The Black Atlantic

The Black Atlantic: Colonial and Contemporary Exchanges“, an interdisciplinary conference hosted by the Stanford Forum for African Studies, is taking place today and tomorrow at the Stanford Humanities Center. All are welcome to attend! Conference opening and keynote by Bruce Hall at 2:30pm.


The Black Atlantic: Colonial and Contemporary Exchanges

The Stanford Forum for African Studies (of which I am a member) is hosting its annual interdisciplinary conference on October 28th and 29th. Program details can be found here. Below is the conference poster. Please spread the word! All are welcome to attend.


thoughts on the U.S. troop deployment in Uganda

I am gathering here some opinions regarding Obama’s announcement that 100 U.S. troops will be/have been sent to Uganda to help fight the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel group who have been operating for the past several years in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan and in northern Uganda before that. There seems to be a dearth of good analysis on this topic (I realize the news just came out yesterday), but I will try to add more as they become available/are brought to my attention. Anyone have any additions?

US deploys special forces in Uganda, but why? Angelo Izama

Obama’s troops in Central Africa to fight LRA; will they deliver? Rosebell Kagumire

Did Obama make the right call on Kony? James Lindsay

And here is a very neat link to the US cables mentioning the LRA. It’s interesting that there were practically no cables on the LRA before 2006, despite the fact that the group was most active in Uganda from the 1990s to around 2005. (h/t Washington Post*)

*I should note, however, that in general I feel this post doesn’t really capture the politics or even essence of the LRA.


A new one not to be missed: Rush Limbaugh “Obama invades Uganda, targets Christians“. Foreign Policy post on Limbaugh’s blindly ideological and shockingly uninformed statements here.

NYT article here. US has provided $33 million in the region to fight the LRA since 2008.

Uganda in my local Starbucks

Confession: when I am not drinking the “Arabian spiced” 1000 Cups coffee carried from Kampala (or the Stanford polisci brew – thanks Judy!), I sometimes stop by my neighborhood Starbucks on the way to the office. Today I found Uganda in my local Starbucks – not in the beans, but on the wall. And in the paper.

First, there is a huge map of East Africa on the wall, with “Kenya”, “Uganda”, “Rwanda”, and “Tanzania” labeled (I should have taken a photo…will do that next time). I have only ever seen Kenyan and Rwandan coffee marketed in Starbucks, although I suppose Ugandan beans make it into the (STARBUCKS)RED East Africa blend. Some proceeds, of course, go “back to our communities”. That is, to the Global Fund.

Second, I found the image below splashed on the front page of the New York Times, prominently displayed in line.

Original caption: "Ugandans cleaned spare parts in Kiseka, a market that reflects a protest movement's anger over the economy and graft."

Source here. Photos by Michele Sibiloni.

The full photo series can be found here. It took me a minute to get my head around the angle of the photo, since at first it seemed as if the man pictured were falling in a ditch (which could obviously not be the case – who would work that way?). In print it looks even greyer and gloomier than online, a sort of Mordor-like underworld. It is an image that stays with you, for better or for worse.

And so today, as usual when Uganda turns up in the NYT, I find myself struggling between fighting the doom and gloom stereotypical portrayal of Uganda (leaving aside for a moment the fair-trade feel-good world-peace one), and acknowledging the need for urban poverty to be brought to the forefront of public discussion. It is a critical issue, in Kampala and elsewhere, that deserves far more attention than it has received – at least domestically.

It is an important story – of the sputtering economy and its effect on ordinary people – and the photos share what text never could. And I am thrilled there is a “Kampala Journal” in the New York Times. But somehow photos like these still make me cringe a little. Maybe because they represent the only image that many people see (especially Starbucks going Americans), even on the brightest of days.

But I like to hope that is changing.

Voter behavior: does information matter?

The findings of Banerjee et al. (2011) from a field experiment in India using politician report cards seem to suggest yes:

Each report card contained information about incumbent performance along three dimensions – legislative activity, committee attendance and spending of discretionary constituency development funds across eight public good categories. It also provided information on the wealth, education and criminal record of the incumbent and the two main challengers in that jurisdiction. In a random sample of 200 slums, households received a pamphlet on legislator responsibilities and a free copy of a newspaper that featured the report card for their jurisdiction. Households in the 575 control slums did not receive any informational material.
Relative to control slums, we observe several significant changes in voter behavior in treatment slums. First, average voter turnout increased by 3.5 percent, or two percentage points (from 57.5% to 59.5%). Second, cash-based vote-buying was 19 percent less likely to occur in treatment polling stations. Third, while the campaign did not influence the average incumbent vote share, worse performing incumbents and those facing better qualified challengers received significantly fewer votes. The increases in turnout were relatively higher in treatment slums located in jurisdictions where the incumbent was a worse performer.

A similar study has been undertaken in Uganda, using the parliamentary scorecards, by Macartan Humphreys and Jeremy Weinstein. Results linking the scorecard to the most recent 2011 elections forthcoming. There are a number of other studies underway around the world looking at the relationship between information and voter behavior, but the findings are far from being universally conclusive.

Prof. Banerjee will be presenting at the Political Economy Faculty Seminar at the Stanford GSB tomorrow.

Happy Independence Day, Uganda

The game yesterday didn’t go well, but it’s Uganda’s Independence Day today, so let’s celebrate anyway. Happy 49th.

I want to devote some upcoming posts to discussing where Uganda has come since 1962, and what lies ahead. Many today hold a dreary outlook for the country both politically and economically, especially in light of where they imagined Uganda might be nearly 50 years after Independence. While I am confident there will be major bumps in the road ahead (I think it is safe to say we are in smack in the middle of one at the moment), unmitigated pessimism is unwarranted, and ultimately, self-defeating.

Between disappointments, mistakes, and even despicable actions by some of those who shall remain nameless for now, there are equally many hopes, dreams, innovations, and breakthroughs made by ordinary citizens, entrepreneurs, and leaders alike. Perhaps the most amazing is seeing people come together to demand policies that serve the interests of the public, or whose support of a team converts them, however briefly, from individuals into a nation. Occasionally the goal is missed, but the spirit remains. It is this spirit, for lack of a better word, that will make the difference — little by little, day by day.

And so, today we celebrate another such day. One where disappoints are squarely and painfully faced, but also where millions of small steps are made, many in the right direction.

Happy Independence Day, Uganda.

if you get stuck in a lift

Call these guys. Spotted in a prominent Ugandan government office, where the lifts stop on a programmed set of floors. Don’t get in the wrong one, otherwise you’ll have the accidental pleasure of elevator surfing. And they don’t move that fast. Unfortunately I have recently been in multiple such government office buildings, so this description is not even a give-away.

In other news, Uganda Cranes oye! We go, we go, Uganda Cranes we go, WE GO!

Best of luck tomorrow, and everyone stay safe!

P.S. Looking forward to your photos @echwaluedward!

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