The call for submissions for the WAU Congress 2024 in Johannesburg is now closed, and we thank all participants; paper evaluations will be ready on June 14.




( pn42 )

Power, popularity and selflessness during polycrisis: emerging perspectives about public authorities


    Grace Akello

    Nationality: Uganda

    Residence: Uganda

    Associate Professor of Medical Anthropology, Gulu University

    Presence:Face to Face/ On Site

    Tim Allen

    Nationality: United Kingdom

    Residence: United Kingdom

    London School of Economics and Political Science

    Presence:Face to Face/ On Site

    Melissa Parker

    Nationality: United Kingdom

    Residence: United Kingdom

    London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

    Presence:Face to Face/ On Site


Power, Public Authority, Empathy, Selflessness


Communities in Africa are riddled with various stressful events, sometimes occurring concurrently. In otherwards, polycrisis colour their everyday life experiences. The first resorts are family, neighbours and local village authorities. In urban settings and in areas emerging from protracted conflicts, their social, kinship or cultural support structures are significantly affected, thereby leaving local authorities as first resorts for many stressors. Through ethnographic methods in northern Uganda, emerging evidence suggest notions which reinforce community trust and authorities’ popularity on one hand but on the other, are detrimental to their well-being. Notions of selflessness, generosity, empathy, readiness to solve other’s challenges, and mobilising response on behalf of the affected individuals have been depicted in leaders’ narratives. However it is these very notions which exhaust, tire and cause burnout among local authorities. For example, whereas some Local authorities in northern Uganda narrate overwhelming, exhausting yet rewarding experiences while intervening in everyday crisis; some local authorities attribute non-intervention in polycrisis to ‘others’ lack of action. Other local authorities start-off their duties with great enthusiasm which only dissipates in a few months due to burnout. For instance and by observation, a local community leader whom a family brought a severely malnourished child for care due to a broken family chose to take the child for hospital admission before returning to explore how the household members can be re-united. In another event, a local leader rushed a child with high fever for admission and even paid the medical costs, before coming back to listen to the toddler’s grandmother who had come to report child neglect by its parents. Yet another local leader dismissed local community members who approached him with their stressors, advising them to go and resolve them at household level. In this view, we foreground notions of selflessness, generosity, empathy, ability to act or everyday involvement in ‘others’ crises among local authorities. We would like to make links between popularity, intervention/lack-of-intervention during polycrisis and community trust in local authorities. We invite abstracts based on similar stories from anthropologists, public health specialists, clinicians, and political scientists who have explored how polycrisis shape the styles of leadership and public authorities’ well-being. Although we are more interested in evidence obtained through mixed methods and ethnographic techniques, we also invite abstracts from researchers with experiential evidence or secondary data depicting how local authorities garner popularity and community trust.