Go forward by going back

Seeking a better understanding.

Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

Coke in Africa

leave a comment »

Often, in conversation about medical drug distribution, Coca Cola is idolized for its ability to deliver its products to the most remote locations. Certainly, Coke’s distribution network is impressive.  As this story from a recent Business Week edition suggests, Coca Cola is pursuing a strategy that is inclusive of local micro-vendors in Africa.

Kingori’s sundry store—known locally as a “duka“—also sells plastic buckets and mattresses, and is no larger than a small bedroom. Her Gold status brings benefits, like an introduction to Coke’s globally standardized selling techniques. She’s urged by Coke to promote combo meals to boost profits, and so red menu signs supplied by the beverage company suggest a 300-milliliter Coke and a ndazi, which is a kind of greasy donut, for 25 Kenyan shillings. Coke also paid for the red refrigerated drink cooler at the entrance to the shop, which is protected by a blue cage. She’s told to keep it full to draw attention, and to stock it according to a diagram inside: Coca-Cola always at the top, Fanta in the middle, large bottles on the bottom. At stores down Naivasha Road, and throughout the continent and the rest of the world, Coke fridges are stocked in similar fashion.

Coca-Cola teaches these mini-distributors everything about how to run a business—from things as simple as waiting until the midday rush before icing down the Cokes to save resources to how to buy a house with their newfound wealth.

via Longreads


Written by Niall

May 29, 2011 at 11:04 am

Posted in Africa, Kenya

Tagged with , ,


Fascinating piece on the culture of sakawa in Ghana (419 in Nigeria).

Internet scamming came to be understood more publicly as ‘sakawa’ only recently.  Before that, back when I started my research in Accra on Internet café use it was more underground.  I talked to Internet café users back then, both scammers and non-scammers, and frequently heard their stories about the ‘big gains’ realized by other local Internet users.  I was told stories about young men getting the credit card of Oprah Winfrey, or using Bill Gates credit card to buy ten laptops. One young man commented on how such people, “don’t even notice the money is reduced.”  These stories (rumors in the way they narrated an event the teller had not directly observed or experienced) had a certain pattern, describing the scam victims often as these superhuman celebrity figures.  These rumors not only presented the promise of gaining money from the Internet, but also restored the morality of these practices in this way of characterizing scam victims as beyond harm.

This reminds me of Sudhir Venkhatesh’s phenomenal Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor and the chapter in Freakonomics that asks Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live with Their Moms?

What proportion of sakawa results in the big payoffs that allow these guys to buy a beemer? And what proportion are Ghanaians with underutilized skills that are sitting around in internet cafes dabbling into sakawa but not finding any major payoff?

And why do these guys believe their benefactors fall for sakawa? Sean provides some explanations.

There’s more than one reason. Some are greedy and naïve and do, in fact, buy into these stereotypical depictions of Africa as believable stories that resonate with how they know things to be in that part of the world. They buy into the stories of corrupt politicians or of spoils of war stashed in a ‘third world’ and therefore unregulated country, of abandoned bank accounts, or smuggled gold.  There are others who are operating from more human and sympathetic impulses, lonely people looking for love (perhaps less sympathetically rather old men looking for very young attractive women). Also altruistic individuals who think they are contributing money to orphans or to a church. What is also interesting is, in many documented cases, how scam victims often get in so deep and are so committed to the scenario they’ve been presented, they seem not to be able to believe that it was entirely made up, refuse to accept that the person they thought they were dealing with doesn’t exist at all.

Written by Niall

May 26, 2011 at 9:03 pm

Posted in Ghana

Tagged with , , ,

Who replaced Laurent Nkunda?

leave a comment »

The perks of being granted a natural monopoly.

Then, in September 2010, came President Kabila’s ban of mineral exports from the eastern Congo. It now appears that Kabila has been trying to secure large, industrial investments in the Kivus mining sector, which has hitherto brought little revenue to Kinshasa actors. (This strategy may have brought fruit this past week, with Malaysia Smelting Corporation announcing large investments in the region). Mining exports came to a standstill throughout much of the province. Minerals, however, continued to flow out of the region, albeit in much reduced volume. According to diplomats working in Goma, Kinshasa and Kigali, these smuggled goods needed military protection to muscle their way through border crossings or across Lake Kivu. Bosco, who commands many of the units controlling these crossings, was the go-to man for many of these operations. According to the same officials, most of these exports passed through Rwanda.

