Ideas to Action:

Independent research for global prosperity

Tag: Africa


How the US and UK Can Help Ordinary Zimbabweans without Helping their Government

How can countries with a strong history and connection to that beleaguered country help its people while not entrenching its kleptocratic leadership? Between the “lend and hope” strategy and the “isolate and wait” approach, what could the international community do to prevent unnecessary suffering without aiding the oppressors? Here’s an agenda.


Internationally comparable test scores play a central role in both research and policy debates on education. However, the main international testing regimes, such as PISA, TIMSS, or PIRLS, include very few low-income countries. For instance, most countries in Southern and Eastern Africa have opted instead for a regional assessment known as SACMEQ. This paper exploits an overlap between the SACMEQ and TIMSS tests—in both country coverage, and questions asked—to assess the feasibility of constructing global learning metrics by equating regional and international scales. I find that learning levels in this sample of African countries are consistently (a) low in absolute terms; (b) significantly lower than predicted by African per capita GDP levels; and (c) converging slowly, if at all, to the rest of the world during the 2000s. Creating test scores which are truly internationally comparable would be a global public good, requiring more concerted effort at the design stage.

Why the New White House Should Love Power Africa

We know very little about what a Trump administration will do about longstanding US efforts to combat global hunger, disease, and poverty. But here are five reasons Power Africa should appeal to a new White House team presumably focused on cutting waste and promoting business.


We experimentally test the impact of expanding access to basic bank accounts in Uganda, Malawi, and Chile. Over two years, 17 percent, 10 percent, and 3 percent of treatment individuals made five or more deposits, respectively. Average monthly deposits for them were at the 79th, 91st, and 96th percentiles of baseline savings. Survey data show no clearly discernible intention-to-treat effects on savings or any downstream outcomes. This suggests that policies merely focused on expanding access to basic accounts are unlikely to improve welfare noticeably since impacts, even if present, are likely small and diverse.


Despite no reported cases of polio in two years in Nigeria, on August 11, 2016, the WHO announced two new wild polio cases had been discovered in Northern Nigeria. While undoubtedly a setback, Nigeria has mobilized its immunization forces and will look to take heed of four key lessons learned during almost three decades of anti-polio efforts: 1) establishing and sustaining trust is critical to the success  of eradication campaigns; 2) frequent, independent monitoring and evaluation are key to tracking the progress of an intervention and making modifications; 3) holding all actors accountable is essential to pushing an intervention forward; and 4) contextualized health initiatives are key in fighting polio and other diseases. These lessons will reinforce a cohesive, multilateral strategy that builds on past successes to secure a polio-free Nigeria.


This paper uses the 2012/13 Uganda National Household Survey to analyze the redistributive effectiveness and impact on poverty and inequality of Uganda’s revenue collection instruments and social spending programs. Fiscal policy—including many of its constituent tax and spending elements—is inequality-reducing in Uganda, but the reduction of inequality due to fiscal policy in Uganda is lower than other countries with similar levels of initial inequality, a result tied to low levels of spending in Uganda generally. The impact of fiscal policy on poverty is negligible, while the combination of very sparse coverage of direct transfer programs and nearly complete coverage of indirect tax instruments means that many poor households are net payers into, rather than net recipients from, the fiscal system. As Uganda looks ahead to increased revenues from taxation and concurrent investments in productive infrastructure, it should take care to protect the poorest households from further impoverishment from the fiscal system.

A Cash Bailout for Zimbabweans that Deserves Support

For once, some good economic news out of Zimbabwe: a recent humanitarian cash transfer pilot is showing promising results. While I’ve adamantly opposed a bailout for the Mugabe regime, a bailout for the population—if the cash is delivered directly to citizens—is something all friends of Zimbabwe should get behind.

Can Poll Results Sway Elite Opinion on Tanzania's Resource Boom?

Even the most ardent defenders of democracy sometimes worry that populist pressure may lead to short-sighted (or populist) economic policy choices. So after polling 2,000 ordinary Tanzanians in 2015 about their views on the use of expected natural gas revenue, we decided to follow up with an experiment polling Tanzanian “elites,” to see whether they are aligned with citizens, or could be swayed by citizens’ views.