Three students from the Makerere University College of Computing and Information Sciences have won the Microsoft Imagine Cup Grant worth $50,000 for their project WinSenga, a smartphone app that performs ultrasounds on pregnant women and can detect problems like ectopic pregnancies and abnormal heartbeats. The winning, Team Cipher256, consists of Aaron Tushabe, Joshua Okello, and Josiah Kavuma.
Mac Margolis explains why Brazilian political consultants are all the rage in Latin America and beyond.
Min Zin anticipates President Obama's planned trip to Burma and what it might mean for the development of the country's democracy.
Pedro Pizano and Jamie Leigh Hancock offer a rare glimpse inside one of Africa's harshest dictatorships.
Based on an interview with Transparency International co-founder Laurence Cockcroft, Christian Caryl contends that corruption is set to become one of the defining political issues of the twenty-first century.
Liana Aghajanian reports on Armenians' revolt against the political and economic power of business tycoons.
Azzurra Meringolo interviews the leading Bahraini human rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja.
Juan Nagel looks ahead to the approaching state elections in Venezuela and wonders whether the opposition will have a chance.
And Endy Bayuni tells the sad story of a scandal over judges with poor judgement.
And now for this week's recommended reads:
Ashraf Ghani and Clare Lockhart, writing for the Legatum Institute, present an outline for a post-war transition in Syria.
Democracy Digest examines Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's vow to stay no matter what, and analyzes the impact of his statement on the continuing civil war.
Writing for the Center for International Policy Studies, Alexandra Gheciu examines the possibility of military intervention in Mali.
At Jadaliyya, Fawwaz Traboulsi maps out the political opportunities that the Arab Spring has provided to the forces of the left -- and suggests how they might be exploited.
Shannon K. O'Neil at the Council on Foreign Relations analyzes how U.S. state votes on the decriminalization of marijuana will affect drug policies in Latin America.
Radio Free Asia provides a profile of the "multimedia monk" who has been campaigning for human rights in Cambodia.
The Economist presents a video report on the ethnic violence in western Burma.
Golnaz Esfandiari, author of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty's Persian Letters blogs, provides a unique look into the mindset of one of Iran's basij paramilitaries.
At Al-Akhbar English, Sarah El Sirgany offers an intriguing comparison of the U.S. and Eygptian presidential elections.
Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/GettyImages
Patrick Bodenham meets some of Burma's child soldiers, and examines why the government has failed to follow through on its pledge to end the problem. Christian Caryl explains why the predicament of Burma's Rohingya is becoming a new global cause célèbre for Muslims.
In an overview of recent papers on transition economics, Peter Passell explores the dynamics behind issues ranging from girls' schools to clean cooking stoves.
When a recent survey indicated that 80 percent of Indonesians believe their nation can become a superpower, it was more a reflection of growing nationalist sentiment in a country that is striving to maintain its independence from the current global contest between the United States and China.
Indonesia is far from gaining superpower status, if ever, so clearly there is a huge gap between the aspirations of a large majority of its people and the current reality of the nation's true strengths.
In March, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, South Sudan's President Salva Kiir, and Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi troweled dollops of concrete onto a barren patch of land on the picturesque island of Lamu, Kenya, where a future seaport will lie. The Lamu Port-Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor (LAPSSET), a $23-billion undertaking that will connect Kenya's coastal Lamu region to South Sudan and Ethiopia with oil pipelines, railways, and super highways, is one of the biggest infrastructure projects in Africa to date. According to President Kibaki, LAPSSET "will stimulate the growth of regional economies through promotion of trade and other productive activities." He predicted that the project will boost employment and contribute to better prospects for some 167 million people in the surrounding region.
TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images
Fadil Aliriza exposes the difficulties Tunisia's new government faces in rooting out corruption from the old regime.
Min Zin looks at Burma's first street protests in more than 20 years and examines their potential impact on the country's progress towards democracy.
