Updates on Burundi

The attempted coup failed after only 36 hours, and Nkurunziza is back in Bujumbura and in control of the country.  There’s a lot of concern at the moment that the ensuing crackdown will be worse than anything that happened during the pre-coup protests.  Coup leader Godefroid Niyombare is on the run in the expectation that he’ll be killed if caught, and there are reports that soldiers have entered hospitals in the capital and killed patients thought to be involved in the coup.  A Storified sampling of some concerns I saw going around Twitter today:

burundiCara Jones has written a good summary of why tensions might continue to increase in the run-up to the May 26 election.  She’s also put together an Indiegogo campaign to support citizen journalists, who are some of the only people said to be reporting on repression outside Bujumbura.  If you want to track reports in real time, Peace Direct has an interactive map of reported insecurity and election irregularities.  For more regional context, this piece by Daniel Kalinaki is a must-read.

Coup attempted in Burundi

The story, as I understand it at the moment, is that Nkurunziza was in Tanzania for an EAC meeting.  Major-General Godefroid Niyombare, a former intelligence chief, apparently announced that the current government was dissolved shortly after Nkurunziza left the country, and named himself interim president.  What will happen if Nkurunziza tries to return to Bujumbura is anyone’s guess.  Nearly all of Burundi’s previous presidents have been overthrown in coups or assassinated (save Pierre Buyoya), so while this is a disappointing shift away from the idea that the post-Arusha military was committed to staying out of politics, it is true to precedent.

If you read French, your first stop for news should be Iwacu.  The #BurundiCoup hashtag is interesting but largely speculative.  I’m following journalists and policy analysts from Burundi and elsewhere for updates:


Packing for mobility on long trips

This summer, I’ll be spending about six weeks traveling around west Africa learning about the social protection programs being implemented in the region. I’m actually trying a new model of travel planning for this trip.  Rather than picking specific dates for each country in advance, I’m going to be based in Accra, and take cheap regional flights to other countries as promising opportunities come up.

This puts a premium on packing lightly while still looking professional.  The last time I tried to check any luggage on a trip of this length, in 2012, Kenya Airways lost my checked bags on two separate occasions and I nearly missed a connection in London after pulling my overladen suitcases through multiple Tube transfers.  Since then, I’ve been refining my carry-on only strategy, and thought I’d share it here as the latest installment in the travel advice series.  Check out the rest of the posts as well!

How to Pack

  • Invest in a waterproof duffel bag.  Having to carry the bag puts a natural limit on how much you’ll pack, as Jan Chipchase points out.  It’s also quite useful if you’ll be arriving in a place where many of the streets aren’t paved, since this undermines the purpose of a wheeled bag.  I have a duffel that’s slightly larger than regulation carry-on size, and it’s always been allowed on the plane.  There are some classic styles at Topo Designs and REI.
  • Pack no more than five days’ worth of clothing.  Everything should be business casual, with perhaps one or two pieces for more formal meetings.  Rewear what you can, or commit to doing laundry every three days.
  • Rethink your toiletry bag.  Skip the liquid shampoo and conditioner, which won’t last more than a few weeks, and pick up some solid shampoo instead.  Fill the space that this frees up with things you might have a hard time finding on arrival, like waterproof sunblock, hand sanitizer, and stain remover.
  • A tablet is the ideal travel accessory.  You can download guidebooks at the last minute with the Kindle app, install the local version of Yelp, and use the maps application to navigate without paying for data.  (When you’re connected to wifi, open the map to the area you’ll be visiting and zoom in and out to make it load at different levels of resolution.  Once you’re no longer connected to wifi or data, the app should keep the pre-loaded image on the screen, and will use GPS to track your location.)
  • Get a power bank.  Perfect for recharging when you’re on the road.  PC Advisor has a list of the rather baffling range of options for something that’s essentially a glorified battery.
  • Bring a yoga mat and resistance bands.  They’re a good in-room substitute for the gym if you’re staying in a budget hotel.  These bands have good reviews. I’ve got a PVC-free yoga mat from Gaiam that rolls up nicely to fit in the duffel, and is also perfect for airport naps on long layovers.

Other Considerations

  • Check the visa policies of all the countries you might be visiting.  The decision to offer visas on arrival or not appears to be completely random.  Don’t assume you’ll be able to get one at the airport.
  • Use a free ticket reservation to get visas for countries which want proof of a return flight.  But, you are asking, how can I get that five-year multi-entry visa for Ghana if I don’t know when I’ll be there and haven’t purchased my return ticket?   Most airlines will allow you to reserve a ticket for 24 hours without having to buy it.  Send this in as proof of your return flight.
  • Call local airlines the day before your flight to confirm your seat.  They often have small fleets and need to reschedule flights due to delays or maintenance issues.
  • Book your hotels at least a day in advance.  No good has ever come of trying to find a hotel on arrival, unless for some reason you really enjoy driving aimlessly around a new city looking for places that aren’t closed, dirty or fully booked.
  • Pretend you’re in primary school and always bring a snack.  Good for long flights with inedible meals or late night arrivals after all the airport restaurants have closed.

