Afrobarometer

Posted by stephanie on Mar 25th, 2009
2009
Mar 25

Vanderbilt graduates are everywhere, even at the tip of the African continent.  During my last semester at Vanderbilt, I met someone working for Manna Project who has a friend in Cape Town doing his master’s degree.  That friend is Elliot Mitchell, a 2005 Vandy graduate finishing up his master’s work at the University of Cape Town in Democracy and Governance, something of great interest to me and my project!  Elliot and I have been able to meet up several times and he’s been great in getting me connected with professors and fellow students all doing work on democracy in Africa!

I am astounded by the number of organizations and people focused on the issue of democracy around the world and democracy promotion.  Elliot told me about something called Afrobarometer, which measures people’s perceptions of democracy in Africa.  The Afrobarometer (www.afrobarometer.org) is an independent, nonpartisan research project that measures the social, political, and economic atmosphere in Africa. Afrobarometer surveys are conducted in more that a dozen African countries and are repeated on a regular cycle. Because the instrument asks a standard set of questions, countries can be systematically compared. Trends in public attitudes are tracked over time. Results are shared with decision makers, policy advocates, civic educators, journalists, researchers, donors and investors, as well as average Africans who wish to become more informed and active citizens.

Afrobarometer has had some interesting findings about public opinion in Africa towards democracy.  One of the most relevant findings for me is that for the Africans surveyed, democracy means freedom.  When asked “what, if anything, does democracy mean to you?” most Africans refer to civil liberties, especially freedom of speech.  They also see democracy as meaning “government by the people.”  In this survey, Africans rarely associated democracy with voting and elections.

Other findings from the Afrobarometer are that support for democracy is widespread in Africa, and Africans expect democracy to deliver basic welfare.  This means that Africans are predisposed to judge the performance of democracy primarily in how well democracy delivers benefits in the socioeconomic sphere.  People are also not fully satisfied with how democracy works in their countries, and unemployment is high on people’s development agendas.

If you are interested in the methodology or more quantitative analysis of the results, head to the Afrobarometer website.  For me, I’m more interested in the implications of these findings and why people responded as they did, which isn’t really answered through these studies.  I am especially interested in why people immediately associate democracy with freedom, something I have come across in all countries and continents that I have visited.  I guess my quest to more fully understand freedom must continue!

Development as Freedom

Posted by stephanie on Mar 25th, 2009
2009
Mar 25

Freedom has a thousand charms to show
That slaves, howe’er contented, never know

-William Cowper, 18th century poet

Before I began this trip, I definitely wasn’t any sort of freedom scholar (although there actually are legitimate freedom scholars in the world, which is pretty much now my future dream job).  As I’ve been on this trip, I’ve been hyper in-tuned to the word freedom and have been amazed at the gargantuan selection of books on the topic of freedom, taken from all angles, written by people from all fields.  One book that was recommended to me, and which I greatly enjoyed reading, is the famous book Development as Freedom.  Written by Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen, Sen argues that development should be seen as a process of expanding freedoms rather than simply economic growth. Sen’s work explains why, in a world of so much abundance, why millions in rich and poor countries alike remain slaves, if not slaves in the literal meaning of the word, slaves to various unfreedoms. Freedom is both the goal and means for development.  Sen writes that “[d]evelopment requires the removal of major sources of unfreedom:  poverty as well as tyranny, poor economic opportunities as well as systematic social deprivation, neglect of public facilities as well as intolerance or overactivity of repressive states.”  Sen takes a broad conception of freedom, but views the instrumental freedoms as political freedom, economic facilities, social opportunities, transparency guarantees, and protective security.  He sees the effectiveness of freedom as an instrument to development in that the different kinds of freedom are so interrelated.  One type of freedom may greatly help to advance another type.

