Friday, December 30, 2011
If you want to get in contact. My phone-number is +243 998 399 330 or (between 5-6pm GMT+2) +88 2164 3340 723.
Tomorrow morning I fly first to Turkey and then to Uganda, from where I hope to take a buss to Congo via Rwanda... I see many hours ahead in which I will have time to write about what the plans are for the weeks to come. Thus more soon!
Monday, December 26, 2011
Sunday, December 25, 2011
One big drawback of all this is that I have to pay for everything myself: flights to the DRC and back, the enumerators, accomodation, in-country transport, etc. And Congo is everything but a cheap country for fieldwork. While the Center for the Study of Development Strategies provided funding to conduct fieldwork, I've saved money over the months to be able to add several thousand dollar out of my own pocket. However, last Tuesday I heard that I will be a 2011-2012 Graduate Fellow at the Earth Institute's Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict, and Complexity, which comes with $3,000 for this fieldwork. Woah! Thank you Earth Institute!
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Although short (around three months), it was a fantastic semester. You’re ready for a summary? I got three (!) field-projects approved by Columbia’s IRB. I worked on my dissertation (migration, cooperation, the impact of NGOs, etc.). Several papers were sent to conferences that will take place next year. With Macartan and Raul an R&R at a good journal was re-submitted (hopefully more on this in a future post). I presented my dissertation work at Columbia's CP workshop, and was discussant at CAPERS for a paper presented by Leonard Wantchekon. Together with colleague Neelan we worked out our network field experiment. An application for a bursary was sent out (I should hear from them soon so I’m keeping my fingers crossed). Today it was confirmed that I’ll be consulting for an evaluation undertaken by Wageningen University and the Dutch government in Congo. And it seems a book for which we are writing a chapter about Voix des Kivus is going to get published at Oxford University Press. I spent several days consulting for the IRC, and also worked with the IRC on a to-be project in Sierra Leone. I visited several of Columbia University's CP seminars, CP workshops and Political Economy breakfasts. Also, together with Massimo Morelli the last months I spent 3 times a week 2.5 hours in the gym. And I finally had a longer period of time in NYC so was able to see more of the city (for example the disappointing dinosaur exhibition in the Natural History Museum), and I had some fantastic weekends out of the city with friends. Oh and I even tried dating this semester (although little luck there). Thus a fantastic and busy semester, but I do feel that I didn't do enough. The reason is that I spent too little time on my dissertation proper. I’m a fifth year student and really should have a paper or three specifically on my dissertation finished by now. My thing for next semester!
Back to the Congo
So I’m heading back to the DRC? Yes. I’m now in Berlin at the Freie Universitaet to present our Voix des Kivus project and I’ll be in the Netherlands and London for a few days, but then the 31st of December I’m flying to the Congo. Actually I’m flying to Uganda; I didn’t have a lot of money so I'll try to find a bus from there to Bukavu. I will be in Sud Kivu for two months to do fieldwork specifically for my dissertation. More in the next posts! It's good to be back though.
A weekend in Massachusetts
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
The documentary shows how "a simplistic model of human beings as self-seeking, almost robotic, creatures led to today's idea of freedom." By making use of contributions by people such as (this is just a selection of what I remember): Frantz Fanon, James Buchanan, Thomas Schelling, John Maynard Smith, Richard Dawkins, John Nash, and Isaiah Berlin, the documentary start by describing how the individualistic, "robotic" description of human kind has its roots in the Cold War with it's use in game theory, and then how it was validated by fields such as psychology and biology (think for example of Dawkins’s "The Selfish Gene"). Curtis continues by conjecturing that this zeitgeist combined with Berlin's concept of negative libery (freedom from coercion) was taken up by the public sector. The state was nothing more than a mechanism of social control and in order to create a stable society and true freedom it had to embraze a free-market economy: social safety nets were thus torn down, subsidies decreased, and state-owned enterprises had to be sold. Curtis argues that by doing so these governments (Blair specifically) had created the opposite of freedom. We now live in a society without meaning, populated only by selfish automatons. People have become slaves of numbers (e.g. output targets). Curtis argues that there is value in positive liberty (the opportunity to strive to fulfill one's potential) in that it allowed people to strive to better themselves.
