The People Speak

Hello from Kampala on Saturday!

--I've finally taken the time to fix the glitch preventing this blog from being posted to newsfeeds everywhere. Just post this link onto your feed...

--Thanks to The People Speak for adding me to their blogroll of their interesting new blog. I like that it's written by a mix of good people in the field and students working on international affairs on their campus.

--For the next few days I'll be out of contact, rolling with that jolly band of famous Uganda Jews called the Abayudaya in Eastern Uganda. It will certainly be a unique way to spend the Day of Atonement.

I'm bound to have a good post when I come back. Blessings.

Building a Nation

At this weeks Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society weekly meeting, Ethan Zuckerman and Eric Osiakwan made a fascinating presentation on Africa Internet Infrastructure: Opportunities and Challenges (see slides here) They showed that there is a huge opportunity for African's accessibility to increase while their costs drop. This is wonderful, because I've been fascinated how an accessible Internet in Africa can help countries recover from conflict and rebuild themselves. One question I'm battling with now at USAID is:

Can personal media and new technologies help connect a country that has been disconnected in the most fundamental ways since its creation?

A few weeks ago in Gulu, northern Uganda, the LC5 Chairman Norbert L. Mao (yes, he goes by Chairman Mao) was speaking at a community meeting about what to do now that 20 years of LRA pogroms are over. In between bemusing jokes about meeting Joseph Kony at the recent peace talks at Juba, Mao spoke about the need for a strong 'glue' to keep together this utterly fragile peace. This glue, he said, is Ugandans themselves. However, long before the most recent conflict, Uganda has been an utterly fragmented state, not only in the commonly acknowledged north/south divide, but even within the greater North, which is home to the broadly different cultures in Acholi, Lango, Teso and Karamoja. This fragmentation has caused everything from marked suspicion and mistrust to the horrific blood baths of Amin and Obote.

Making the Ugandan people the glue to a lasting peace and a reconciled nation is a complex process. No one in Uganda knows what this process will look like, but it will involve elements of transitional justice, psychosocial counseling, reparations and traditional forgiveness. There is no simple formula, and the experiences in South Africa, Mozambique, Rwanda and Sierra Leone can only provide limited guidance. What we do know is what Mao emphasized in Gulu: only if people feel included in reconciliation will the process be effective.

So far, the process of reconciliation has yet to become an inclusive process. Traditional, cultural and political leaders in the North are beginning the conversation, but as peace looms, not enough are involved. Enter personal media and new technology. I'm working on creating a USAID website whose goal is to raise the caliber and inclusiveness of the debate on Uganda's future. We are designing the first draft of the site with the following tools:
--A BBC News-like 'Voice Your Views' section with periodically updated questions
--A citizen media blog with several carefully selected and eloquent youth authors from around the country, many of whom are currently taking part in a North-South student exchange program
--A media space which will contain (i) video montage of the mato oput traditional reconciliation process (ii) podcasts with views from all regions, including those usually excluded from the national dialogue

Absolutely none of these tools are new, but from what I can tell, they have not been used by development practitioners to connect and involve a nation in its rebuilding and reconciliation process. I'm inspired by my friends at EchoDitto, who use the Net to raise the real world profile of political and community campaigns.

However, as one author recently wrote on the World Bank ICT discussion board, we have to temper our excitement about ICT in Africa with acknowledgement of the overall readiness of the continent for ICT solutions. First, I would respond that more people than we think use the Internet in Uganda, especially young people, even in remote regions. Second, our site is inspired by the 'bridge blogger' concept at Global Voices, utilizing eloquent young Ugandans from around the country who can collect and present the views of their community members and present it to the country at large.

Surely, the serious projects of reconciliation, transitional justice and nation building are not tasks accomplished by participatory media. However, there has never been more of a need for Uganda to engage itself in a national conversation. The question is, how much can participatory media contribute?

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Serving Communities and the Net

There is a community of professors and staff at the university level who work in the field of service learning. A branch of experiental education, service learning aims at strengthening civic engagement in communities while providing learning oppurtunities. For a conference in Chicago in a few weeks, I've written a fairly straight forward paper to contribute to a discussion amongst these professionals on how personal media can change the way students interact with their communities, especially on the global level. See the paper, entitled 'New Communications Tools and Building Global Citizenship,' and comments here.

