A Blog by International Students at Leiden University

My African Experience: Part 1, the beginning

Guest blogger: Erik van der Zanden, MA African Studies

What am I doing in Kampala, Uganda?

While this is my fifth time in eight years that I visit Uganda, it is amazing to be back. I am doing an internship at the opposition party Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) where I work three days a week. I am doing research for FDC to how youth can change their situation. Besides the three days at FDC I spend the other two days by collecting data for my personal research, also about how youth can change their social-political situation. As I am extremely passionate about the potential of the youth in Uganda for non-violent change it has already been some rewarding three weeks.

Why Uganda?

I have been to Uganda for several longer periods of time, so I was sure of 1 thing: that I would not go back to Uganda again! Yet here I am again. I remember one professor saying that I should watch out for becoming a Uganda expert instead of Africanist. Now I could not be happier with my choice.

There have been some interesting developments in Uganda regarding youth empowerment over the last two years such as the rise of Bobi Wine, the musician turned lawmaker.  Throughout my years of activism, I got some contacts and was able to secure the internship. I have the firm belief history is being written here and it is quite amazing to feel part of that process.

From school benches to the real world

The structure of the 1-year master is challenging and fast-paced, forcing you to learn and focus. The last 3 months I learned a lot about the history, politics, economics, culture of Uganda, as I made it my case study in every class. Combined with my former interest in the country, yet now reinforced by quite some literature from the African Studies Centre Leiden library I gained a lot of new knowledge.

The amazing part of the master is that after these months of diehard studying, you are send to the field for another three months to apply all that knowledge. Especially at my internship, where everybody is thinking hard about how to create a better national future, I feel those months in the library of the ASC have prepared me well to now discuss ideas at the same level as my colleagues.

I would like to say a bit more about these school benches, as I think the MA African Studies is quite unique. You can access all books at the Africa library, one of the best in Europe, which really helps for all assignments and preparation for the research proposal. You are taught by Africa scholars, all big thinkers in the field of African Studies. All the lecturers and staff are very friendly and helpful (just wait to meet the legendary Akinyoade Akinyinka). To complete it, the university makes the internship possible with a scholarship.

What is to come in these series?

In the first blog I elaborated a bit more on why I went to the FDC in Uganda and how I liked the transformation of a student in the school benches to an expert / researcher in the field. I the next blogs I will elaborate more on living in Uganda and how an average day looks like.

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