From Violence to Voting: War and Political Participation in Uganda
Since the late 1980s, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group originally from Northern Uganda led by Joseph Kony, has been engaged in a war with the Ugandan national army, the People’s Defense Force. In the developing world, this type of protracted civil war is far from uncommon. The effects of long-term armed conflict on former soldiers — a subject within the emerging field of post-conflict research — is an area that continues to be examined.
A 2009 study from Yale University in the American Political Science Review, “From Violence to Voting: War and Political Participation in Uganda,” assesses the effects war-related violence and combat have on social and political participation in Northern Uganda. The study uses survey data from more than 700 male Ugandan youth, ages 14 to 30, from the rural areas of Kitgum and Pader, where LRA recruitment in the form of abductions was widespread over the two decades of war.
The study’s findings include:
- There was an increase in voter turnout among former soldiers abducted by the LRA as compared with non-abducted youth; among those who experienced abduction, there was an “11 percentage point increase in the probability a youth older than 18 voted in the 2005 referendum.”
- Having been abducted was associated with a greater likelihood, by 3.4 percentage points, that a young man will be a community mobilizer.
- Among abducted youth, those who witnessed more acts of violence during their time with the LRA were more likely to be politically active after their abduction, with “each additional act of violence witnessed … associated with a 4.2 percentage point increase in the probability of voting and a 2.3 percentage point increase in the probability of being a community mobilizer.”
- Among the ways that abducted and non-abducted youth differ in experience, having witnessed acts of violence is the factor that most strongly affects abducted youth’s greater likelihood to be socially and politically active later in life.
Similar connections between conflict experience and political connections have been detected in other countries, the author notes, including in Sierra Leone and Aceh, Indonesia. In Uganda, “interviews with the youth yield narratives of newfound self-control, confidence, and skills. Such accounts, although far from conclusive, nonetheless mesh with psychological theories of posttraumatic growth and political evidence on expressive voting…. These findings may have (hopeful) implications for millions of fighters in dozens of war-torn countries, especially in Africa. To the extent that positive political engagement also springs from violence against civilians, many more millions may be affected in the same way.”
But the author also notes that the study has several limitations that should restrain “generalizations of the results,” including the limited way that political participation was measured (confined to voting, community leadership and holding of political jobs), and that the survey only sampled young men.
Read the issue-related Foreign Affairs article titled "Libya's Militia Menace."
- What key insights from the news article and the study in this lesson should reporters be aware of as they cover post-conflict issues?
Read the full study titled “From Violence to Voting: War and Political Participation in Uganda.”
- What are the study's key technical term(s)? Which ones need to be put into language a lay audience can understand?
- Do the study’s authors put the research into context and show how they are advancing the state of knowledge about the subject? If so, what did the previous research indicate?
- What is the study’s research method? If there are statistical results, how did the scholars arrive at them?
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example, are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
- How could the findings be misreported or misinterpreted by a reporter? In other words, what are the difficulties in conveying the data accurately? Give an example of a faulty headline or story lead.
Newswriting and digital reporting assignments
- Write a lead, headline or nut graph based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Compose two Twitter messages of 140 characters or fewer accurately conveying the study’s findings to a general audience. Make sure to use appropriate hashtags.
- Choose several key quotations from the study and show how they would be set up and used in a brief blog post.
- Map out the structure for a 60-second video segment about the study. What combination of study findings and visual aids could be used?
- Find pictures and graphics that might run with a story about the study. If appropriate, also find two related videos to embed in an online posting. Be sure to evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of any materials you would aggregate and repurpose.
Class discussion questions
- What is the study’s most important finding?
- Would members of the public intuitively understand the study’s findings? If not, what would be the most effective way to relate them?
- What kinds of knowledgeable sources you would interview to report the study in context?
- How could the study be “localized” and shown to have community implications?
- How might the study be explained through the stories of representative individuals? What kinds of people might a reporter feature to make such a story about the study come alive?
- What sorts of stories might be generated out of secondary information or ideas discussed in the study?