A Presentation on Gender and Environmental Conflict

Last week, the University of Rwanda’s Center of Excellence in Biodiversity (CoEB) hosted a joint talk. Lisa Dale of Columbia University gave a presentation on climate change and sustainable development and I discussed the gender dynamics of environmental conflict in the region.

Most of those in attendance were biologists and our aim was to bring a social science analysis to the conversation. Dr. Dale’s talk focused on how global policy can better deal with the challenges of climate change and Rwanda’s role in achieving that goal. My presentation offered a general overview of the intersections of three fields of academic study: environmental security, gender and the environment, and gender and security. My line of inquiry for this year falls right in the middle of those three.

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There isn’t a plethora of research on gender and environmental conflict in Rwanda, which is why I am drawn to it.  Some things we do know about the land and the environment in developing countries could apply here. Most of the research comes out of India and some from other African countries. Thus far, investigations have shown:

  1. Men and women place different degrees of importance on different categories of ecological services (ES). ES are the ways the environment serves human needs: provisioning, e.g. food, regulating, e.g. temperature, supporting, e.g. oxygen, and cultural roles, e.g. spiritual practices.
  2. Women use land daily and men sporadically.
  3. Women may need communal lands more because they are less likely to have access to private land for alternative resources if they are displaced. They also have less access to the cash economy, paid employment, and markets
  4. Environmental damage, conflict, and conservation disproportionately cost women time, especially in increased domestic chores.
  5. Men and women engage in environmental violations for different reasons.

The Rwandan students and professors were engaged and intellectually curious, which is promising for future environmental studies in Africa.

For the entire PPT, click here: CoEB Talk



An economic look at the new malaria vaccine

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It is excellent news that a pilot program for the new malaria vaccine, RTS,S, is being rolled out in Malawi, Ghana, and Kenya. The vaccine works in combination with other malaria prevention efforts–bed nets, clearing stagnant water from homes–and might reduce fatal malaria in 1/3 of cases.

Economists such as Jeffrey Sachs have long looked at malaria as one of several health challenges that feed into the poverty trap.

Malaria is particularly frustrating because it kills almost half a million people per year, yet it is far easier and cheaper to prevent than other health scourges. Bed nets are an example of a public health “low-hanging fruit” as Banerjee and Duflo have called it, a cheap way to save lives, that is vastly underutilized. It has been quite difficult to convince rural African to use bed nets, and studies have shown that subsidizing the nets to almost free makes as little as a 5% increase in acquisition of nets. William Easterly haunted development scholars with his tales of subsidized bed nets being used for wedding veils and fishing.

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Unfortunately, development economists of public health find that the poor tend to spend their money not on cheap preventative measures, but on expensive treatment instead. When reading about the new malaria vaccine, I found myself prevented with all sorts of questions from behavioral economics:

  • Is it a problem of psychological “sunk costs”? The vaccine is supposed to be used in addition to efforts already in place. The problem, some say is precisely that bed nets are free or cheap, and that means people don’t value them. Their subsidization reduces their “sunk cost” of purchase, which is the money we spend that we can’t get back. Studies show that sunk costs make people use and value those purchases longer and follow through with the cost of ongoing maintenance, e.g. sewing up holes in the nets. With this in mind, should the vaccine be totally free to everyone, or incur some small charge?
  • The “free-rider problem”: This applies to all vaccines everywhere. If I believe everyone around me going to some effort will achieve those ends, there is little reason for me as an individual to make that effort when I will benefit regardless. Actually, my individual efforts would be a form of economically “irrational” behavior, i.e. not self-maximizing, in this sense. If everyone in my village will vaccinate their child, pay for it and deal with the fever and fussiness that temporarily follows, and I believe that will eradicate malaria in my village, then it makes sense for me as an individual to abstain from the trouble of getting the vaccine.  This line of thought is less applicable to malaria, which is highly mobile and widespread, than to more obscure infectious diseases in the U.S., however.
  • What is the “opportunity cost” for parents to vaccinate their children?: This asks what people miss out on with Option A by choosing Option B. I mentioned it in a previous post about the Niger Delta Amnesty program, which sought to provide job training for insurgents, thus lowering the cost of leaving rebel groups and increasing the cost of staying in them. The question of the opportunity cost for African parents would be, “How much am I missing out on in order to attend the vaccination clinic?” Parents could be incurring the cost of a long walk, leaving behind free childcare, missing farming time that generates income, etc. If this a concern for parents, studies in India showed that providing just a small amount of lentils to parents increased the likelihood that they would vaccinate.
  • Would these vaccines be affected by “time inconsistency” on the part of parents?: Behavioral economists teach us that we want to put off small costs today even if doing so risks big gains in the future. We care more about the present than the future essentially. The cost of getting a child vaccinated today could feel greater than the hypothetical cost of that child contracting malaria later on. To overcome this, there have to be very few obstacles to today’s vaccination and a sense of grave potential cost to contraction–which is a public awareness and education issue.