Peter Passell argues that well-meaning efforts to reduce climate change won't work unless developing countries can be persuaded that it's good for the bottom line.
Francisco Toro shows why much-vaunted adult literacy programs in Venezuela haven't actually produced much bang for the buck.
Endy Bayuni analyzes the maneuverings in Indonesia's political elite -- including rumors that President Yudhoyono's wife could emerge as his most likely successor.
Mohamed El Dahshan makes the case for Tunisia as a soft-power leader in the Middle East.
And Christian Caryl explains why regulating the international arm trade can make life easier for fragile societies.
This week's recommended reads:
The big story of the week, of course, is the first round of the presidential election in Egypt. FP's own David Kenner offers a handy guide to the early results.
For those wishing to go into greater depth, the Atlantic Council's Egypt Source website presents a number of excellent background pieces on the election. Economist Hoda Youseff wonders whether Egyptians are really prepared for the changes that a new president will bring. Mustafa El-Labbad examines likely shifts in foreign policy following the election. And frequent Democracy Lab contributor Magdy Samaan offers a skeptical take on the prospects for political stability once the voting is over.
Elsewhere, Jadaliyya.com examines electoral trends in Egypt, while Ahram Online presents an intriguing interview with long-time dissident Saad Eddin Ibrahim.
Meanwhile, the National Democratic Institute has published a detailed study of public attitudes in Libya in the run-up to that country's next round of elections in June. The bottom line: People don't believe the National Transitional Council is doing its job. And the Legatum Institute's Anne Applebaum, writing for Slate, offers a vivid dispatch from Libya that vividly captures the tension between chaos and hope.
The Jamestown Foundation offers a finely grained analysis of the Islamist insurgency in Yemen that has taken over several provinces in the south of the country. At The New York Review of Books blog, Hugh Eakin scrutinizes the role of Saudi Arabia as Washington escalates its involvement in Yemen.
At OpenDemocracy.net, the French journalist and Middle East expert Francis Ghilès reflects on the past few decades of Tunisia's history through the prism of his own biography.
A remarkable piece at ProPublica tells the extraordinary story of a man whose personal fate embodies the problems of transitional justice in Guatemala.
A new European Union survey documents the continuing discrimination faced by Europe's ethnic Roma.
Eurasianet.org explains how citizens in Central Asia cope with harsh governments and dysfunctional infrastructure. Writing for OUPblog (Oxford University Press), Alexander Cooley contends that the war in Afghanistan has actually reinforced authoritarianism and corruption in the rest of Central Asia.
And as Azerbaijan hosts the 2012 Eurovision song contest in Baku, Human Rights House tracks the fate of pro-democracy activists. (The photo above shows members of the group "Sing for Democracy.")
Mohamed Fadel Fahmy interviews Robert Becker, who decided to stay in Egypt and have his day in court rather than leave the country with the other Americans implicated in the NGO affair.
Francisco Martin-Rayo argues that America is undermining Yemen's opportunity to build democracy for the sake of waging war on Al Qaeda. (The photo above shows Yemeni jihadis manning a checkpoint.)
Reporting from The Hague, Christopher Stephen explains why the welcome verdict against Charles Taylor shouldn't divert attention from the continuing irrelevance of the International Criminal Court.
Thirty-five years after the end of the "Dirty War," Alex Gibson shows how a trial in Argentina is struggling to come to terms with a legacy of state-sponsored violence.
Peter Reuter explains why the West won't be able to contain money laundering from developing countries unless it cleans up its own act first.
Min Zin asks whether Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is making a mistake in her latest confrontation with the powers-that-be, and also offers an entertaining primer on the politics behind the latest Burmese New Year celebrations.
Mohamed El Dahshan explores the decision that has thrown Egypt's presidential election into disarray.
Juan Nagel shows why the Venezuelan government's recent decision to subsidize beauty products will score it political points.
Endy Bayuni explains how Aceh's separatist leaders have morphed from guerillas into governors.
