Thursday, December 30, 2010

In the news

-review of Malawian education for 2010

And a cool poster of Malawian cichlids.


Taxes matter.

Taxes are boring right? Well this lecture about them is not. I've recently been interested in understanding how taxes effect economic and political development. This guy speaking at the University of Edinburgh's Centre for African Studies does a great job laying the foundations.


Warp Drive is back online!

Well its been a disgustingly stressful couple weeks but our Malawi adventure is back online. We'll be touching down in Blantyre on the 25th of next month.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The farm subsidy plank in our eye.

This is a great new paper about the effect of the Malawian fertilizer subsidy program on food security and the Malawian economy. h/t to Owen's blog.
The opposition to Malawian fertilizer subsidies has always been deeply hypocritical.
I agree that in a perfect world fertilizer subsidies do not make sense. But so long as one country is willing to subsidize its farmers every other country will also do so. Furthermore developed countries that might be able to afford giving less farm subsidies without the immediate specter of famine looming on their doorstep really need to take the lead on this issue if they are going to have any credibility when they ask developing countries to end their own subsidy programs.
The goal of agricultural development projects probably should not be to ensure that smallholders are able to make more money and be more productive. There is no nation on the planet which has a large middle class of smallhold farmers who are able to send their kids to college and retire at 65. Rather the priority should be food security AND economic development projects that get people off their small plots and into more productive work either through education or industry.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Joyce Banda demands fair speech, not free.

I wrote earlier about how freedom of speech is regarded differently in Malawi than in the West. Here is a good example what that means in practice.


h/t to Haba na haba for this one. This guy is from Zimbabwe. Great song.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

In the News

This article talks a little bit about the Malawian film industry.


Friday, December 24, 2010

The Onion says...

Watch this. Its funny.

Happy Holidays

I hope everyone is having a great holiday season. I'm currently stuck on my island because of bad weather but hopefully I'll be able to leave tomorrow (Christmas Day) to see my wife. I'll leave you with one of my favorite renditions of "White Christmas" by Nat King Cole.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

2009 Elections in Malawi.

Watch this documentary about the 2009 presidential and parliamentary elections in Malawi in which Bingu Mutharika was re-elected president of Malawi.

Malawi's Parliamentary and Presidential Elections 2009 from Nicolas Köhler on Vimeo.


Wisdom from Professor Chinsinga

Read this interesting article by Blessings Chinsinga who is a professor in the Department of Political and Administrative Studies at the University of Malawi. In it he argues that recent more participatory approaches to implementing development projects are not truly participatory.

US Army Ranger is 3rd best pastry chef in the world.

This is awesome.

The Center for the Development of People

The CEDEP of Malawi has recently won an award from ARASA (AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa) for its work on promoting the rights of minority groups in Malawi. They have also just published a book entitled "Queer Malawi: Untold Stories" which is a collection of interviews with LGBT Malawians. h/t to Africa is a Country for the heads up.

talking with Chakufwa Chihana

Watch this interview with Chakufwa Chihana. He was a leader of the pro-democracy movement in Malawi that led to Kamuzu Banda's deposition in 1994. He later was instrumental in the formation of the northern region based political party Alliance for Democracy (AFORD).


Malawi Gold

This is an interesting short documentary series by a Kenyan NTV reporter about the marijuana trade in East Africa. "Malawian Gold" is marijuana grown in Malawi and is highly sought after throughout the region.


Monday, December 20, 2010


When I was last in Malawi I bought a DVD with selection of Nollywood movies on it. This is a good article from the Economist about Nollywood and African film in general. Does Malawi have much of a film industry?

Hate Speech

In "A Democracy of Chameleons" Edrienne Kayambazinhtu and Fulata Moyo argue that "the new constitution [of Malawi] does not make sufficient provisions against hate speech and the violence and intolerance that it fosters."

Outside of the U.S. hate speech legislation is not particularly controversial. The U.K. has it, South Africa has it, and so do many (most?) other European nations. I'm not sure of the situation in other parts of Asia but in South Korea suing for defamation is a very common.

Personally I'm strongly with Voltaire on this one. I may disagree with what you say but I am willing to fight to the death for your right to say it.

This position does not resonate very well with most Asians or Africans, however, who tend to have a much more communal understanding of how individuals should regard each other in society. I'm not terribly familiar with how African philosophies have traditionally understood the concept of "free speech" but in Korea it is certainly not regarded as an a priori right but rather, as all things in Korea, a contextually bounded one. I suspect that in most of Africa the situation is quite similar and that the right to speak freely is rarely regarded as a pre-eminent value. Along this line Kayambazinthu and Moyo argue that because hate speech is responsible for inciting physical violence there must be legal ways of curtailing it. In other words, the right to speak freely is not unconstrained and must be balanced against other rights, in this case not to be insulted. Particularly in a culture where it is understood that one's dignity is both very important and vulnerable to insults (hate speech), having a legal means of thwarting such injuries is necessary to curtail uncontrolled physical retaliation.

I don't like this line of thinking, but it is certainly an authentic viewpoint. I would be grateful if my Malawians readers could confirm whether or not it is an accurate summary of at least some Malawian's thinking on the matter.


Quantitative Easing explained

This is funny...and sad.


3G comes to Malawi

Read about it here. India's buyout of Zain has really moved things forward in Malawi in terms of internet and mobile access and affordability.


h/t to Africa is a Country. Cool video. Decent tunes.


The Big Bang Theory

This show is great.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Democracy of Chameleons

This book edited by Harri Englund is a collection of essays written mostly by Malawian scholars about Malawian politics that seeks to answer the question "is there a culture of politics [in Malawi] beyond mere greed?" Definitely recommended reading especially with what is currently going on in Malawi politically.

Courtesy of Malawi's "The Nation."

A few posts earlier I talked about "African English." This front page headline story (which I will not link to) is not really what I was talking about get the idea.


