Tag Archives: foreign policy

Is Social Media a New Foreign Policy Tool?

Last week the Associated Press published findings about a now defunct social media platform, called ZunZuneo, designed to undermine the Cuban government. ZunZuneo was created by two private contractors: Creative Associates International (CAI) from Washington DC and the Denver-based company Mobile Accord. Both companies have a prior history of undertaking contracts for U.S. government democracy initiatives in developing countries. The AP reporters also uncovered details showing that funding for ZunZuneo was provided by USAID. 

The USAID has vehemently defended the program. The head of USAID told Congress,  “Working on creating platforms to improve communication in Cuba and in many other parts of the world is a core part of what USAID has done for some time and continues to do.” However, the AP article quotes USAID documents that specifically say ZunZuneo was created to “push (Cuba) out of a stalemate through tactical and temporary initiatives, and get the transition process going again.”

Supporters of the project noted the important role that social media has played in politics across the world, explaining how “text messaging had mobilized smart mobs and political uprisings in Moldova and the Philippines, among others.” The AP article also mentioned Iran and the fact that “USAID noted social media’s role following the disputed election of then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2009 — and saw it as an important foreign policy tool.” As more and more of the world’s population is connecting to social media everyday, its not surprising to see it being used by governments and organizations to instigate and support political change.


Cyber Security Abroad

After listening to a great presentation on cyber security and its importance as well as risks, I became interested in how other nations treat cyber security and if America is giving advice. I stumbled onto an article that talked about how foreign allies of America need to start stepping up their cyber security as they are “equally mobile and even more vulnerable” than America. Many times in developing nations cyber security is an after thought, second to mobile networking and focus on economic growth. The senior adviser for the department’s Office of the Cyber Coordinator Thomas Duke stated that “due diligence” is a top priority for America and we will start helping developing nations to increase their communications infrastructure. Nations such as India, South Africa, and other developing but prominent countries can be threats to themselves and their global interconnected networks. An example of this is when the South African governments twitter feed was hacked (@StateSecurityRS) and started to advertise a diet regime.

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Many developing nations in Africa do not have the skills or are not willing to protect them selves from cyber crimes. The US government has started to engage with South Africa, India, Brazil, and other nations in creating ground rules upon what is acceptable and what is not in relation to cyber security and attacks. As Duke states, “Those are countries that are leaders of the developing world and countries where we think it is very important to identify the things that we agree upon and don’t agree upon”. Cyber security is becoming a big issue globally and will likely continue to do so until all nations tighten up their security or create a stronger set of guidelines.


Richard Heeks Strikes Again – Non-ICT4D National Policy Can Determine Success of ICT4D Initiatives

For this blogpost, I decided to look up some blogs that consider the topics we’ve discussed in class this week. I found ICT4DBlog, which features an article about why some ICT4D initiatives work and why others don’t. I read the article and thought it would make a great discussion topic, considering our discussion in class today about how national policy is often a driving force of the success of ICT4D initiatives, even if it is not certain that all elements of this policy will be implemented.

After having finished reading the article, I glanced up to see who the author was, and lo and behold, it was Richard Heeks!  I hadn’t heard of the man until a week ago (we read his article “ICTs and the MDGs: On the Wrong Track?”), but since then, I’ve learned about how he feels about the MDGs and how he feels development should occur. I agree with him on several points, but I’ll leave that aside for now and sum up the points he made in this article, “The Obama Presidency and ICT4D”.

Disclaimer: This article is from November 2008, but I believe it makes some important points.

It seems that at the outset of his presidency, President Obama did not specifically make ICT4D a policy priority, but he has put forth “policy stances” that promote 3 areas that do affect ICT4D:

  1. Technology: increase ICT infrastructure; promote “e-transparency” through increased ICT usage in the government
  2. Trade: reduce trade barriers; increase the prevalence of the “Made in America” phenomenon
  3. Foreign Policy/Development: increase aid from $25 billion to $50 billion by 2012 (not achieved according to Politifact); increase investment in AIDS/Tuberculosis/Malaria Global Fund and Global Education Fund; promote African entrepreneurship and access to “green technology”

Heeks is quick to point out that “support” of ICT and development do not necessarily translate to a combination of these two areas. And any relationship between the two is dependent upon the three areas mentioned above, as politics can carry forward or crush initiatives without even noticing.

Interestingly enough, Heeks believes that politics itself may have been changed by ICT. It’s possible that Obama’s campaign may have projected a “‘do-as-I-do'”  impact upon developing countries by unconsciously promoting “‘e-democracy,'” which came about as a result of his campaign engaging people in the political process through the internet.

As we learned in class today, policy stances do not equal guaranteed action. Policies are guidelines to help a country determine its priorities and to try to achieve the necessary changes within a reasonable amount of time. As we stand at the already-realized future of this 2008 article, it’s still unclear whether ICT4D  has itself become a national policy priority, but it is safe to say that ICT has been greatly utilized in most development projects.