Tag Archives: politics

What about Uganda?

The web, radio, and television have been flooded recently with the news about Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill, sentencing homosexuals, or people who commit homosexual acts to anywhere between 5 years and life in prison. Anti-Homosexuality Bill

The specifics of the bill can be seen here to the left, and, as you can imagine, it has been causing international uproar. Today on the web I saw an article with a graphic photo of a supposedly homosexual man being burned alive in front of a group of people which included many children.  That image made me want to write about whats going on in Uganda for my blog this week, and how whats happening there is associated with ICTs.

First of all, its amazing how fast news flies these days; uproar began even before the bill was signed, as early as 2009 when it was first being introduced. Since then foreign diplomats have been pressuring the Ugandan government to not sign the bill but, as we all know, it was to no avail. The World Bank now has said that it will delay a huge loan it had promised the nation because of this bill. Now some of the biggest worries for Ugandans and the international community alike are about the safety of people who may be at risk. Jail is not even the type of risk that is most concerning, but the fact that gays are being beaten, killed, and denied services such as healthcare in their own countries. So what does this all have to do with ICTs? First of all, without the Internet the international community would have much less influence over the happenings in other parts of the world. Amnesty International immediately set up a protest petition, gaining over 200,000 signatures within a few days. The hashtag #uganda has surged suddenly, leading to thousands of tweets about whats going on in that country an opinions on the bill.  Mobile phone users have captured incredible and horrifying images of protests and human rights abuses and are putting them on the web for the whole world to see. ICTs have given us the power to do this, to effect change thousands of miles away, to support protesters, or to watch entire nations collapse.

So what can ICTs do now? Can ICTs be useful in times like this? In places like Uganda? ICTs showed us whats going on, and sparked the discussion on how to change it- but can ICTs really do anything on the ground in real time to help the people whose lives are at risk?  I think so. I wonder if we will see any apps spring up that could help, because there’s an app for everything, as the saying goes. Maybe an app that will locate clinics that will treat open homosexuals? Though to access the app you would have to know a secret password or something so that the possibly life-saving information stays with the people that need it rather than in the hands of the wrong people. So maybe that wouldn’t work too well, but there has to something- what do you think?  How could ICTs be used in this situation?  I’m not sure, I’ll keep brainstorming, but lets get the conversation started.

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Can Social Media Help Build Up Governments and Nations?

This week in class we discussed social media and how it has the ability to help create real change. One example which we discussed was how social media, especially facebook and twitter, were utilized during the Arab Spring. We discussed how social media was able to change the speed and nature of this revolution. Ideas were spread more rapidly and reached a broader base of people. Everyone with access to a computer or Smartphone was able to share their ideas through the use of twitter and facebook. In the Arab Spring, specifically, social media was able to spread democratic ideas across borders, shape political debates and a large usage of online resources often preceded major events which happened on the ground. In these ways, social media played a large role in the Arab spring.

But the real question is can social media play a role in building up nations and governments, specifically Arab governments which have just been overthrown. The article in the Huffington Post titled Social Media Can Help Build Arab Governments Too states that “the Internet offers a new platform for people to collaborate and think seriously about what kind of government they want. Enabling people to discuss political issues openly, without fear of retribution from the top, would help to build the active political culture that is vital for a workable democracy. It’s an essential first step toward an election, and along the way it can bring into the discussion people who have been excluded so far.”  Like during the Arab Spring, the internet and social media sites can be used as a tool to mobilize the people and involve more people than ever before.

The article then proposes an idea of how social media could help build up a nation, specifically Egypt. It states that Arab speaking scholars would use radio, twitter, facebook and television to discuss different types of democracy and governments around the world and the advantages and disadvantages of each system. Then using social media, all Egyptians could post their thoughts on which type of government they believe would be best for Egypt. Although this might not come up with a perfect solution, it would allow the public to be more informed and allow them become more involved. It would allow the public to have an open dialogue about what form of government would be most successful in Egypt. It will be interesting to see if this becomes a system which is actually used and whether is creates successful, positive change.