We're a bunch of "non-contributing zeros"

This is funny. h/t Roving Bandit.


The same old story...

While researching coastal management projects in Madagascar I talked to a lot of Malagasy fishermen. One of their goals in regards to donor-funded fisheries or coastal management projects was always to secure funding for bigger boats and bigger outboard engines so that they could fish further offshore. They gave this goal an environmental gloss by stating that if they had the ability to fish further offshore then the inshore fisheries, which are the primary breeding grounds for many fish species, could be left alone.

The fishers in Malawi have been working the same angle. Read this old news article on the "Lake Malawi Artisanal Fisheries Development Project" which operated in the country from 2003-2008. What's sad about this is that way back in the early 90s the feasibility of increased offshore fishing was already investigated and dismissed. There simply aren't any unexploited "deep sea" fish stocks in Lake Malawi. Bigger boats and bigger engines aren't the answer and we've known that for a long time now.

And yet the project still dropped 10 million USD down the rabbit hole.

Even setting this problem aside, these kinds of donor-funded projects all rely on a largely false premise to justify their existence. If only, the logic goes, the fishers had bigger boats, or more refrigeration, or outboard engines, or better access roads, then they could start making real money. However because traditional financiers (banks and entrepreneurs) are being irrationally conservative in not extending them credit, the donors must step in.

I don't buy this and even if you do I think we need a clearer explanation of why traditional financiers are opting out and a plan for how we can change their minds. Everyone agrees that donor financing is not sustainable. Anyone got ideas?

Tabwela by Sonye

This song is from Malawian singer and producer Sonye. Read more about him here.


A (really big) road block.

So only one month away from our move to Malawi one of our financial backers has pulled out on us.
It sucks.
A bunch.
But we might (probably?) will make it happen anyway.

The number of hurdles involved in doing this kind of thing is mind boggling. You hear about the frustrations from other people but (as usual) doing it yourself is a whole different ballgame. If we manage to pull it off, my sympathy for business owners who feel entitled to their profits will have improved markedly. Making a business work ain't no joke, and we haven't even really started yet.

So we may have to ask the current owners of the business to do some kind of financing option. After months of telling them that we have the all money, that will be embarrassing.

Cest' la vie.

If I were writing a donor funded "end of project" report, I'd already have a very long list of "lessons learned."


William Kentridge

William Kentridge is a South African artist. Watch this interesting documentary of his work. h/t to Africa is a Country

Watch the full episode. See more ART:21.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Aquaculture in Malawi

Here is a good article from Zodiak News about Malawian Aquaculture. Its been a hot topic in Malawi for the last 10 years. I think it has a lot of promise.

Finding the Science

Read this article (h/t Aguanomics) in the New Yorker about how so many supposedly scientific findings cannot be replicated. Then read anything by Bruno Latour or Steven Shapin to understand why. STS academics have been saying this stuff for a long time now. The Science Wars of the 90s were a stupid diversion. We really need to reach a consensus on a mature understanding of what science is and what it is not, what it can do for us, and what it can not. But we are not going to get there unless we first abandon our faith in the "scientific method."

African English: another elephant in the room.

As with my ongoing series on "African Incompetence," this post is going to try to tackle another somewhat taboo topic, namely African English. I'm a big fan of reading local media. In Malawi there are quite a few newspapers, most of which have a good online presence. Here is a list.

In South Africa there is also a new newspaper in town called, appropriately, The New Age.
Reading local newspapers is worthwhile for a lot of reasons and I'm a big supporter of them. But by and large the quality of writing in these newspapers, from a Western point of view, is pretty dismal.
There are a lot of good reasons for this. English is usually not the author's native language. Different dialects of English are legitimate and "African English" could arguably be one of them. African newspapers have little incentive to write to Western standards because their readership is not Western. And in any case certainly an article's message is more important than its grammar.
All of this is true and makes my critique look very petty and tactless. And so it may be. But it is undeniably a common perception amongst Westerners who read a lot of African media. Hiding that perception, even if one is ashamed of it (like I am) won't make it go away. For the same reason that I have been discussing "African Incompetence," I also think talking about African English is important. "Elephants in the room" should be acknowledged and dealt with.

I confess, however, that I don't have a clue how to deal with this one. Maybe you do?


Medical Brain Drain in Malawi?

Watch this short news piece on Malawi's healthcare system. Many (most?) Malawian doctors leave Malawi to work in developed countries where salaries and facilities are better. The reporter is obviously sympathetic to the idea that this brain drain is bad for Malawi and that ways of stemming that outflow should be put in place. I'm not so sure. Recently some have been arguing that allowing capable people from developing countries to work in developed countries also has benefits. See here and here. Watch it and decide for yourself.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Lake Malawi Biodiversity Conservation Project

The Lake Malawi Biodiversity Conservation Project was approved in 1995 and operational until 2000. Funded primarily by the the Global Environmental Fund (GEF) the goal of the project was to "assist Malawi, Tanzania, and Mozambique in creating the scientific, educational, and policy basis required to ensure conservation of the biological diversity and unique ecosystem of Lake Malawi and producing a Biodiversity Map and Management Plan for the lake." The World Bank's 2001 review of the project rated it as follows

I will write I series of posts that examines the history of the project and try to understand why it received such poor scores, and if that matters.


More Environmental History from Wapu Mulwafu

I posted earlier about Dr. Mulwafu's podcast interview over at Africa Past and Present. Here he is in Edinburgh speaking about soil conservation efforts in colonial Malawi.

The Lakes Handbook Volume 1

I'm reading up on limnology so that I can put together a better water quality monitoring program for Lake Malawi. I've found this book. Anyone know any other good sources?

Infertility in Malawi: a cause of polygamy?

So I just found this series of webcasts from the Centre of African Studies at the University of Edinburgh. Here is one talk on the surprisingly prevalent problem of infertility in Malawi and its social and psychological consequences.


