Africa looks to Obama

Chris Blattman is a Yale assistant professor of political science and economics who blogs about economic development and violent conflict. His research “examines the causes and consequences of civil war, the reintegration of ex-combatants, post-conflict economic and social programs, and the development of new forms of governance and peace building after war. Much of his work applies field experiments (and natural experiments) to conflict and post-conflict scenarios.”

Blattman is currently in Liberia setting up a field experiment. His latest blog post:

The election is the ultimate icebreaker in the remotest of villages, buying us easy entry into conversation with big men and bystanders alike.

We passed a taxi on the road with a hand-painted windshield: “Obama will change the world.”

And the 400 ex-combatants at the reintegration center we work with? They stayed up the whole night watching the election on DSTV and sport Obama hats and t-shirts.

My favorite experience so far: the nation’s leading imam gripping my hand, looking me in the eye: “Thank you for electing Barack Obama.”

(An irony: Blattman is Canadian.)

Digital Satellite TV. Africans are not out of touch with events in the world as this post illustrates. Clearly hoping “Obama will change the world” is outsized, but when the nation’s leading imam gives thanks there’s something telling about that.

Blattman has filed several other posts during this trip to Liberia including one asking How would you reduce aid dependence?

I’m spending a lot of time in isolated villages, pre-testing our survey instrument. If you ask a villager who bears the most responsibility for building public latrines and wells, eight times out of ten you’ll hear, “the NGOs”. After five years of intense humanitarian aid, have people forgotten how to provide their own public goods?

He’s also written one asking, Never write about Africa? Blattman can do so authoritatively. But it’s a good question for most of us.

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