I enjoyed this documentary a lot. First, it placed connections between readings that I had not yet seen myself (e.g. Hayek and Hawkins). Second, I just can't get this feeling away that there is much truth in the main point of the documentary - and about how society has changed over time; with the decrease of social bonds and the increase of the individual and the importance of numbers. I recently read two books by Geert Mak (here and here) about how Dutch society changed over the last century and that has only deepened this feeling. Also, I am sure that people who have ever shopped in New York's Century 21 (or any big US shop for that matter), or has tried to get internet for his/her apartment understands me. People are no longer given responsibilities. More and more, people receive a screenplay about how they have to behave and an output target to know what they have to achieve. Welcome to society.
Monday, August 15, 2011
Sunday, August 14, 2011
In brief, the book singles out five mechanisms to understand why we cooperate (which in this case means how we can get people to cooperate in Prisoner's Dillema-type of situations):
- Direct Reciprocity: I scratch your back and you scratch mine the next time (repeated play);
- Indirect Reciprocity: I scratch your back, others see it, and they scratch my back (so reputation);
- Spatial Games: We do not meet each other randomly. Populations are structured which promotes cooperation;
- Kin selection (nepotism): Haldane's famous "I jump in the water to save 2 brothers or eight cousins"; and
- Group (or multilevel) selection: I cooperate because it is beneficial for my group.
So, am I enthousiastic about the book? Unfortunately not that much. I agree with Nowak's main argument, which is that cooperation should be placed together with selection and mutation as one the fundamental parts of evolution to create complex entities. It is cooperation that made us humans (aka SuperCooperators) so successful. Moreover, I also think this book gives a good summary of the work he has done on the topic of cooperation. However the way he gets this message across I do not like. Firstly, there is not a clear red thread in the book. For example, after listing the five mechanisms my Kindle indicated we were at 40% of the book. The book then continued with topics (cancer, networks, language, etc.) that seemed to be only weakly related to the rest of the book. The reason for this is that the book is more like an autobiography of Nowak - discussing his research over the last decades. Nowak definitely deserves an autobiography, but I did not expect this and thus did not enjoy a lot of paragraphs with not-useful information like the following two:
“The next day, once the cross-Channel ferry had set us down, I caught my first glimpse of Britain. It was not William Blake’s green and pleasant land. The soil was cracked and dry. The grass and foliage were brown and the country was in the grip of drought.”
Overall, the book is about a very important topic. Moreover, it is a summary of impressive work Nowak has done on the topic cooperation, which he has covered from a lot of different angles and that definitely deserves a book. Also, it is written in an easier and more accessible way then his academic articles. So, if don't mind reading paragraphs like the two above and the one below (to give an indication), this book might be something. However, if you already know Nowak's research this book adds little and the reference I give below (one of his 4-page articles in Science) sums up the most important part this book quite well - then from there keep on reading his other academic papers.
“I was fascinated and wanted to formulate a language game around this idea, one that could shed light on the origins of language. I had the same visceral feeling I’d had when Karl mentioned indirect reciprocity in the Wienerwald. I felt something new and great would come out of this idea. In fact I felt it was inevitable. But before I could make a start, my career path in academia would undergo an extraordinary change.”
- Nowak, Martin A. "Five Rules for the Evolution of Cooperation". Science, 2006, Vol. 314, 1560-1563.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
As with a previous book by Mak (blogpost here) I was struck by how a large part of the Netherlands only a few decades ago is so similar to the Congo now. Mak discusses how just a few decades ago Dutch farmers did not specialize. Families would make their own bread, milk, butter, potatoes, and even furniture. Only soap, sugar and coffee and those type of products would come from outside the family. At public gatherings there would be a separation of men and women at public gatherings – something that we look at strange now when we see it happening in the Congo. A large part of the Dutch population just a few decades ago lived of the land and often on the edge of survival. I notice that we (including me) quickly judge Congo as backward – thinking that we, people from the West, lived like that in the medieval period. But take the fighting and minerals away and there are many things really not too different between the Congo now and a large part of the Netherlands just a few decades back.
The most interesting part of the book, though, is Mak’s discussion of why and how things changed in Jorwerd from 1945-1995. In a fantastic way, Mak discusses the influences that modernization had on the village. How this led to urban-rural tensions (an important topic in the developing world literature) and how things changed from a production to a consumption society. Most interesting is how Mak discusses how over time there was a decrease of "community". The emphasize went from qualitative to quantitative. There was a move away from the community and towards the individual, and towards numbers. For example, he discusses in much detail the importance and role of mechanization for the farmer. Farms, for example. were no longer a place were many people would work together. Mak discusses how in order for the farmers to stay competitive they had to scale up, mechanize and decrease labor costs.
A very impressive read.
