Before I get going on this blog, a few words of introduction are in order.

During the past few months, I have been working with two colleagues – Daniel Posner and Lily Tsai, who are both political science professors at MIT – designing a research project to evaluate the work of an African NGO called Uwezo. Uwezo, which means “capability” in Swahili, is implementing a massive information and public accountability program that they hope will empower citizens and improve childhood literacy in East Africa. I will write more about what exactly they are doing in the coming months.

Twaweza, the Tanzanian NGO that is sponsoring the project, commissioned our research and asked us to write several scholarly papers reporting the findings from the work we will do over the next several years. They also asked us to write some papers geared for a non-academic audience, and wondered if we could “blog” about our findings along the way. I said I would be happy to blog… but at the time, I didn’t have one! So this one was born.

But my interest in the Twaweza project stemmed from a more general interest in the drivers of human development: Consider the imaginary triangle that connects Harare, Zimbabwe; Gaborone, Botswana; and Johannesburg, South Africa. While the distances are all drivable, the conditions on the ground are wildly different. In and around Harare, the state routinely uses violence against its citizens, and people fear that an election will only bring more. Poverty prevails in a country that was once the shining star of Africa. In “Gabs,” life is pretty calm, the same political party has been in power since independence, but elections have been free and fair, and many functions of the state are carried out with remarkable efficiency and professionalism. Meanwhile, parts of Joburg, are as wealthy and sophisticated  as any in the world, while others remain as squalid as the slums of Nairobi. Here, citizens commit violence against other citizens, though security is definitely improving in places that once felt like warzones. Why are the conditions so different in and around these cities? What accounts for patterns of change? What interventions might improve the quality of governance and development?

So my plan is to try to write on these and related themes on a regular basis. It will be a mix of commentary and analysis of related policy changes, news events, and social science research. I welcome comments and suggestions.

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