SAIS continued their stellar array of Africanist events this week with a talk this afternoon titled,“Does Information Technology Flatten Interest Articulation? Evidence From Uganda” by Guy Grossman of the University of Pennsylvania. Grossman discussed the results of a pilot research project that covered all of Uganda’s 248 political constituencies (can’t remember what level that is). Grossman suggested that the results of this study show that mobile phones (which have been primarily celebrated in Africa as a tool to assist in agricultural commerce) can also play a meaningful role in connecting citizens to their elected representatives.
I’ll have to confess this isn’t a topic that interests me greatly. Nevertheless, Grossman passionately (and to my uninformed self, somewhat convincingly) articulated the importance of his work (to a rather small crowd), which appeared to me to be a great case of academic research with important real world implications. I’m generally a bit skeptical of the extreme emphasis on the transformative impact of mobile phones in Africa. However, many people are not, so I was surprised that this event did not get a better turn out.
In the 2+ years that I’ve been going to events at SAIS, I’ve only attended one lecture that I could really classify as bad (it featured a speaker from a think tank based in a major African country). SAIS’ African Studies Program usually puts on at least one lunchtime talk a week. I would encourage all of you based in Dupont Circle with African interests (of whom there should be quite a few) to try to attend as many of these talks as possible.