13 October 2012 § Leave a Comment
I found my camera, so you’re spared the Hipstamatic this time!
28 September 2012 § 2 Comments
Some shots taken in and around Bujumbura, also in Hipstamatic.
23 September 2012 § Leave a Comment
I aten’t dead! (To quote the great Granny Weatherwax.) It’s been a wonderful and a whirlwind summer, and I’ve got quite a lot of new material to write about after my travels and especially the Rift Valley Institute course on the Great Lakes. I’ll ease back into it with some photos from RVI in Bujumbura. Having left my camera in Ghana, this became the “Burundi in Hipstamatic” series by default.
The mausoleum of Louis Rwagasore, Burundi’s first prime minister
6 October 2011 § Leave a Comment
Went to see a decently interesting discussion with Burundian president Pierre Nkurunziza at the Wilson Center last week. (There’s video of an interview he later conducted at the Center here.) As speeches by politicians tend to be, his presentation was a polished and upbeat discourse on Burundi’s post-war reconstruction, focusing on the country’s provision of free primary education and healthcare, and the success of consociationalism at keeping the peace. Perhaps due to the fact that he’s not up for re-election any time soon, the questions were considerably gentler than those thrown at DRC presidential candidate Leon Kengo wa Dondo during a speech he gave at SAIS a few days previously.
(Adding to my collection of blurry photos of African politicians)
That said, I was interested to note that the first commentator pre-empted my own question by asking about whether the country’s ethnic reconciliation would be durable. The responses given by both Nkurunziza and former Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region Howard Wolpe fit the simplified formula I’m investigating in my thesis very well: powersharing + war fatigue = ethnic reconciliation. No discussion of mechanisms at all, although I didn’t really expect such in this type of public forum.
5 September 2011 § 1 Comment
Today in travel advice: the care and feeding of electronics.
You almost certainly don’t need to bring:
- A mobile phone equipped for international data roaming. This is just about the most ruinously expensive thing a traveler can do, and with the proliferation of domestic data networks (and internet cafes) in many developing countries there’s no reason to use international data. The BlackBerry and iPhone support sites have information about turning off data roaming.
- A voltage converter. Generally speaking, any piece of electronic equipment that’s capable of computing of some sort (from a phone to a camera to a laptop) will have a voltage converter build into its charger. However, if you’re using something simple like a hair dryer, a converter will be in order.
- Your new $1200 MacBook Pro (and yes, it is ridiculous that Apple has suckered so many of us into buying $1200 laptops). Dust, rain, and power surges are not your computer’s allies. If you strongly feel that you need access to a personal computer on your trip, this might be the time to bring an old laptop back into action if you’ve still got it around - or to consider purchasing a cheap used netbook. If your expensive laptop is your only option, make sure that everything is backed up and that your warranty is still valid.
Do consider bringing:
- A universal outlet adaptor. They’re cheap, they last forever, and they can be unexpectedly useful in regions with a lot of secondhand electronics, where an imported piece of equipment may have a plug that doesn’t fit the sockets used in the country.
- Water-resistant cases for your electronics. Very useful if you get caught in a downpour or something spills in your bag. BuiltNY and InCase both make attractive neoprene cases.
- Headphones. Great for maintaining at least a semblance of privacy whilst Skyping in crowded internet cafes.
- A surge protector. Power supplies can fluctuate unevenly, and plugging your electronics directly into a wall socket can be disastrous if there’s a large surge.
- Extra batteries and chargers. Spare batteries will serve you well if you need to work through a blackout (or through a long flight). If you wind up losing your charger or seeing it fried by a power surge because you failed to obey the cardinal rule of the surge protector, it’s good to have a backup.
- A universal USB modem. This is a clever little device that will allow you to get online virtually anywhere in the world with a cellular data network. One need only acquire a SIM card with data service on it and insert it into the USB modem to get online. The Huawei brand seems to be popular. Worth considering if you travel frequently and need constant internet access.
Do consider buying upon arrival:
- A cheap mobile phone and local SIM. In many African countries, the cheapest Nokia phones run about US$25. Prepaid SIMs can often be purchased, with no formal contract, for less than US$1. International call rates to North America & Europe are frequently comparable to Skype’s rate of US$0.30 per minute for calls to landlines (cf. MTN’s tariff plan for Ghana). That said, countries vary broadly in their approach to mobile regulation, and I’ve heard that purchasing a phone in India or some Latin American countries is more difficult than this.