African Incompetence: Part 2

In part 1. I discussed why it was a bad idea to approach the discourse of African incompetence either by dismissing it as merely racist or by affirming it as self-evidently true. Here I will list series of other positions that one could conceivably hold that I think are not too extreme in either direction, though I don't necessarily endorse them myself. I'll go from positions that are most sympathetic to the discourse to those that are most hostile to it.

-African incompetence is real and pervasive although it has nothing to do with any inherent or unchangeable characteristic of Africans themselves. Drastic attitudinal change, however, is required of Africans if they want to escape their incompetence.

-African incompetence is real but not particularly pervasive and is due primarily to a lack of economic and educational opportunities rather than the pervasive existence of "backward" attitudes amongst African.

-African incompetence is more apparent than real. The discourse is a popular one only because those who espouse it are incapable of recognizing the difference between incompetence and preference. Africans often have alternative ways of accomplishing goals, or simply alternative goals, that outsiders are not sufficiently aware of.

-African incompetence is a myth without any empirical foundation. Any unbiased review of services, whether performed by governments or private entities, in African nations would show that they are provided with equal competence to those provided in Western and Asian nations.

These four positions are not necessarily mutually exclusive but do exist on a sort of continuum. I suspect that most people could place themselves somewhere on it without too much problem. If you think there is another position that I have not covered, leave it in the comments.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Africa's biggest development hurdle: Taxes

So I've been watching the West Wing for the past couple months. Its a good show. In one episode during a presidential debate between the Republican and Democratic candidates the Republican said that the largest barrier to economic development in Africa was the high taxes rates that African governments levy on local businesses. You'd probably expect this from a Republican, but at least it was an answer that you don't hear talked a lot about in the Aid community. I'm certainly not enough of an expert to know about the continent as a whole but in Malawi our diving business will be taxed 30%. This certainly isn't an unusually high rate for a developed nation but I wonder how it compares to how businesses in China or other "factory" nations are taxed. Awhile ago there was some discussion over at Aidwatch about how clothing factories in Madagascar were shutting down because the U.S. government decided that the recent coup in that country was a good excuse to reimpose some pretty stiff import tariffs. Now tariffs and domestic taxes certainly aren't the same thing but it does seem to show that if governments are willing to refrain from taking too much of the profits, Africa does not have any other unique barriers to the development of a flourishing manufacturing industry based on cheap labour such as that which is currently thriving in China.
Sure "sweat shops" are not exactly ideal, but if you ask those working in them, they certainly believe them to be better than nothing.
If anyone has more experience with this issue and can confirm or deny how much taxes rates are a barrier to opening more factories in Africa, let me know.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Google Ebook store

So once again Google improves our lives. This time it's the ebook store. Now anyone with internet access has a personal library of 3 million books that they can download for free and millions more that they can easily buy. Gutenburg and Amazon have been around for a long time but the ebook store puts the two of them together in a typically easy-to-use google interface. For people and institutions in developing countries this is huge.
With that said the store is far from a finished product. A search for "chemisty," for example, brings up hundreds a U.S. government reports likely have the word chemistry in them but which are of little interest to 99% of searchers.
Still the wealth of information available is fantastic and knowing google will only get better with time.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Wrestling with African Feminism

I fell upon this article by Pascal Newbourne Mwale who is a lecturer of philosophy at the University of Malawi and current fellow at Witts University in Joburg. He has a serious case of verbal diarrhea but the zest with which he grapples with the issue of African Feminism is laudatory.


Post-structuralism, word.

This is hilarious, though maybe not for the young'uns. h/t to Sean at Africa is a Country.

ART THOUGHTZ: Post-Structuralism from Hennessy Youngman on Vimeo.


Monday, December 6, 2010

African Incompetence

One of the most frequent and inflammatory remarks made about Africa is the general incompetence of its people. Usually this charge is made by white, Asian, and non-Africans. Black Africans generally refrain though there are some exceptions. Responses to this charge, by Africans and non-Africans alike, are quite varied from vehement denial to racist agreement.

The most extreme deniers dismiss the charge of incompetence as baseless and purely racially motivated. Labeling white, Asian, and non-Africans as racists neatly ends the conversation and for the few black Africans who also make the charge, deniers have invented the label of "coconut."

On the extreme other end are those who agree with, and indeed make, the charge without nuance. For them African incompetence is self-evident, genetic, and irreversible.
We are right to call such people racists and to denounce them strongly.

What is interesting about these two extremes, however, is how they both rely on a fiction to support their position, namely the fiction of race itself. Deniers sidestep the actual charge of incompetence and simply undermine its accuser's legitimacy. Racists, on the other hand, support it by appealing to psuedo-scientific 19th century social darwinism. But both side are equally obsessed with race and incapable of, or unwilling to, view the issue outside of that paradigm.

In between these two extremes there is much room for an interesting discussion about why the charge of African incompetence is so prevalent amongst non-Africans, white and Asian Africans, and a minority of black Africans. But it requires that participants in that discussion agree to leave behind the above two extremes. With such an emotionally charged issue this is easier said than done. But I want to try. In a following post I will outline some of the reasons why I think African incompetence is such a prevalent discourse. While remembering the rules of the discussion (i.e. "race" is out of bounds), I invite you in the comments to provide your own suggestions.



These two Malawian artists,Eva Chikabadwa and William Mwale, produce some good work. And you can hire them here.