And in his column, Christian Caryl argues that economic inequality is now becoming a hot political issue in both rich countries and poor ones.
This week's recommended reads:
In Foreign Affairs, Leon Goldsmith writes on the Alawite community of Syria and the motives for their persistent support of the Assad regime.
In an essay in the current issue of Journal of Democracy, political philosopher Abdou Filali-Ansary casts light on why many voters in the Arab world prefer Islamist parties -- and arrives at some surprising conclusions.
A new report by the International Crisis Group documents the growing fight over resources between the Iraqi central government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan regional government.
Writing for Project Syndicate, Alfred Stepan and Etienne Smith discuss the surprising resilience of democracy in Senegal.
Democracy Digest reports on the difficulties faced by Russian dissidents following Vladimir Putin's victory in the March 4 presidential elections. And the German Marshal Fund examines the recent release of imprisoned opposition leaders in Belarus. (The photo above shows activist Dmitry Bondarenko meeting his wife after leaving prison.)
And don't miss Jeffrey Bartholet's great travelogue from post-Mubarak Egypt in National Geographic.
VICTOR DRACHEV/AFP/Getty Images
In "Pictures at a Revolution," Luke Allnutt explores how visualizations of social media data can help to track the dynamics of social upheaval.
Oliver Kaplan and Michael Albertus argue that land reform holds the key to drying out the drug trade in Latin America.
In his weekly column, Christian Caryl wonders whether the planners of NATO intervention in Libya paid sufficient attention to the possible side-effects of their actions.
HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images
Srdja Popovic and Robert Helvey explain why toppling dictators is only the first step in the transition toward democracy, and why activists need to plan ahead if they don't want to see their revolutions hijacked.
Peter Passell argues that emerging market economies have managed to protect themselves from the global economic crisis by embracing innovation.
Reporting from Burma on the dramatic election victory of Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy, Christian Caryl looks at the obstacles facing the country's pro-democracy activists as they move into parliament. Challenge number one: Dealing with the numerically superior forces of the pro-government party and the military.
Mohamed El Dahshan provides a snapshot of the simmering conflict between Tunisia's ultraconservative Islamists and secular moderates one year after the non-violent revolution that overthrew longtime secular president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images
Ahead of Sunday's presidential elections in Russia, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said he may run for president for a fourth time in 2018. But some observers think he may face significant challenges during his third term.
At a European Union summit in Brussels, Serbia finally received official approval as a candidate for membership in the EU. At the same the EU's 27 member nations withdrew their ambassadors from Belarus.
The Spanish Supreme Court acquitted Judge Baltasar Garzon, who had been accused of violating a 1977 amnesty law when he tried to prosecute crimes committed during the Franco era.
Ishara S.KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images
There's an old Acholi proverb: "Land is like a fish with its mouth wide open, waiting to swallow you." If there's one thing that unites the Acholi people, it's the obsession with land.
For the past four or five years I've been observing the growing land conflict in Acholi. The land question has become a leading subject of debate and discussion.
There seem to be many different people who want to have land in Acholi, and they have many ways of getting it. Some have used the government structures; others have simply grabbed it by force. Officers of the Uganda People Defense forces (UPDF) have been accused of amassing huge chunks of land in the region in the wake of the devastating conflict with the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).
"Folks in Uganda love your story," Elizabeth Wood, my publisher, wrote to me recently. She was referring to my children's book The Blue Marble, which has just been imported back into the country in a novel way. She forwarded an email from Daria, one of her colleagues, who is currently on a trip to Uganda for the Worldreader project:
I'm so excited! When the teachers at Humble [a school in Uganda] saw that there were African books on their e-readers they actually seemed astounded. A quick look into Humble's library and you know why: everything was American. This might be going too far but they looked like they were in a state of disbelief, almost as if they themselves had never really connected the idea of books and African authors. Actually, when Esther said The Blue Marble was by a Ugandan writer a few of them commented in disbelief. Seeing the Ugandan names actually made a few of them giggle with surprise and delight. Jackee Batanda is going to be the first Ugandan author most of them read.