There is not much information online on the logistics of how the RTS,S vaccine is logistically being rolled out, but a key issue would be to ensure that public health care providers are reliable in their work attendance. Studies show that public workers in health have troublingly high absenteeism a the workplace. This makes them unreliable to patients who then stop coming for care, and in turn, those workers get bored and suffer even lower morale that disincentivizes work attendance.

Additionally, any innovation that would require even a slight modification in behavior requires a bit of “nudge” sometimes, for humans can be quite conservative creatures. “Nudges” are slight changes to structure or incentives that make it easier to follow a certain course of action. The best nudges are those that make that action the default one, i.e. parents who have to exert effort to not get the malaria vaccine because it is built into some other form of cheap and accessible health care.  Development folks in the West often forget this because, as Banerjee and Duflo aptly describe it, “those who live in rich countries live a life surrounded by invisible nudges”.

Could African mining operations mimic the effects of conflict?

Screen Shot 2019-05-28 at 2.00.58 PMIn recently relocating to central Africa, I have shifted my focus away from the impact of large-scale natural resource extraction, e.g. gas and oil, to small scale mining. This is no small industry, as it is estimated to employ 40 million people worldwide. It is well-known that artisanal and small-scale mining operations (ASMs) undergird long-standing conflicts. These mines both drive and sustain violence, giving insurgents a reason to seize power and geographic strongholds while also generating income to pay soldiers and buy weapons. The most well-known of these conflicts is that in nearby DRC.

Less studied is the lower-impact ASMs that operate in non-conflict zones. As an example, Tanzania hosts seven notable gold mines (which produce about 2% of the world output), but countless other smaller mines that produce copper, silver, diamonds, tanzanite, etc. In contrast to non-lootable resources that often require local government cooperation, Tanzanian mines are privately owned by foreign companies, which allows them to function outside the confines of the state. The Tanzanian government owns only a minor interest in a handful of private enterprises, e.g. Kiwira, Williamson Diamonds. Mining and quarrying constitute just 3% of the Tanzanian GDP, and this would be larger if the government were able to become a more significant actor in such ASMs.

Tanzania is interesting in that its natural resource history of control is inverted. Typically, extraction begins in a Wild West manner in developing countries, with governments seeking greater control as they recognize the financial boon, e.g. Nigeria’s oil. However, the Tanzanian government exercised strict control over the industry when mining first began to a notable degree in the 1970s. Through the 1980s, claims were opened up to individual investors. Then, the mining industry became even less centralized when more international corporations arrived and more minerals were exported internationally in the 1990s. These taxable international exports are key to the Tanzanian state being able to use that revenue for social service investment and possibly avoid some pitfalls of the resource curse.

My current interest in unregulated ASMs in non-conflict zones is centered on the non-measured effects these mines have on nearby communities. I would offer the (still not fully researched) hypothesis that ASMs could mimic the effects of civil conflict.  Both mines and localized conflict/violence:

  • create patterns of displacement that separate people from their typical forms of livelihood, family support systems, and bottom-up governance
  • stymie other economic sectors outside of mining, e.g. farming, and drive residents to new and often illegal forms of income generation
  • militarize areas with shored up security forces and a higher number of weapon to protect mines and fighting strongholds
  • cause environmental degradations as people seek out resources and land in a non-sustainable manner

If we consider the gender dynamics of this comparison, there are other similarities. Both mines and civil conflict:

  • create patterns of displacement that separate men from kinship networks of accountability for their behavior towards women and women from kinship networks that protect them from gender-based violence (GBV)
  • stymie other economic sectors outside of mining, e.g. farming, upon which women disproportionately rely (women do the majority of agricultural output in sub-Saharan Africa); ASMs could also drive women into dangerous sex-work
  • militarize areas, and we know that having lots of armed men in hypermasculine environments increases rates of GBV
  • cause environmental degradations that disproportionately affects women–who are the primary food and clean water providers to children

Both ASMs and civil unrest also contribute to (and can be a result of) autocracy and corruption that marginalizes women. They could hinder democracy that would be more inclusive of women voting and running for office.

