Jan 05 2007

“Needy” Scholars: A Ugandan Notion

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 11:51 PM

Many African children face hard lives. That’s no secret. Yet many children attend school, at least for the primary years. Attendance falls off dramatically when students reach the seconday level, or what Americans call high school. One African country, Uganda, is leading the way in trying to address the problem of school costs. A few years ago, Uganda made all primary education free of charge; until then students paid to attend primary. Uganda plans to do the same for middle school, starting this year.
And now the country has announced that scholarships will be offered to “needy, high-achieving” students who are able to attend secondary school but can’t afford to. Time will tell whether Uganda’s effort is practical: defining programs around poverty and need is especially difficult in Africa where elites often claim they are poor themselves. The effort is worth watching, however, because the expansion of education is crucial to improving living conditions in Africa.

Jan 04 2007

Aid to Africa – And a Fairy Tale

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 6:23 PM

The debate over foreign aid and Africa is boiling over once more. Jeff Sachs, a professor at Columbia and Kofi Annan’s designated big thinker on “ending” African poverty, penned a thoughtful, if somewhat self-congratulatory article on the benefits of more aid to Africa, in a recent issue of the New York Review of Books
William Easterly, who wrote an interesting study of the failures of foreign aid generally, published last year under the title “White Man’s Burden,” responded with a devastating counter-critique, lampooning Sach’s for his self-importance, slanted evidence and over-the-top optimism.
The exchange is revealing about how much disagreement exists over whether aid helps or hurts. Sachs and Easterly have been battling in public over this question for years. Both concede some points made by the others, which suggests that the answer to their quest lies somewhere in the “Goldilocks” zone: the idea being that too much aid is no good, but too little aid is no good either. My own view about aid to Africa falls into this Goldilocks zone. Some aid works well, much aid does not, and the real trouble with aid is that donors don’t discriminate well between the two and Africans themselves are too cynical about the entire process, welcoming the money but rarely sharing the aims or methods of donors.

Jan 03 2007

Nigeria’s Mystery Man

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 8:20 PM

Who is Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and why is he increasingly seen as the next President of Nigeria? Yar’Adua is the front-running candidate of Nigieria’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which has run Africa’s most populous country for the past eight years. President Olusegun Obasanjo steps down in April after two terms. Opposition to Obasanjo is strong and widespread in Nigeria, but opponents have yet to rally around a single candidate — and the odds are that, in Nigeria’s fractitious political culture, they won’t. Yar’Adua is an obscure governor of one of Nigeria’s northern states, Katsina. He is considered reclusive and would not even be in the running for the presidency were he not both a Muslim and of Hausa descent. Muslims represent about half of Nigeria’s population and the Hausa people are one of the country’s three major ethnic groups. Since Obasanjo is neither a Muslim nor a Hausa — he is a Christian and a Yoruba from the south — the PDP opted for choosing a candidate along ethno-religious lines. Yar’Adua is trying to make the right noises as a candidate but he is essentially a party hack and is likely to continue the pattern of ethnic patronage and corruption that characterizes Nigerian politics. While foreign observers are expected to crow about the “democratic” transition between elected administrations, which would be a first for Nigeria, the absence of any candidate broadly representing the interests of Nigeria’s poor majority is a sad commentary on the state of the country’s democracy. Should a populist candidate emerge, Nigerians will test the truism that ethnicity trumps class-interests. This would be a test worth taking.

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