For the full article click here


Murphy’s Law and E-voting in Kenya

05_Flatbed_WEB - MAY

The fallout of Kenya’s 2007 elections left 1,200 people dead and thousands more displaced after mass-speculation of rigging. For the general elections last Spring, the Kenyan government decided to use “e-vovting” in effort to curb corruption, increase voter turnout and restore its citizens faith in democracy. It was supposed to be the most modern election in African history, in accordance with Kenya’s desire to become a regional ICT-hub. Polling stations had laptop registration centers, computerized voting kiosks with biometric identification thumb pads, and a realtime SMS vote count relay. Quite an ambitious project for any country, let alone one where only 23 percent of its citizens have access to electricity.

Alas, it didn’t work, as NPR reported in March,

First the laptops ran out of battery power. Organizers had failed to consider that African school buildings, where many of the polling stations were situated, don’t have electric outlets. Then the biometric identification kits started to crash. Poll workers didn’t have the PIN numbers and passwords they needed to restart the software. Paper ballots were rolled out and voter lines slowed to a crawl, forcing some voters to wait seven to nine hours in the hot sun to cast their ballots. Voting concluded on Monday, but the tech hiccups did not. A bizarre computer bug multiplied the number of disqualified ballots by a factor of eight, leaving Kenyans livid and demoralized for several days in the belief that more than a quarter-million votes had been summarily tossed out in the incredibly tight race. The SMS-relay system overloaded, too, forcing election officials to airlift poll workers to Nairobi by helicopter to hand deliver the results.

Quite the trifecta from technology hell; nearly every trepidation that citizens and governments alike have when it comes to implementing e-voting became a reality. Fortunately, Kenyan’s displayed an impressive amount of patience and no violence occurred.

Some of the lessons from this rather uninspiring  implementation of e-voting are  obvious — i.e. best check to see if there’s anywhere to power all this technology. It also leaves us with a larger, more disheartening question: can full scale political e-voting work in the developing world? E-voting has been successful in many European countries, but when a country’s ICT infrastructure is as limited as or worse than Kenya’s, maybe using ICTs to leapfrog development deficiencies isn’t the most appropriate approach. The stakes are too high.


YouTube’s Rising Political Relevance

As we explored through our reading of Opening Closed Regimes; What Was the Role of Social Media During the Arab Spring? YouTube became a particularly important tool for spreading news and information of Egypt’s uprising the form of user-generated videos around the world. Research conducted through this work identifies the top viral videos as of June 2011. While it is difficult to quantify the exact impact of these videos on audiences, it can be seen that some images of suffering would have prompted protests and spurred protests and heightened moral outrage. After reading about the effect of these videos, I thought it might be interesting to explore some of the videos, as the article provides an appendix.

The video which received the most youtube attention is entitled:
The Most AMAZING video on the Internet #Egypt #jan25

Since  January 27, 2011 the video has received over 2,450,037 views (about 300,000 more since the publication of the article).
I was also very interested to see a note included below the video:

Important message to youtube and people who flag this video: If it gets flagged or removed , it will be uploaded 10 more times.

I found this somewhat threatening tone unique in the context of YouTube. The video intends to be taken seriously and capitalizes on the right of expression. The video contains powerful imagery, which is bolstered by the incorporation of sound. While the content is heavy, it is relatively easy to follow. It is laden with symbolism and the accessibility through YouTube helps reveal the way in which such a video is seen as a success. In order to draw a contrast across cultural contexts, I thought it would be interesting to look at the use of YouTube in our own county.

Internet campaigns are changing the face of politics.  According to Claire Caine Miller’s work. How Obama’s Internet Campaign Changed Politics, Mr. Obama’s 2008 campaign utilized YouTube for free advertising. Videos were seen as more effective than TV ads because viewers had chosen to watch them or had received them from a friend (via email) instead of having a TV show interrupted. As we have all seen in the recent campaign ICTs have played an increasingly more important role.

