Mount Holyoke Econ Prof Teaches Development Amid Hardship

Sarah Adelman, Associate Professor of Economics

In summer 2019, Mount Holyoke economics professor Sarah Adelman enlisted a group of six of her students to join her research project in Uganda for five weeks.

One of Africa’s longest-surviving rebel movements, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) terrorized groups in Uganda for 30 years. While over 1 million Ugandans were forced into camps (mostly of the Acholi ethnic group), several thousand made their way to the capital city, Kampala, where they settled without the aid given to people living in camps and without the support (following the conflict) to move back to pre-displacement land, as afforded to those who stayed in the camps.

These former displacees are now settled in an economically and socially isolated slum in Kampala, the Acholi Quarters. This study examines the meaning of displacement into urban settings, including when or if displacement ends, the extent to which economic institutions that are strong in rural Acholi are replicated in an urban setting, and the extent to which exposure to violence affects prosocial behavior. Prosocial behavior includes voluntary actions such as community involvement that are intended to help or benefit others.

The current phase of Adelman’s study builds on her work between 2005-2011 collecting detailed household survey data for households living in Northern Ugandan IDP camps due to ongoing conflict and instability. This past summer, six of Adelman students––five economics majors and one international relations major––had the opportunity to carry out qualitative aspect of the study, running focus groups with Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and interviewing individuals and NGO leaders who provide humanitarian services in the cities of Kampala and Lira.

The students delved into important questions about aspects of life for IDPs. The topics ranged from exploring displacees’ transition to Acholi Quarter, to their participation in social groups such as a savings or dance club, to the well-being and raising of children. The Mount Holyoke students not only helped to advance research that has the potential to inform development and economic policies to bring sustainability to Uganda, each personally witnessed the strength and willingness of a society that is struggling to rebuild. In and out of the classroom, Professor Adelman is delivering on Mount Holyoke’s promise of a global education.