What other tips do you have for staying mobile?

11 ways for academics to connect with policymakers

How do policymakers access research that’s relevant to their work?  Academic publishing clearly isn’t cutting it.  Very few people outside the academy are going to make the time to check a huge list of academic journals to see when they’ve updated, skim for the handful of articles relevant to their particular interests, then pay US$30 for every article they’d like to read.

In this context, I thought this list of additional ways that researchers can connect with policymakers was very interesting.  It discusses alternate channels for sharing policy-relevant research, but also had some insightful points about ways that researchers can change the policy climate more indirectly.  Here’s a short summary.  Check out the original post for more details and examples.

  1. Produce data to be mined by policy makers
  2. Collectively come to overarching lessons about particular problems (e.g.: Page Fortna—along with many others—on peacekeeping works) (N.B. I think lesson #12 from the original post – “academic ideas can open the way for new narratives that can be widely influential in policy circles” – actually falls under this rubric)
  3. Tap research on “cases of” that yield different analogies and thus different policy responses (for instance, how popular revolutions play out yields different potential responses if you think Iran 1979 versus the Philippines 1986)
  4. Delve deeply into a particular area for rich insights into cultures and practices specific to a place
  5. Draw on research for policy advocacy through op-eds or blogs
  6. Create analysis in partnership with policymakers – more likely to happen in a think tank but also among academics that contract with governments specifically to solve policy problems
  7. Develop personal relations with individual policy makers based on long-standing research expertise
  8. Generate timely (and public) analysis of a particular policy sub-issue to put pressure on policy makers.
  9. Developing forums where policy makers and researchers meet, share experiences, and get new ideas
  10. Working with particular government offices to offer academic advice to them – think of the National Intelligence Council
  11. Academic institutions—particularly APSIA schools—train the people that go to work in the policy arena

The closing line is also especially important to keep in mind: “Ultimately, academics must recognize that influencing policy is, in most cases, a long-term process.”

Call for chapter contributions: researching violence

Ann Laudati and Althea-Maria Rivas are putting together a new edited volume on researching violence.  Here’s their call for abstracts.


Embedded in the unique spaces of violence and conflict are particular sets of issues that face researchers. These particularities present a rich but difficult terrain of inquiry for scholars attempting to navigate these complex warscapes. A scattering of instructional texts has emerged alongside the reported rise in conflict incidents around the world (HIIK 2014; UCDP 2014), however, attention to the subject of ‘doing research in violent settings’ remains lacking. Rather, the majority of textbooks on conducting research in conflict zones rarely diverges from mainstream texts despite the obvious and overwhelming evidence that the very process of working in conflict regions around the world does not fit current academic guidelines which have no clear guidelines for negotiating with warlords or working with rape survivors.

In this edited volume we aim to draw attention to the process of conducting fieldwork in conflict affected regions. Unlike previous books on the subject of doing conflict fieldwork, this edited volume does not seek to present a traditional handbook on methodologies or delineate a clear how to toolset for undertaking conflict related research.

Our purpose is to offer up a broader lens than the common focus on technical questions of methods and ethics allow. The book aims to deconstruct what it means to ‘do’ research in conflict affected or violent contexts – which we understand to be as much a reflective, emotive, and critical inquiry of the research process as it is a practical one.  This volume thus seeks to go beyond academic-centric conversations about how we can achieve rigour or handle our data collection and rather it aims to draw out the broader implications of such research efforts and our place within it.

The tone of the volume therefore is a reflective one that casts a critical eye (as much as an uncomfortably honest one) on understanding the self and practice in the process of doing research in and on conflict and violence. In this way, this volume seeks to interrogate, as much as, highlight the spaces and experiences that are overlooked in traditional methodology texts. By doing so we hope to present a more nuanced and grounded view of research that is unapologetic and unafraid to demystify and declare the messiness that is inherent in the process of research in/on violence, in order to set forth a new set of sensibilities about approaching fieldwork in conflict settings.

Papers discussing fieldwork experiences from the perspective of different academic disciplines and fields of practice are particularly welcome. Contributions may include (but are not limited to) the following broad themes:

  • The embodied politics and positionality of the researcher
  • Rumors, representations and perceptions
  • The emotive and the emotional in fieldwork
  • Collaborations, collusions, and contradictions
  • Partnerships and working with others
  • Alternative methodologies
  • Naming and negotiating power
  • Understanding the researcher self
  • Claiming and re-examining privilege
  • Race, and racism
  • Gender and identity
  • Sexuality and fieldwork
  • Diaspora and transnational research engagements
  • Fieldwork, arms, weapons and security
  • Covert missions

We especially invite contributions from a diverse suite of researchers including junior scholars, NGO staff and practitioners whom collectively will span a range of different methods, subjects, and localities. Pending funding, all invited authors will be supported to attend a two day workshop at the University of Bath through which the collection of authors will engage with one another’s work and set the groundwork for a collaboratively generated closing chapter.