Good Stuff

-The African Books Collective


Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Italians in Malawi

If you have access to Jstor this is an interesting article about the first Italian immigrants in Malawi. When I was last in Malawi I spoke to one of their descendants. He was a very interesting fellow.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Vaughn's "The Story of an African Famine"

Megan Vaughn's "The Story of an African Famine: Gender and Famine in Twentieth-Century Malawi," first published in 1987 and then republished in 2007 is a classic in the field of Malawian history. It might be better titled, however, the "stories" of an African famine because much of the book in concerned with delineating the various conceptual paradigms through which different people during and after the famine of 1949 in southern Malawi understood its causes. What impresses me about the book is how careful Vaughn is in her analysis and how admirably humble she is in making conclusions. While far from being confused the story presented is very complex and how one arranges all the pieces of the puzzle is often left to the reader's discretion. This is not a bad thing.
One of the many lessons that one can pull from the book is that distant attempts to engineer economies are rarely successful at achieving what they set out to do. This is not to say that they are always ineffective or impotent. But rather that the effects they do have are rarely foreseen clearly by their implementors. Agricultural economic policy seems particularly tricky to get right and although certainly not the only factor in the 1949 famine, its mismanagement was a contributor.

Are we doing any better today?


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

New Stuff

As Dylan said "the times they are a changing"

-First you may have noticed that we have found a new home within the Maru Institute's domain. The Maru Institute's website is still under construction, many of the links aren't working yet, but definitely check out what is there and come back as I will be rapidly filling in the blanks in the next couple weeks. It will give you some idea of what we are trying to build in Malawi.

-There are a few new Malawi-focused blogs on the blog list that I recommend checking out. Jimmy Kainja's is particularly good. My thanks to Stories on Malawi for having such a comprehensive list of Malawian blogs.

-I am a complete noob when it comes to working with the guts of the internet. Its hard.

And here is another song from Malia


Monday, November 29, 2010

Progress, The Malawian Opthalmologist's website

These guys are cool.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The new look and other stuff.

-So I'm getting close to the point where I will integrate this blog into the website for the research center we are starting. The new look will match that website better.

-check out this podcast with the Dean of the college of Social Science at the University of Malawi, Dr. Wapu Mulwafu, during which he talks about the social history of water in Malawi and the current challenges to doing research in the country.

- I just ordered "Venture into the Interior" by Laurens Van Der Post. Apparently it was wildly popular when first published back in 1952. The book charts Lauren's travels in Malawi, particularly Mt. Mulanje and the Nyika plateau. Historians aren't a big fan of his work nonetheless


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Africa Past & Present

Here is a great ongoing series of podcasts on Africa from the African Online Digital Library. The latest one is an interview with Terence Ranger about his new book Bulawayo Burning which is a social history of Bulawayo, a city in southern Zimbabwe.

Recording ChiTonga

Another one of the research projects that we want to do in Malawi is to create a dictionary and grammar of the Chitonga language. As far as I can tell, this has never been done before. ChiTonga is spoken by the 200,000 or so Tonga people of Malawi. They are the dominate ethnic group where we will be living. Their language is distinct from that of the Tonga in Zambia and Zimbabwe. To help me with this we will be using a suite of lingustic software developed by the Summer Institute of Linguistics(SIL). These guys have been around for nearly 80 years and have worked in over 100 countries and with nearly 3000 languages. Right now I am trying to get my head around their ToolBox program.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Own your country

This is an inspiring message from Kenya from I think it applies to most countries, African and otherwise. What do you think?


Darwin's Nightmare

This documentary, made in 2004, looks at the perch fishery in Lake Victoria. Perch is not native to the lake and caused massive changes in the lake's biodiversity which contributed to its eutrophication. Its all pretty depressing stuff.
But I'm not sure I totally buy the moral story that the filmmakers were pushing. As usual, the Africans are portrayed as victims of an uncaring global economic and political system. The Russians are importing weapons as they export fish. The Indians are making all the real money. And the Europeans don't give a damn as long as the fish meet their health and safety standards.
Certainly there is some truth to this narrative. But that's the thing about stereotypes; they are never entirely false.
They are however always lazy and misleading.
I'm certainly not an expert on Lake Victoria so I don't have an alternative narrative, but I'm pretty sure it exists.
The story of Africa-as-victim has been told too many times. It hasn't helped anyone. And frankly, by now, its boring.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Water Quality Monitoring

One of the things we want to do at our research center in Malawi is some basic water quality monitoring of Lake Malawi. So I've been reading up on how to create a water quality monitoring program. Initially we are going to start measuring the indicators that don't require a lot of expensive equipment. Once we are better established we will expand as the budget allows. The most recent broad-based water quality monitoring data that I can find is quite old. The GEF/SADC funded "Lake Malawi Biodiversity and Conservation Project" which wrapped up its work in 2000 did quite a comprehensive job, outfitting a research vessel and laboratory in Senga Bay. I would be interested to know if that laboratory, or the one at Monkey Bay, is still operational.

The goal will be to eventually measure these 20 indicators which are/were (is it still operational?) collected by GEMSwater program network stations.

Of these indicators we will start measuring the following:
1. temperature
2. TSS (total suspended solids) and TDS (total dissolved solids)
3. pH
4. turbidity
5. phosphorus
6. dissolved oxygen

High on the list of other indicators we want to measure are chlorophyll-a and nitrates/nitrites. There are expensive in-situ multi-parameter analyzers available but we will wait before we take that plunge. For now it looks like buying individual analyzers for each parameter incrementally is the way to go. Hanna Instruments look like a good option.

If anyone knows of other options, or thinks that I can include other parameters cheaply from the list above, or that I should prioritize my parameters differently, do let me know.


Soldier Banda wants to sing

Update: So I didn't know that Lucius had already been a MP in Malawi until 2006. He lost his seat when it was discovered that he had faked his academic credentials, which apparently are necessary in order to be a MP in Malawi. (can someone confirm this for me?) The song above is from his latest album, 15-15 which has been banned from airing on the state-run Malawi Broadcasting Corporation. Contrary to what I said below, according to this at least, he has decided to leave politics behind for now. Though you certainly wouldn't know it from this latest album which is full of political commentary.

Its been rumored that Lucius Banda, will be getting into politics. Listen to his platform. Its a good one. But does he have chance?



