Category Archives: Uncategorized

UNICEF Tap Project


Image Source

Stop what you’re doing. Take out your phone. Go to the Unicef Tap Project.
Now put your phone down. 

By not touching your phone for x minutes (or hours, or days…), the UNICEF Tap project sponsor will make donations for easier access to clean water. It is a reminder of essentials, and in my opinion a very successful way to do so.
The donation amount itself is not groundbreaking (at least on the individual level. If enough people participate then collectively the donation could be quite impactful). But the overall message is what I am impressed with. I pick up my phone at least every hour. At least. On my first attempt at leaving my phone alone, after less than an hour of trying, I had to end the session because I received a call from an unknown number and felt I needed to answer. Why should it be so difficult to briefly give my phone up (especially with substitutes like computers available)?

When considering the difficulty of such a luxury to be left alone, it’s healthy to remember that some lack the access to the real essentials.


Balancing Conservation and Development in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda

Photo by UWA


This study is a comprehensive economic analysis of Queen Elizabeth National Park’s revenue and expenditures. Queen Elizabeth National Park is located in Southwest Uganda. It is the most visited park in Uganda, welcoming over 34,000 visitors annually and generating more than $1,705,000 US per year in tourist expenditures. The researchers spent three weeks in the field at Queen Elizabeth National Park, and three weeks in the capital city of Kampala, Uganda to assemble a collection of literature, statistics, and interviews with all stakeholders to fully analyze the national park’s current level of economic efficiency. The study includes data on stakeholder incentives and interests, community relations, resource extraction, economic appraisals of wildlife, and accountability. The researchers ultimately concluded that while Queen Elizabeth is currently profitable, it is not yet reaching its full potential for either conservation efforts or revenue generation, largely due to conflicting stakeholder interests and the results of miscommunication. As such, the park is not playing the larger role in national economic development that it could be. Several closing recommendations to increase efficiency, productivity, and sustainable conservation within the park, and expand QENP’s impact on national development are included in this report.

Here is the paper:   Balancing Conservation and Development


First Impressions of Kampala


Spending four months in Kampala, Uganda means a brief hiatus from all but the most internationally pressing news stories – but opens up a unique opportunity at researching much of the new international development.

Two things stand out immediately – unorganized and unfinished infrastructure exists throughout the capital city, and political and corporate corruption runs rampant with little to no shame on the part of the perpetrators.  As far as infrastructure goes, street signs exist almost nowhere – since most residential roads are unplanned and unpaved. Thus they are susceptible to an inevitable cycle of overuse and erosion – making many roads only accessible by boda bodas (motorbikes). At the same time, boda boda riots and protests are on the rise due to the government trying to get them registered, meaning the sight of a hundred screaming motorbike riders waving clubs and popping wheelies is becoming common.

Dishearteningly, the corruption is just as blatant as the lack of infrastructural organization. Just today the bus I was taking home illegally pulled over next to where a policeman was resting at a prime location to pick up customers in an area called Wandegeya. The cop shuffled over, took a small bribe from the conductor, and walked back to his post with no words exchanged. The bus then proceeded to steal all of the potential customers from the bus stage a few meters down the way. I’ve been told that such is common, and bribes are often expected from citizens who may or may not be committing minor infractions. I’ve also been told that a police salary is rarely over $150, perhaps shedding light on why such issues exist.

To further demonstrate corruption, let me share a popular joke that a development PhD shared with us on the first day: “A Kenyan and an Ugandan went to University together in Europe to study economics and business. After many years of work they returned to their home countries with important contacts for building locally. After a few years – the Ugandan went to visit his old friend in Kenya. Upon arrival, the Ugandan couldn’t believe the wealth of his friend! His house was so big, his land was so vast, and his wife was so beautiful! So he asked his friend – ‘How did you acquire so much??’ The Kenyan took his friend to a hill and pointed down – ‘See that highway?’ The Ugandan found the highway nodded. The Kenyan patted his chest – ’50 percent.’ The Kenyan had siphoned off 50 percent of the project budget for his own gain with none the wiser. A couple of years after this, the Kenyan then visited his friend in Uganda. Much to his surprise, he arrived to find that his friend possessed even more wealth than himself – having several large houses, several cars, and several beautiful wives. The Kenyan asked his friend ‘How did you acquire so much??’ The Ugandan took his friend to a hill and pointed – ‘See that airport runway?’ The Kenyan studied the land but couldn’t find a runway. He shook his head. The Ugandan grinned and patted his chest – ‘100 percent.’

