Archive for the ‘LICs’Category

Americanah

Americanah, the new novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is very good. I have a long list of Nigerian fiction on my to-read list, but Americanah got bumped to the top because it seemed like the perfect transition from Princeton to Nigeria: I heard Chimamanda speak in Princeton – where she, like Ifemelu, the main character, lived for a year on a fellowship – a month or so ago.

Americanah starts with Ifemelu taking NJ Transit from Princeton to Trenton to get her hair braided, because Princeton is the sort of place with an “ice cream shop that had fifty different flavors including red pepper” but no one to braid black hair. Following her TED Talk advice, Americanah crams in many narratives. It’s set in Lagos and London, Brooklyn and Baltimore, New Haven and Philly, and it’s about migration from Lagos to America, from Lagos to London, and from everywhere back to Nigeria. One character, in London:

His eyes would follow them, with a lost longing, and he would think: You can work, you are legal, you are visible, and you don’t even know how fortunate you are.

It’s about dating across race, wealth, and cultures; academics and intellectuals and the many people who are only one or the other, not both; the London black market of arranged sham marriages and faked ID documents; accents real and faked; sex work; the constant burdens and exploitation and desperation of the undocumented; Barack Obama; the hope and opportunity that can come with an approved visa application; and hair. Lots of hair.

There are Americans who deny that racism is still a problem. Wealthy folks who, learning Ifemelu is from Nigeria, try to connect by mentioning their latest trip to Tanzania, their opinion of Ethiopian beauty, the charity they support in Malawi. Ifemelu thinks:

There was a certain luxury to charity that she could not identify with and did not have…. Ifemelu wanted, suddenly and desperately, to be from the country of people who gave and not those who received, to be one of those who had and could therefore bask in the grace of having given, to be among those who could afford copious pithy and empathy.

Another character is at a London dinner party, thinking:

Alexa, and the other guests, and perhaps even Georgina, all understood the fleeing from war, form the kind of poverty that crushed human souls, but they would not understand the need to escape form the oppressive lethargy of choicelessness. They would not understand why people like him, who were raised well fed and watered but mired in dissatisfaction, conditioned from birth to look towards somewhere else, eternally convinced that real lives happened in that somewhere else, were now resolved to do dangerous things, illegal things, so as to leave, none of them starving, or raped, or from burned villages, but merely hungry for choice and certainty.

Ifemelu is, for a while, a blogger who writes “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black” which gives Adichie a venue to make observations, often hilarious and/or impolite. One post starts:

Dear Non-American Black, when you make the choice to come to America, you become black. Stop arguing. Stop saying I’m Jamaican or I’m Ghanaian. America doesn’t care. So what if you weren’t “black” in your country? You’re in America now….

Americanah never dwells on a single theme until it becomes tiresome The major characters are sympathetic but flawed, and the observations are constantly insightful – I wanted to quote much more here. So, highly recommended.

03

07 2013

Comparisons

It’s hard for me to experience Nigeria without comparing it – mentally, and probably too often, verbally, with Ethiopia. Or rather, comparing Abuja to Addis, since my experience in each country has been centered on the capital. A few thoughts with a broad brush stroke: compared to Addis, Abuja is hotter (lower altitude), the roads are much better (oil wealth? planned city?), the taxis and most cars are newer (less massive import taxes?), the driving is much more aggressive (cars that can actually go fast + fast roads), the upscale grocery stores have amazing selection (more Nigerian buying power?), and security and crime are much greater, ever-present concerns. The music is better (sorry, Teddy Afro) and the conversation louder. The international scene here is more British, more male, and – especially outside of Abuja – more ensconced in all-encompassing compounds called “life camps” run by big foreign oil and construction companies that, like NGOs, often have 3-letter acronym names that have long outlived their original meaning.

02

07 2013

Why did HIV decline in Uganda?

That’s the title of an October 2012 paper (PDF) by Marcella Alsan and David Cutler, and a longstanding, much-debated question in global health circles . Here’s the abstract:

Uganda is widely viewed as a public health success for curtailing its HIV/AIDS epidemic in the early 1990s. To investigate the factors contributing to this decline, we build a model of HIV transmission. Calibration of the model indicates that reduced pre-marital sexual activity among young women was the most important factor in the decline. We next explore what led young women to change their behavior. The period of rapid HIV decline coincided with a dramatic rise in girls’ secondary school enrollment. We instrument for this enrollment with distance to school, conditional on a rich set of demographic and locational controls, including distance to market center. We find that girls’ enrollment in secondary education significantly increased the likelihood of abstaining from sex. Using a triple-difference estimator, we find that some of the schooling increase among young women was in response to a 1990 affirmative action policy giving women an advantage over men on University applications. Our findings suggest that one-third of the 14 percentage point decline in HIV among young women and approximately one-fifth of the overall HIV decline can be attributed to this gender-targeted education policy.

This paper won’t settle the debate over why HIV prevalence declined in Uganda, but I think it’s interesting both for its results and the methodology. I particularly like the bit on using distance from schools and from market center in this way, the idea being that they’re trying to measure the effect of proximity to schools while controlling for the fact that schools are likely to be closer to the center of town in the first place.

The same paper was previously published as an NBER working paper in 2010, and it looks to me as though the addition of those distance-to-market controls was the main change since then. [Pro nerd tip: to figure out what changed between two PDFs, convert them to Word via pdftoword.com, save the files, and use the ‘Compare > two versions of a document’ feature in the Review pane in Word.]

Also, a tip of the hat to Chris Blattman, who earlier highlighted Alsan’s fascinating paper (PDF) on TseTse flies. I was impressed by the amount of biology in the tsetse fly paper; a level of engagement with non-economic literature that I thought was both welcome and unusual for an economics paper. Then I realized it makes sense given that the author has an MD, an MPH, and a PhD in economics. Now I feel inadequate.