One of my favorite parts of this work is when Sen writes “[t]he people have to be seen..as being actively involved—given the opportunity—in shaping their own destiny, and not just as passive recipients of the fruits of cunning development programs.”  So much of freedom for me, and to many people I talk to, is being able to live the life you choose and have control over your destiny.  I think there has been a greater realization of this in programs geared at helping those in developing nations.  There seems to be an abundance of income-generating activities sponsored by various organizations, programs such as the Roses of Mbuya at Reach Out and Halle’s One Mango Tree.  I think programs focused more on giving opportunities for people to improve their own situations versus programs that simply give hand-outs are more sustainable because they recognize the inherent need for people to feel they have greater freedoms.  To be free is something I see as an essential part of being human, yet so many things stand in the way of that feeling.

There is so much more to write and say about Sen’s work, but I feel that any summary I could make would be woefully inadequate.  I greatly enjoyed reading Sen’s masterpiece, although I do have to admit I didn’t understand everything, especially the more economic bits, but I do feel the general theme of Sen’s work echoes exactly many of the points and ideas I’ve been trying to make and discover.  I think there is something for all interests in Sen’s book, and definitely recommend a trip to the library or bookstore to pick up this engaging and important work on freedom and its momentous possibilities!

Human Rights Day in South Africa

Posted by stephanie on Mar 21st, 2009
2009
Mar 21

For someone interested in the ideas of freedom, South Africa is the perfect laboratory to observe all facets of the concept at play.  It wasn’t until my Keegan interview that someone suggested I travel to South Africa for my project, and I’m glad I decided to follow the suggestion.  Little did I know that when planning my itinerary, I would also be arriving in South Africa at a perfect time.  Today, March 21, South Africa celebrates Human Rights Day to commemorate violent massacres in Sharpeville and KwaLanga forty-nine years ago.  At the end of April, South Africa will also have its fourth general election since becoming a democracy fifteen years ago, and on April 27, Freedom Day is celebrated, which is in honor of the first post-apartheid elections held on that day in 1994.

But back to today’s public holiday.  In my last week in Cape Town, I have learned a lot about the history and culture of South Africa, something I realized I knew very little about (and am still trying to catch-up on everything).  I definitely didn’t know about the events of March 21 nearly fifty years ago that are remembered on this day, and I imagine many of you may not have heard of them either, so in educating myself, I hope you also learn something as well.

On March 21, 1960, police in Sharpeville, an area just outside of Johannesburg, killed 69 protestors.  Thousands had gathered to protest the pass law system, which limited the presence of black South Africans in white cities and towns.  A similar situation occurred in KwaLanga, an area outside of Cape Town, which also ended tragically.  Four days later, the government banned black political organizations, and many leaders were arrested or went into exile.  Those two events helped to galvanize the world into sanctions against the apartheid state.  Following the transition to democracy in 1994, March 21 was officially proclaimed Human Rights Day.

During the Apartheid era, human rights were abused on all sides, and setting aside this public holiday is a concerted effort to remember what has happened in South Africa in an effort to prevent it from ever happening again, and remind all citizens of the rights that they inherently have.

The Constitution of South Africa states that “The Republic of South Africa is one, sovereign, democratic state founded on the following values:  Human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms…”

While South Africa has undergone vast improvements in the area of equality in the past 15 years, challenges still remain and racial discrimination and tension have not been completely rooted out.  The vast discrepancies in wealth are also appalling—from the gigantic homes with amazing ocean views to the seemingly endless rows of tin homes in the townships.  This is one of the factors that also makes South Africa a country with such a high crime rate. I’m also a bit on edge here walking about because of the stories I’ve heard from people and reading the statistics of crime in the country…(as my Lonely Planet guide book puts it, the “informal distribution of wealth”).  Especially in Cape Town, though, I’m finding it’s not necessary to be paranoid, just vigilant.  Deemed the “Rainbow Nation” for its diversity, there are people from all backgrounds and walks of life who live here.

Issues of unemployment and HIV/AIDS are also huge problems facing the people of South Africa, as is the provision of adequate housing.  According to an article in the newspaper today about Human Rights Day, South Africa is the only country in the world that gives free houses to the poorest of the poor.