This dude has skills.


Monday, November 22, 2010

The Lusubilo Orphan Care Project

h/t to Clement for this one. Watch this video about Sister Beatrice and her Lusubilo Orphan Care Project. It is the co-recipient of the 1.1 million dollar Opus prize. She works in the northern Karonga District of Malawi.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Malawian Goverment to implement Rural Housing Credit Scheme

This is interesting.

I am generally quite leery of credit. I don't use it often myself and the financial crises that have rocked the world economy over the past couple years prove that if it is badly managed very bad things can happen.
However it is also certainly the engine of all modern economies. Provided that it is extended to people responsibly I don't see why the rural poor should be categorically denied it.
With this kind of scheme the devil really is in the details and implementation however.
I'm a fan of De Soto and his calls for developing countries to focus on property rights issues but most African nations seem to have real trouble moving forward in this regard. There is a good academic paper floating around that tries to explain why this is, I'll try to dig it up for another post.


Well this isn't good...

The Malawian parliament has passed new legislation allowing the government the authority to ban any publication that it deems to be "contrary to the public interest."

Friday, November 19, 2010

Cichlids, Cichlids, Cichlids, and...Cichlids

This fellow has the most comprehensive collection of information on the Cichlids fish family, of which there are nearly 1000 species in Lake Malawi alone, I've seen anywhere. He deserves a medal.

The "red texas" cichlid.


The same sad story.

I've been catching up on the history of Lake Malawi fisheries and their management lately. One of the best compilations of articles on the subject are the proceedings from the Lake Malawi Fisheries Management Symposium held in 2001. I haven't found many more recent publications on the subject.
Unfortunately the story of Lake Malawi's fisheries is very similar to that of other fisheries around the world. Advanced trawling techniques combined with insufficient or inaccurate determinations of MSYs coupled with a lack of will or ability to enforce quotas and fishing gear restrictions led to overfishing in most parts of Lake Malawi, particularly in the south, and in the case of Lake Malombe to the near total collapse of the chambo fishery.

The central role that foreign aid organizations have played in this sad tale is also common in Africa. Fortunately Lake Malawi has not experienced yet the disasters that befell Lake Victoria due to eutrophication and the invasion of exotic species. Watch this acclaimed documentary, Darwin's Nightmare, for more on that.

Next I want to look at the numerous aquaculture projects, also entirely donor-funded, that have been implemented in Malawi. The promotion of an aquaculture industry in South Korea has been quite successful both economically and as way to transition existing fishers away from unsustainable fishing practices to potentially more controllable fish farming. Many aquatic and marine conservationists are as skeptical of aquaculture as they have been of open-sea/lake fishing but, although far from perfect, I think aquaculture is at least a step in the right direction.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Problems at Mzuni.

This is the latest in a series of bad news coming from Mzuzu University. Students at the College of Nursing are protesting over an apparent fees hike. Recently fees at the University of Malawi have also been raised. Whats to be done?



Malawian/UK jazz singer Malia. Check her out.


Timve Magazine

This is a great site on Malawi's music scene. It is thriving. And there are a lot of songs free for download. Browse the artists section and find someone you like. I have been.
Malawi has not been immune to the current popularity in many African countries for American-style hip-hop derivatives. Much of it not to my liking but there are a several artists, who I will be highlighting, that I think do a great job of finding their own voice by mixing African and international musical influences into something new and interesting. Esau Mwamwaya's music is a great example of this.



Young Kay is a leader of the younger urban music scene in Malawi.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Andrew Mwenda says "Stop helping us"

Mr. Mwenda is a Ugandan who runs this newspaper. He is provocative and persuasive, I think.


The last acceptable prejudice

My wife is South Korean. We wanted to get her a green card. Because she is Korean to do that we must have the veracity of our marriage scrutinized by U.S. Immigration. She has to have a medical exam. She must have multiple interviews and complete multiple forms. I must document my financial status. And we must pay the U.S. government a lot for this privilege. It takes months to process.

Because I am not Korean I must take an aids and drugs test in order to work in South Korea.

When we were last in Malawi my visa was free, my wife's was not.

Because we are not Malawians we cannot purchase freehold property in Malawi.

For a Malawian to go to the U.S. he must go through a lengthy visa requisition process that only the rich or well-connected can successful navigate.

Governments of every nation discriminate based on nationality. The practice is unashamedly enshrined in law the world over. But like a person's race, or gender, or sexual orientation, one's nationality is not a real choice.

And yet there is no ethical uproar. Why not?


Towers of Midnight review.

So I finished the 13th book in the Wheel of Time fantasy series. Like the 12th book Sanderson does a much better job of pacing the story lines than Jordan ever did. But some of the word and phrase choices, particularly with Mat, strike me as too modern and too jarring with how Jordan voiced some of his characters. But overall I was very satisfied and am ready to read the final installment which apparently will be out quite soon, early next year.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Experimenter's Regress

More from "Science in Democracy"

"More recent studies suggest the dilemma of an
“experimenters’ regress”: the validity of replication rests on properly re-
peating the original experiment, but the only way to know whether one
has properly repeated the experiment is that it replicates the results of the
original. The only way to get out of such a dilemma is through social
processes of negotiation and compromise through which scientists reach
agreement on what will count as an adequate replication."

If you were one of those biology 101 students whose lab work never quite replicated the "right" results (like me) don't worry you're in good company. Blattman talks about this too.



So I wrote earlier about my wife and I moving to Malawi. With only about seven weeks left in Korea (we fly for South Africa on the 6th of January) this blog is going to go through a bit of a transformation. For now my studies of Korean coastal management on location are almost finished and accordingly here I will focus less on Korea and more on all things related to our to move to the wonderful "dark" continent.
As with all adventures, the first steps to realizing them are to dream, plan, and prepare. Well we have been dreaming most of our lives, made our plans, and are in the final stages of our preparations Already we have had our fair share of ups and downs, surprises both good and...not.
And we expect them to keep on coming!

