this is madness

Ugh. Bukenya’s son is lost to yet another fatal car crash, Gen. Kazini is allegedly killed by his mistress (“reckless living” according to M7), another bus overturns killing seven people (including two who could not even be identified), a Uganda-bound plane crashes into the Kigali airport, all amongst a number of more personal losses. I am sad, but mostly angry. Almost all of the deaths and tragedies I have witnessed in the past few weeks were far from inevitable. Rosebell started a conversation that mirrors my frustration and anger. The deaths of Uganda’s elite are no less tragic than the deaths of those who perish on a bus, or plane, or languish in the country’s understaffed and undersupplied clinics and hospitals, but I wouldn’t mind so much who got more news coverage if only something was done to prevent these needless deaths in the future! Arg! How long must we mourn and suffer and cry out before something gets done? What would it take to get a high quality hospital so that we don’t have to fly abroad when we need serious medical attention? What would it take to properly police roads and public transportation? The buses will not stop overturning and cars will not stop crashing on their own. It is only people who can prevent these tragedies. They need not happen. This is madness.

What do people care about?

I love knowledge for the sake of knowledge, but as I embark on this five-year journey otherwise known as grad school, one thing I don’t want to do is get stuck inside, both literally and figuratively. Literally, I don’t want to see the sky for only 20 minutes a day on the walk to and from the car, and figuratively (and more importantly), I don’t want to get stuck in a world where only other academics or econ-y types find my work interesting/palatable/intelligible. This has been on my mind a lot recently as I have been trying to home in on a specific research question for my first major research project/paper (which I will hereafter refer to as a field paper). I can think of lots of research questions, but certainly not all of equal pertinence to the lives of ordinary people. Which got me thinking, what would be of most pertinence? I am not a doctor, I am not a teacher (yet, anyway), I am not a civil engineer…there are many things I can’t do to improve people’s lives. So what can I do? Well, hopefully (and this is the goal anyway, I think), I will be able to provide some small insight or suggestion to help solve problems people care about.  So what do people care about?

Since Uganda is mostly on my mind, I remembered a recent Afrobarometer survey asked exactly this question. Ok, not exactly. The exact question was, “What are the most important problems facing this country that the government should address?” The answers? (according to % of people who listed this concern first)

Poverty/Destitution: 43%

Unemployment: 28%

Health: 27%

Food shortage: 20%

Infrastructure/Roads: 20%

Seems pretty obvious in retrospect. But what wasn’t in the top 5? Democracy/Political Rights (3%), Orphans (2%), Political Instability/Ethnic Tensions (2%), International War (0%), AIDS (5%), and Inequality (2%), among others. Less obvious now, right? This is not to say that no one cares about these things, just that they are not the most important things for most people. Of course these things are also related to the above “most important problems”, and it could be that democracy (or something else) will solve all of these problems (I am skeptical though). Still, I think it’s always good to keep in mind what people are struggling with on a daily basis even while trying to figure out what’s up with democratic peace (for example).

Now, back to that field paper…

I’m back!

So I fell off the bloggingwagon in a major way. Apologies. But 7 weeks into grad school and back in California (for a while anyway) I think I can credibly commit to staying on-board. There’s lots to catch up on, but instead I think I’ll just pick up where we left off and fill in the gaps as we go along.

One of the most interesting things I have read so far? “Tax Me If You Can: Ethnic Geography, Democracy and the Taxation of Agriculture in Africa,” in APSR by Kimuli Kasara, Stanford Political Science PhD graduate who is now teaching at Columbia. Basically she finds that cash crop farmers who are the same ethnicity as the head of state face higher taxes than farmers of a different ethnicity. This goes against the classical  ethnically-based patronage argument. A more thorough understanding of how exactly patronage works is clearly in order.

Ok, back to nuclear weapons reading.

PS This post is dedicated to Anna. She knows why.