Although it is a few years old, this interesting article found that Congolese women living close to ASMs are indeed to more likely to have suffered sexual violence, particularly if those ASMs host at least one armed actor.


As demand for minerals, largely through the electronics industry, can only multiply the number of ASMs in operation, this line of inquiry is promising for security researchers of all regions.

Upcoming Talk in Lahore, Pakistan

For readers in Pakistan, I am an invited speaker at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) next week. The talk is sponsored by the Saida Waheed Gender Initiative (SWGI) at LUMS. The title of my presentation is, “No Wealth for Women: Natural Resources and Gender Inequality in Africa.” The first half of the talk with cover the basics of the “resource curse” and then the second half will offer details on my work, the intersection between the natural resources and the status of women in the developing world. I will explain the ways the paradox of plenty is particularly harmful to women, e.g. if oil wealth undermines healthy economies, and women are already disproportionately overrepresented in poverty rates, they suffer particular economic marginalization. A video will be uploaded after the presentation.

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Rwanda Achieves Universal Healthcare

Rwanda continues to impress beyond measure.

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The Rwandan healthcare system now covers over 90% of the population, the highest coverage rate in Africa. The informal community-based health insurance (CBHI) scheme, known as Mutuelle de Santé, focuses mainly on maternal and child health. According to the East African, the scheme is one of the most successful on the continent and it is credited for the country’s lower maternal and infant mortality rates of over 70% since 2000.

CBHI was originally voluntary and when contributions became compulsory, many saw it as paving the way to national coverage. Rwanda’s potential model for Africa is pivotal to development, as the WHO estimates that 100 million people are pushed into poverty and 150 million suffer financial catastrophe because of out-of-pocket expenditure on health services every year. Kenya is now using the CBHI model in pilot programs, while Tanzania and Uganda are openly considering it.

Benjamin Chemouni argues that Rwanda’s expansion of health insurance coverage is made possible by the concentration of power in the ruling coalition. He says the CBHI policy and its implementation are forged through both political interests and ideology. Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda are certainly different milieus than Rwanda, so time will tell how the CBHI programs would fare in other countries.

If any country could make this model a success, however, it’s Rwanda. I have written about Africa’s innovation leaps forward and Rwanda is at the fore. Pretty impressive from a country that has done so much rebuilding in just a few decades since massive conflict. We can’t help but root for Rwandans.


DR Congo – Election Fraud Exposed — Africa Research Online

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Whistleblowers in the government leak results confirming claims by the Catholic Church that the announced result was false. A cache of data leaked from the state’s electoral commission points to an overwhelming victory by opposition presidential candidate Martin Fayulu, reinforcing earlier calls by regional organisations for a recount. The leaked data starkly contradicts the official results announced […]

via DR Congo – Election Fraud Exposed — Africa Research Online

Book Chapter on LGBTI Refugees from Pakistan

screen shot 2019-01-17 at 12.11.42 pmI recently had a book chapter published by Springer in LGBTI Asylum Seekers and Refugees from a Legal and Political Perspective. This qualitative research project on transgender refugees from Pakistan began during my time in Lahore in 2017. I later conducted in-depth interviews over the phone with transgender asylum seekers in Europe. I also published an article with The Islamic Monthly on the topic.

I am posting here because these same issues of LGBTI persecution exist in some African countries. I have posted about homosexuality in Uganda and Nigeria, the two African countries with the strictest laws against same-sex relations. Additionally, Nigeria and Pakistan share similar characteristics conducive to a legal and political comparison:

  • high population density
  • majority Muslim population with at least some degree of sharia law in place
  • high contrast between relative wealthy urban areas (Lagos, Lahore) and impoverished rural ones (Sokoto State, Balochistan)
  • histories of military take-overs and political instability, in which repression of sexual minorities can be part of the political agenda
  • Artificial borders drawn by the British that undergird religious/ethnic identities today

My chapter, “Fleeing Gender: Reasons for Displacement in Pakistan’s Transgender Community,” can be previewed here. The abstract is below.

