iDev: This Month

This month, in addition to community work in Namuwongo (and hopefully traveling with Joanna to Tanzania and Rwanda), I have a couple exciting projects in the works:

IDEA Global Conference – An old professor of mine, Stephen Schwenke, took on the Herculean task of an International Conference on Ethics and International Development. This field, usually referred to as development ethics, is fascinating to me because it addresses the fundamental philosophical questions of development without forgetting that development is practical, real world work. The conference is at the end of July at Makerere University in Kampala, and I’ll be giving Professor Schwenke a hand in the farcical task of organizing large-scale events in Uganda.

Think Again! August Immersion- Starting August 3rd, I’ll be directing another Uganda Immersion with 15 American students. These students have backgrounds in marketing, public relations and journalism (print,photo,video). They will investigate why Africa gets such a bad wrap in the media, and try and tell some of the powerful stories of Ugandan leaders that the world doesn’t hear.

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iDev: American Students and iDev

Huge amounts of people in sub-Saharan Africa are needlessly suffering from the effects of conflict, famine and disease. Many young African leaders care deeply about and have the passion to solve their communities’ problems, but they often lack the support networks and resources necessary for effective practitioners.

In the United States, there are young leaders equally passionate about ending needless suffering, who have networks and resources, but often lack an effective vehicle for making change. Giving up their careers and families to live a Paul Farmeresque life in a remote village seems impractical. Writing a $20 check to UNICEF and forgetting about the problem seems ineffective. What to do?

I spent the last two weeks leading the Global Youth Partnership for Africa Student Global Ambassadors: Uganda Immersion. The two-week Immersion brought 16 American undergraduate and graduate students to Uganda who are interested in working alongside Ugandan 'social entrepreneurs' in the areas of HIV/AIDS, Income Generating Activities (IGA's) and Peace/Conflict Issues. In Kampala, Ft. Portal (western Uganda) and Gulu (northern Uganda) we met with a wide array of accomplished Ugandan leaders who both cared deeply about their communities and had the skills to make smart, practical decisions.

GYPA's Uganda Immersion programs are designed to bridge the dichotomy I described in the first paragraph. As I repeatedly told the students throughout the Immersion, GYPA measures the success of Immersion programs not by the number of airline seats filled, but by the number of Ambassadors who stay engaged in various projects after the completion of the trip. GYPA supports this engagement in two forms: educational programs at their universities that challenge conventional views of Africa, and direct partnerships between American and Ugandan entrepreneurs.

While it's too early to measure our success on the Immersion that ended this weekend, I'll share one of the many amazing stories of practical, intelligent action that several of the students took even before they left. For over three years, GYPA has been working with the Namuwongo Women's Group, a group of women living in extreme poverty on the outskirts of Kampala, Uganda.

Poverty has caused the usual cocktail of health problems, and lack of access to education and sanitation. Despite these difficulties, these women leaders have come together to create necklaces, bracelets baskets, and more. The leader of the group, Immaculate Alaso, came to speak to the Immersion group about her work.

After speaking and showcasing some of her work, she talked briefly about her business plan and the importance of having a few more sewing machines to significantly increase their production capacity. The next day, several of the students decided that wanted to pool some money to buy a sewing machine for the Women's Group. So many people were interested, and sewing machines cost so little, that the next day they presented Immaculate with five new sewing machines.

This was a simple, strategic investment that allowed the Women's Group to fill more orders, while still having time to take care of their family.
Perhaps what is most extraordinary is that contributions need not be monetary. In a country with a GDP of less than $1,800 per person, Ugandans who create community projects are often acting alone under very difficult circumstances.

Therefore, the connections and excitement shared about their work provides needed inspiration. Also, since the American participants are left free to take part in the projects they find most exciting, a natural competitive environment in created amongst the over two dozen Ugandan led community projects showcased during the Immersion. Thus, the most innovative projects get the most support.

Now I get to take an African Minute to recharge before the August Immersion arrives to challenge Africa is viewed in the media.

Click here for a link to a pre-Immersion podcast about the June Immersion I did with EchoDitto.

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Culture.Creativity.Media: Kampala's Hip Hop Scene

In the last few weeks, I've met some talented and creative hip hop artists from around East Africa. They rhyme is several languages, including English, French, KiSwahili and Lugandan, and blend traditional African beats with modern baselines.

