The meaning of Uganda’s walk to work protests

Iwaya says it better than anyone:

W-2-W is not about Dr. Besigye though the government propaganda machine has worked its damn hardest to try and reduce it to the person of Besigye. It is about the appalling economic situation Ugandans find themselves in today led by an unresponsive government that folds its hands and declares, “There’s nothing we can do,” to alleviate your suffering, but you have got to keep paying those taxes on time. W-2-W is about many Ugandans finding, those who have jobs, that pretty soon those jobs will have no meaning because they can barely afford the transport costs from home to the place of work, fuel prices so high, to work will be like earning money that never settles in your wallet, you are working for your transport costs, your food costs, rent—and you have nothing left for yourself. W-2-W demonstrations are all about the things that have been going wrong with Uganda since Ugandans first had self rule, decided to keep the faith in leader after leader because each leader promised there would be a change and now we find ourselves in worse straits than we were 50 years ago and suddenly we are all realising an important truth, “Politics is too important to be left to the politicians.” We have all got to get involved and struggle for a change towards where we wish Uganda to be headed.

You should read his entire post: The Walk to Work demonstrations, to me

Global Voices Uganda: Government Attempts to Block Facebook, Twitter as Protests Continue

I posted about this yesterday, but I just put together a longer piece for Global Voices in which I’ve tried to give a bit more context for the protests:

As opposition politicians and others angry over rising fuel and food prices in Uganda continue to stage walk to work protests against the current regime, the government is asking Internet service providers (ISPs) to shut down access to Facebook and Twitter.

According to the World Bank, a lengthy drought and a spike in fuel prices are wreaking havoc across East Africa. In Uganda, Timothy Hatcher at aaralinuga describes the situation:

Inflation has pretty much doubled over the past month to 11.1 percent, and fuel prices have risen by over 50 percent; prices are approaching $7.00 per gallon. Major impact: prices of some staple foods have tripled since December.

Angela Kintu explains how higher prices are affecting families:

…this protest is about reality, frustration and desperate times. I am buying a litre of Ugandan made and grown cooking oil for sh6,500 [$2.73]. I am paying sh3,600 [$1.51] for a litre of fuel. A tomato has gone up to sh300 [$0.12] at the very least. I don’t know about you, but that is breaking my budget. No one is paying me any more money for my work – in fact, I am chasing debtors left, right and centre. In one short week, Easter and school holidays will be upon me. Three short weeks after that, I must rustle up school fees and requirements.

These economic issues have provided a foothold for opposition leaders who have struggled to garner support since losing the February 2011 presidential election to long-time incumbent Yoweri Museveni.

Read the full post: Uganda: Government Attempts to Block Facebook, Twitter as Protests Continue

things I am appreciating today

From David Weinberger’s “Copyright’s Creative Disincentive”:

It takes culture. It takes culture to build culture.

Whether it’s Walt Disney recycling the Brothers Grimm, Stephen King doing variations on a theme of Bram Stoker, or James Joyce mashing Homer up with, well, everything, there’s no innovation that isn’t a reworking of what’s already there. An innovative work without cultural roots would be literally unintelligible. So, incentives that require overly-strict restrictions on our use of cultural works directly diminish the innovativeness of that culture.

The facts are in front of us, in overwhelming abundance. The signature works of our new age are direct slaps in the face of our old assumptions about incentives. Wikipedia was created by unpaid volunteers, some of whom put in so much time that their marriages suffer. Flickr has more beautiful photos than you could look at it in a lifetime. Every sixty seconds, people upload twenty hours (72,000 seconds) of video to YouTube — the equivalent of 86,000 full-length Hollywood movies being released every week. For free. The entire Bible has been translated into LOLcat (“Oh hai. In teh beginnin Ceiling Cat maded teh skiez An da Urfs, but he did not eated dem.”) by anonymous, unpaid contributors, and while that might not be your cup of tea — it is mine — it is without dispute a remarkably creative undertaking.

From Amanda French’s “Imagine a National Digital Library: I Wonder If We Can”:

…the Korean dibrary [digital library] is not just about fancy physical spaces or symbolic cartoon characters: it’s very much about providing a whole set of national library services for Korea. In September 2009, just a few months after the dibrary first opened, Korean law was altered in order to give Korean dibrarians the authority to collect and indeed responsibility for collecting Korean data from the open web. Certain kinds of data were legally required to be deposited in the national digital library so as to enable not only preservation but also “the production and distribution of alternative materials for the disabled.” Now centrally coordinated by the National Digital Library of Korea are all kinds of digital services, from training programs to inter-library loan. The dibrary is even charged with creating a “one card system that gives access to 699 public libraries nationwide,” a system scheduled to go live in 2012. And once Korea has fully nationalized as many library materials and services as it can, it’s apparently not going to stop there: last summer a meeting was held to plan a China-Japan-Korea Digital Library, an Asian digital library or portal modeled after The European Library project. To me it sounds like the second step toward the single digital library filed contentedly away in the humming systems of the starship Enterprise, waiting to be addressed with a question: “Computer . . .”

From Joachim Buwembo’s editorial in The East African, “Uganda’s runaway vote price inflation has economists baffled”:

In 2001, instead of paying heavily for votes, you could reduce the votes of your candidate’s opponent by killing off some of his voters.

The more subtle methods used could include driving an army truck through a crowd of his supporters.

In 2006, things could get a bit more direct and you could fire a sub-machinegun into a crowd of the supporters of your candidate’s rival in broad daylight in the capital city.

But come 2011, things have become more humane and it is market forces that are determining the direction of flow of votes.