Monday, August 8, 2011
Tomasello tries to answer whether humans are born cooperatively and society corrupts them (Rousseau), or born selfish but society teaches them better (Hobbes). He distinguishes three types of altruism: 1. with regards to food: sharing, with regards to services: helpful, with regards to information: informative. Over time Tomasello and colleagues have conducted many (very interesting!) behavioral games with young children (around one year old) along these three dimensions. Based on this work he argues for what he calls the “Early Spelke, Late Dweck” hypothesis. In brief, young children are from a very early age cooperative. They do not learn this from adults, it comes naturally. It’s only later on in life that this indiscriminate cooperativeness becomes mediated by people’s judgement of likely reciprocity and concerns about reputation.
Tomasello and colleagues also worked with non-human primates and found that humans are more cooperative. Why? Behavioral games indicate that humans alone humans alone have "joint attention" for altruistic communicative purposes (joint attention = something that is interactionally-achieved when one person, animal or agent alerts another to a stimulus by means of eye-gazing, finger-pointing or other verbal or non-verbal indication). Also, apes do group activities in the "I"-mode, not "We"-mode. While humans can form a joint goal with a partner and see this from a births-eye-view, non-human primates understand their own action only from a first-person perspective and that of the partner from a third person perspective. Compared to their fellow primates, humans are therefore more likely to undertake mutualistic activates (for example, Rousseau’s staghunt). Tomasello argues that theses mutualistic activities - because in these type of activities helping you means helping me - provide a protected environment for the initial steps in the evolution of altruistic motives.
Friday, August 5, 2011
- Experiences during my PhD period at Columbia such as travelling, training and other fieldwork experiences in Africa, but also completely different ones such as visiting the world cup soccer or missing planes when going to conferences;
- Fun things that have little to do with my dissertation but that I happen to come across such as dinosaurs in the DRC, Monthy Python, Dirk Jan or smart moves to ruin a passport;
- Comments on the news (for example this one);
- Summaries or comments on books (Purity and Exile) and papers;
- But also frustrations. Whether about inequality in the world, doubting the value of academics or politics in the Netherlands, this blog is a great way to write these frustrations away, or at least express them.
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
During the last three of those five weeks we didn't have internet so I got a lot of dissertation work done (that was the goal of being away). I probably read close to every paper in economics, political science and evolutionary biology on "cooperation" (more on this in future blogposts). Raul - a colleague from Columbia - joined the last week in Sauveterre so we could work together. Did you know that by putting white paper behind a window, the window becomes a perfectly good whiteboard?
Fig 1. This was day 1. On day 2 the paper touched
the floor, and on day 3 we had also paper on
the wall. On Day 4 Raul was writing on the fridge.
I also read the first two books in the series "Wheel of Time" by Robert Jordan. But I'm not that enthousiastic about it. The book is well written, but it was difficult getting into the story. "A Dance with Dragons" by George R. Martin was much better. The book is the fourth in the "A Song of Ice and Fire" series. However, the big suprise was a book that was partly related to my dissertation. I am fascinated by cathedrals and castles. One of the reasons for this, and also one of the reasons for my disseration's topic, comes from a question (maybe more a frustration) that I have had for years now: "Why are there villages now that can't get their act together and build a simple school, while hundreds of years ago people build enormous cathedrals and castles that still stand today?"
The book is "The Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett - a (thank you Wikipedia): "historical novel about the building of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge, England. It is set in the middle of the 12th century, primarily during the Anarchy, between the time of the sinking of the White Ship and the murder of Thomas Becket. The book traces the development of Gothic architecture out of the preceding Romanesque architecture and the fortunes of the Kingsbridge priory against the backdrop of actual historical events of the time." It is informative and very well written. Thanks Ali for recommending it! (she's another colleague and survived a full five weeks with me).
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Thursday, June 23, 2011
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
- In the first post I explain the concept of an RCT;
- the second (including a discussion with a reader) discusses the importance of behavioral measures;
- Alternatives to the RCT are discussed in the third post;
- and the the final post gives techniques to get at sensitive information and tips for a solid evaluation.
Sunday, June 12, 2011
Our of curiosity (and because my knowledge of Dutch history and Dutch literature is appalling) I am now reading Geert Mak's "De eeuw van mijn vader". This is a book in which Mak discusses - in an autobiographical way - about the century in which his dad lived - so starting at the turn of the previous century (19 to 20th). I've read about 100 of the 523 pages now and am surpised how many things are similar to the Congo at the moment. The level of development: at the end of the 19th century a shower was a cold bucket of water, health conditions were horrible (a third of the children died at birth), there was no electricity and most people washed their laundry in the river. But also how society was organized: people hardly travelled beyond the borders of the village (railways were build after 1880), village committees were very important, and the priest had a central role in society. Of course many of the reasons for these similarities are different, and I know that I'm reading this book through Congo glasses and also that many more things are completely different between Congo now and the Netherlands then. But still. It's incredible how many of the things that I know only from the DRC and are otherwise completely strange to me, were very normal in Netherlands. Even during my grandma's time!