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The Women of Kampala

Friends from back home have been asking me what women in Kampala are like. Uganda's quirkiest columnist, Ernest Bazanye, assesses the situation quite well here.

Also, cheers to Senator Feingold of Wisconsin for leading the fight to pass a resolution on supporting the Juba peace talks on northern Uganda.

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Rowing Lake Vic

I went down to the fish market in Munyonyo yesterday and bribed a fisherman to let me take his boat out for a row. It was a massive, heavy 4 seater, with rivets that made it sturdier than I expected. There was still the smell of talapia embedded in the wood. Away from the shore, the air was sweet, and the expansive lake opened up in front of me. I past several abandoned islands, noting them for future exploration, and a campsite cum marina that had a few weekenders gearing up for a jaunt in the Lake. The way back was against the current, so I spent most of the time rowing hard and squinting to line the bow up with the point on land that I was aiming for. It was a good two hour row, and certainly left me feeling the ache this morning.

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Homeless World Cup

There is an extraordinary event taking place in Cape Town this week. The Homeless World Cup 'is an international street soccer tournament. Teams from 48 countries, comprising homeless, vulnerably sheltered and other marginalised men and women, are taking part in the tournament.'

Global Youth Partnership for Africa has the honor of managing the first ever Uganda team, consisting of a group of young people displaced through out Uganda by the northern Uganda conflict. Getting to the tournament required impressive amounts of energy from sponsors, managers, coaches and players. A young man named Dennis Ochen reminded me of the importance of sport in development. I've known Dennis for a few years, and while he has faced unimaginable challenges, he has impressive talent and potential both as a footballer and as a journalist. I had the chance to type up his journal, which you can see here.

The team just won their first game of the tournament against Estonia, 9-3!

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Practical Reconciliation in northern Uganda

I'm in Gulu. I spent yesterday with community members on the practical aspects of reconciliation. This morning, I went for an amazing 6AM sunrise run with incredibly fresh air the likes of which are never found in Kampala. When I got back, I remembered that a colleague of mine at the International Center for Transitional Justice asked me to update her on the post-conflict reconciliation process in northern Uganda. Here is what I sent her...

In Juba, the peace talks between the Government and the LRA seem to be progressing. However, this is only a technical and military process that will dictate an end of hostilities. The hard, practical work of rebuilding, reconciliation and transitional justice is a process that must include the constituency of the greater northern Uganda. It seems to me that few people know what a Ugandan reconciliation process should look like. It is a complicated process, but I'll comment on a few of the major areas here:

Justice- The rhetoric in Gulu is that everyone is ready to forgive, forget and begin a new life. This certainly expresses the desire for peace. However, in private, many people speak of a desire for retribution and a thirst for justice. The Mato Oput process (traditional reconciliation) does not have a mechanism for dealing with the reality that most people are both victims and perpetrators. However, one must consider the mitigation of guilt caused by the fact that the rank and file LRA were nearly all abducted children. A hybrid between a truth process, together with amnesty and the traditional reconciliation, may be the best approach.

Regional and National Reconciliation- There is certainly consensus that there must be reconciliation in the greater northern Uganda. Gulu, Lango, Teso and Karamoja, have all be devastated by the conflict, but have not had communication for over 20 years. There is also debate over national reconciliation, correcting the north/south divide that has existed in the country long before the most recent conflict in northern Uganda. The best tool for this process seems to be an increase in communication, both through traditional means like radio, as well as through new communications centers that could be linked via satellite.

Psycho Social Programs- The conflict has been devastating on so many levels and it is not just abducted children and their victims that are in need of support. The first effort on the community level is to get people out of the camps and back to their communities. This will necessitate a mediation process to handle disputes over land and property. However, there are definitely subgroups that need special counseling. Considering there are only 13 psychiatrists in Uganda, this is certainly a challenge.

Memorials- The most interesting idea I heard about remembrance is the idea of simply cataloging what happened in the local community. The simple fact that peoples stories are stored some where has some restorative aspect.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but it hopefully gives you an idea of the main practical issues of reconciliation, and what the opinions are on the ground.

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Three Bribes and $25

Fascinating week ahead. Here's a taste.