Though hyperbole, the joke is a bit too true in a world where aid and development money is often disappearing in the pockets of both ex-pats and local project leaders. Expert consultants may take half of a project’s budget, local experts and government officials may take another 20 percent, and then construction crews or local hires may take sneak away another 10, leaving only 20 percent of the original budget for the entire project to be completed. Thus you can see partially completed structures and buildings scattered throughout Kampala – memorials of an attempt to improve the city’s efficiency but deserted when the funds dried up. Meanwhile, the effects of high fertility rates and rapid population growth are obvious in a society that is expanding at the seams and is visibly ready to burst.


At this point there are thus three things I am considering researching for my independent study project, all of which framed by looking at economic incentives. The first is the extraction and exportation of oil in Uganda and the resulting effects for the national economy. The second is the finances of game parks in Uganda – and the government incentives for keeping them open or expanding them, as well as how much of the foreign investment actually leaks into the local economy. The last idea I had was to study the fertility rate trends in Uganda,  both in rural and urban areas, and determine the cultural and economic reasons behind its fertility rates in addition to predicting what it means for the future of a nation when over 60 percent of its population is under the age of 18.

Cheetahs’ Outstanding Agility Proves their Secret


Cheetahs are still the fastest land mammals, regularly clocking speeds of up to 60 m.p.h. But what a recent study using accelerometer tacking collars has shown is that it is not the cheetah’s  base speed that they rely on for catching prey, but their unmatched deceleration, maneuverability, and turning radius. A Cheetah’s secret weapon is ultimately their agility, and this matched with their speed creates the perfect hunter.

Dr. Alan Wilson, a member of London University who has been leading this particular study of the big cats in Botswana, states that a cheetah is “really the all-around athlete, the all-around pursuit predator.” This is of course why they are my favorite big cat.


All Eyes On Syria; UN Appeals for $5b in Aid


The United Nations has just launched the largest appeal for aid in the institution’s history, a proposal for $5 billion for humanitarian purposes. While conflicts between the forces of Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian rebel armies fail to dwindle, millions of Syrians are still being forced to flee the country, escaping to neighboring regions. By the end of this year, “the UN expects the number of refugees – currently more than 1.5 million – to leap to nearly 3.5 million.”

A major concern within this refugee movement is also the plight of Syrian youth, for now “Unicef is warning of a lost generation of young Syrians.” This is highly reminiscent of the Sudanese ‘Lost Boys’ who were displaced for years after Sudan’s Civil War drove them all over North and East Africa. Unfortunately, it is highly possible that Syria’s youth will be displaced in a similar manner.

Map of conflict and refugee displacements:


Meanwhile, a NYTimes piece reports that “The Syrian opposition will not attend the proposed Geneva conference on the crisis in Syria unless rebel fighters receive new supplies of arms and ammunition.” This could render a meeting that UN officials hoped would be very productive entirely useless, for without a rebel authority peace negotiations will not be possible. Already there has been rough controversy over the arms that Russia has sent to the Syrian troops and the combat assistance and supplies that Western nations have shipped to the rebels. The fact that the rebels are now holding out for more is clear evidence that a position of power remains of greater importance to them than resolving the war. This is awful news for those caught in the crosshairs of the conflict.

Spending on Food and Drink Globally

Syncerus caffer

As countries industrialize and the average households becoming wealthier, it makes sense that households would begin spending less and less of their income on food and drink, and more on less necessary goods and  luxury goods. Below is a breakdown of the percentages of total household spending on food. Notice that the light blue is food and drink, while the dark blue is alcohol and tobacco- thus the light blue is the important figure here. The United States has some of the lowest spending at roughly 7%, while many other countries still average near 50%. It is incredible to think that in Cameroon, households usually only have 53% of their income to spend on all other goods.