Please send your abstracts by June 15, 2015 via email to either ann.laudati@bristol.ac.uk or ar826@bath.ac.uk with the subject line “Call for Chapters – Researching Conflict”.

Abstracts of no more than 450 words (ca. 1 page) should include the title, the author(s)’ name and institutional affiliation and contact details. Abstracts must clearly state the main focus/topic of the paper, the theoretical orientation (as appropriate), the locality and methodology of the fieldwork drawn upon, as well as a few sentences on how the paper fits the theme of the call. The editors will ask the authors of selected papers (max. 6-8000 words or 15-20 pages) to submit their final articles no later than November 30, 2015.


  • Dr. Althea-Maria Rivas, University of Bath, United Kingdom
  • Dr. Ann Laudati, University of Bristol, United Kingdom

Timeline for Contributions:

  •  Deadline for abstracts: 15.06.2015
  •  Selection of abstracts by editors/decisions out: 15.07.2015
  •  Deadline for papers: 30.11.2015

Note: Once papers are submitted they will be reviewed and authors might be asked to revise their submissions in a given period of time.

Recent conference highlights

It’s been a busy few months of conference attendance recently, and I wanted to share some of the papers that really stood out to me.  At ISA:

  • Lior Lehrs had a very interesting presentation on what he calls “private peace entrepreneurs” – people who act without state support to reach out to the opposing side in a conflict and promote peace.  It doesn’t appear that the paper is public, but Ynetnews has a short summary of his work.
  • Olukunle Owolabi also presented a fascinating comparative study on the extension of political rights to former slaves in the US South and the French Antilles.  It’s currently under review, so keep an eye out for it!

Next up was a workshop on “clientelism in comparative perspective,” organized by the Center on the Politics of Development at Berkeley.

  • Nancy Hite discussed her current book project on how economic development changes citizens’ perceptions of the state in the Philippines, building on an earlier microfinance RCT by Dean Karlan and Jonathan Zinman.  No public paper yet, but I’d definitely look for this book when it comes out – it’s a really interesting micro-level look at how growth affects political behavior.
  • Another highlight for the sheer quantity of data used was Pablo Querubin‘s work with Cesi Cruz and Julien Labonne on political family networks in the Philippines.  Because Filipino surnames contain the family names of both parents (for unmarried people) or a father’s family name plus a husband’s name (for married women), they constructed a database of more than 20 million people and traced family and marriage relationships of everyone in 15,000 villages.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, they found that politicians tended to come from disproportionately well-connected families.

Finally, I had a great time (as always) at PacDev.

  • Berk Özler presented joint work with Sarah Baird, Ephraim Chirwa and Craig McIntosh on a five-year follow-up to a program in Malawi which offered young women cash transfers aimed at getting them to stay in school.  The program had offered conditional grants to women who were already in school, and unconditional grants to women who had already dropped out, both of which were effective in getting them back into school.  Five years later, however, the women who got the CCTs (who might have stayed in school anyway) had marital and economic outcomes that looked similar to the control group, while the UCT group (who otherwise would have dropped out) did have persistently better outcomes.
  • David Yang and Yuyu Chen had a fascinating paper on how people perceive the credibility of the Chinese government in trying to shift the narrative around the Great Leap Forward.  The government blamed the famine of that period on drought, and Yang and Chen find that people living in famine-affected areas where there was in fact a drought reported higher levels of trust in the state than those who didn’t observe drought in their region.  The effects persisted for more than half a century, and tended to get reinforced by marriage, as people who didn’t trust the state disproportionately married each other.

On trial & error in development policy

Chris Blattman had an excellent post recently on the importance of trial and error in creating effective development policies.  It’s worth quoting at length:

One trouble I have is that I think even very smart and experienced people are profoundly bad at knowing what the problems are in the economy, where the political winds are blowing, and what will work. This needs to be said out loud as well.

To take an example from a smaller scale: I spend a lot of time studying local labor markets in Africa, especially when people opt for crime or mercenary work rather than farming and business. I try to figure out what holds back legal work and test programs that deliver those things: skills, capital, socialization, and so on. And I get it wrong almost every time.

What I mean is that the experiments never end like I expect them to. Even (maybe especially) when they work out. I was blindsided by how frequently the poorest young men in slums of Nairobi have a home robbery or theft, meaning it’s almost impossible to accumulate capital. I was amazed that, yes, with a little skills and capital that a young woman can become the 183rd tailor in her community and turn a good profit.

This isn’t a defeatist point of view. I’d make a different point: the way I’ve learned how things operate is to work with a government or organization to try out a policy and succeed or fail. …  This sounds like a good way to figure out the way your world works (your model), and then to reform. A lot of people would say this is China’s secret to success: informal experimentation on a grand scale. The problem, as I see it, is that most governments and aid organizations I’ve worked with are really, really bad at this. They don’t use the lessons from past failures to try again a different, better way. They don’t throw out bad programs.

The key point:

To me the important question is not “what is the right policy?”, but “what is the process for generating good policies over time?”.