(i) I'm heading to Gulu tomarrow morning with USAID for two days of community meetings on reconciliation and reintegration in northern Uganda. Basically, the military and strategic peace talks having been progressing quite well in Juba, Sudan, but little is being discussed about the details of actually rebuilding and re-establishing a community that has been devestated for 20 years. Few international examples are helpful, though post-conflict experiences in Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Rwanda shed light on the massive challenge. For the next three days we'll be hearing from key community leaders on their priorities. My boss claims there is amazing early morning running in Gulu, so I'm pumped.

(ii) Two interesting developments on personal technology and community. Harvard Law School and the Berkman Center are teaching a CyberOne law school class through personal technologies like Second Life, Wikis, Vlogs and Podcasts. It's a pretty fascinating experience that ties into what I tried to elucidate in my Campus Compact paper. ALSO, I lent a hand in designed my first web page for a prominent dance club in Kampala with help from my friend Rebekah! The HTML wasn't too bad by the CSS will take some time to master. You'll see the site soon.

(iii) Those who live in Africa understand the intensity of my excitment when I say: I got books in the mail! I got a few different things, but most interestingly I got Steven Smith's new 'Reading Leo Strauss'. Reading commentary on political philosophy brings me back to my undergraduate days. I'm still hovering between Strauss and Kojeve on the promise of liberal democracy.

In weekend news. I pulled some serious Ugandan hustle after I left my passport in a taxi on Saturday night. Suprisingle, I got it back for only three bribes, one trip to the police station, and $25!

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Chill. It's Friday

It's been a super busy week preparing for next week in northern Uganda. Therefore, I've been extraordinarily negligent about posting, missing many oppurtunities to blog about serious things, but that will have to wait until next week. Now it's Friday, and time again for end of week irreverance:

(ii) I rarely comment on Central Asia here, but this is too good. Nosy, gossipy Washington DC bloggers are reporting on rumors of a Khazakstantan-U.S. diplomatic meeting on Borat, the star of the new Ali G. movie. In the movie, "Borat, a blundering Kazakh TV reporter conducts real interviews on unsuspecting Americans while on a tour across the country." The Khazak Embassy denies that this highlevel meeting is about Ali G.

(ii) In what is possibly the greatest global media coup ever by an Ugandan motorcycle taxi driver who dropped out of elementary school, the famous Kampala boda boda driver is featured in this week's Economist. It's like riding on a rickshaw in the middle of a Formula 1 race, only more dangerous.

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Salon Wanderlust | Another Africa

Chinua Achebe does something brilliant in his Salon article: Another Africa:

Disaster parades today with impunity through the length and breadth of much of Africa: war, genocide, dictatorship, military government, corruption, collapsed economy, poverty, disease, and every ill attendant upon political and social chaos!

It is necessary for these sad conditions to be reported because evil thrives best in quiet, untidy corners. In many African countries, however, the local news media cannot report these events without unleashing serious and sometimes fatal consequences. And so the foreign correspondent is frequently the only means of getting an important story told, or of drawing the world's attention to disasters in the making or being covered up. Such an important role is risky in more ways than one. It can expose the correspondent to actual physical danger; but there is also the moral danger of colonizing another's story. This will immediately raise the question of the character and attitude of the correspondent. For the same qualities of mind that separated a Conrad from a Livingstone... are still present and active today. Perhaps this difference can best be put in one phrase: the presence or absence of respect for the human person.

The presence or absence of respect is perhaps the most subtle, but also the most important rule about working in a place not your own.

Kampala Without Cristal? Impossible!

I just moved into a new house right next store to my old one. This weekend, the new place with host a gaggle of Acholi footballers, some virtuous American souls toiling at an orphanage in Entebbe, and possibly some Kampala hip hop artists. So NOW Jay Z chooses to boycott Cristal, that delicious emblem of hip-hop and $600/bottle champagne. I was hoping to clean the place up enough to throw a little BBQ to celebrate the new place and the new job, but how am I supposed to entertain a crowd sans this wonderful eau de vie? Life in Kampala will never be the same.

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After Juba Peace Talks

Just returned from the Refugee Law Project forum on The Juba Peace Talks. It was a stirring discussion, which had the usual suspects of Acholi firebrands, eloquent UPDF spokesman, and Northern European international law advocates. However, the discussion was incredibly important, because it was the first public discussion in Kampala since the Juba talks had began.

Here are the two huge questions that are going to have to be answered, and seemingly no consensus yet:

National Reconciliation- Surely the north/south divide precedes the most recent war in the north. However, is working to end economic and service provision discrepancies enough? Or should the Government take this opportunity to work towards a sense of national unity. If so, what form does this take?