Btw, my granny is awesome. Not only do we send emails back and forth when I'm not in Oudewater, she also handmade Escher pillows for the whole family. Here is one in my apartment in New York.
And here is one in Schoorl (the Netherlands):
Saturday, June 4, 2011
Btw, I recently received an email from Tim Butcher - the author of "Blood River". At the right of this blog one finds my reviews of several books. This included a review on his book: "[Not a good book]". In the email to me he wrote (paraphrased): "Unfortunately you did not like the book, but it's always good to get reviews. Good luck with your future work." That's good sport, and so I was planned to write a more complete review. However, the dice told me not to. :). Also, I also recently finished a new book by Jason Stearns - a PhD collegue at Yale and a real expert on the Congo. Of course, a large, well-structured review about this book has been added to the right of this blog as well.
Saturday, May 28, 2011
Saturday, May 21, 2011
In a bit less brief, during these three days most things necessary for good field experimentation were covered (for the complete agenda see here):
- The first day was theory-based and discussed the theory behind causal inference (the fundamental problem of causal inference, randomization, instrumental variables, etc.), issues of analysis (estimators, missing data, spillovers), etc.
- The second day was more design-oriented and discussed differences in data-collection techniques (survey, lab, lab-in-the-field, etc.), how to get at sensitive information, etc.
- The last day discussed practical issues (forging partnerships with implementing partners, ethics, etc.) and several design-in-progress field experiments were presented and discussed.
Together with Raul we gave two presentations ourselves: During the round table we discussed ex ante analysis plans and the benefits of behavioral measures over for example surveys or lab-in-the-fields. The last day we discussed the design of an evaluation that we will be undertaking in Eastern Congo from 2011 to 2014 with the International Rescue Committee and CARE International. More on the latter soon!
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Monday, May 16, 2011
Of course, we were very willing to do so. You can find the blog post about Voix des Kivus here.
An informative four-pager with information about Voix des Kivus can be found here.
Sunday, May 8, 2011
have to be cooked for a long time before
they can be consumed.
Alain and Pascaline (enumerators), Emmanuel
(superassistant), and me. Our bikes in the background.
 Foufou is the staple food of the DR Congo. You take manioc (cassava) roots, cut this in pieces, leave it out to dry and then grind/smash it until it is powder. Then mix this with hot water and you get a dough-like ball.
Friday, May 6, 2011
Monday, May 2, 2011
Let's start with some true American patriotism. While waiting for the Western Union employee to send money to the Congo, I noticed the flag below hanging on the wall. Indeed it has some seriously patriotic words written on the flag.
But since when does the United States have 87 States!? Hehe!
Thursday, April 28, 2011
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
- After a seven-hour bus ride from Bukavu to Kigali I am now in Shocolate: a very romantic place to drink a good cup of coffee in Rwanda’s capital. Of course, I’m sitting alone and behind my laptop. ;)
- What is development? Answer: An IRC expat helping a local employee with uploading a picture to Facebook.
- When you ask a Congolese “Comment allez-vous?” you will consistently get back “Une peu bien”. In the Netherlands people say by default “I’m good”. Here by default people say “I’m a little bit ok”. Interesting! Why? Is this because conditions are so much different in the Netherlands and Congo? Is this cultural?
- When you are a white and in the Congo expect to hear people scream “muzungu” at you many times a day – especially when in the field. Both children and adults will shout this at you. Muzungu means ‘white person’ in Swahili – a word that is now also related to having a wealthy status. It gets annoying to hear people shout the same thing at you tens of times a day. Several MONUSCO soldiers in Maniema got so tired of it that they created t-shirts saying “My name is NOT muzungu”. Nice!
- Another thing you have to get used to when you are white and in the Congo is the famous words “Donnez-moi…!” (“Give me…!”). People consistently use these words. For example, last Friday I came back from Kalehe Centre and police officers stopped me to check the motorbike’s insurance. I think I was using one of the few bikes in the Congo that is actually properly insured, and thus after the five police officers sequentially looked with stern faces at the documents (surprisingly, this time they did not held my passport upside down), they knew they had nothing they could do with me. So: “Give us a Primus!” It seems these words are completely ingrained in Congolese society now: children, police officers, random people on the street will use these words. Why this culture of asking? Is it the NGOs that have created a culture like this?