Eventually the plan is for this blog to be integrated into the business website of our dive center on Lake Malawi. But until all the paperwork is written and signed we feel its best to leave the business website, on which I have been working diligently (and with much cursing), off the airwaves. For now you can follow us here.

First off many of you reading may have now idea where Malawi is in Africa. So take a look at the map below.

Second you are probably noticing that Malawi is a landlocked country. So why, you might ask, would you think of operating a scuba diving center there? Well watch the below video and you'll see why.

And I'll leave you with this from Lucius Banda, one of the godfathers of the Malawian music scene.


Stewart, a Jester not a Partisan

After watching this interview I believe it.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Americans wants to send these guys back?

Good story about two Mexican immigrants who ran in the New York marathon. Americans need to remember who they are.

"Give us your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

America is a nation of immigrants. The moment it turns its back on its own kind is surely the moment it will fall.


A tough one

So I've been watching the West Wing for the past few weeks. Its very good, though it's obsession with abstract intelligence is slightly off-putting. I'll talk about that more in another post.
I just finished watching and episode in which the Ayatollah of Iran asks the U.S. president to allow his dying 15 year old son to come to the U.S. for a life saving operation. For added dramatic effect, the only doctor in the U.S. who can do the operation is the son of an Iranian who was killed by the Ayatollah.
As you would expect from a heart-warming drama (which the West Wing aspires to be) the U.S. President allows the boy to come to the U.S. and the doctor does perform the operation. And of course we are all supposed to be impressed with their magnanimity.
But I'm not so sure, though certainly not on the grounds that the president and doctor should have stuck it to the evil Ayatollah by letting his son die.
Rather I'm uncomfortable with the decision because it assumes that the president should have the power to bestow such benevolence in the first place. Why didn't the president simply say "Sorry but that's not my choice to make." After all the president is not the U.S.'s Chief Immigration Officer, somebody else has that job. What about this case made it okay for him to disregard the established divisions of authority in the government. And if it was justified to do so in this case, why not others?
Without question this boy deserves to come to the U.S. and receive the operation. But then so do thousands of other children around the world. Sadly we don't live in a world where that is possible. One might nevertheless support the decision with moral platitudes about "not making the perfect the enemy of the good." but I don't think that is very convincing here. The president in this case is not doing all he can to help the thousands of children in the world who would benefit from American healthcare, he is not fighting the good fight (and realistically never will), but rather simply helping a singular child because that child is the son of a powerful person. That isn't something I can feel good about.

There are some choices that we should not give ourselves the power to make.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Good Words

So "Science in Democracy" starts off well at least in so far as Brown's "philosophical cards" pretty much mirror my own. Here's an excerpt,

"To put my philosophical cards on the table: I am persuaded
that rationalist, essentialist, and determinist conceptions of science and
technology are neither empirically accurate nor normatively desirable.
Technological determinism may capture the ways in which many people
experience the technical imperatives that shape their lives, but it does not
offer a viable theory of scientific and technical change.8 Technical facts
and artifacts do not become socially established merely because they are
true or effective. Scientists study nature by engaging with it; nature,
scientists, and often society at large are transformed in the process. I also
take it as given, however, that scientific facts are not socially constructed,
if that means natural forces and entities play no causal role in their cre-
ation. The world does not lend itself to all possible constructions. This
perspective, common among STS scholars who study the “co-production”
of science and society, avoids radical constructivism or relativism on the
one hand, and the traditional view of scientific truth as unmediated cor-
respondence to reality on the other.9 Put in the most general terms, scien-
tific facts emerge from hybrid processes shaped by human ingenuity and
initiative, sociotechnical structures and institutions, and nonhuman enti-
ties and phenomena."


Towers of Midnight

The latest Wheel of Time book, number 13, is finally out. I really liked Sanderson's first attempt with The Gathering Storm and hope this next one will be as good.

Science in Democracy

Increasing public participation in coastal management policy making has arguably been the single greatest cause of ICM academics for the last 20 years. In developing countries the very legitimacy of donor-supported coastal management initiatives stands or falls on the extent to which local actors have been included. Yet the justifications for this public participation have never really involved a radical reconceptualization of scientific knowledge or its role in coastal management policy formulation. So it will be interesting to delve into how STS academics think about the role of public participation in public policy making, particularly in those policies that have traditionally been dominated by physical scientists such as environmental and health management. Mark Brown's Science in Democracy looks like a good place to start.

Friday, November 5, 2010

This is how its done.

I've been reading the journals of Dr. David Livingstone (of "Dr. Livingstone I presume?" fame) during his treks through Africa, mostly Mozambique and Malawi. Such adventures as he had are impossible these days. The Doc brought camels and Indian water buffalo on his second trek to Malawi to see if they could withstand the tsetse fly any better than could European pack animals.
Imagine deciding today that you were going to spend six months riding a camel through Africa. What an adventure!

You can read his journals too, many of them are up on Gutenberg.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

This is what I was talking about.

So the other day I ranted a little bit about the difficulties of starting a business. These guys do it better.


People as Scientific Instruments.

Good article from Spontaneous Generation. Social scientists generally assume that, to quote the article, "subjects (people) can give valid reports of their own subjective states" and that it is the scientist's job to collect these reports and analyze them. But usually in order to do this they must carefully construct an environment in which the respondent feels comfortable speaking honestly otherwise the results won't be "valid." Think about how carefully survey questions are worded and how much controversy occurs when pollsters are deemed to have written/produced "biased" reports.
In this line of thinking humans are scientific instruments that produce reliable data only when calibrated (controlled) very carefully. Pretty much like any other instrument actually.