The Role of Justice- There seems to be consensus that the ICC will withdraw indictments if the LRA agrees to the conditions set at Juba. However, does this leave impunity for the worst human rights offenders in the LRA? The traditional tool of Mato Oput does not provide a mechanism for justice, and there seems to be little support for truth commissions or trials. And here is a challenge that does not have precedent in international law: How do you get the guy at the negotiating table (Otti, Kony) to make peace if they are the ones going to be indicted later? No one seemed to have an answer for this.

My thoughts:

Reconciliation will be a multi-tiered process, inter-Acholi, regional and perhaps national. There is little political support for national reconciliation. The process will be fragmented, which is to say decentralized, which I think is important.

Justice is a tricky one. The Government will have to continue the talks while the rank and file comes out of the bush and more in contact with the rest of civilization. Then justice will have to be taken into account later.

Obviously, there needs to be more discussions like this with the people in the north, with support from the organizations and people based in Kampala.

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It's Not About Protesting Anymore

Campus Compact
, a consortium of university leaders who want universities to be the training group for democratic citizenship, asked me to write an paper for their October conference on what new technologies means for the way young people in engage in their communities.

Check it, from the latest draft..

Many of the traditional tools citizens use to engage in their communities are becoming obsolete. How can the campus prepare students for global citizenship in a world whose civic infrastructure is so rapidly changing?

Here are the three most prominent ways phenomenon that campus leaders (both students, educators and service learning professionals) can utilize to encourage global learning and citizenship. Most of the tools of this list are in very early stages of development, and it is up to collaboration amongst service learning advocates, educators and students to improve and enhance them.

Increase Campus Engagement in Global Issues- Participatory Media

Since 9/11, students around the world have used technology to further deliberative democracy. Most universities now have videoconference labs and student groups have already begun to utilize them to host conversations. For example, Americans for Informed Democracy can host a forum on America's foreign policy towards Africa with participants in Indiana, California, Mali and Ghana. Also, online forums like Global Voices Online have been created to create a community of ‘bridge bloggers’, those who are talking about their country to a global audience. This helps balance global media coverage, which has long ignored nuanced issues in much of the developing world. Engaging in these conversations, both inside and outside of the classroom, will create a more informed global citizenry.

Increase Collaboration on Practitioner Projects- Open Source Production Model

The open source movement uses internet based tools to provide useful, free knowledge and tools through the collaboration of many people giving their time and expertise. We should recognize in this movement a powerful new form of service learning. The most prominent open source tool is Wikipedia, the biggest and most accessed encyclopedia in the world. Many fields use open source technology to improve practical, public knowledge. There is a wiki for best practices in international development, a free wiki tourism guide, as open source media, commercial and health products. If research institutions should 'develop knowledge for the improvement of communities and society'' educators should make the classroom a place to begin that contribution by encouraging student contribution to open source tools.

Increase Student Preparation for Tackling Global Challenges- Classroom/(Global) Community Collaboration

Students feel a strong desire to contribute to solving international problems. However, neither the Paul Farmeresque life of the Peace Corps nor simply giving $20 to UNICEF appeals to them. Smart, skill oriented students need outlets to collaborate with their counterparts in the developing world to solve these problems. Universities, who can equip students with the practical skills to take on these challenges, are beginning to create programs that allow students to plug into solving global issues.

Programs that address these needs are emerging in vivid variety. Global Youth Partnership for Africa's Student Global Ambassador program brings talented American students with specific interests to Uganda for a two-week program to engage and learn from talented young Ugandan social entrepreneurs. Then, the Americans return home and through technology continue to collaborate on various projects. Also, Northwestern University is developing a hybrid program fusing classroom knowledge, service learning and international volunteering. This program provides practitioner training, community awareness and fundraising skills for one semester and then provides placement in a skill-specific project in the developing world for a second semester.

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Beyond the ICC and Hustling Yourself Into Peace Talks

It's my second afternoon here at USAID's Northern Uganda Peace Initiative. The projects are amazing, the people are charming, the coffee is decent, and even the rice and beans place around the corner is affordable!