- As you know, religion (and especially the Catholic Church) is hyper important in Africa. However, a friend of mine recently got married and his wife was clearly visibly pregnant. I asked him how this is possible because the Church forbids intercourse before marriage. He told that in his tribe (the Mashi), but also many other tribes in Congo, it is normal to first make sure that she can get pregnant because this would avoid that you would have to split later. Interesting! This seems a clear case where local customs beats the Church customs. Of course being a (read: try to be) proper academic, I asked a bit further around and this isn't necessarily the case. Some argued this was not true and that the story only nicely fitted my friend because he got his wife pregnant before marriage. Anyhow, interesting!
- A long time ago I posted a blog asking why including "security" in the name of MONUC lead to the name MONUSCO and not MONUSC. See among others the reaction by Alex Engewete here. Of course, I wasn’t very serious with this post. I know it is quite common to have “CO” in abbreviations in the Congo. Also, I actually don’t care too much about the name, but more about what they do. But well, when on the bike in Maniema it occured to me. When in the field people often shout “MONUC” because for many villagers very much everything that looks foreign or is in a white car is MONUC. However, in Maniema when children were shooting at me I was not able to distinguish whether they were screaming: “Mo-ney”, “Mor-ning”, or “MO-NUC”. So, did the Security Council move on purpose from a two to a three syllables word. Are they trying to make life more complicated for Congolese villagers?
- I’m not sure I ever told this story, but it’s a fun one. About a year ago I was with one of our evaluation teams in Katudu – a small village in the territoire Walungu of Sud Kivu. We would sleep that night in the village so before going to bed we were invited by the chief to drink a beer. I wanted to show off that I could count to ten in Swahili and started: “moja, mbili, tatu, ine, tano, sita, saba, munane, kenda, kuma”. After people making fun of me, the evening continued fantastically with lots of beer. The next morning one of the evaluators told me “Peter you still owe me $20”. I seemed that everybody had understood I wanted to have ten beers! I am happy I can’t count to more in Swahili! :)
Sunday, April 24, 2011
The evaluation is technologically very heavy. In each province we at least two laptops, tens of PDAs, tens of solar chargers, satellite phones, GPS devices, cameras, etc. The surveys are conducted on PDAs for four reasons:
- Data is immediately saved to a database which allows us - with computer code that we wrote - to check the whether enumerators are doing all the surveys, but also whether they are filling out the questions correctly or not;
- There is a higher quality of survey filling out by the enumerators because we can restrict enumerators' options in a PDA;
- It avoids carrying around piles of paper by the enumators;
- We save part mother nature by not having to print (literally!) 100,000s of pages.
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Both Arabs and Belgians were present in Maniema. During the nineteenth century this was an important area for Arabs for ivory, gold and slaves which were sent overland to Zanzibar. Also Belgians were here until independence fifty years ago. Arab and Belgian constructions are still very much present. In Kibombo, with a little imagination, you see a Belgian colonial family walking through the street. It seems as if time has stand still ever since independence. The Congolese have not maintained the buildings since the Belgians left. People camp inside them. And what is newly build are wooden sheds or half-build adobe houses. Even after more than fifty years the colonial constructions by far outbeat the newly build constructions in both grandeur and quality. It is a really strange (and frustrating) feeling when walking through either Kibombo or Kindu. Why were people able to build houses, roads, trainstations, ports, etc. a million times better fifty years ago then they do now? Why don't people get their act together now?
While it doesn't answer the questions raised above directly, I think there are two important reasons why Congolese have a tendency not to maintain nor renovate buildings. First, the colonial buildings are often for government employees. The government is responsible for their upkeep. Moreover, government employees often haven't been paid in many months. And if they get paid it is close to nothing. Second, even if they have money to do maintenance, there is no system of property rights or enforcement of them. As a result, if you would invest in your house and make it nice, a more powerful person would take it from you. As an indication of the lack of property rights, see the picture below that I shot in Bukavu. This is quite a common sight in Bukavu and other cities. People write on the building « Cette parcelle n’est pas a vendre », or "This is not for sale". All because there are no clear ownership rights in the Congo.
Fig 6. Kindu's train station. If you look carefully in the back you see
cranes. The Congo river is there and it used to be a port. Now there
are piroques and carcasses of Belgian-time boats.
Fig 7. More train station.