Randomized controlled trials are the popular centerpiece of an emerging data-driven approach to figuring out precisely the best way to end poverty. Can a return to the scientific method fix the global aid industry?
For too long, “accountability” in the aid industry has meant nothing more than ensuring that a donor’s money was spent the way an agency said it would be. Rarely did organizations examine whether their spending achieved a positive impact (improved access to water, for example), much less one that stood the test of time (meaning the well didn’t dry up).
But recently, many aid organizations, including theInternational Rescue Committee, a New York humanitarian aid group specializing in refugee assistance, have used RCTs to, among other things, evaluate methods for nudging parents in Liberia toward more effective parenting techniques and tocreate highly effective community savings-and-loan programs to combat poverty in Burundi. It’s easy to see why charities are attracted to RCTs: They can make an aid agency’s work more efficient and generate solid evidence of progress to show funders.
As organizations continue to conduct more of them, RCTs are disproving many myths upon which we’ve designed development aid for years, not least of which is our longtime preference for projects over cash. If the data shows, as the RCT of GiveDirectly’s Kenya program did, that it’s most effective to hand a family $1,000 with no strings attached, then that’s precisely what we should do.
Read the full article in the July/August print edition of Pacific Standard or online.
On an overcast morning in Nairobi, commuter buses drive down a crumbling road into Kibera, a densely packed slum. A sign at the bus station reads “public toilets,” but the doors are locked.
It’s estimated that Kibera has just one toilet for every 2,500 of its approximately 250,000 residents. Without toilets to relieve themselves, people “use any means, whether it’s a [plastic] bag or a can,” explained Fred Amuok, Community Liaison for a Kenyan rights-based organization called Umande Trust.
The World Health Organization estimates that 1.5 million people die every year from diarrhea, often the result of poor sanitation. There’s also a financial cost: studies show that Kenya loses US$324 million each year in missed work hours due to sickness brought on by poor sanitation. According to the sanitation company Sanergy, four million tonnes of fecal sludge escape into Kenya’s waterways and fields every year.
But Umande Trust has come up with an innovative approach to providing affordable toilets for Kibera’s residents and turning human waste into cooking fuel–one that’s already been working for more than a decade.
For months, nearly two dozen gay, lesbian and transgender Ugandans had been living in a large house on the outskirts of Nairobi in an area called Rongai. Long after a court struck down Uganda’s infamous anti-gay law—dubbed the “Kill the Gays” bill for a death penalty provision in an early draft—LGBT people in Uganda were still being disowned by their families, hunted down by neighbors, jailed by police, even killed. Hundreds fled Uganda—mostly to Kenya, where they are faring little better.
Many of these refugees grew up in urban, middle-class families and loathe living in a hot, squalid refugee camp, as Kenyan law requires of all refugees. They are city people, accustomed to partying at secret gay clubs in Kampala.
One afternoon last December, a Kenyan man came to the gate of the Rongai house with a warning: Neighbors were plotting to attack the gay refugees that night and run them out of town. The refugees didn’t wait. They fled, scattering to different apartments across the city.
Read the full story in the June 10, 2016 print edition of Newsweek, or online.
TSAVO WEST NATIONAL PARK, Kenya—When it comes to darting elephants from helicopters and fitting heavy GPS tracking collars around their massive necks, “a lot of things can go wrong,” David Daballen says. “An elephant can fall on its chest. Imagine, a six-ton animal just sitting on its chest—they crush their lungs.”
As dawn breaks, Daballen, who works with Save the Elephants, is leading a collaring team of a couple dozen people, including nine Kenya Wildlife Service rangers dressed in camouflage and brandishing rifles. They are equipped with a Cessna, a helicopter, and a caravan of Toyota Land Cruisers and other SUVs.
The Cessna, circling overhead, spots an elephant and radios the team. Within seconds the chopper swoops in low, disappearing behind the bushes and trees. A moment later it swoops upward, and the vehicles race toward the spot. Lying on his right side is a bull. His skin is brown and rough, with pokey black hairs.
