We just wanted an excuse to rerun our photo of Nigeria’s lovely and talented finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Africa’s second largest economy has just implemented a voucher program.
This is not for school choice, as in America, but a fertilizer subsidy for needy farmers. As the Nigerian agriculture minister put it:
We were subsidizing corruption. We were not subsidizing farmers.
This is one of Jeremiah’s rules for public spending. If you want to give a subsidy, give it directly to the people, not sticky fingered administrators. Of course, there is no corruption in America, but – we wonder if the administration of, say, education or health insurance, might benefit from the Nigerian treatment.
See also: Black Kids Need Good Schools
Here is an inspiring story about daily life in a Kenyan township. Unlike The Economist’s usual facts and figures, this is the Christmas edition and a human interest story. It received many positive comments and one poignant observation:
An inspirational article that should be an example to underemployed people in the West!
The author is plainly impressed by the vigor and entrepreneurialism of the people he meets. He strongly rebuts Western ideas about Africans unable to shift for themselves, and dependent on foreign aid.
Slums are … not where economic losers end up, but rather reservoirs of tomorrow’s winners.
Some may complain that such prejudices should not need rebutting, but they do. Indeed, they are not confined to Africa. Here in America, politicians peddle the victim mentality to black voters. You know the pitch – blacks make lower grades, need easier tests, quotas, etc.
That pitch might fly with voters in America, but you can’t sell it in Kibera.
Some were skeptical of our report on the One Laptop per Child project in Ethiopia, so here is another. This article is mainly about tablet computers in Kenya but it mentions the earlier story, as well as Kindle readers in Ghana.
In Ethiopia researchers found that even in the absence of teachers, children figured out how to use tablets
What is interesting about all this, is the “technology leapfrog” effect. Outside of rich South Africa, the continent never had much of a telephone network. Evolving technology has allowed Africa to skip landline telephones entirely, and go straight to cellular. As a result, Kenya has become a leader in mobile payment systems.
Jeremiah wonders if tablets might also be a leapfrog technology, allowing Africa to surpass the overpriced schools in America.
The Economist has a guest editorial from Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Unfortunately, it is only in the print edition. You can read an earlier article about Dr. Okonjo-Iweala here. They describe her as an orthodox economist, which means the old school of balancing budgets and cleaning up corruption.
In the editorial, she writes of sub-Saharan Africa emerging from “frontier” status, hitherto marked by weak institutions and weak governance. Jeremiah recalls a continent dominated by Big Men like Robert Mugabe. Aid money from Western dilettantes often fed the corruption, doing more harm than good.
Africa will emerge as a respected member of the global community – less a recipient of aid than a recipient of private investment.
The editorial is largely a marketing pitch for foreign direct investment, something Dr. Okonjo-Iweala feels is the proper job of an activist finance minister. She cites strong growth in Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Angola, as well as the usual inducements.
It is probably just as well Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was passed over for President of the World Bank, because her talents are needed in Africa. On the other hand, America could use a reformer – and we have that vacancy at Treasury.
See also: World Bank presidential candidates profiled
Here is a heartwarming piece from DVice. The One Laptop Per Child project has been handing out tablet computers to schoolchildren in Africa. They had been delivering them via schools but, in this instance, they just pushed them off the truck. Not only did the kids figure out how to use the tablets, without help, they figured out how to turn on the little camera. Since the tablets are preloaded with educational software, and the camera disabled, this was a good trick – hence the term “hacking” in the title.
The OLPC Project delivered boxes of tablets to two villages in Ethiopia, taped shut, with no instructions whatsoever.
Instructions would have been useless, because this is a remote village without written language. Some of the comments cry colonialism, i.e., “who says kids in a remote Ethiopian village need to learn English from a tablet computer?”
Fair enough, but Jeremiah scents something even more diabolical – a plot to get rid of teachers! We are anxiously waiting for Dr. Negroponte to distribute his magical tablets in Chicago.
See also: Dr. Sugata Mitra