Social media platforms we have explored in class such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are growing rapidly as a source of political news. According to Journalism.org, the number of Americans who say they regularly go to these destinations to learn about the campaign has doubled since January of this year. Even with that increase, however, these leading social media platforms are still turned to by a relatively limited number of Americans, about 17% in all, when those who mentioned at least one of those platforms are combined.

The link between politics, governance, and YouTube is reshaping our world and the power of tools such as YouTube cannot be underestimated in the context of the developing world.


US Presidential Candidate Romney Proposes More Strings to be Attached to US Foreign Aid

While reading the New York Times I came across this article that discussed presidential candidate Romney’s proposed idea to attach more strings to the foreign aid the US sends to various countries. This immediately made me think back to several conversations we recently had in class– I thought about how this embodied a large scale example of top-down driven policies, for it would be the US that decided how the aid was to be used rather than those individuals actually receiving it in their countries. Romney also proposed several new stipulations reminiscent of the Bush-era aid restrictions based on the recipient countries policy regarding abortion, again another top-down strategy.

The proposed strings include some neocolonial type notions– for example Romney states “In exchange for removing those barriers and opening their markets to U.S. investment and trade, developing nations will receive U.S. assistance packages focused on developing the institutions of liberty, the rule of law, and property rights.” (NYT 2012). Meaning that the US will make demands that must be met in order to receive US Aid packages that are designated to specific areas of development that are also beneficial to the US and it’s businesses. I would like to look at the plan in more detail to see if it were to be mandated that the recipient countries only receive products built and designed in the US that may be problematic in the environment of the country, and cause more trouble than they are worth. Statements made by Romney were also quite vague which made the true nature of the proposed strings harder to define.

Obama spoke as well and also focused on a specific issue he would like to see US foreign aid money go to, human trafficking.


The Development Potential of the China-Africa Relationship

As a political economy major, I try to read the news and keep up to date on trends throughout the developed and developing world. One of the most important (and, in many ways, unsung) trends affecting development in the world today has been China’s massive investment in Africa. Like the great powers preceding it, China has reaped huge benefits from investing in Africa in terms of both energy extraction and business development. But has China’s presence benefited any Africans? That is the question that a new article, written by Stephen Haggard, tries to ascertain. As with most development issues, the answer is complex, and hugely variable from country to country.

I’ll start with the negatives. China has shown few qualms about working with some of Africa’s most repressive and violent dictatorships, even in the face of international condemnation, if they can gain access to energy sources in return. The Chinese Communist Party gained access to Sudan’s considerable oil reserves in exchange for arming its genocidal regime, and enjoyed close ties to Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe in exchange for extractive contracts there. These policies inexcusably granted economic lifelines to some of the world’s worst leaders and allowed them to continue stifling development in their own countries as they enriched themselves. Even in countries with less destructive governments, China has shown little genuine commitment to development, concerned instead with satisfying the wishes of national leaders, who often lack the expertise (or political will) to demand development projects that work effectively. The result has been a heavy emphasis on infrastructure. China has received contracts to build roads, bridges, and dams all over Africa which, while important and perhaps very helpful, does little to improve the lives of Africans at a grassroots level.

But this may all be changing, and much of this change stems from a shift in focus to ICT4D. As popular opinion in many African countries begins to turn against China’s presence (though still generally somewhat favorable, complaints about poor working conditions at Chinese firms and its willingness to arm rogue states like Sudan have become major political issues in some African countries), China has begun to make a more concerted effort to work with Africans themselves, and not just their leaders. The early results have been very promising, and have shown a surprising prioritization of e-learning. Haggard cites the case of Kenya, where China has agreed to supply every Kenyan secondary school with IT suites containing with 25 PCs and internet access. Though one could worry that this amounts to little more than dropping off hardware, it could also provide newfound connectivity to a country containing some of the world’s most remote peoples.

