Klaus Schlichte talks about his research stay in Kampala: systematic research, planned irritations, and coincidence revealed a lot about social policy issues of Uganda.
Dear Mr. Schlichte, for project B09 you have recently been in Uganda for about two months. What was the aim of the stay?
My aim was a general mapping. Because social policy in Africa is by no means as well researched as in the OECD or Europe. And there are forms of social policy that are less present in the Global North, such as subsidising staple foods or preventing epidemics. So my aim was to gather views on this: What do people think about social policy issues in Uganda? What are the positions of the government? What do nurses, doctors or teachers' unions think? But I also wanted to know how "ordinary" people, i.e. non-experts, deal with issues like illness or health care in everyday life. There was no overarching question: in mapping, you try to put together a collage and be open to everything that arises.
But you have not flown to Uganda unprepared, have you?
Of course not. I have worked on other issues in Uganda before and therefore have a number of contacts. Nevertheless, I didn't want to go looking for material with a narrow question in mind. We call this field research, you could also call it ethnography. Of course I also do expert interviews, but everyday stories are just as much a part of it as everything that' s written in the newspaper and what people tell me in informal conversations. I also collect all kinds of documents, informal papers, for example from development aid organisations working in Uganda. The assumption is that everything is material. Everything you see, hear and find. There is no limit.
So you flew to Kampala with one suitcase and returned with five? Or more seriously: How do you document your work during mapping?
In the past, when all documents were still printed, I actually packed mailbags and sent them to Germany. But of course, almost everything in Uganda is digitalized today and fits on a USB stick and in a few folders.
And do you record conversations with people?
Sometimes. But most of them I don't. A lot of conversations are everyday conversations, so it would be very strange to fiddle around with the microphone in someone else's face. I usually take notes in conversations and write everything down in detail afterwards. This later results in a transcript of the conversation. The important thing is that I sit down straight away. That's why I immediately go to a café, go home or to the library after a conversation and write a transcript based on my notes.
Was there anything on your trip that surprised you?
What surprised me was that all the policies are subject to Uganda's democratic machine. This goes so far that many Ugandan experts now doubt democratisation because political competition has become so fierce that it creates interference in all kinds of policies.
Can you give an example?
Let us look at police work in Uganda. During election campaigns, the entire police force is on the road on behalf of the government. Everything is used so that the president can travel smoothly through the country and the masses can be organised to cheer for him. The normal police work is left behind, and the resources of the police are not abundant anyway. This principle also applies to schools and health care. Political support is generated through the distribution of already scarce public resources. We also know this from Germany: certain regions and groups are provided with resources to generate loyalty. In Uganda, this is happening in a radical way, which has to do with widespread poverty. The incumbents set the entire state in motion for political competition. Even intellectual, liberal and progressive people told me that Ugandans should vote less and at longer intervals, because too much money and too many resources are being burned for creating loyalty. I was surprised at how critical the public opinion has become of democratic procedures.
Elections in Uganda take place every 4 or 5 years.
Yes, usually the president is in office for five years, the parliament is also elected every five years. That sounds like a relaxed rhythm. But loyalty must be secured in between as well. You need parliamentary majorities. And Parliament is not as disciplined by parties as it is here, instead the loyalty of MPs is also managed by building hospitals, roads and the like. Because the MPs are under a certain pressure to deliver certain benefits to their constituency.
Which brings us to social policy.
Where are the hospitals being built? Where they are beeing needed, or where the MP lives whose support is being needed? This logic surprised me. I do not think that Uganda is an isolated case here; we will be able to observe this in many states, including far beyond Africa: the political establishment is also an entrepreneurial establishment. For example, the Permanent Secretary of State in the Ministry of Education is also the owner of several private secondary schools. The same can be seen with many members of parliament. These are political entrepreneurs who are strongly linked to the privatization of education and health. This has created an oligarchy that can have no interest at all in making education and health a public good again. The booming market for education in Uganda in particular is firmly in the hands of those who also have the political say. A locked-in situation, which is so stalled that one wonders: How will this ever change again? This is perhaps a second thesis that emerged from the stay.