I'll be hopping over to Makerere University's Mass Communications Lab today to record the first InAnAfricanMinute Hip Hop podcast, complete with interviews and fresh tunes.

Stay tuned!

iDev:Strong Institutions in Developing Countries

Cheers to Open Democracy for its wonderful presentation of the debate started by Francis Fukuyama's new introduction to his classis 'The End of History.' Fukuyama presciently recognizes that "we know relatively little of how to build strong political institutions in poor countries." In order to learn more about this central challenge, I think we need to answer the following question: If a developing country can manage to get competent leadership, must they look towards the West for examples of how to lead a regime?

This is not a question of transcending the nation state, but of to whom emerging nation state look towards for inspiration. Two important works address this question. The first pertains specifically to Africa, It is The Black Man's Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-State, the work of the excellent African historian Basil Davidson. Davidson's main argument is that the freedom fighters and the first generation of post-colonial African political elite made a key mistake when looking only towards western European institution. As exceptions to this rule, he looks at Yoweri Museveni's early regime in Uganda and Amilcar Cabral in Cape Verde. While I disagree with Davidson (and agree with Fukuyama) that the nation state model is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, Davidson's approach is correct in that developing nations must investigate contemporary and historical models of democracy closer to home.

The other work is one that Nobel prize winning economist Amartya Sen first presented in a series of lectures (presided over by Fukuyama) at SAIS in Washington DC, and later published in Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny. Sen shows that Athens and Christian Europe are not the only ones that have contributed to the experiment of democracy. To show this, Sen explores figures like Akbar, a 16th century Mughal champion of tolerant religion and open dialogue and the Jewish philosopher Maimonides. This exercise in intellectual history is important because, if Sen is correct, developing countries becoming more free and democratic are not becoming more 'western', but are drawing on 'a history of democracy in the form of public participation and reasoning (that) is spread across the world."

While it is beyond the scope of this piece to investigate the examples put forth by Sen and Davidson, both of these authors would likely agree, as I do, with Fukuyama's notion of the 'End of History.' What this means is that the world will become more democratic (with a balance of liberty and equality), but it will be up to real life leaders to encourage or retard this progress. Earnest political leaders around the developing world should learn from historical examples of democracy and tolerance, especially from their own regions of the world, apply them to their own shared historical experience and cultural values, and create strong institutions by creating their own balance of liberty and equality.

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About Me

photo via watoto

I've moved to!
I’m a PhD candidate at Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs. I’m passionate about using technology to help governments in emerging economies become more effective and inclusive, particularly in the provision of health care, education and broadband internet. 
Tech & Policy Entrepreneurship
I get my energy from designing and implementing participatory, decentralized and agile solutions to hard civic problems. Some of my favorite experiences have been working for Google to bring more and cheaper broadband to Africa, helping Stanford’s re-imagine their executive design thinking bootcamp for Jamaica’s Ministry of Agriculture, and advising Duma, a company that helps informal workers find jobs through their mobile phones (I’m also an investor). I helped launch Code for Kenya, a bid to bring Nairobi’s formidable tech talent to bear on health, water and education issues, and co-founded Apps4Africa, an early civic tech challenge lauded by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
My current project explores what happens when public service providers in emerging economies adopt data-driven and participatory governance systems. I use statistics and field work to understand how these systems change management strategies, and why some systems are robust, a computer science term referring to the ability of a system to perform well not only under ordinary conditions but also under conditions that test its designers’ assumptions. I also do some policy writing, in academic journals like UCLA Law Review Discourse and on websites like Stanford Social Innovation Review. 
Trail Running
I love to run on trails. I blame this mostly on Alex. Some of my most memorable races include the Courmeyer-Champex-Chamonix (CCC), which partially circumnavigates le trail du Mont-Blanc, the Burning Man Ultra-Marathon, and the Ultra Race of Champions (UROC) in its previous incarnation in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

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iDev: American Culture in Africa

Dr. Peter Levine, a Research Scholar at the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy, whose writings (non-fiction and fiction) I've followed throughout my time at Maryland, suggests here that a 2008 American presidential candidate should make America's image in the world a campaign issue: " [American popular culture] tells the rest of the world that we are a nation obsessed with violence, sex, and consumer goods, lacking spiritual depth. Our movies and music are popular, but people in other countries regard them as low pleasures."

I agree with Levine that we need to present our better side to the world. I even take special interest in his suggestions that American schools have students create 'websites, movies and audio segments.' This would both promote useful skills, and also give young people practice in navigating an emerging world of 'personal media.'

