DemLab Weekly Highlights, March 9, 2012

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Democracy Lab Highlights:

In his profile of the Tibetan government-in-exile's democratically elected leader, Sudip Mazumdar explores the grim options facing Tibetans fighting for greater autonomy.

Jackee Budesta Batanda explains that Uganda's biggest problem isn't the Lord's Resistance Army. It's nodding disease, a mysterious ailment that is ravaging the countryside - with little response from the Ugandan government or the international community.

Mohamed El Dahshan reports on the peculiar saga of an Egyptian parliamentarian's wayward nose.

And Christian Caryl argues that, from Russia to Burma, political personalities are more important than ever. (Above,  Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin celebrates his victory in Sunday's presidential election -- flanked by his sidekick, current President Dmitri Medvedev.)

Democracy Lab's recommended reads:

Elsewhere on the FP website, Michael Wilkerson offers a critical take on the #StopKony campaign, which, according to Wilkerson, is presenting distorted claims in its highly publicized effort to stop the Lord's Resistance Army.

In a provocative piece entitled "Don't Despair of Democracy," the FT's Gideon Rachman argues that "the world's democracies are still winning the global beauty contest." (Subscription may be required.)

Leigh Nolan, an expert at the Brookings Doha Center in Doha, describes how monarchies in the Gulf are trying to manage the expectations of their citizens through the educational system.

Just in time for International Women's Day, the International Federation for Human Rights  presents a skeptical report about the state of women's rights in the Arab Spring.

An analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank, offers a fine-grained look at the capabilities of the Syrian guerillas now fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Stephanie Strom at The New York Times offers a must-read on an India-based website that tracks bribery. The site aggregates reports on bribes submitted by anonymous donors.

The excellent Democracy in Africa website offers an illuminating podcast and a number of other resources that examine the continuing electoral turmoil in Senegal.


Democracy Lab

The real battle in Uganda

While the rest of the world jumps onto the Kony2012 bandwagon -- wrongly assuming that the main problem in Uganda is the Lord's Resistance Army -- Ugandans are worrying about the much more urgent problem plaguing their country: nodding disease.

The cause of the disease is unknown. It affects thousands of children in Northern Uganda, causing symptoms similar to epilepsy, but with more severe mental and physical retardation. (The photo above shows 12-year-old Nancy Lamwaka, a victim of the disease.) Yet the Ugandan government has been notably slow to deal with the problem.

A lot has happened since I last blogged about the government's strange priorities. As I noted at the time, the Ugandan president's office requested additional funding for its own needs that amounted to nine times of what the Health Ministry had specified for its first response to the disease. The government's failure to allocate resources to this threat raises serious questions about its competence and its commitment to dealing with crises.

So the Hon Beatrice Anywar, an MP for Kitgum District, decided to take action: she ferried a number of children from her constituency to Mulago National Referral Hospital in the capital, Kampala. There were reports that the police tried to stop the bus from leaving Kitgum for fear that she would parade the children before Parliament.

When the sick children arrived in Mulago, journalists had a field day taking pictures. While the ethics of this display are questionable, I think it was necessary in order to shock our leaders into action. And Anywar did exactly that by bringing nodding disease to our doorstep. The issue can no longer be ignored.

The president later visited the victims at Mulago, where he promised more government support.

In the spirit of International Women's Day, women activists in Uganda tied themselves to trees today in solidarity with Northern Ugandan mothers whose children are afflicted by the disease. Parents are often compelled to tie their sick children to trees to protect them from falling down or wandering off.

The gravity of the problem has been aptly described by women's rights activist Jackline Asiimwe: "It is not acceptable for any parent to think that the only option left to save their children is by tying them to trees when they have a government whose mandate is to ensure that the citizens exercise their right to good health and access to medical attention wherever and whenever necessary."

Jackee Batanda's Twitter handle is @jackeebatanda.

REUTERS/Edward Echwalu