But I'm not sure this line of thinking is worth pursuing. "Valid" here is too fuzzy a term with too many unspoken assumptions tied to it. While acknowledging that there are ways of obtaining more or less reliable data from people, unlike other instruments, it is perfectly conceivable that a person may produce contradictory data during the course of a series of test that all still valid or honest or whatever.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

My political compass

This is a fairly interesting little survey aimed at telling you your "political compass." I like that it is trying to get away from the analytical prison of "right/left" thinking. Here is my result.

The Adventure Begins

So my wife and are moving to Malawi early next year. We'll own and operate a scuba diving business on Lake Malawi and also start up a mostly volunteer-powered, non-profit, research center. I'll be wrapping up my studies of Korean coastal managment for now although certainly not forever. The research center will focus primarily on studying Lake Malawi liminology. But since I come from a mostly social science background it will also hopefully be able to look at the lake's management systems, both formal and informal, and its economics.
Lake Malawi is widely recognized as the premier tropical freshwater diving destination in the world. It is home to more species of fish than any other lake on the planet. The cichlid fish family alone has nearly 1000 species in the lake. So there is plenty of biological diversity ripe for study and enjoyment.
I'll put up links to websites shortly to give you a better idea of what we will be up to and to tell you how you can join in, either as a diver, volunteer, researcher, and/or educator.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The world how it really is. (almost)

This is the Gall-Peters projection map. Its a "flat" map of the globe that doesn't distort the actual sizes of the continents as much as the more widely used Mercator map. Notice how much bigger Africa is and how much smaller Europe and North America are than we are used to seeing. Geometry dictates that no flat map of a sphere is every going to be perfect, but thats not to use something better if we have it. And the Peters map is better.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Mimic Octopus

This thing is awesome.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

New Issue

Spontaneous Generations, the online academic STS journal, has a new issue. Its worth browsing.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains...

So my wife and I have been looking at starting our own business either in the U.S. or in a couple of other countries with which we are familiar.

It is an utter nightmare.


Because of the piles upon piles of government regulations.
We thought about buying a plot of land and building a hostel. But do you know how many permits and inspections you need to build anything? And then of course you need more permits and inspections to open a hostel/B&B.

We also thought about opening a pub. But do you know how many permits you need to do that? Just to get a liquor license you have to wait months and pay thousands of dollars and even then you might be denied because some government official has decided that there are "too many" bars in your neighborhood.

We've also thought about a dive shop but there again permits, mandatory insurance costs, etc, make it an utter nightmare to even think about.

The rhetoric of politicians, as usual, doesn't match reality. We are told how important supporting "small business" is and yet the reality is that often the most insurmountable hurdle to starting a small business is the government itself.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Thinking about being a lawyer?

Watch this. Its funny.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Corruption in American Fisheries

As part of my ongoing series about corruption and ineptitude in America here is a sad article about the sad state of marine and coastal management in America. As some one who has spent some time researching and promoting sustainable coastal management policies in the developing world it is depressing to be reminded how badly the developed world screws up its own management systems.
One small critique however of the article. The author is writing from a clearly "hard-green" perspective which I think is outdated and unhelpful. Demonizing coastal resource users and their buddy politicians, even if they are "demons," is not productive. Environmentalists have been doing it for the past 50 years ever since Rachel Carson and the results have not been good. We need a new strategy.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Western World and the Developing World do not exist.

Unfortunately Africa is still trailing behind. Hans Rosling has a great presentation here.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Following (made up) rules and attempting to rant constructively

So my now wife and I have been working pretty hard for the past couple years. And we want to buy a condo in America. We will not live there, my mother will. She is on a fixed, but steady and reliable income. We have enough money to pay for the condo outright, but figured we could use that cash in other ways and with interest on mortgages so low right now thought it would be better to get a loan. The mortgage payment would be a little more than half what my mother would pay us in rent.

If you think that it should be an easy slam dunk for us to get a mortgage, you would be completely wrong.

We are apparently considered very risky. This judgement is of course based on a variety of rules that banks use to determine risk. One of which is, apparently, that anyone outside of the U.S. isn't making real money.

Why are we risky? Well actually according to one lender we are not. They pre-approved us. But then decided that since we wanted to borrow less than $50,000 dollars they are no longer interested. They told us they "want our business" but that its their rule not to lend less than $50,000.

So we go to another lender. This lender doesn't forbid itself to lend less than $50,000. Great. But then they don't accept Power of Attorney, i.e. my mother can't sign for me, and won't evaluate my foreign owned income (again its not real money apparently).

And so three rules, that have zero bearing on the underlying financial risk realities of my situation, prevent me from getting a loan. Rule 1. My money isn't real. Rule 2. No lending under $50,000. Rule 3. No Power of Attorney.

We are buying the condo anyway without the banks.

Rant over.

But what I find interesting about this whole situation is how it is a microcosm of what seems to have occurred (and to be still occurring) in the US financial industry. The rules of the game are so detached from reality, and actually prevent people from thinking critically and engaging with reality, that they create and alternate world, a "model," from which banks nevertheless make real judgments about how "risky" we are.
What is sad about this is ultimately not that we aren't getting the loan, but that banks are not performing their primary economic function which is to match capital with ability which is the engine of economic growth. Instead the banks' risk rules are funneling capital to those who not only do not produce economic growth but end up in bankruptcy.

We should all be afraid when the banks themselves can no longer judge a good investment because they have constructed a set of rules that don't allow them to deal with reality.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Franklin Pierce was an American President?

I'm certainly no scholar of American history but I had thought I would at least recognize the names of all the American presidents. And then I found this guy, our 14th. Who was he?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Super worms

So these spider gene enhanced silkworms are pretty badass.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

"America is committing suicide."

Good interview of New York mayor Micheal Bloomberg.


Thursday, September 30, 2010

a potentially habitable planet has been found!

check this out Star Trek here we come!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Muppets do Coldplay



Aidwatch uses it's BS knife to cut some UN statistics down to size. Not an especially challenging task, but very useful.