There are so many more issues to cover that are a part of the freedom discussion in South Africa, but I will save those for another day as I continue to read more, learn more, and engage more with the people of South Africa.  Tonight, though, I have to look up the rules for cricket, as I will be attending the South Africa v. Australia cricket match tomorrow.  Not exactly the type of March Madness I’m used to this time of year, but it should be fun!

Identity, Relaxation, and Trespassing

Posted by stephanie on Mar 9th, 2009
2009
Mar 9

This past weekend I went on a trip to Sipi Falls, which is in eastern Uganda close to the Kenyan border, with a couple of friends I have made in Uganda.  Two of them, Renu and Abbas, work at Reach Out with me while the other travel companion, Jeff, is someone I met one evening at Red Chilli.  Jeff just graduated from college as well and works for an organization called One Acre Fund, which gives out microfinance loans to farmers in Kenya, and it is starting its first pilot project in eastern Uganda.  Renu is a fourth year medical student at the University of California San Francisco working in the clinic at Reach Out, and Abbas is a recent graduate from college taking some time off and working in the pharmacy at Reach Out.  It was interesting traveling with this group because Renu and Jeff are American, and Abbas is Canadian, but Renu and Abbas have Indian ethnic heritage while Jeff’s family comes from Taiwan.  Many Ugandans (and probably Africans more generally, but I’ve only been to one country so far) have a hard time understanding and believing that they are American or Canadian.  Being Caucasian, I have not had to encounter the incredulous looks that they are given when they are told where they are from.  Even when given the example that Barack Obama (who is an absolute rock star in Africa) is American but not white, people will tell us that he is actually Kenyan.  In many places outside of the big cities, there is a myth that all Americans are of one race or ethnic heritage, not viewing the United States as a pluralistic society.  This isn’t really surprising considering a lot of the interaction that many Ugandans have is with Americans who look more like me, but I can only imagine the frustration that other Americans (and other nationalities as well) from different ethnic heritages have when constantly having to tell people their entire family lineage and still not have them believe that they are actually American.   Maybe with more diverse images of America coming to Uganda through the media, especially with the election of President Obama, this idea will begin to change and a more inclusive picture of America will emerge.

Apart from issues of identity, we all had a great weekend relaxing at the falls, doing some yoga, enjoying cooler temperatures and clean air (Kampala air is so dirty!), hiking about all day, and going to bed wonderfully early, lulled to sleep by the wind gusting against our rooms.  Sipi Falls was so beautiful, and was a wonderful weekend trip to gear me up for my last week in Uganda.

I’m always asked by people to tell them crazy stories from my travels, but I always feel like I disappoint people because nothing really wild has happened to me.  Something pretty interesting did happen to me while coming back from Sipi Falls after arriving in Kampala, though.  The matatu dropped us off at the Nakawa taxi park, which is a good 20-30 minute walk away from where I am staying.  Renu and Abbas live nearby to my new accommodation, so we walked together most of the way.  I don’t normally walk this way, and I thought I had discovered a great shortcut to the road that I needed to be on and said goodbye to the other two.  As I was walking on a path in this open field, with the road that I wanted to go to in sight, I heard some men behind me yelling “Sister. Stop.  Where are you going?”  I didn’t turn around because it’s not really uncommon for me to get that (I have had my fair of marriage proposals here already), so I ignored it, assuming it was another case of mzungu lust.  However, when I got to the road I saw that it was blocked off my a barbed wire fence, and the people in the houses by it were looking at me very strangely, and the people who had been shouting at me approached me from behind, guns in hand pointed at me and with army uniforms on.  Apparently my shortcut was through the Ugandan army barracks, which I had no idea about because there was no sign or actual entrance of any sort, and I only saw about 3 huts in the middle of an open field.  One of the men was gruffly asking me questions about who I was and what I was doing, and why I had gone through here because didn’t I know I was in the army barracks?  I tried to explain my honest mistake, which I don’t think one of the guys bought, apologized, and began walking back to the main road where this time I saw the guard stationed under the shade of a tree, obscured by the shadows, and he asked me why I didn’t ask him if I could go through, which was very simply because I didn’t see him there.  I can only imagine how ridiculous this whole exchange looked to the people watching it, this mzungu girl with a grocery bag, green backpack, fake Gucci sunglasses bought from a Ugandan supermarket, grubby clothes, and smiling elephant earrings, being chased by members of the Ugandan army at gun point.  How can I not love this country?

