Columbia | SIPA
Avoiding the Resource Curse in Uganda

Oil Bills: Will they erase our doubts?" was published in the Ugandan newspaper The Daily Monitor while SIPA Professor Jenik Radon and his students were in Uganda in March doing field research for a Capstone Workshop. Professor Radon and Marie-Paule Jeansonne (MIA ‘12) are both quoted in this article, commenting on the latest draft of two petroleum bills currently being considered by the Ugandan Parliament.

Eight SIPA students have been working on a Capstone Workshop that focuses on Uganda’s “Oil Bills,” conducting research to make recommendations on ways to effectively legislate and manage newly found oil reserves. 

The team’s initial comment on the legislation, which was put together by Jeansonne and Sri Swaminathan (MPA ‘12) under the guidance of Professor Radon, has been quoted in various media outlets in Uganda, including The Daily Monitor (above) and The Independent (“Parliament to pass weak laws on oil”). 

The students and Professor Radon also presented their comments and recommendations in-person to 15 members of the Ugandan Parliament’s Natural Resource Committee. 

The team presents its recommendations to Members of Parliament in Uganda. At right, Professor Radon and Jeansonne.

According to Professor Radon, the team’s two biggest recommendations are:

  1. to have a stronger system of checks and balances, with an emphasis on transparency;
  2. not to concentrate decision-making in one individual

During their time in Uganda in mid-March, the team also organized meetings with individuals from government ministries, members of Parliament (governing and opposition), civil society, Ugandan citizens, international donors, foreign embassies, and international and local media.

"We tried to identify what they see as the biggest issues and problems," said Jeansonne. "By then, we already had ideas about what our recommendations would be, so our field trip was a good chance to test them. We had to make sure our report was something that could be actionable and something Ugandans could relate to." 

While Nithin Coca (MIA ‘12), Kazumi Kawamoto (MIA ‘12), Ida Dokk Smith (MIA ‘12) and Frithiof August Wilhelmsen (MIA ‘13) conducted interviews in the capital city Kampala, Chitra Choudhury (MIA/Journalism ‘12) and Frazer Lanier (MIA ‘12) travelled to the resource-rich “oil belt” region of Hoima, which shares a border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Choudhury and Lanier in Hoima.

"We conducted interviews with both local authorities and residents," said Choudhury, "people who might be displaced, fishing communities that might be affected… We were trying to understand how far-removed people on the ground are from what’s going on in Parliament. It added an extra layer of understanding on the issues."

Professor Radon added that one of the major images that has stuck in his mind from the students’ field research is that “the elephants are leaving" due to the drilling and vibrations.

"That’s something we found," said Choudhury, "the environmental impact wasn’t being studied. The government is doing that now, with the help of NORAD [the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation].” 

"You have to consider the full impacts," Professor Radon added. "The importance of such a trip is you discover information from the locals. For example, there is a greater influx of fishing because of roads being built and increased access to [Lake Albert]. There’s overfishing, too much to be sustainable…. So these are the unintended consequences that you can only see on the ground."

Jeansonne emphasized that because most of the oil drilling is on land, there are “grave implications for human rights, because people will be displaced.” This raises questions about compensation, how people should be displaced, and whether they should be displaced in the first place. 

"Developing extractive industries is difficult to do in the best of circumstances," Radon said. "So these questions need to be answered in the right way."


- Michelle Chahine

Sanford, Florida is really Sanford, USA.

Benjamin Jealous, President and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). 

Jealous was the keynote speaker at the 15th Annual David N. Dinkins Leadership and Public Policy Forum: Voting Rights v. Voter Suppression, on Monday, March 26, 2012 at SIPA.

In his address, Jealous emphasized that the fight against voter suppression was not happening in a void.

"My generation is the most incarcerated in the planet and the most murdered in the planet," he said. "Though we’ve been incarcerated more than our white peers, not like this…  The disproportionate incarceration of the black community and voter suppression are exactly the same thing." 

Jealous also discussed his recent trip to Sanford, FL because of the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin and subsequent protests. He had just spent a week in the city, and described it as the tensest place he had ever seen in his life. After talking to people and hearing 12 emotional testimonials, he found that two trends emerged: 

"The first, is a deep pain of black men being killed and police not caring about it… and another broader theme of racial profiling," he said, "and it occurred to me, that Sanford, FL is really Sanford USA."

Watch Jealous’s entire address here: http://youtu.be/37uKs0tvrkI

After his speech, a panel was introduced by Professor Ester Fuchs, Director of the Urban and Social Policy Program at SIPA. The panelists each added their thoughts on voter suppression and racial profiling. 

Panelists left to right: Professor Fredrick C. Harris, Elinor R. Tatum, Professor Dorian T. Warren, Benjamin Jealous, Professor Theodore M. Shaw and Professor Rodolfo de la Garza. 