Transgender women in Pakistan, or khwaja siras, continue to suffer human rights abuses that cause many to become Internally Displaced Persons, despite legal protections in their favor. The chapter poses a two-fold question to explore this inconsistency. Firstly, it draws from illustrative case study research to identify the discrimination that informs transgender perceptions of persecution and forces them from their homes. Based predominantly on qualitative data, it presents a 5-part typology of cumulative forms of discrimination against khwaja siras in terms of family, employment, housing, education, and healthcare. Importantly, police act as key agents of persecution for them, permitting and participating in their oppression. Secondly, this sociolegal study asks how such widespread discrimination against transgender women can persist notwithstanding legal reforms—a problem of social progress failing to result from legal progress. It finds that human rights protections for the transgender population lack actual implementation due to inaccurate legal wording, low level of trust in legal institutions, and generalized social stigma against the LGBTI community. This analysis revealed not only that mainstream social conservatism mitigates enforcement of LGBTI-friendly laws, but also that such conservatism creates an environment in which their persecution qualifies khwaja siras for, but yet impedes their ability to gain, UN protection as refugees at the international level. The empirical data from this research draws heavily on four comparative life histories of khwaja siras, two who gained refugee status and two who did not, which demonstrate the patterns of persecution against the transgender community in Pakistan.

The U.S. has a new strategy towards African engagement


The White House announced a revised approach towards relations with Africa. Namely, it aims to counter China and Russia’s economic influence on the continent while moving away from humanitarian assistance and troop support. However, revoking humanitarian assistance seems counterintuitive since aid is exactly the comparative advantage the U.S. has over China and Russia. The U.S. is in no position to counter China’s economic investment on the continent, investments which now undergird major transportation, mining, oil, and construction projects. If countering rivals is the goal, it appears to me to be more important than ever to be a generous Big Brother.

Second, he says that increased accountability for donor funds is needed. I am inclined to agree. Indiscriminate donations to developing countries stymie local economic growth, prop up poor leaders, and create a troubling power dynamic between rich and poor nations. I have previously compared such international aid to oil wealth in the way that it adversely affects development. But, I am not sure it is accurate to depict all U.S. aid to Africa as  “indiscriminate,” as Bolton did in his statement. There are increasing checks and balances on American aid to Africa, as exemplified in Bush’s PEPFAR initiative for HIV/AIDS.

The announcement also warns that the U.S. will revoke support for UN Peacekeepers. This is troubling at a time when Africa is seeing an unprecedented rise in migration-related clashes, such as those stemming from climate change. (As an example, desertification of grazing lands has forced cattle owners into land clashes in Darfur, etc.) Admittedly, UN Peacekeepers have been less than successful in many, many African milieus, e.g. Rwanda, DRC. However, pulling support doesn’t improve those missions and citing their failures seems to be an excuse for simply pulling economic support for humanitarian initiatives out of economic self-interest.

Pulling support for Peacekeepers comes in the wake of Washington’s decision to cut troops across the continent by 10%, including half of those fighting terrorism in West Africa. This troubles those following the rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria.

Overall, we can think of this as a privatization of African relations—pulling humanitarian and military aid in favor of increasing business and trade.

On a final note, it would be odd for the White House to announce an “Asia” policy or a “Europe” policy, for there is clearly too much diversity within those regions to take pan-continental approaches. Yet, that is exactly what President Trump intends with Africa. An overgeneralization of the continent is bad for politics, and for the business relationships the President hopes to build as well.

First-Time Podcaster: “Just a Chat about Africa”

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Consider this podcast a quirky bucket list item completed for me. Another international relations scholar and I recorded a conversation we had about African history and politics, largely about history, and here it is. Discussion spans most of the continent south of the Sahara. It runs for an hour but we actually ran out of time before we could talk about gender and some other social issues, so perhaps another episode will be in the works. Fair warning that I have no podcasting or editing experience, so it really is just two friends chatting. I am a first-time user of this platform, so please let me know if the link below doesn’t work for you. Happy listening.




Also, you can find the podcast on Spotify, RadioPublic, and Breaker.