Links of the day:

On the Transitional Justice Forum, Helena Cobban has a long post on Uganda's Challenge to the ICC. It's the best piece I've seen since the peace talks began, and it portrays the overwhelming desire of victims to bypass the ICC and deal with the LRA with traditional reconciliation methods. The question now is: what steps will the government take to support other forms of reconciliation?

Also, quite randomly, I met an amazing independent photographer named Adam Pletts. Hopping a plane at Juba's airport and riding on the back of a lorry, somehow Adam hustled his way into last weeks peace talks between the Government and the LRA. He was one of the few photographers to snap photos of Kony, and witnessed Kony's first press conference in the 20 year conflict. Wow.

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Chickens, Eggs and Northern Uganda

Up until now, for a variety of reasons, I have not written on the issue in which I have the most background and strongest interest; the conflict in Northern Uganda. Happily, the last few weeks have brought a historic peace that has many signs of holding. Incidentally, this occurs right when I am starting an exciting new job with USAID's Northern Uganda Peace Initiative (NUPI).

To be sure, the conflict in the North is but one abhorrence in a line of ethnic and regional clashes spanning to the days before colonization. Therefore, parallel with the peace process, NUPI is working on implementing, with the support of the Government of Uganda, an infrastructure of conflict management and reconciliation that would help prevent future conflict and help close the ethnic divides that were responsible for the conflict in the north, as well as other previous conflict.

I really believe that the end of this conflict is an amazing opportunity to ensure that Uganda is a functioning state, capable of protecting all its citizens and preventing future conflict erupting along traditional ethnic lines.

Creating functioning states is extraordinarily difficult, as Francis Fukuyama pointed out this week:

"Way before you have a liberal democracy, you have to have a functioning state. But state building has been extraordinary difficult in practice; we take for granted in the west a process that took centuries of often bloody struggle to complete. The practical problems mirror a deeper lack of theoretical understanding, and the relatively thin comparative historical literature on state formation. Charles Tilly's familiar theory of European state formation doesn't tell you why strong states appeared in parts of Asia, but not in Africa or parts of Latin America."

Or as he put it more succinctly...

"The chicken of economic growth precedes the egg of democratic politics, but must in turn be preceded by the egg of state formation, and we don't really know which chicken lays that egg."

The hard work of building the institutions necessary for state building is an experimental and practical process. I hope my work at NUPI can make a contribution.

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weekend musings

I finally got my running shoes and I'm very excited to start my training for the Kampala Marathon. Only two and a half months to wip myself into shape. There is not an overwhelming amount of good running in Kampala, but I prefer the fresh air in Gaba and Munyonyo on the shores of Lake Victoria.

Also, I just finished reading Durrell's elegant 'Alexandria Quartet,' a masterpiece I am sad to be done with. One of the last scenes takes place on a small fishing boat in Alexandria's harbor. It gave me an idea: I want a canoe. I went running yesterday to a fishing village on Lake Victoria and did some preliminary investigation. I met a fisherman who made me an offer of 200,000 ush ($100) for a used wooden craft that can hold up to seven people. I talked to my fisherman friend Charles, who thinks getting a used boat is a no-no. I've also done the necessary work of making sure there are no hippos, crocs or whirlpools I need to worry about. More investiagation on today's lake run.

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5 Blogs

Happy Blog Day 2006 was yesterday, so I'm a little behind, but here are a few blogs I enjoy:

The PorkChop Express
Irreverent and hilarious posts on the food scene in NYC from my buddy J. Slab. Truth be told, J. Slab and I once walked half the length of Manhattan for a Greenwich Village cheese-steak.

Ten Acres

This is a new blog from my friend Rebekah. She's a very talented web designer (props for helping with the GYPA site!) Mostly, I'm just excited that Rebekah is moving to Kampala next week!

Kevin Carroll, of Katalyst Consultancy, deals in inspiration. He's been a HUGE supporter of GYPA's work supporting Uganda's Homeless World Cup team. I like his blog because you can follow the diaries kept by the players on the team.

I rocked this blog every day when I lived in DC, but now that I'm in Kampala, its serves up a nice bit of nostalgia.

My Heart's in Accra
One of my favorite Afriblogs, merging commentary on technology and development. Ethan founded the amazing GeekCorps. In his own words: '
It's an international non-profit organization that transfers tech skills from geeks in developed nations to geeks in emerging nations, especially entrepreneurial geeks who are building small businesses. In other words, it's a Peace Corps for geeks.'

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