Is your research based on outside-in perspectives?

The perspectives that establish the situation of a foreign country are often determined by the government and news agencies. These are informed by the intelligence of defence, government, NGO’s, and local correspondents. The perspectives shared with the Dutch or European population at large are often informed by these ‘outside-in’ perspectives, not necessarily creating a realistic view on what is happening underground. This is interesting, as my personal experience has been showing a different perspective while doing research in Uganda for my thesis of the master African Studies.

From the outside-in perspective, Uganda is considered as a reliable, stable, and safe partner of the Netherlands. It is praised by the Dutch government as a regional policeman, contributing to security in the region, with a steady macro-economic development. Dutch citizens can safely visit and do business in Uganda, which is receiving millions of development aid. But the inside-out perspective says otherwise.

Inside-out perspectives

After interviewing youths in Uganda, from students, professionals, activists, to slum dwellers about their current social-political and economic situation, I got a completely different description of the Ugandan government. It was described as an oppressive dictatorship by all persons interviewed. There are critical internal voices about a sophisticated veil of intelligence in order to maintain control of the government, based on external legitimism like in colonial times. Several hundreds of thousands motorcycle-taxi drivers were enlisted as informers, to ensure that there was no freedom after speech, even though it seems the Ugandan population have freedom of speech to the outside world. The population has been forced into dependency of the government; a situation described in the academic debate as waithood. Civil society organizations or opposition groups were actively neutralized to ensure control of the government. Semi-structured interviews helped me to discover that the ‘outside-in’ image of international donors on security and governance can be quite the opposite from the ‘inside-out’ perspective of the Ugandans themselves.

This painful contrast between the outside-in perspective which describes Uganda as a safe country, and the inside-out perspective which instead describes Uganda as a sophisticated dictatorship actively oppressing any opposition and free behaviour, contribute to instability instead. It makes me wonder if this is the case in more African countries. What if our approaches has been built mainly on outside-in perspectives, and less on the real situations, based on inside-out perspectives?

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