Research Internships in Africa

Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) has posted a number of summer internships for projects across the continent, including my own with Pia Raffler, “Meet the Candidates,” based in Uganda. Apply today and share widely!

  • Desired start date: April 2015 through July 2015
  • Deadline to apply: Applicants will be reviewed on rolling bases
  • Commitment:  A minimum of 10 weeks is required
  • Please note: All IPA internships are unpaid

Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to discovering what works to help the world’s poor. We design and evaluate programs in real contexts with real people, and provide hands-on assistance to bring successful programs to scale. IPA is accepting interns for the Spring/Summer 2015 globally. These positions offer an opportunity to gain first-hand experience in an organization undertaking cutting-edge development research.

Meet the Candidates Intern (Kampala, Uganda)

IPA seeks a qualified applicant for the position of internshipfor the “Meet the Candidates” projectin Kampala, Uganda.

This study seeks to assess the role of information in the selection of effective politicians in the context of the 2015 primary elections and 2016 general elections in Uganda. In particular, we contrast the effect of political information – in the form of “Meet the Candidates” sessions – on voter behavior in intra- (primary) versus inter-party (multiparty) electoral environments. In addition, we propose to study the extent to which programmatic information on candidates’ platforms can dissuade citizens from voting along non-programmatic lines. The main project activity consists of a structured question and answer session with candidates, which will be recorded and screened in a random subset of polling stations. Data collection activities include a survey in selected constituencies, and collection of official electoral results at the level of the polling station.

This position offers an opportunity to gain first-hand data management and field experience in an organization undertaking cutting-edge development research. The position is based in Kampala, Uganda with possible travel throughout Uganda. The principal investigators are Pia Raffler and Melina Izama Platas.

The intern will work closely with academic researchers and other field staff to perform a variety of tasks including, for example: data management, data cleaning, survey design and pretesting, field team management, partnership relations, intervention planning and implementation. Desired start date: June 2015.

Desired Qualifications and Experience:

  • Bachelor’s degree in economics, social sciences, public policy, or related fields
  • Master’s degree preferred
  • Stata skills (or other data analysis software preferred)
  • Experience with data management
  • Flexible, self-motivating, able to manage multiple tasks efficiently and a team player
  • Fluency and excellent communication skills in English
  • Familiarity with randomized controlled trials preferred

Experience living in a developing country is a plus

Note: this internship is unpaid.

How to Apply:

If you are interested, please send a resume and cover letter to zclemence@poverty-action.org and pia.raffler@yale.edu. Please specify Internship MTC in the subject line.

Research Assistant Opportunity in Uganda

Interested in elections and political accountability? Looking for research experience conducting impact evaluations? Pia Raffler and I are hiring a research assistant for a new study on elections in Uganda. Desired start date is January 2015, running through early 2016. Applications are currently being reviewed, so those interested should submit an application immediately. More information below, and at this link.

Research Associate – Meet the Candidates (Uganda)

  • Reports to: Research Manager
  • Location: Kampala, Uganda with frequent travel up-country
  • Deadline to apply:  Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis
  • Desired start date: January 2015
  • Length of commitment: 16 months

Innovations for Poverty Action seeks a qualified Research Associate to oversee the impact evaluation of an information campaign on voter behavior in the context of the 2015 primary elections and 2016 general elections in Uganda. The intervention will involve the recording of ‘Meet the Candidates’ sessions with Ugandan candidates for political office. Sessions will be recorded and edited by local film crews and will be screened in a random selection of polling station catchment areas. The position offers an opportunity to gain first-hand field management experience in an organization undertaking cutting-edge development research. The Principal Investigators for this project are Melina Platas Izama (Stanford University) and Pia Raffler (Yale University).

