Sorry for the silence, folks, but it is for good reason. I cut my time in the field short, came back to Zomba, and have been working long days on a very exciting new project. Thanks to the herculean efforts of my co-author and friend, Kim, we have managed to put together a really cool study of the upcoming protests in Malawi.
The study will include a survey of 900 people from three different cities in Malawi. We will do a pre-protest survey and post-protest survey in order to analyze how the protest event changes attitudes, both for those that attend and for those that stay home. We will also be surveying people on the day of the protests (August 17 and 18), both those at the protests (now being planned as candlelight vigils) and in 6 neighborhoods across the three cities. The major question of the project is why some people protest while others do not, even when they are facing the same problems. As far as we know, this will be the first survey during a protest ever done in Africa. We spent all day today training our 42 enumerators, and we will wrap up training tomorrow. The teams will go into the “field” – this case, just the major cities – on Monday.
I am really excited about all the possibilities with the project. I really feel like the protests have caused a sharp increase in the sense of a shared Malawian identity. The problems that have spurred the protests – lack of fuel, lack of foreign exchange, power outages, etc. – are being experienced in the entire country, from Chitipa to Nsanje, as they say. And, those problems stop at the border. Benedict Anderson, an important historian of nationalism, noted that nationalism arises when people “imagine” a nation that is internally homogenous and bounded. I believe that these protests are helping Malawians to imagine a common identity. And I hope to be able to estimate the impact of that shock to national identity on people’s attitudes about politics.
For those of you that tend to worry (ah-hum, mom), I will be safely at home on the day of the protests. And, even better, I am driving to the capital tomorrow, and picking Joachim up at the airport on Monday, if all goes according to plan.