Hernando de Soto, eat your heart out

From Uganda, where some land owners really, really don’t want to sell their land:

Finally, one of usual arguments for formal land titling is getting informal owners access to the credit market by letting them pony up their land for collateral. The potential downsides?

These are from Danish researcher Rasmus Hundsbæk’s blog, which focuses on land affairs in East Africa.

Sentences deserving skepticism

Unfortunately, attendance is not education's most reliable metric

Despite the inevitable concerns about standards, there are still millions of children attending school who otherwise wouldn’t have been, which means they are learning.

That’s Ugandan thinktanker Lawrence Bategeka, quoted in Jonathan Glennie’s recent article on the results of Uganda’s shift to universal primary education.

Discovering conflict without Jolie, Willis, or DiCaprio


The US isn’t known for its thoughtful portrayal of African conflict. There was Tears of the Sun, the Bruce Willis vehicle that invented a non-existent conflict in Nigeria (in which the brace American soldiers protected mostly women and children from nearly demonic genocidaires). There was Blood Diamond, which admittedly is a pretty fun action romp, but still managed to reduce Sierra Leoneans to being either noble or rabid savages (save for Winston Ntshona’s excellent cameo). Hotel Rwanda, while well-acted and produced wrapped itself solely in melodrama, shying away from detail into the genocide (the excellent Sometimes in April, picks up the slack). Then of course there is Black Hawk Down, in which every single Somali character is waving an AK-47 or getting shot.

So it’s a bit surprising to hear that a new comic book, produced by the DC subsidiary Vertigo, is tackling the lesser known Ugandan insurgency, which flared up seven years ago. Not only that, but it’s main protagonist is a Ugandan man, not a wayward development economist or Jack Bauer. The series is meant to be graphic and perhaps a little too pondering in that way that comics can get, but historically accurate and quite a good read (Christ Blattman enjoys it; I wonder what a Venn diagram of comic-book lovers and development economists would reveal). I’m searching for it now, but might have to wait until the first 10 issues are re-released as a graphic novel.

Hat tip to the Roving Bandit for discovering it first.

If only you knew the power of nagging

Give quiche a chance

I’m naturally a bit skeptical of ground-level interventions that don’t involve cash, needles or textbooks. Anything that involves dubiously-titled training or “empowerment”  sets off my very cynical alarm bells. However, I’m beginning to be persuaded by the evidence that targeted information campaigns work.

First there was Pedro Vicente and Paul Collier’s study on a randomised anti-violence campaign staged prior to the 2007 Nigerian elections, showing significant reductions in the treated districts. Then there was the Heckle and Chide’s study of minibuses in Kenya: a random treatment group were given posters advising passengers to speak up if the minibus drivers drove dangerously (which is pretty much what minibus drivers are born to do). The treatment group saw sizable declines in insurance claims, including those for injury and death.

Now there is a soon-to-be-published paper by Martina Björkman and Jakob Svensson, offering a unique randomised intervention:

  1. Assess local health providers and inform the communities on their relative performance using ‘report cards’,
  2. Encourage these communities to form groups to monitor local health performance.
  3. Sit back and see what happens.

A year after the intervention, a repeat study revealed that the treated communities had: harder working health providers, higher rates of immunization and significantly reduced rates of child mortality and underweight children, all with the same levels of funding.

The best part of the study was the lack of investigation into what the communities were doing to make changes – (there is some rough evidence that the communities were more active in electing and dissolving the local provider management committees). My guess is that a fair amount of nagging was involved.

I’ve come to believe that a crucial part of development is strengthening the accountability link between citizens and their government (not to be confused with enforcing accountability externally), especially when the citizens face a trade-off for enforcement (in this situation, that trade-off is time spent hassling health workers).

A few questions remain:  is it persistent (or would health workers become more resistant to this informal accountability over time?) Is this scalable? Which part of the intervention was key: the information transfer allowing for yardstick comparisons between district, or the “empowerment” workshops? My hunch is the former.

(Bonus points to those that got the Red Dwarf reference).