Responsibilities: 

  • Coordinating and supervising all data collection activities
  • Closely work with partner organizations, including political parties, on the recording and screening of ‘Meet the Candidate’ sessions
  • Formulating plans to operationalize field activities suggested by Principal Investigators
  • Developing and piloting survey instruments
  • Working closely with the Principal Investigators and the local partners running the program to ensure study protocols are followed
  • Hiring, training, and managing teams of local enumerators that will conduct data collection among business owners, workers, and household members
  • Planning, organizing and reporting on surveys in the field
  • Managing the project data from collection to cleaned datasets
  • Tracking expenses and adhering to the project budget
  • Writing regular progress reports

Qualifications:

  • Bachelor’s degree in economics, social sciences, public policy, or related fields; a Master’s degree in any of these fields is a strong plus
  • Training in economics and statistics
  • Excellent management and organizational skills
  • Demonstrated proficiency in Stata and experience with data management, data cleaning, and regression analysis is a must
  • Ability to prioritize and manage multiple assignments simultaneously with minimal supervision
  • Excellent oral and written communication skills. Fluency in English is required
  • Experience conducting field research in a developing country is strongly preferred. Previous experience with impact evaluations and/or randomized controlled trials is a strong plus

Continue reading

Reading around the world

In an effort to keep track of my own reading and research I’ve created a map using Google Maps Engine with categories for country-specific work, both fiction and non-fiction, from academic literature to long-form journalism. The map is pretty sparse at the moment, but I’ll keep updating it. Please send along your own reading recommendations by country (or region). Click here to view the map in detail.

Uganda’s journey toward same-sex rights

Re-posting my latest writing for the Monkey Cage Blog, Washington Post.

See additional coverage at The Dish.

Who’s behind Uganda’s step forward on same-sex rights?

Published August 4, 2014

When Uganda’s Constitutional Court struck down the controversial Anti-Homosexuality Act on Friday, eyes immediately turned to the country’s longtime president, Yoweri Museveni. Museveni has been under pressure from the donor community, several of whom enacted aid cuts in response to the passing of the law in February 2014. His trip this week to Washington for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit seemed perfectly timed with the legal about-face that was sought by the Obama administration. Was the court’s decision yet another clever political manipulation by the man who has held power in Uganda for 28 years?

The executive branch may be powerful in Uganda, but to give the president all the credit for the Anti-Homosexuality Act’s demise is to ignore the vital role played by concerned citizens and the legal community in Uganda. Ten individuals and organizations — including a journalist, professor, doctor, activists and current and former legislators — petitioned the court to repeal the law on the grounds that it was passed illegally, having contravened parliamentary rules of procedure requiring quorum, and that it violated constitutional rights. Their efforts, combined with those of a robust legal team, were integral to the law’s repeal. Their victory demonstrates the power of domestic actors and the courts in promoting social and legal change.

This path to social change in Uganda – through the time, energy and sacrifice of key individuals and organizations, together with the power of the law – is no different than the path to social change in the United States. The protection of rights, especially minority rights, often comes on the back of legal rulings, sometimes even before the general public supports these rights. Recent research by Rebecca Kreitzer, Allison Hamilton and Caroline Tolbert has found that anti-discriminatory legislation can directly shift public opinion to be more supportive of same-sex rights.

Activists and scholars worry that despite recent progress on same-sex rights in places like the United States, countries elsewhere — most notably in Africa, but also Russia and India — are experiencing backsliding. In an article on the relationship between democracy and gay rights, Bard College professor Omar Encarnación writes, “Gay rights appear to be deepening more than spreading, intensifying in some regions while regressing in others.“ While there has been regression as measured by anti-homosexual legislation in a number of countries around the world, the overall trajectory of gay rights may not be as dismal as Encarnación’s article suggests.

Rather than thinking of gay rights as present or absent, a continuum may better represent the extent to which the rights of the LGBT community are being protected as well as the changing attitudes toward homosexuality within society. Expanding the protection and promotion of rights, including same-sex rights, is an iterative and not necessarily linear process. Advocacy and strategic litigation can result in key legal decisions that protect rights, and these rulings in turn can affect public opinion, followed by further public support of subsequent anti-discriminatory policy.