Multi-cultural living or the inevitability of being an a**hole.

Yesterday I was playing volleyball, like I do most Wednesdays. I am the youngest on my team and am also the best player and the only white guy. Since all the other players are forty or fifty years old this is nothing to toot my own horn over. My team wins 80% of the time. But my teammates incessantly provide me with "advice," and it is always the same advice. Without exaggeration, I am told how to hit the volleyball or where to stand on the court at least 20 times per game.

This annoys me.

I will be leaving my island this weekend, like I do just about every weekend, while most of my colleagues will not be because they have to work on Saturdays and I do not. This weekend it is likely that a storm will be coming and I may not be able to return on Sunday as I usually do. If I were Korean it is unlikely that I would be "allowed" to leave. But I am not, and so I will go.

But this annoys my colleagues.

If I were to tell my teammates to stop giving me "advice" they would be angry. Here one does not refuse the words of one's elders.

If they were to tell me that I could not leave, I would be angry. I believe an employer has no right to tell me what I can or cannot do on my days off, and am I not responsible for possible weather events.

And so on some level, and realistically, most levels, we view eachother negatively. Though we both understand cultural differences and make allowances neither one of us is willing to live by the other group's standards. In fact I have learned that becoming too close to my colleagues is a bad idea to the extent that the closer I get, the more they treat me like one of their own, which means expecting me to act as if I were a member of the Korean social hierarchy. This wouldn't be a problem except that being relatively young I am at the bottom of that hierarchy and being myself I am unwilling to subject those "below me" to what I consider ill-treatment.
And so I consciously stand apart.

Which also annoys my colleagues.

The end result is that we both on some level believe eachother to be a-holes. Because we are mature adults we manage to get along most of the time , excusing each other's behaviour rationally, or venting behind eachother's backs. But still that raw feeling that the other person is an a-hole is always lingering just beneath the surface. And because we live next to eachother it always will, unless one of us changes our minds or moves.

But then why should either of us change our minds? We live in different moral universes, both coherent, and yet opposing. Should I accept, indeed embrace, the idea that society should hierarchally arranged? Or contrary-wise is it reasonable or realistic for me to expect my 40 year old colleagues to act towards me as if I were their equal? I don't think so.

This is one of the less comfortable facts of living a multicultural life. You are inevitably an a-hole.

How to write about Africa

This is funny.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The supposed African "Brain Drain" is bunk

Listen to this.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Geoengineering: sounds reasonable.

check this out

Friday, September 24, 2010

"Are we run by a**holes?" asks Jon Stewart

Usually I've been a little disappointed, particularly during the last presidential election, with how partisan the Daily show has become. But lately it seems the disenchantment that many liberals feel with Obama, including Jon Stewart, has allowed him to produce more of the old-fashion, relatively non-partisan, fun-making that I have always liked the show for. This segment is great comedy and great reporting at the same time. Why can't the rest of the media lay out how Congress really works just as clearly?

You can't make this stuff up: Radiolaria

h/t to org.theory for finding these. They are tiny microorganisms called radiolaria, what you are seeing are their shells. They are alive.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Washington Corruption, doing the "third world" proud.

Here is the latest corruption scandal in which Congresswoman Eleanor Norton-Holmes records herself begging for money from people who are working on the government projects she "handles." With my previous post about cop corruption I think I may turn this topic into a semi-regular feature. Americans are famous (infamous?) for preaching "good governance" to the rest of the world, and particularly to poorer or non-Western nations. But unless such messages are coming from a credible source they will, rightly, be ignored.

South Korea is famous for corruption between big business and government. Koreans hate it. But the manner in which this corruption is reported in the Western media, and even in the Korean media, fails to give much needed context. Unlike in most Western nations, Korean citizens by and large expect their governments to provide leadership in all facets of society, including the economy. This means that there is a normatively much closer relationship between government and business leaders than exists elsewhere. Think Korea Inc. And because of this close relationship drawing the line between what is corrupt and what is not can be exceedingly difficult. Compounding this problem is the character of business relationships in Korea. The first thing any business man learns when trying to work in Korea is that Koreans have a very relational, as opposed to legalistic, view of how to conduct business, make contracts, etc. Obeying the letter of the law, as opposed to the obligations that arise from a relationship-formed over many bottles of Soju, is not high on the priority list of most Korean businesses. Again, in this kind of context, how do you start defining corruption?


Sunday, September 19, 2010

ADHD is about willpower

Here is an interesting article about the most current thinking on ADHD. Apparently it is more accurate to think about the causes of ADHD not as any specific and identifiable deficit (chemical or otherwise) but as an inability to allocate attention effectively.

In Korea disorders such as ADHD are almost entirely undiagnosed. I am not skeptical that they indeed exist in some form everywhere but I do think their existence as social entities, and therefore how they are conceptualized and dealt with by differing societies, varies quite dramatically. The American treatment for ADHD is drugs. Other societies have other ways of dealing with it. In Korea children are taught that they are responsible for their behaviour and that diligence is something that all people, no matter what their initial standing, can learn to cultivate.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Constructing (conceiving of?) beauty

Russ Roberts over at ECONTALK has an interesting discussion this week with Alain de Button about his books which focus on seeing the beauty of contemporary society, industry, and technology. Its worth a listen (see my links to the right.)

Koreans are much better at seeing beauty in modernity than are Westerners. I've often thought it was because modernity is such a newer phenomenon here. But de Button makes many good points about how in the West active forces, such as "high society" "literati" and or ideas such as "haute coutre" or the "art film" are instrumental in constructing objects that are deemed acceptable to be considered beautiful (sorry thats a mouthful).

Take this picture for example of the "snake road" on my island. I've always considered it to be quite ugly, but for Koreans it is a work of beauty. I see a scar that mars the natural beauty of the island, yet for Koreans it is an artful creation that confirms how, even on this far flung island, Korea is a developed and prosperous nation.