Leadership alternation in East Africa?

One of the biggest challenges for the institutionalization of democracy in Africa has been that leaders, once in power, have refused to leave. Several hypotheses abound for this epidemic of presidential inertia — unlike in rich democracies, the prospects for maintaining a decent lifestyle drop precipitously once out of office because there are so few opportunities for lectures, books, or cushy seats on corporate boards ; friends and family depend on the largesse associated with power; and so on. At the extreme, there’s Robert Mugabe, who has hung around more than three decades.

As a result, various organizations have tried to induce African presidents to leave office gracefully — for example Mo Ibrahim’s award for good governance. (Unfortunately, he’s had a tough time finding suitable candidates for the award, because too few presidents have met the criteria of leaving office within term limits and demonstrating excellence.)

But the East African is reporting that four Presidents from the region — in Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda — seem inclined to respect their term limits. The departures are not quite imminent, as the timetable for this group extends out all the way to 2017. Nonetheless, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame is stating explicitly that he will not try to pull a Museveni and re-write the constitution to stay in power. This type of signaling bodes well for the institutionalization of democratic norms — specifically the norm to respect the constitution and rules of conduct more generally, and should help to inspire others to do the same.

That said, making promises is one thing, keep them is another.

Uwezo report highlights variation in learning within, across East Africa

We continue to have a team of researchers working on an evaluation of the impact of the Uwezo initiative in Kenya. Last week, Uwezo released this report on numeracy and literacy across East Africa,┬ábased on the results of their 2010 assessments of student learning in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. Several news outlets covered the release, including The East African, which highlighted the finding that performance is not tied to the quality of infrastructure but to the quality of teaching, including the amount of time teachers give to children. In my visit to a handful of rural schools in Kenya last month, in several of the classrooms I visited, the room was packed with students… but no teacher!

Uwezo Learning Assessment Report

But the report also points out that Kenya is performing best in the region.

While Uwezo’s study is intrinsically important for understanding development trends in the region, our research is quite distinct: We are focused on how citizens react to such information, and over the next few weeks, we will be studying attitudinal and behavioral responses to the release of the report and related campaigns.