Juliet Schor on “Post-Industrial Peasants”

Sociology professor Juliet Schor is at the Berkman Center today to talk about how the sustainability community — both activists and practitioners — is increasingly using the Internet to “foster new lifestyles, consumption patterns and ways of producing.”

Liveblogging Juliet Schor’s presentation “Using the Internet to ‘Save the Planet'” at the Berkman Center. Please excuse misrepresentation, misinterpretation, typos and general stupidity.


Sociology professor Juliet Schor is at the Berkman Center today to talk about how the sustainability community — both activists and practitioners — is increasingly using the Internet to “foster new lifestyles, consumption patterns and ways of producing.” Her presentation is based on her recent book Plenitude: The Economics of True Wealth, in which Schor argues that by shifting to a more sustainable way of life, we can improve both the environment and our economic situation. While writing the book, Schor says, she came to believe that the sustainability and technology communities should have a much closer relationship.

It sounds crazy — “post-industrial peasants” — but there are some very important features to that: diversity of activities and income streams is key. Putting all your eggs in the basket of one employer is riskier and riskier in times of economic uncertainty. The single income stream strategy is becoming less attractive, and diversification is smart. The reason it makes sense now in a way it wouldn’t have 50 years ago is because of technology. Technology allows a single individual or a small company to be productive in ways they couldn’t have before — access to the network, access to information. This is the next stage after “big.” The large economies of scale will be less important going forward, and small-scale efforts will become more important.

Schor starts out by describing a “dramatic collapse” in biodiversity since the 1970s, the growing ecological footprints of different countries (hint: the United States is at the top, using more than four times the world average biocapacity per person), and our collective failure to reduce global carbon dioxide omissions. (She points out that recent data shows that the best way to reduce emissions is to have economic collapse, though that’s not practical as a long-term strategy.)

Schor argues that a purely technological approach won’t halt climate change — this is also a problem of scale. According to a recent paper in Nature, we have already exceeded two of nine different “planetary boundaries” (in categories such as climate change, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss, and others), and we’re close to hitting the sustainable boundaries on a number of others. The strategy of de-materialization (reducing the “material intensity” of our energy use) has had some success, but our economic growth has “more than outweighed the decline” in material intensity. On a worldwide basis, Schor says, our material intensity has actually increased by around 45%, while North America has been a particularly egregious user of materials — our material extraction has increased by about 66% since 1980. This is largely due to our use of fossil fuels and the construction boom.

The Challenges

Schor argues that the world needs to cut its ecological impact rapidly. The problem, she says, is that we’re in the midst of an unemployment crisis. This is a disaster both economically and environmentally speaking. We also shouldn’t take any paths that worsen the distribution of wealth — there’s a negative correlation between income inequality and certain environmental indicators — or decrease human development (i.e., wealth and well-being) overall.

Plenitude: The Economic Model

Switching to green technology (a clean consumption and production system) will help, Schor says. So will improving eco-knowledge, which she defines as “open source transmission and ecological skill diffusion.” We’re “centuries behind” in terms of developing both an understanding of nature as a scarce resource and technology that would allow us to increase the productivity of that resource.

Schor points to working hours, which have declined dramatically between 1870 and the 1970s (from around 3000 to around 2000 per year). Since 1973, however, the annual hours worked have been increasing the United States. A country’s ecological footprint rises with its average annual hours worked, even when income is held constant. Schor says that as we move forward, we need to focus on increasing productivity growth in fewer working hours, rather than by adding new hours. She wants to move hours from the “business as usual” economy to “self-providing” and green entrepreneurship. This will reduce market dependence and reliance on large corporations and provide more time for people to increase their skills, build local resilience, and help create a small-scale, low-impact sector of enterprises.

Schor provides an example in the form of permaculture (a high-productivity approach to agriculture) and urban agriculture. This form of micro-generation, which applies not only to farmers’ markets and fruits and vegetables but also to energy and homes (DIY yurts, anyone?), is low-cash and low-footprint in comparison to more market-driven methods and mechanisms. Schor is currently working on a number of other case studies, including a permaculture farm in the Netherlands, a converted soybean farm in Kansas build with fab lab technology. This farm is also trying to build a blueprint for other communities to follow. What’s cool about this, Schor says, is the low financial barriers to entry: communities can purchase the machines and the costs of materials are low.

Schor’s also interested in the principle of sharing: couches, homes, cars, tools, etc. She says the recession has “changed the calculus of time and money,” creating an environment that fosters these sorts of sharing schemes. Another initiative that has sprung up in this environment is the transition movement, which focuses on helping communities build local resilience.

Overall, Schor says, our constraint is much more about time — we work long hours in formal jobs, which we need in order to have access to health insurance, housing, and education. We need to find ways to allow people to “delink” from these jobs, which are high footprint jobs, to allow them to do more of this kind of small-scale activity.

Tracking Kenya’s Development Budget

I woke up early last Monday morning to interview Philip Thigo of the Kenyan Budget Tracking Tool for the Technology for Transparency Network. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun asking someone questions.

I woke up early last Monday morning to interview Philip Thigo of the Kenyan Budget Tracking Tool for the Technology for Transparency Network. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun asking someone questions.

If you listen to the podcast, you’ll hear faint sounds of Nairobi in the background: horns honking, people walking around. As Philip chatted candidly with me about the successes and struggles of encouraging greater transparency in Kenya’s national budget, I imagined him in his office, the door propped open, curtains blowing in the breeze.

Can you tell that living in New York has made me a bit desperate for sunshine and perhaps a return trip to Kampala?

Anyway, the noise makes for an interview that sounds less than studio-produced, but it also makes me happy. The sounds of life in east Africa, Philip’s laughter and his enthusiasm for his work all combined to create an awesome interview experience, and I highly recommend that you read the full case study and listen to the podcast.