Sipi Falls

Reach Out continued

Posted by stephanie on Mar 9th, 2009
2009
Mar 9

A lot has changed since my last post about what I’ve been doing at Reach Out, mainly the fact that I now have a lot of projects and tasks to complete as I go into my final week working there on Monday.  Some of these projects include writing a proposal to get money for improving the water facilities in the communities we serve, analyzing and summarizing volunteer exit forms in an effort to improve the organization, beginning the process of updating the Reach Out website, and continuing to help the Roses of Mbuya market their products.  Wow!

I was kind of thrown into the water project headfirst.  The Communications Department at Reach Out is undergoing a massive revamping and reorganization of the tasks that actually fall under its domain, and one thing that Anna, my Ugandan friend and fellow volunteer in the department, and I were trying to do is make Reach Out more visible to the corporations in Uganda that sponsor projects as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies.  Anna has a connection to the CSR manager at Nile Breweries, and when we did some research on the organization found that they are big into supporting sanitation improving activities.  Health (both physical, spiritual, and emotional) is what Reach Out is all about, yet many of the communities we serve do not even have access to clean water, or even if there are taps, not everyone can afford that water and instead are forced to go to open and contaminated sources.  I went out one day with a member of the Community Department at Reach Out and documented some of the situations, which I had previously posted on my Flickr account.  However, I have no experience with improving water facilities and access, so I have spent a bit of time on the internet (the slow, slow, slow! Ugandan internet) doing some research into different options.  I’ve been a bit stuck, though, because I feel that this needs to be a community initiative and that those we are trying to help should have a say in the process.  Right now I’m trying to figure out a way to make that happen and to finish my proposal before Friday, as well as pass the torch of this project onto someone I know will see it through.

Looking through the files of past volunteers has been really interesting for me as a current volunteer.  Those who have been at Reach Out in the past share many of my thoughts about the organization.  I think that Reach Out is experiencing some growing pains at the moment as it shifts from a very small community operation to a bigger, more business model.  It is not an easy transition, especially for those who have been there since the beginning eight years ago.  Change is part of the human experience, though, and hopefully the changes occurring at Reach Out will, in the long run, only help to increase the number of people they can help as well as the quality of service.

Additionally, working on the website and helping with the Roses project are also keeping me busy.  It is nice to be staying busy and feel like my services and insights are contributing to something now.  My favorite part of working at Reach Out, though, is still my personal interactions with my co-workers in the Communications Department, learning more about them, joking around with them, and accomplishing tasks with them.  I am so happy that I decided to stay in Uganda for as long as I have, and I’m even more happy that my time could be spent with the people of Reach Out.

Reach Out

More hostels, less hostility

Posted by stephanie on Mar 9th, 2009
2009
Mar 9

I love staying in hostels.  While in Kampala I stayed at the Red Chilli Hideaway, one of the most popular backpacker’s hostels in the city, for about 3 weeks of my time here.  Every night I would sit in the lounge, chatting with people from all around the world, all of us united by our foreignness in our current location.  It seems to me to be the perfect breeding ground for cultural exchange and understanding.  Could hostels be the way towards world peace?  Maybe, but traveling is expensive and does involve a certain segment of the global population.  Most people I talk to are well-educated, young people from developed countries, but still, I think there is something really beautiful about sitting with a group of people from different countries, discussing all topics, sharing experiences, and being on the same path, even just for a few minutes or hours.