Melina PlatasI am a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at Stanford University, specializing in comparative politics. My research identifies determinants of global and sub-national variation in governance, with the goal of explaining the wide variation that exists in economic and political development around the world, and particularly among developing countries.  The regional focus of my research is sub-Saharan Africa, where I have spent more than four years working and conducting fieldwork in eight countries since 2005.

My dissertation, The Religious Roots of Inequality in Africa, investigates the politics of Muslim disadvantage in education. Across much of Africa, Muslims have lower educational attainment than Christians, but this gap varies dramatically across time and space. Variation in the persistence of this gap, one of the most striking and poorly understood inequalities in Africa today, does not have an obvious explanation. What are the origins of Muslim disadvantage, and what explains its persistence? I employ a variety of research methods to answer these questions, including survey experiments, archival research, ethnography, GIS, and quantitative analysis of large household surveys, and identify the political factors underlying the Christian-Muslim gap in education. A key finding of my research that Muslim educational attainment is lowest where Muslims are a majority and highest where they are a minority. Given the primacy of education for economic development and the recent rise of religious mobilization in Africa, understanding the conditions under which Muslim disadvantage has persisted is imperative.

Two on-going projects employ large-scale field experiments to examine the extent to which providing citizens with information and lowering the cost of political communication can strengthen the accountability of elected leaders and civil servants. Meet the Candidates: Information in Primary and General Elections, with Pia Raffler (Yale University), examines the effect of information on voter behavior in the context of Uganda. SMS for Better Governance, with Guy Grossman (University of Pennsylvania) and Jonathan Rodden (Stanford University), evaluates an innovative new program designed to lower the cost of political communication between citizens and local government, with the goal of improving service delivery.

I blog occasionally at the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage, write for the Independent magazine, and am a panelist on KfM‘s The Hot Seat and NTV Uganda’s Fourth Estate in Uganda. I am a California native and have lived in Uganda, my second home, on and off since 2005. In Uganda I previously worked as a reporter at the Daily Monitor and The Independent magazine.

Contact information:

Department of Political Science
616 Serra Street
Encina Hall West, Room 100
Stanford University
Stanford, CA 94305-6044

Email: mplatas [at] stanford [dot] edu
Twitter: @melinaplatas