Worldreader is a non-profit organization committed to delivering digital books to children and families in the developing world using e-reader technology. Already launched in Kenya and Ghana, the project seeks to promote reading through e-readers and works with underprivileged schools. Worldreader launched in Uganda last week, and, judging by the emails, Ugandan teachers are excited.
Generally speaking, teachers in Uganda have little to be excited about. Last week, I read with trepidation that the government has, for the time being, ruled out pay rises for all civil servants (except those in the security sector). This country's fixation on high defense spending over quality of education and health care bodes ill for the nation's future. Around the world, the debate on the failing education standards is growing. What are the nations with the best education standards doing right? And what are those with low education standards doing wrong?
Uganda boasts high student enrollment due to a policy of free universal primary and secondary education. The numbers look good when it comes to World Bank statistics on enrollment, but they tend to ignore the quality of education. In an op-ed he published in Uganda's The Independent newspaper last year, Bob Kasango argues for the need to overhaul the whole education system and motivate teachers. He quotes reports indicating that children who have passed through the Ugandan school system cannot tell time or do simple mathematical calculations. He argues that the need to improve education standards is of the essence.
To compete, we either must raise our educational standards or we shall be left out and left behind. But how do we do this? The answer is simple. Get more and great teachers, pay them well and treat them with the same professional respect we accord to lawyers, engineers, doctors, accountants etc. But developing great teachers requires an extremely rigorous and competitive process. They must be subjected to entry exams to a teaching job and continuously assessed and given regular periodical training to widen and upgrade their knowledge base. The teacher-student ratio must not defy the principal laws of meaningful learning....
Last year teachers participated twice in national strikes, calling on the government to increase their salaries by 100 percent. The average income of a primary school teacher is 260,000 shillings ($93 USD) per month, according to local press reports. They threatened another strike this year. Instead the government promised to raise their salary by 15 percent in the next financial budget cycle. The decision to increase teacher's pay by only 15 percent underscores the failure to grasp that more money needs to be channeled into education if we are to develop as a nation.
STUART PRICE/AFP/Getty Images
Welcome to "Transitions," the Democracy Lab blog. As the title suggests, we aim to use this space to tell the story of political and economic change experienced by nations around the world as they strive toward greater freedom and prosperity. It’s a story of great complexity, and it rarely follows clean, straight lines. But our contributors -- respected journalists and experts from around the world -- have the advantage of being able to tell it from the inside.
The continuing saga of the Arab Awakening still holds the world's attention, of course, and we'll follow it through the eyes of Mohamed El Dahshan, an Egyptian development economist who also tracks events in Tunisia and elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa region.
But we shouldn't forget other parts of the world that are going through their own transformations. One of the most dramatic is taking place in Burma (aka Myanmar), where long years of harsh military rule are gradually giving way to greater openness. Min Zin, a Burmese political scientist and writer now contemplating a return to his home country after long years in exile, will report for us on what's happening there.
Transitions come in a variety of flavors. Venezuela faces a crucial presidential election this year, and journalist Francisco Toro and economics professor Juan Cristóbal Nagel are perfectly positioned to document the twists and turns to come. Jakarta-based journalist Endy Bayuni will write about the continuing travails of Indonesia’s vibrant yet fragile democracy. And writer Jackee Budesta Batanda and development expert Denis Barnabas will keep us up to date on the drama of Uganda’s struggle to reconcile the need for stability and growth with the search for a liberal society. This is an agenda-free space. Our writers will call it as they see it. But nor they can be pretend to being completely disinterested in the outcome. These are their countries, and this is their story to tell. We hope you enjoy the ride.
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Transitions is the group blog of the Democracy Lab channel, a collaboration between Foreign Policy and the Legatum Institute.