However, from the perspective of a Kampala street, I see a difficult challenge. Within a five minute walk of my house, any Ugandan can rent a pirated American DVD for less than $1, but the only libraries in town cost over $10/month for browsing (not borrowing) privileges, a prohibitive cost for most Ugandans.

How do we transcend this reality? Since 9-11, I've heard several commentators suggest that American Embassies around the world should sponsor free libraries that would have a hybrid collection American and local published works. Of course, these libraries should also support the types of 'personal media' that increasingly define our media consumption.

I see much value for this proposal, and I would love to see more policy ideas from both the public and private sectors that would showcase America’s contribution to literature, politics, art and religion.

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Life in Uganda: 'Ugandan Jewel'

In 2005, I traveled to Northern Uganda to do research for my Senior Honors Thesis at University of Maryland. I wrote the following piece when I returned, and it was published in The Diamondback (July 7th, 2005), the University of Maryland daily student newspaper. Take a look at the map of Uganda here. In 2005, I interviewed a Gulu businesswoman who said, "When you are North of Karuma Falls, you feel like you are in another country." In my previous piece, you learned about life below Karuma Falls. Here is what it is like for 97% of the population living above the falls...

Ugandan jewel
by Josh Goldstein
July 07, 2005

Last summer I visited Dachau, a Nazi concentration camp outside Munich, Germany. During winter break, I visited Gulu, an outpost in war-torn northern Uganda, with two other university students. Gulu is home to the Lukodi Night Commuter Center. Thousands of children from Gulu’s terrorized countryside walk nightly to this bizarre space to find a place to sleep. They fear sleeping at home because of the threat of being abducted, forced to carry arms and into becoming sex slaves to the twisted Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

Aesthetically, the camp in Germany and the camp in Gulu were hauntingly similar. Barbed wire lines fences with sentinels guarding locked doors. Small, cramped quarters are exposed to rain and wind, packed with more people than they can hold. Of course, the comparison only goes so far, but to see a place like this, filled beyond capacity with small, scared and tired children, produces a similar gut feeling of wrongness and inhumanity.

We traveled to Gulu as part of a delegation from Project Namuwongo an organization consisting of student groups from five universities around the United States. Project Namuwongo is a new kind of development and relief organization, representing the pulse of interdependence, where American students directly support Ugandan students and volunteers who work to end the cycles of violence and repression their society has faced for generations. For this generation, the violence manifests itself in the LRA, a rebel group led by psychopaths who want Uganda to be ruled by leader Joseph Kony’s version of the Ten Commandments. The LRA destroys villages, abducts children and creates child soldiers. The United Nations estimates the human costs of this 18-year conflict rival those of the Sudanese conflict, with only a tiny portion of the media coverage.

In a sense, the Lukodi camp we visited our first night in Gulu represented the hopelessness and exhaustion of this seemingly endless civil war. The children who sleep there range from age four to 19, and they walk as many as eight kilometers to sleep safely away from the feckless LRA who, under cover of darkness, rape, maim, kill and steal from already war-exhausted towns. As our leader said to us, “To stay in the towns is suicide.” The camp was created a few years ago by UNICEF, as more and more children were found sleeping on Gulu town streets.

The trip to Gulu was a strange contradiction. The noxious combination of widespread, severe malnourishment and incredible hopelessness was a brutal one-two punch to our human sensibility and consciousness. Yet the contradiction lies in the fact that I left Gulu with more hope than when I arrived. How is this possible after seeing so much suffering? It lies in the knowledge we gained: The insanity of the conflict is a confusing, yet comprehensible amalgam of interest and fear on the side of the rebels and the government. The actors in the conflict are human, even though their actions are not.

This part of the world has largely been forgotten by the rest of it. The only westerners in Gulu are from mammoth relief nongovernmental organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, War Child and World Food Programme, which do great work, but often provide nominal comfort to people whose lives are daily misery. Most Americans, even the globetrotting, educated students at the best universities, have almost no understanding that Africa is both a jewel of humanity and a continent being incinerated by the flames of relentless problems. Once we learn about these tragedies, our silence is wrong. When we learn the names, faces and personalities of the victims, our silence is appalling.