03

01 2013

Do they know it's Christmas? No, because it isn't.

Remember “Do they know it’s Christmas?” That’s right, the 1984 hit song intended to raise money for famine victims in Ethiopia.  If that’s not ringing a bell (See what I did there?) then here’s the video:

You probably didn’t get very far, so here are some of the inane lyrics:

And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time
The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life
Where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow
Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?

In addition to reinforcing all sorts of stereotypes about Africa, this video gets one very important thing wrong: Do they know it’s Christmas time? No, they don’t, because Ethiopians are Orthodox Christians and don’t celebrate Christmas until January 7th. So next time someone says they love this song, you now have an annoying know-it-all response to shut them down — which you can consider your holiday gift from this blogger. Merry Christmas!

[On a more serious note, Ethiopia has made huge strides on food security since the fall of the Derg. If you want to read more on that, MoreAltitude (an aid blogger who recently relocated to Addis) has this take.]

21

12 2012

Friday photos: Simien Mountains panoramas

Sunset panorama made from seven photos stitched together — taken from a ridge above Geech Camp in the Simien Mountains (click for higher resolution version):

And a daytime panorama from somewhere below Sankaber Camp:

14

12 2012

Friday photos: Gelada baboons

The Simien Mountains in Ethiopia’s north are swarming with Gelada baboons (which aren’t actually baboons). Below are some photos I took of them over Thanksgiving break:

And an interesting fact about the mountains, from Wikipedia:

Although the word Semien means “north” in Amharic, according to Richard Pankhurst the ancestral form of the word actually meant “south” in Ge’ez, because the mountains lay to the south of Aksum, which was at the time the center of Ethiopian civilization. But as over the following centuries the center of Ethiopian civilization itself moved to the south, these mountains came to be thought of as lying to the north, and the meaning of the word likewise changed.

07

12 2012

Someone should study this: Addis housing edition

Attention development economists and any other researchers who have an interest in urban or housing policy in low-income countries:

My office in Addis has about 25 folks working in it, and we have a daily lunch pool where we pay in 400 birr a month (about 22 USD) to cover costs and all get to eat Ethiopian food for lunch every day. It’s been a great way to get to know my coworkers — my work is often more solitary: editing, writing, and analyzing data — and an even better way to learn about a whole variety of issues in Ethiopia.

addis construction

Addis construction site (though not probably not government condos)

The conversation is typically in Amharic and mine is quite limited, so I’m lucky if I can figure out the topic being discussed.  [I usually know if they’re talking about work because so many NGO-speak words aren’t translated, for example: “amharic amharic amharic Health Systems Strengthening amharic amharic…“] But folks will of course translate things as needed.  One observation is that certain topics affect their daily lives a lot, and thus come up over and over again at lunch.

One subject that has come up repeatedly is housing. Middle class folks in Addis Ababa feel the housing shortage very acutely. Based on our conversations it seems the major limitation is in getting credit to buy or build a house.

The biggest source of good housing so far has been government-constructed condominiums, for which you pay a certain (I’m not sure how much) percentage down and then make payments over the years. (The government will soon launch a new “40/60 scheme” to which many folks are looking forward, in which anyone who can make a 40% down payment on a house will get a government mortgage for the remaining 60%.)

When my coworkers first mentioned that the government will offer the next round of condominiums by a public lottery, my thought was “that will solve someone’s identification problem!” A large number of people — many thousands — have registered for the government lottery. I believe you have to meet a certain wealth or income threshold (i.e., be able to make the down payment), but after that condo eligibility will be determined randomly. I think that — especially if someone organizes the study prior to the lottery — this could yield very useful results on the impact of urban housing policy.

How (and how much) do individuals and families benefit from access to better housing? Are there changes in earnings, savings, investments? Health outcomes? Children’s health and educational outcomes? How does it affect political attitudes or other life choices? It could also be an opportunity to study migration between different neighborhoods, amongst many other things.

A Google Scholar search for Ethiopia housing lottery turns up several mentions, but (in my very quick read) no evaluations taking advantage of the randomization. (I can’t access this recent article in an engineering journal, but from the abstract assume that it’s talking about a different kind of evaluation.) So, someone have at it? It’s just not that often that large public policy schemes are randomized.

06

12 2012

Friday photos: Somaliland

I have lots of thoughts on my trip about one month ago to Somaliland, as it’s a fascinating place — highly recommended in particular for students of public policy or development. But those will have to wait for future posts as I’m swamped for now with work, my Masters thesis, and some other projects. In the meantime, this is Hargeisa:

Above, a major mosque. Below, the street scene downtown:

The animal market:

And here’s me with a moneychanger and stacks of Somaliland shillings:

02

11 2012

Friday photo: Wenchi Crater Lake

Wenchi Crater Lake is a long-ish day trip from Addis Ababa. The former volcanic cone is filled with a lake and hiking trails, and there’s even a monastery on an island in the middle of the lake. Here’s a panorama shot from near the top of the trail, made from five photos stitched together (click for higher resolution):

26

10 2012

Friday photos: Meskel

Last week Ethiopia celebrated Meskel, a major holiday that commemorates the discovery of the “one true cross” on which Jesus was crucified. Meskel Square in Addis is the place to be — “meskel” means cross in Amharic.

Orthodox priests and actors surround the cross (yes, the thing that looks like a Christmas tree to American eyes):

Everyone brings candles, and at dusk they’re lit in a slow wave moving across the square:

The roar of the crowd grows until the cross is lit:

Documentation:

As the fire dies down the crowd scattered — but this drumming and singing circle stuck around for quite a while:

05

10 2012