In the United States, landmark cases in the promotion of same-sex rightsinclude One Inc. v. Olesen, Romer v. Evans, United States v. Windsor andLawrence v. Texas. The latter ruled as late as 2003 that anti-sodomy laws — like the one that remains in Uganda’s penal code — are unconstitutional. Progress has not been without setbacks, in the United States or elsewhere, as the initial passage of Proposition 8 in California (subsequently struck down by the U.S. District Court and appeal dismissed by the U.S. Supreme Court) demonstrated all too clearly. Today 12 U.S. states still have anti-sodomy laws on the books, the Supreme Court ruling notwithstanding.

While vocal American activists condemn anti-gay legislation around the world, the United States itself has not yet reached the point of full protection of same-sex rights, nor where the whole population accepts homosexuality. The most recent World Values Survey found in 2011 that nearly 1 in 4 American respondents (24 percent) say that homosexuality is “never justifiable.” This figure is much lower than that of Uganda, where close to 9 in 10 respondents completely opposed homosexuality, but still demonstrates considerable hostility towards the LGBTI community in the U.S.

If we look at attitudes toward homosexuality over time using opinion polls, we find that it can take decades for attitudes to shift. Further, negative attitudes toward homosexuality sometimes increase before they decrease. In South Korea, for example, one of the countries with the longest record of opinion polling on the topic, opposition to homosexuality, again, as measured by the percentage of respondents who say homosexuality is never justifiable, jumped from 60 percent in 1982 to 90 percent in 1990 before declining again. It’s worth noting that levels of anti-homosexuality sentiment in South Korea in 1990 are nearly the same as those in Uganda today. In South Africa too, anti-homosexual sentiment increased before declining. Meanwhile, in the U.S., opposition has fallen only gradually over time and has yet to dip below 20 percent.

Anti-homosexuality attitudes over time across four countries. Data not available for all countries in all waves. Data: World Values Survey; Figure: Melina Platas Izama

Anti-homosexuality attitudes over time across four countries. Data not available for all countries in all waves. Data: World Values Survey; Figure: Melina Platas Izama

Democratic institutions took centuries to develop in the United States but have been adopted in a matter of decades in a number of African countries. Likewise, same-sex rights ultimately may be adopted far more quickly in countries like Uganda than they were in the United States. The urgent question for minority rights activists around the world is, how can the pace of rights promotion and protection be increased.

It is not clear that sanctions on governments enacting anti-homosexuality legislation speed up the process of rights promotion, though they might. Journalist and petitioner in the recent Uganda case, Andrew Mwenda, argues that donor threats were actually the “trigger” that forced Museveni to sign the bill in the first place, despite his initial reluctance to pass anti-homosexual legislation. Rather than threats and sanctions, Mwenda advocates for diplomacy on the basis of mutual interests. Encarnación notes a similar concern, writing, “Attempts by the West to export gay rights, especially across Africa, also often play directly into the hands of local politicians eager to brand gay rights as ‘foreign values’ and to rationalize their anti-gay policies as a defense against ‘Western influences.’”

Perhaps, as in the United States, the mostly likely agents of change are domestic actors, be they civil society, legal professionals, the media or others, who employ a country’s own institutions and laws to protect same-sex rights. This course of action relies heavily on the judiciary branch, but as the case of Uganda has shown, such a strategy can be effective even in countries where the executive branch wields considerable power. Civil society actors and activists can also work in tandem with more progressive members of parliament and the executive to quietly support policy and legal reform. These partners in government can play a critical role in reducing the likelihood that government appeals the court ruling or that a new law is brought to parliament.

The Ugandan lawyer leading the case against the Anti-Homosexuality Act, Nicholas Opiyo, says continued debate and discussion on the issue of homosexuality will work toward putting a “human face” to same-sex rights. So too will the growing number of LGBT individuals who openly identify as such, increasing the number of Ugandans who have friends, family and acquaintances whom they know are gay or lesbian.

It is through the efforts of individuals like Opiyo and the other petitioners, at no small cost either personally or professionally, that countries like Uganda will continue to move along the continuum of the protection and promotion of civil liberties and rights for all.