24 June 2011 § 2 Comments
More belated conference blogging, but Maria Burnett of Human Rights Watch offered up an interesting observation about the Ugandan media at a recent OSI event on Museveni’s increasingly undemocratic rule. As she noted, the degree of press freedom allowed to English-language media is often favorably commented upon – but newspapers and radio broadcasts in local languages are significantly more constrained, and this has largely escaped scrutiny by the international community. This is really a clever way of controlling information flow to ordinary citizens whilst still maintaining the appearance of openness. I’d be interested to hear any thoughts readers might have on this observation.
I took this photo in Kampala in early 2009 precisely because I was struck by the diversity of Uganda’s print journalism in comparison to Rwanda’s tightly controlled media. It’s a shame to hear that this openness isn’t as thoroughgoing as it appeared.
20 June 2011 § 40 Comments
I was only able to attend a few minutes of DRC presidential candidate Etienne Tshisekedi’s recent speech at CSIS (as it started late and I had to leave for an evening class), but came away impressed with his analysis of the political situation in the DRC, which seemed articulate and astute. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of the speech, to be honest; even given the political imperative to sound optimistic about one’s own candidacy, the level of certainty he displayed about his chances in this recent interview with Colette Braeckman left me wondering a bit about how accurate his understanding of the overall political context was, but he offered a clear picture of the challenges the country is facing. Please do share your impressions if you attended or were able to watch the whole thing. If you’d like to learn more about his campaign, I’d suggest checking out the coverage at AllAfrica, Jeune Afrique, or Radio Okapi.
(Note as of 28 July: This post has been edited to remove a comment on Tshisekedi’s age [he's 78] which many commentators found offensive. I don’t think it’s illegitimate to discuss a candidate’s age and health as well as his political stances, but many readers seem to have interpreted that comment as a suggestion that age is the primary axis along which a candidate should be judged, which wasn’t what I meant to say. Apologies to those I offended.)
(Note as of 16 August: Comments on this post are now closed, as it’s received a healthy variety of responses. Thanks to everyone who wrote in – I’d welcome your comments on other posts as well!)
10 April 2011 § 2 Comments
10 April 2011 § 1 Comment
One of my classmates recently mentioned that the grave of King Sobhuza II of Swaziland (the current king‘s father) was financed in part by China. It put me in mind of this photo from Bujumbura (taken in November 2008):
Here’s Place de la Revolution:
Close-up of the monument’s lovely mosaics:
It did seem well-restored, at the least!
24 February 2011 § 4 Comments
One of the things that bothers me about a lot of what I read the in social sciences that’s, as you say, ‘globally oriented’, is that it seems to start with a bunch of certainties, a bunch of assumptions – a kind of Western liberal common sense – that we know how countries ought to be organized. They ought to be democracies; they ought to respect human rights; they ought to guarantee the rule of law; they ought to be at peace with their neighbors. And then you look at, say, a country in Africa and all you’re able to see is a series of lacks – of things that should be there but aren’t. And you end up constructing huge parts of the world as just sort of empty spaces where things ought to be there but aren’t. And it leads to a kind of impoverished understanding, I think, because you don’t really understand what is going on here. How do people conduct their affairs? How is legitimate authority exercised? How are rules made and enforced? You know, all the kinds of questions that ought to be the starting place tend to disappear or recede into the background. So, I think the real challenge is to approach this whole question with a sense of openness, a willingness to be surprised and learn something new and not to be so deductive.
I certainly believe that there are a number of Western development practitioners who have taken this perspective – of the limits of their own understanding – to heart, in useful ways. And it’s also quite clear to me that any number of practitioners persist in seeing the developing world as a series of gaps and lacks, filled with people who are not inherently passive, but are still incapable of generating substance and meaning on their own. When you look at a dirt road, and immediately wonder why it isn’t paved, rather than pondering the ways that people use it and the spaces it connects, your normative vision of the world is likely standing between you and a more proximately accurate understanding.
I remember having this instinctive reaction myself when I took the above photo in Kinshasa (on my BlackBerry, apologies for the poor quality). Ha, a Congolese shoe store! That’s not the right way to move beyond bricks-and-mortar retail… I didn’t notice the creative display (maximum visibility of shoes in a minimal space, compared to piling them on a table). I didn’t think about the processes by which sending Western cast-offs to developing countries, to be purchased by the bale by clothing merchants, had become a normal and even admired aspect of globalization. It didn’t even occur to me that this particular vendor had thoughtfully specialized in white trainers. I only saw what wasn’t there. It’s the steady challenge of life, and especially work, in a globalized world, to learn to focus on what is there.