John Taden is a doctoral student of Public Policy and Political Economy in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences (EPPS) at UT Dallas. He has been invited to speak at TEDxUTD on Oct. 21, 2019. The talk will focus on combating mob justice in Africa and will take place at the UT Dallas Jonsson Performance Hall at 5 p.m.
What are some of your favorite UT Dallas achievements & activities?
I teach and assist in teaching classes in International Political Economy. I also co-founded the Public Policy and Political Economy Club at UT Dallas. I’ve spoken at multiple conferences around the country and served on policy-related panels. My favorites were at Harvard University and in Washington D.C.
Where are you from and what brought you to EPPS at UT Dallas?
I am from Saboba, Ghana. I came to Texas to do my MBA at Texas A&M University-Commerce. Soon after, I chose UT Dallas partly because of how sweet the Ph.D. program in Public Policy and Political Economy (PPPE) sounded. I went from an MBA to pursuing PPPE because I used to work at a mortgage company. I was getting tired of the routine tasks and realized my passion was in economics or politics. I was surprised to discover that UT Dallas has a program that combines both my interests. I immediately submitted my application, and I feel blessed that I was accepted into the program. I quit my job on the first day I started classes, and it has been the best decision ever.
Why do you believe that was your best decision ever?
I envisioned that this Ph.D. program would provide me with opportunities that were mine to pursue. I hoped to enter a new environment where I could meet people of different backgrounds and expertise and explore different ideas. So far, this program has not disappointed. I’ve been to conferences all around the country, and I’m set to go to more because of UT Dallas. I think to myself, “Wow, this is something I would’ve regretted if I’d never done it.” My path has led me to the point where I have even been invited to do a TEDx Talk, I probably would never have had this opportunity if I was still sitting behind a desk at a mortgage company.
What does your research entail?
I’ve had the chance to go into different disciplines of research. Since I’ve gotten into political economy, I have explored key problems in developing countries, especially in Africa, my continent. The common theme that I can pin every problem in Africa to are weak institutions. Strong institutions are required for the management of social problems, justice, violence, national debts, and economic development.
Some of the institutions in place right now are from colonial foundations. They have never really fit in with African indigenous traditions. People don’t trust or recognize them, so policies and programs coming out of them never have a chance to succeed. I have also been researching how natural resources are being managed, and why countries that are rich in resources grow slower than countries that are not – exploring the conditions underlying these outcomes.
Another focus of mine is the impact of religion on these institutions. Africa is the most religious continent in the world, with six of the ten most religious countries in the world found in Africa. But if you look at people’s moral compass or how they handle issues such as corruption, there is no correlation. What I have found is religion suppresses these institutions that I am concerned about. Highly religious people are more likely to assign failures in government or their personal lives to supernatural causes and, for that matter, are less likely to demand institutional accountability.
You’ve been invited to do a TEDxUTD Talk, what will your topic be?
So we’ve been seeing horrific images of xenophobic attacks in South Africa and everyone is quick to condemn South Africa, and rightly so. However, what people don’t realize is that, regardless of who is being attacked, for every one of those images coming out of South Africa, there are at least a thousand more from all around Africa.
There is a problem across Africa where suspected criminals are tortured to death without the police ever showing up in what we call “mob justice” or “vigilantly justice.” The TED Talk is about combating mob justice and will showcase a database my friends and I are working on to track these sorts of attacks through social media or mainstream news. The talk also will focus on how African governments can implement better policies to combat these attacks.
Have there been any specific people that have helped you throughout your journey at UT Dallas?
I could not end this conversation without saying this: Within the faculty, Dr. Jonas Bunte has been my top mentor when it comes to research and I am very appreciative of him. He is my supervisor and dissertation co-chair. He spends a lot of time on the ideas that I am working on and helps me hone them better for the academic world. Also, Dr. Brian Berry spends a lot of time with my dissertation work and gives me advice that is unique. They go through every sentence of my dissertation as if they were the ones writing it and it has been very helpful.
What do you want someone considering UT Dallas to know?
Within my area of study, we are actually using cutting-edge data analytics methods along with newer tools and software to analyze seemingly non-mathematical phenomenon for clearer policy-making. I also want people to know we have started a PPPE club to support students at any level. We want to help incoming students create their own Ph.D. paths, get insights from industry experts, and impact society in areas that we believe we have the opportunity to.
- EPPS Ph.D. Candidate