During this shift, China has shown a newfound willingness to survey the needs of African development, rather than simply appeasing African leaders. It will, for the first time, send a delegate to this year’s eLearning Africa conference to present on the successes of eLearning in China and to discuss how these successes can be exported to Africa. It also agreed to fund an $8 million African training initiative led by UNESCO. While $8 million may seem like a relatively paltry sum, it is representative of a larger change in how China views its role in Africa and what policies it will pursue in the future to work with, rather than separately from (or against) grassroots development and education in Africa. China’s growth as an economy and society over the last 30 years has been, in effect, the most effective poverty reduction program in human history. If China can export its development lessons to Africa (and sees it in its own interests to do so), the potential impact is difficult to overstate. By focusing on eLearning, China seems to be taking a step in the right direction–and greatly enhancing the impact of ICT4D as a field of development.

Citation: http://www.elearning-africa.com/eLA_Newsportal/the-china-africa-partnership-effective-for-education/


Social Media and Revolution

One of the most interesting aspects of ICT4D to me is the effect of social media on development, especially political movements and development.  Personally, I am not a big user of social media and am not very fluent in it.  For that matter, I’m not very good with technology in general.  However, I still think that examining the role of tech, including social media, today is a crucial aspect in understanding development processes and in creating effective programs for the future.

I think one of the most obvious, as well as the most intriguing, examples of social media and its role in development is the case of Egypt and its 25 January revolution.  It’s known around the world that much of the organization and collaboration that was necessary to create such a huge crowd in Tahrir Square, the center of Cairo, was achieved through Facebook and Twitter.  Especially for the youth in Cairo, it was much easier to spread messages and plan events over Facebook and other social media outlets.  As an example of just how large a role social media played in the Egyptian Revolution, it is interesting to look at the most common words and phrases that were posted worldwide on Facebook and Twitter in the first quarter of 2011: Egypt, January 25, Libya, Bahrain, and demonstration.

Even before the mass realization that social media had such a huge cultural and political influence both domestically and worldwide, there have been been many studies, forums, and conventions about social media and its effect on today’s global climate.  Cairo itself has a yearly convention called Cairo ICT Summit.  One of their main focuses for the 2012 summit, which will occur on 26-29 April of this year, is social media and how it has affected (and will continue to affect) politics and development around the world, and especially in Egypt and other Arab countries.

The Cairo Summit this year will have many groups and individuals speaking and answering questions.  Two individuals in particular, Ahmed Sabry and Ahmed Rayan, both Internet experts, have much to say about Facebook and other social media outlets and how they played such a large role in both Egypt’s and other Arab countries’ recent uprisings.

One reason why social media outlets were so effective, says Sabry, is because they are actually much more credible than traditional media outlets such as TV, the newspaper, and the radio.  I found this surprising, but Sabry backed his statement up with some compelling arguments.  He said that several studies (which, unfortunately I could not locate on my own) had said that, in the Arab countries where they were conducted,) general public confidence in media outlets was about 15-16%.  On the other hand, these studies found out that people’s confidence in the credibility of posts on Facebook were about 70%.  There are several reasons for this discrepancy in faith.  The most important, according to Sabry, is the fact that what people post on social networks is done completely of their own volition; on the other hand, people who speak on the news or in commercials are advised by their superiors on what to say and are also inclined to say certain things because that is how they make money.

Another reason why people apparently find social media more credible in spreading information about government and human rights issues is because their “friends” or the people they “follow” on Facebook or Twitter (or on other social media sites) are people they trust and respect, whereas most people have no personal relation to or inherent trust of people on TV or other media sources, or even government speakers and employees.  This is exacerbated by the fact that in many Arab countries, oppressive regimes have much control of most aspects of their citizens’ rights, including the media and what information it puts out.

In my opinion, Egypt provides for an interesting case study on social media, a concept we have not talked about in class yet but one that I’m sure we will, and how great of an impact it can have on development.  This one case that I have mentioned focuses specifically on political change and development, but by interlinking people from different areas and classes of cities, countries, and even the world, I think we could find ways in which social media will eventually have the power to make change in cultural, economic, and other areas of development in the future.