GapMinder and Hans Rosling


Hans Rosling is one of the best known staticians of the modern day, providing daunting visuals of the strides and setbacks of modern global development. His website, GapMinder, is a stunning tool for the comparison of nations over the past 200 years. The charts are play-motion by time, and users can adjust the x and y axes to be a variety of development measurements, including Life Expectancy, GDP per captia, Children per Woman, Murder Rates, HDI, CO2 Emissions, Malaria Rates, Traffic, and the list goes on.


This is THE BEST visualization of global development trends I have seen, captured in 4 minutes of video of the gapminder data projection.

And this is my favorite Hans Rosling Ted Talk, 10 minutes long, measuring Global Population by Boxes and demonstrating how modernization and poverty rates will shift as population growth changes regionally. Enjoy!

Zimbabwe Votes for a New Constitution


Zimbabwe is making its way to vote for a new constitution, and the results should come out this week. In a nation known to have one of the most authoritarian and permanent leaders in Robert Mugabe, this marks an important step in a transition towards greater voting rights. Importantly, a new constitution is “a crucial step toward holding presidential elections this year.” Should the constitution be passed, an election clause would be added, one that voters hope would strictly govern the presidential electoral process.

In 2008 the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai had officially gotten the most votes in the first round, but “refused to participate in a runoff after his supporters endured a violent onslaught by Mugabe loyalists.” Eventually a deal was brokered in which Tsvangirai and Mugabe would share the power, but this plan predictably fell through. The transitional government “was supposed to take 18 months, but the process has dragged on for four years.” Now the country is at another crucial point that could drastically change its government. It is easy to look at this vote pessimistically, understanding the power that corrupt leaders maintain in Zimbabwe, and conclude that a new constitution will realistically change little. But there is hope when elections continue to take place and voters continue to support change that it will eventually happen.

Meanwhile, as the votes are counted, Zimbabwe police are defying a high court ruling to release a human rights lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa. This demonstrates a clear lack of power by the judicial branch and a lack of accountability and respect for the governmental system by the police force (presumably under the orders of Mugabe). The contrast to justice is apparent.

Fundamentally, “the new Constitution is meant to help resolve some of the festering problems that have kept Zimbabwe, once one of Africa’s most stable and prosperous nations, mired in crisis.” It will be interesting to see what unfolds.

Kenya’s Questionable Electoral Process

African Elephant

Uhuru Kenyatta has won. That’s what Kenyan newspapers are ready to print. But the international community is suspicious. Many are claiming voting error on account of a computer bug. Others are pointing out irregularities in voting due to violent outbreaks recorded all over the country.

There had been serious worry about this election due to “ethnic violence that left more than 1,100 people dead after the last election in 2007.” Fortunately, these numbers were drastically reduced this time around. Nonetheless, incidents were reported of “the presence of weapons and hate speech, and insufficient law enforcement,” as well as queue jumping and unnecessarily long lines. In a reportedly fair and free election, it is a shame to see such regular limitations to the democratic process taking place, and it leads to greater questions of if Kenyatta rightfully earned the position. At this time “vote-tallying has been restarted by hand following this and other glitches but Uhuru Kenyatta still has a large lead over Prime Minister Raila Odinga.”

Now the United States is left to decide on a plan of action toward the probable president. Kenyatta in the past “has been charged with heinous crimes, accused of using a vast fortune to bankroll death squads that slaughtered women and children.” For obvious reasons, the U.S. is hesitant to support such a man, despite the desire to validate the democratic process.

The question now: “does the United States put a premium on its commitment to justice and ending impunity — as it has emphasized across the continent — and distance itself from Mr. Kenyatta should he clinch this election? Or would that put at risk all the other strategic American interests vested in Kenya, a vital ally in a volatile region and a crucial hub for everything from billion-dollar health programs and American corporations to spying on agents of Al Qaeda?” There are worries by Kenyan nationals that Kenyatta could obtain a ‘Mugabe factor,’ becoming villainized by the international community for his history.

For now its seems as if the bottom line is that Kenya has had a (largely) successful election. The elected leader may have had a notably criminal past. But at the same time, it may be best to be optimistic towards his forthcoming term, and hope he has Kenya and its people’s ultimate growth and well-being in mind.