 

 

Uganda’s ailing education sector

Uwezo has just released its 2013 East Africa Report. The results for Uganda are dismal, and stagnant across the East African region. Less than half of Ugandan children aged 10-17 were able to pass a Primary 2 exam in literacy and numeracy:

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There is widespread consensus that while campaigns like Education for All and the removal of schools fees have increased access to school, learning has not ensued. In sum, schooling is not education. We need to think much more carefully about the goals of education systems in Uganda and beyond. The challenge of stagnant or declining learning outcomes is not Uganda’s alone.

I discussed these issues last Sunday on NTV Uganda‘s Fourth Estate, together with Chris Obore and Morrison Rwakakamba, hosted by Charles Mwanguhya Mpagi. In Part I we discuss pension sector reform, and in Parts II and III Uganda’s ailing education sector:


“VIPs” a public nuisance

Sometimes you imagine your problems are yours alone. Writing is at its best when giving voice to observations you never thought to say aloud, or drawing parallels you didn’t know existed. So I’m constantly fascinated while reading an account of Indian politics and society by Edward Luce, In Spite of the Gods: The Rise of Modern India. To give a small example, the following passage will be immediately recognizable to any of Kampala’s road users.

I once had a long conversation with the head of police for New Delhi about the number of cars that evaded normal traffic restrictions by putting a red or blue light on the roof. New Delhi suffers from a permanent epidemic of VIPs. He told me that a majority of car owners were not authorized to use VIP flashing lights. But his police, who are invariably junior in social status to the occupants of the car, felt unable to prevent it. The same discrimination can be observed at the dozens of road security checkpoints surrounding the capital. It is always the rickshaws, motorbikes, and freight trucks that get stopped by police. The expensive cars are waved through.

The abuse of hazards, lights, sirens, and even government number plates to forge a path through nerve-fraying traffic is a constant public nuisance in Kampala, and on the road to Entebbe. But all I can do is mutter to myself.

The similarities between the workings and paralysis of government in India and Uganda is striking, although India seems more extreme in both its successes and failures. Definitely worth a read.

Reading in 2014

Last year I kept track of all the (non-dissertation related) books I read, in an effort to return to the voracious reading-for-fun habits of my younger years. It worked.

Having achieved my goal, I wasn’t going to continue the list this year (hence the May posting), but realized I like having a record, and have found others’ lists useful in deciding which books are worth my time. So here we are again, with the star-based review, as in 2013.

Key:
* Don’t bother
** If you have some free time, I guess
*** Fun, interesting, and/or worthwhile
**** Outstanding or an important read
***** Read this book!!/This will change the way you think about your life

Fiction
The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt ***
Every Day Is for the Thief, Teju Cole ****
Animal Farm, George Orwell *****
All Our Names, Dinaw Mengestu **
The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes ***
In the Country of Men, Hisham Matar ***
Family Life: A Novel, Akhil Sharma***
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry: A Novel, Gabrielle Zevin***
Boy, Snow, Bird: A Novel, Helen Oyeyemi***
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler***

Non-Fiction
Five Days at Memorial, Sheri Fink ****
Wave, Sonali Deraniyagala *****
The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, John M. Barry ****
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg Mckeown *****
In Spite of the Gods: The Rise of Modern India, Edward Luce****
A Thousand Hills to Heaven, Josh Ruxin**
 Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman, Robert K. Massie***
The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age, Nathan Wolfe****
Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakanomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner***
Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics is Fueling Our Modern Plagues, Martin J. Blaser*****
Indonesia, Etc.: Exploring the Improbable Nation, Elizabeth Pisani****
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, Jeff Hobbs****

Ambitiously bought/currently reading
The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, Christopher Clark
The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor, William Easterly
Scrambling for Africa: AIDS, Expertise, and the Rise of American Global Health Science, Johanna Tayloe Crane
Africa Must Be Modern: A Manifesto, Olúfémi Táíwò
Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty
Dust, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor