, but there was no way of knowing. When it came to evaluation, it was clear that the World Bank was still stuck in the past.

Guerrero’s first slide on the impact of successful aid programs focused on a rural roads project in Peru. Over a decade, she said, the project had improved access to transportation (you’d hope so), raised literacy and school attendance, and cut poverty by about nine percentage points. What she really meant, of course, is that those changes had occurred in the same region where the roads project was completed. There was no control or even a comparison to the other regions of Peru; causality was anyone’s guess.

Nor were all of her outcomes really outcomes. Who cares if access to transportation is enhanced, if no one feels like their well-being has improved? Only the poverty number really came close to an outcome, and it looked pretty flimsy: less than one percentage point per year for ten years versus an unknown but probably very high base, with no accounting for other influences. After the presentation, a Peruvian student came up to me and said that yes, other anti-poverty programs had been operating in the region at the same time as the roads project.

Now, I realize that it may be difficult to do a controlled study of a roads project that costs hundreds of millions of dollars, but there was no effort at anything but prima facie evaluation. The student said that she had been out to the villages, and that the roads really had helped people. Great, I said – so why didn’t anyone at the World Bank ask them how the project had changed their lives?

Surely, the student countered, the ballot box was a sufficient verdict. The ballot box! Even if all rural Peruvians voted, would they have cast their votes based solely on this one project, which wasn’t even funded by their own government? It was too easy just to ask them about the project directly, I said, not to do so. The cost of conducting a before-and-after survey would have been a tiny fraction of the World Bank’s budget for the project.

I was surprised and disappointed that neither the World Bank nor a Peruvian studying development would have deigned to survey the people affected by the roads project in order to gauge its true impact. This is another manifestation of a mindset we see again and again: if you want to help poor people, the last thing you should do is talk to them.

It’s also a sign that the World Bank still has little idea how to convincingly evaluate its own projects, especially in front of an audience of rigorous academics and experienced practitioners. Guerrero’s other cherry-picked example, a program to help women in India’s Andhra Pradesh state, came under heavy criticism from Pritchett later in the conference for having completely unverifiable results. With so much money at stake, surely we can do better.