The team sets immediately to work unrolling the collar onto the elephant’s neck and attempting to tug it underneath. Someone pours water on the animal’s side to keep him cool. Another puts a small stick into the tip of his trunk to keep the airway open.
After struggling 20 minutes to get the collar on, Daballen uses a socket wrench to tighten the two ends together. The job done, a man injects an antidote to wake the animal up, and the team hurries to their vehicles. Everyone is silent as they watch the bull rise. He stands, looks toward the vehicles, then he turns and walks swiftly in the opposite direction.
The bull was the first of 10 elephants the team tranquilized over a week to fit with tracking collars. Their mission: to see how well Tsavo’s estimated 12,000 savanna elephants traverse a new rail line that has recently split their habitat in two. It is the first time in history, Daballen’s organization believes, that elephants are being collared specifically to study how they interact with human infrastructure.
Read the full feature story at National Geographic.
Two years ago, Michael Bloomberg launched Bloomberg Media Initiative Africa, a $10 million fund to “build media capacity, convene international leaders and improve access to information” on the continent. As part of the three-year program, journalists in Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria can apply for training programs and seminars to improve their knowledge about African finance and how to cover it.
Truly independent media outlets remain scarce on the continent. Freedom House lists the press in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa as only “partially free.” The first and fourth most censored media in the world are in Africa, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which last year published a detailed report about how Kenyan officials and partisan media owners are eroding press freedom there.
To learn more about the initiative and its relevance for African business journalism, CoveringBusiness spoke with three veteran Bloomberg editors. Read the interview at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism’s Covering Business blog.
NAIROBI, KENYA — First, a lioness ventured into the city as a decoy to draw officials away from her cubs that were lost in an army barracks.
Then, just weeks later, a pride of six lions breeched a fence into a pasture killing as many as 120 goats and sheep. One lion lost his bearings and ended up on a major highway, injuring a man before finding his way back into Nairobi National Park, located adjacent to Kenya’s capital city.
Now, this week, a popular lion named Mohawk ventured some 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of that park only to be surrounded and harassed by onlookers. When he responded by attacking one of them, he was shot and killed by park rangers.
Why are so many lions leaving Nairobi National Park?
Read the full story at National Geographic.
The plight of Kenya’s LGBT Refugees
Ketifa was 16 when her best friend Sharon kissed her in the dormitory of the private girls’ school they attended in Kampala, Uganda. On Valentine’s Day 2014, Ketifa’s roommate walked in and discovered the two having sex. The roommate screamed, and with her voice sounding throughout the halls, the entire dormitory came to witness the excitement. The dorm’s caretaker paraded Ketifa and her girlfriend away as their classmates jeered. Days later, she fled to Kenya.
In March 2014, a group of 23 LGBT Ugandans showed up outside a UN office in Nairobi, Kenya, seeking refugee status. They had come to a country that remains deeply homophobic and still punishes same-sex activity with up to 14 years in prison.
If it is a difficult time to be a refugee seeking resettlement out of Kenya, it is a difficult time to be doing so anywhere. Last year, there were more than 60 million refugees across the world—more than at any time since the end of World War II. And even though requests for asylum are at an all-time high, the number of refugees who successfully resettle is in decline: Only 73,000 were resettled in 2014, down from 98,400 the previous year. Despite the unique threats against LGBT refugees from Uganda, did they deserve a disproportionate number of these slots? And how could they be protected while they waited?
The piece won Honorable Mention (runner-up) to the 2016 Immigration Journalism Award from the French-American Foundation; has been nominated for “Outstanding Magazine Article” at the 2017 GLAAD Media Awards; and has been shortlisted for the 2017 One World Media Award.
Two foodies team up to explore the Kenyan city’s diverse foreign cuisine, and the entrepreneurs who brought it here.