Bosco was becoming increasingly wealthy and powerful. He managed to woo back some of the disaffected CNDP officers, united with Nkunda loyalists to resist redeployment outside of the Kivus.

Bosco’s importance and stature as local military strongman was made even clearer during his involvement in a multi-million dollar gold swindle that took place in February this year. Although the details are still murky, a bunch of international investors was trying to buy gold from Congolese businessmen. The investors – some of whom had dubious reputations themselves – appear to have been swindled out of at least $10 million. Once again, Bosco provided some of the muscle for the operation, although his precise role remains unclear.

From the ever illuminating Jason Stearns at Congo Siasa. I am looking forward to picking up a copy of Streans’s Dancing in the Glory of Monsters.

Written by Niall

May 26, 2011 at 7:36 pm

African Broadband Speed Classifications

leave a comment »

There is a lot of excitment and even more potential from fibre cables encircling Africa.  Currently, the download speeds suggest three groups of countries.

1) Fast, but sporadic – Ghana and Rwanda are the high achievers, basically at US circa 2008 speeds.

2) Moderate, with steady growth: Kenya stands out, but like Uganda and South Africa, it is exemplary of a rather constant growth rate since 1999. Namibia, though showing lower speeds, has also demonstrated stable growth during the same period.

3) Still slow – All other countries are below 1500 kbps. Ignoring some early data noise in Malawi and Madagascar, only Botswana has demonstrated speeds near 2000kbps.

Will there is a bit of oversimplification,  these groupings should help us to understand what policy should focus on. For group 1, it’s suring up stable connection speeds. Group 2, it’s maintaining stead growth rates or achieving a positive shock (EASSy or SEACOM improvements) to get to the level of Group 1. For Group 3, where infrastructure is thinnest, the focus may still be to focus on connectivity.

Zimbabwe and Mozambique don’t fit nicely into any of these categories. Zimbabwe’s data speeds are strikingly low pre-2011, possibly a change in data collection techniques or correlated with the opening of the economy? And Mozambique has progressed and regressed constantly

HT kenyanpundit

Written by Niall

May 25, 2011 at 11:12 pm

Posted in Africa

Tagged with , ,

Part of Life

leave a comment »

On multiple occasions, when discussing their (young) family member’s death, my male Malawian friends say that it is “part of life.”

One phrase contains a life’s worth of emotion and conceals male emotion from the public eye.

Written by Niall

May 22, 2011 at 2:54 pm

Posted in Malawi

Tagged with , ,

Sloppy Qualitative Reporting?

with one comment

Cash Transfer programs have received a lot of research attention in the past dozen years. See here for a summary report.

Replacing food handouts with cash is an increasingly observed trend in Malawi. A piece by Oxfam in the Mail & Guardian does a nice job of presenting the commentary of program participants.

Oxfam’s cash trickle goes a long way in Malawi.

The quant in me would like to see some evaluation evidence on how the Oxfam cash transfers shift the nature and timing of recipients’ consumption. But, I do really enjoy seeing the voices of people receive some coverage. As acknowledge through these quotes, there is a host of foods and non-food (school fees, roofing, medical) that are not easily targeted through in-kind transfers.

However, that is not the main message of this post.

I am really concerned about the confidentiality of those interviewed. Are we to assume that the M&G or Oxfam received authorization to publish people’s pictures, names, age and home district while quoting them as saying things like, “I’m married with two children, and I’m HIV positive. We used to survive on my husband’s charcoal burning and my ganyu.”

There has been some progress in reducing stigma toward people living with HIV/AIDS. But for the vast majority of people it is still very private information.

At the very least, this is sloppy qualitative research and journalism. I understand that the writer wants to put a personal touch to the story. It could have been written with greater assurance that the identity of sources is protected. It’s a shame that a positive story is done so sloppily.

Written by Niall

May 22, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Posted in Journalism, Malawi

Words to heed

leave a comment »

How scary is the trend of repression in Rwanda? Very, says Paul Rusesabagina.

Warning signs are everywhere. Organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are strongly condemning new election-related repression. Senator Russ Feingold, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, has spoken out against “renewed abuse of civil and political rights.” The government is recreating the polarizing conditions that helped lead to genocide.

Written by Niall

May 1, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Posted in Africa, Governance, Rwanda