I imagine it would be difficult to verify on-site such things as the confictinginterests of the Permanent Secretary of State in the Ministry of Education.
Of course, people don't tell you in front of a microphone, rather in a confidential conversation. But you can verify such things just as you can in Germany, for example, by going to the Chamber of Commerce and looking up who is registered there as an entrepreneur and for which business.
I ask because your colleague Roy Karadag tried a similar mapping in Egypt and was blocked, at least by the authorities and ministries.
That is quite different in Uganda. You have to register with the authorities and ministries at the reception desk, but then - and this makes it incredibly easy for research - you can move around the building completely freely. You simply knock on the doors. You may have to wait or come back the next day, but the people are always willing to talk. Uganda is much more liberal than Germany, in this respect.
Your mapping method also depends on coincidences. One such coincidence has made you familiar with the Ugandan hospital system. Would you briefly tell me about that?
In Kampala I stayed with a former doctoral student who sublet rooms of her house. A news presenter was staying there as well as my landlord's uncle, who had come to Kampala from the countryside because he had tongue cancer. His example illustrated to me how Uganda's health care system works and what role family, kinship and friendship play in social security. Uganda has about 40 million inhabitants. For people who do not have private health insurance and cannot afford surgery - about 98 percent of the population - there is exactly one ward in the whole country where cancer surgery is possible. His uncle would have died if his niece hadn't had a job to finance his hospital stay. That was the first condition why he is still alive today. The second was that 20 Chicago doctors operated in the hospital for two weeks without pay - day and night in alternating shifts. This was the only reason why the operation was possible at that time. Most doctors and nurses who work in Uganda's public hospitals cannot make a living from their salary, which is why they also work in private clinics. This explains why cancer surgery in Uganda does not run as smoothly as it does in our country.
What happened to the man?
There are no rehabilitation clinics in Uganda, so he was discharged a few days after the operation. For someone from the countryside the question then arises: How do you get home from the hospital? The median income in Uganda is 55,000 shillings a month, the equivalent of about 25 euros. The transport from Kampala to the countryside, let's say 400 kilometres in distance, costs about 30,000 shillings, which is an average monthly income. Many patients are therefore dependent on help. Thus, complete strangers at the hospital give money to such patients. That sounds romantic now, but it also has a downside: Because these kinds of moral obligations are also the background to what we denounce as corruption. After all, the money has to come from somewhere. If there is mass poverty, there is also corruption - not because people are bad, but on the contrary: because access to public resources is the most important access to resources of all.
How all this is intertwined in the health sector was not obvious to me before. That is perhaps the most important reason for this form of research. I would not have to fly to Kampala for expert interviews. What I'm looking for there are "planned" irritations. In this way I discover issues and connections of which I knew little before, but which are important.
How will you continue your work now?
After collecting the material in Uganda, there is a phase of distancing. You discover certain things only when you look at the material again later, also because you have read other things and talked to others in the meantime. I started dealing with Uganda 20 years ago, and the recordings of that time are still full of useful information. I will now write an essay on Uganda and one on colonial social policy. The manuscripts will be ready by summer. But our research in project B09 also has a historical dimension. We want to record and analyse the ups and downs of social policies in six African countries. Then we hold the analyses next to each other. Are there similarities and differences? What happened at the same time, what happened in different phases and why? What were the external influences? Were there similar or contradictory influences? These are the questions that we will clarify in the first CRC funding phase. But we wanted to use the mapping to find out what developments there are in social policy in Africa and what questions arise from them that we can deal with in the second phase of the CRC.Contact:Prof. Dr. Klaus Schlichte
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy, Institute for Intercultural and International Studies
Phone: +49 421 218-67475