Nairobi, Kenya – On a drizzly afternoon in Nairobi, Sandra Zhao sits at a hand-crafted wooden table sipping green tea from a ceramic Japanese cup. Across from her, the man who built the table and the restaurant that houses it describes the different Japanese delicacies as they arrive.
First there is pink-coloured tamago, a Japanese appetiser made of egg and dashi, and a light miso soup. Then comes a plate of salmon maki. Next is the main affair: Tantanmen (spicy noodle), a rich brown broth made of fish stock with home-made noodles that the restaurant’s owner, Yuki Kashiwagi, says is a favourite Japanese late-night food. And last, a plate of Japanese pancakes, or Okonomiyaki, topped with flakes of dried tuna that are so thin they wiggle in the afternoon breeze. “I love that!,” Zhao exclaims. “I know – that’s why I ordered it,” says Kashiwagi.
Zhao, after all, has been frequenting Kashiwagi’s restaurant since the day it opened. Creator of the Nairobi specialty cupcake startup SugarPie, she is teaming up with another American foodie – cupcake collaborator and founder of Nairobi’s Open Table Cooking School April Dodd – to publish a cookbook that will feature recipes from 30 Nairobi immigrant restaurant owners and the stories of what brought them here. Called Im/migrant Nairobi: A Cookbook, the project will feature Kashiwagi’s restaurant.
A continental hub for all manner of tech start-ups, NGOs, UN agencies and more, Nairobi is one of the most diverse cities in Africa. Indians, who began immigrating to Kenya’s coast more than a century ago, introduced spices, chai and chapatti that have found their way into mainstream Kenyan fare. Ethiopians who escaped the rule of Haile Selassie operate restaurants that adhere closely to traditional Ethiopian recipes and ceremonies. Recently, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and other Asian immigrants are reigniting the trend. If Kenya is East Africa’s country for foreigners, then Nairobi is the Mecca for their culinary traditions.
Read the full story at Al Jazeera.
A Ugandan refugee in Kenya hopes his cooking can help overcome prejudice about his sexuality
Kakuma, Kenya – It’s just past noon on a blistering hot day in this refugee camp in northern Kenya. Inside a small hut, hungry customers sit at a wooden table as the smell of meat and beans wafts in from a back door. The customers take shelter within the cool, mud-walled hut as Junior (not his real name), a 23-year-old refugee from Uganda, cooks up some of his favourite traditional fare.
When he started the restaurant, Junior says he received all sorts of customers – Ugandans, Sudanese, Congolese, Burundians, even Kenyans from outside the camp. He earned enough to save for when camp food rations ran short, he explains. Things were going about as well as one could expect in a refugee camp. Until, that is, word got out that Junior is gay.
Read the full story at Al Jazeera.
This story is part of an ongoing reporting project, Who Will Help Africa’s LGBT Refugees?
In central Kenya, three of the world’s four remaining Northern white rhinos are stubbornly refusing to mate. Since 2009, conservationists have tried and failed to coax the animals together—and with the lone male nearing his 43rd birthday, too old to breed, extinction is inevitable. It’s a matter of time before the remaining beasts die off, one by one.
So in the meantime, in San Diego, scientists are working to resurrect them.
That’s a thrilling but distinctly unnatural approach to preserving nature. And some scientists and conservationists are asking if resurrection is really the right way to save the Earth’s threatened species.
“Until we make space for other species on Earth, it won’t matter how many animals we resurrect,” writes M.R. O’Connor in her book Resurrection Science. “There won’t be many places left for them to exist.”
“Paradoxically,” says O’Connor, “the more we intervene to save species, the less wild they often become.”
De-extinction is a uniquely self-gratifying brand of conservation. Resurrection reflects an urge to do something, O’Connor says, “before humanity relinquishes the existence of wild places and wild things in the world.” But it’s for humans, not for the animals. “It really doesn’t matter to a dead species whether they’re brought back,” she says. Perhaps, nostalgia for the great beasts of the world has clouded humans from realizing that what is truly natural may be to let them die out.
Read the full piece at WIRED.