Professor Dorian Warren said that voter suppression was not only tied to mass incarceration, but to a range of activities being taken at the state level, that included racial profiling and racial targeting of immigrants. He added that, historically, suppressing voting rights has been about suppressing social justice and equality.

Professor Fredrick Harris, Director of Columbia University’s Center on African-American Politics and Society, also gave the audience a historical view of voter suppression, redistricting and demographic shifts, emphasizing “the importance of developing multiracial coalitions.” 

This led to a discussion between Professor Rodolfo de la Garza and Jealous on the importance of coalitions between the black community and Latino community.

"We’ve got to do more together," said de la Garza.

Columbia Law Professor Theodore M. Shaw later weighed in, saying:

"The issues with regard to African-Americans in this country, along the color lines, will remain dominant, important issues… Looking at what happened in the case of Trayvon Martin in Florida, and some people have the gall to say this isn’t about race. There is a deep racial divide, and that remains on the black/white divide even today."

Finally, Elinor Tatum, Publisher and Editor in Chief of the New York Amsterdam News, warned of the role the media is playing. She said that by scaring people the media is dividing them. 

Tatum later added a personal note, reflecting back on the evening’s main discussion points, particularly the importance of working together across minority communities:

"If we don’t work together, there will be nobody left standing. And it’s getting crucial, and it has been crucial. But I think we’re just seeing it now. From everything to this assault on voting rights to what happened to Trayvon," she said.

"I have a 17-month-old daughter, and when I found out I was having a girl, I was so happy, because I was afraid to raise a black boy in the city."


This event was live-tweeted. For more highlights from the event, click here: http://storify.com/ColumbiaSIPA/benjamin-jealous-sanford-fl-is-really-sanford-usa

- Michelle Chahine 

From the Big Apple to Alabama: SIPA Student Joins the Immigration Debate

An unauthorized immigrant mother showing Paola Medina the empty mobile homes of former neighbors who have fled Alabama since the enactment of HB 56.

The spring semester at SIPA nearly always means Capstone Workshops for second-year students. But for Paola Medina (MPA, MSSW ‘12), her workshop came a little earlier because of her dual degree work with the School of Social Work. What came next for Medina was a front-row seat for one of the most contentious debates in the United States today: immigration and states’ rights.

"A recent team of students worked with Human Rights Watch (HRW), a Washington, DC-based organization, that supports efforts to preserve and to protect basic human rights of people around the world,” said Professor Paul Thurman, faculty adviser to the team. “The group studied whether certain federal provisions reduced crime reporting by illegal aliens in specific Virginia and Arizona counties.”

Their assignment was to conduct quantitative analysis examining the effects of Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The goal was to see if there was an effect on calls for emergency services (namely the police and fire departments) in counties that had anti-immigrant policies. The team examined undocumented populations.

“It’s a population that is in the shadows,” explained Medina. “So it’s difficult to document. What you can do are statistical inferences.

In the end, our recommendation to Human Rights Watch was to have a survey team assess what is happening.”

Medina and her teammates were doing their research from New York based on existing data sets.

“Human Rights Watch usually does qualitative research,” added Medina. “They wanted to have us do some quantitative work. I think when talking to policymakers you need the quantitative data to support the stories behind an issue.”

Through the relationships she built while working on the Capstone Workshop, Medina landed an internship in the U.S. Division at Human Rights Watch. She began last September and remains there until the end of this academic year.

In October, she traveled to Alabama as a consultant, along with U.S. Program researcher Grace Meng, to assist with research for a report on the state’s controversial new immigration law: the Hammon-Beason Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, commonly known as HB 56.

Medina and Meng were there to get a better understanding of what was happening after the law was enacted and to see how people were being affected.

“When we landed in Birmingham, we went right to work,” said Medina. “We met with local community organizers. We spoke to people doing work on the issue.

We went to a rural area outside of Birmingham and spoke to a pastor. He mentioned people leaving the church because they were leaving the state… We also spoke to two members of his church that day, one of them undocumented. So we got a good feel of what was going on in the community.”

Prior to the HB 56, these two U.S. citizen girls partook in several activities, such as soccer practice and games. Now, their undocumented parents are too afraid to drive them to these activities in fear of getting detained.

A Mexican restaurant owned by an unauthorized immigrant single mother who has resided in Alabama for seven years and in the U.S. for 12 years. 

An unauthorized immigrant who has lived in the U.S. for 12 years sits with her US citizen grandson in her Mexican restaurant. Alabama’s new immigrant law could prevent her from renewing her business permit when it expires this year.

An Alabama immigrant family that has been affected by the recent law and that has been living in fear since its passage.

Read the full report here: No Way to Live: Alabama’s Immigrant Law

Currently, Medina is working on her own project at HRW, focusing on undocumented longtime resident immigrant youth in the U.S., conducting policy research and analysis for what will hopefully become an upcoming report that she will co-author.

- Michelle Chahine

photo credit: © 2011 Grace Meng/Human Rights Watch