Josh Goldstein is Associate Director of Global Youth Partnership for Africa. He can be reached at

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Life in Uganda: 'An Evening Chapatti Snack'

I lived briefly on McDoogle Street in between W. 3rd St. and W. 4th St. in Manhattan. When I was hungry for a evening snack, I would walk out the door, turn right, throw a quick look at the drug dealers across the street in Washington Square Park walk one block south, and hit Ben's Pizzeria. Always good for a quick bite. From my new place in Kampala, my journey for an evening snack is much more interesting.

I live in the small guest apartment behind a modest gated house at the borderline between Muyenga and Kansega (more on these neighborhoods in a moment). Across the complex is a small field with several cows soundlessly sleeping. I walk to the front of the house to the road. This is a road with 2.5 foot drops into cesspools; long vertical ditches crossed my horizontal mounds. It is impossible to measure the number of potholes on a road that has no common level to start from. It's the kind of road you would need a seatbelt and a football helmet to drive down safely.

On my way down the roughly 400 meters to the main road, I pass the neighborhood trash dump, which started in a farm plot, but has since spilled awkwardly into the street. Simultaneously, the area is the neighborhood untethered animal hang out (mostly cows, chickens and goats.) I pass two Ugandan phone booths (stand, old office phone, small boy who dials the number and hands you the phone), three thriving Ugandan convenience stores (wooden ticket booths with an array of home and food supplies), and a construction site.

What's extraordinary is that none of these small business outfits seem to have an opening and closing time. From what I can tell, they are open every day, all day, and all night, when much of their business seems to happen. In the few days I've lived here, I've made quite a few acquaintances on this little walk (from what I can tell, our house is the only 'mzungu' [white person] house on the street). However, the challenge in the evening is that it is impossibly dark, and we are hard pressed to make out the faces that wave to me on the side of the road.

I finally reach my destination. The Chapatti man. Eating a chapatti is like eating a huge slice of pizza with no tomato sauce or cheese. It's hot bread, and nice, if you are craving carbs, but you feel like it is missing something. You are left wishing desperately for a condiments stand. Chapatti is salted dough kneaded into a pizza shape then lightly pan fried on both sides. One Chapatti is 200 Ugandan Shillings (roughly 11 cents). A few hundred yards down the road there are more diverse options, but I'm hesitant to go on because my entire journey thus far has been unlit. In the dark African night, I can only see a few feet ahead, so I head home with my fried dough.

As I mentioned, I live on the border between Munyenga (up) and Kansenga (down). From daytime exploration, I've found that each of neighborhoods that my house borders has quite alot to offer. First a general lesson about living on a hill in Kampala:

You Live at the Top of a Hill= very rich, cool, clean, regular garbage pick up, high gates (your choice of barbed wire, cut glass or spiked fence barriers)

You Live at the Bottom of a Hill= not rich (but not necessarily poverty stricken, unless you live in a slum), dust, mud brick, wood or aluminum siding shacks, fairly dirty.

Munyenga (up) has luxury. It has two nice hotels with panoramic views of all the hills of Kampala, a wine store, a swimming pool called La Forchet, an Indian Restaurant and supermarket (with great Indian incense). The streets are clean and the houses gated. There is regular trash pick up.

Kansenga (down) is fairly dirty, but the neighborhood actually provides for the necessities and has a few amusements. Within a 5-minute walk you can reach booths that sell everything from DVD's to stationary, pineapples to beer. There are several restaurants, ranging from a shady, expensive Chinese Restaurant to a traditional Ugandan restaurant, which serves a meal for 1000 shillings (50 cents), and has an adjoining bar with a pool table. There are several Internet cafes and a great Ethiopian restaurant.

I’m looking forward to a year with good work, good neighbors and good times.

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East African Travel: 'Napkin Thoughts'

I want to commence this blog with a short note I scratched onto a napkin in Green Park, London (2003), reflecting on a recent visit to Prague. This sentiment reflects my philosophy on travel, and may give the reader how I will approach this blog...

'Traveling must be a balance between investigating not only what has been but also what is to come. For example, what if we traveled to Prague in the late 1980’s and not only saw the medieval castle overlooking the Vlata River, but also learned about the brewing discontent and the revolution that Vaclav Havel was soon to lead. The castles and the coffee houses, there must be a balance.'

I hope to see both the history and the future of East Africa during my stay here. I hope to hit Rwanda (again), Kenya and Tanzania. Since one of my hats is in travel industry, I will be writing not only about my travel experiences, but also about the East African tourism industry and its potential for positive community development.