White man’s burden 2.0

Glen Newey at the London Review of Books’ blog:

Biometry and eugenics co-emerged partly because of the white man’s burden – the need to police native populations who all looked the same – and to align measurable physical characteristics with the divide between ‘fit’ and ‘unfit’ races (Galton advocated colonising Africa with Chinese immigrants to replace the indigenous ‘lazy, palavering savages’). Biometrics weathered the last century better than eugenics. As of now a new divide looms between the creditworthy, who can create their own virtual identities via ‘identity 2.0’ accreditation, and migrant populations whose identities get fixed biometrically, mainly in order to keep them out.

The Role of New Media and Communication Technologies in Arab Transitions – new paper

Last week FRIDE published the policy brief titled “The Role of New Media and Communication Technologies in Arab Transitions”. It is my latest publication for FRIDE; in this case, and given that it deals with a topic outside my geographical area of expertise, it is co-authored with Barah Mikaïl, FRIDE colleage and expert on the Middle East and North Africa.
Below is the abstract of the paper, and the full document can be dowloaded by clicking here.
I hope you find it interesting, and if you have any comments, please post them below. Sigue leyendo

Zambia’s presidential election – a reflection on the power of silence

Following the September 20th presidential and pegislative elections, Michael Sata (a.k.a. King Cobra) has become the new Zambian President (here’s his inauguration speech, delivered on Friday 23rd). Sata’s victory, standing on the opposition party ticket of the the Patriotic Front (PF), constituted a surprise to most observers (although not all) who had predicted that the incumbent Rupiah Banda of the MMD would benefit from the “uneven playing field” that characterises the country’s electoral process.

In reflecting on the reasons why the PF was able to ovecome the challenges that stood ahead of them, Jack Hogan writes on the African Arguments website:

One slogan more than any other has dominated Zambia’s 2011 elections, the PF’s ‘Don’t Kubeba!’, or  ‘Don’t Tell!’. It lies at the heart of the PF’s seemingly successful campaign to negate the benefits of incumbency enjoyed by the MMD. It appeared on posters, on the lips of cadres and at rallies. Dandy Krazy’s ‘Donch Kubeba’ (with appropriate shushing dance move) has been one of the most popular tunes heard out and about during the last two months. In essence, it encouraged voters to take the chitenge, maize meal, oil, or even bribes offered by the government, even attend the rallies, but not feel they couldn’t vote against them anyway. As a way of upholding the secrecy of the ballot, and running a campaign against an opponent with resources far in excess of your own, it is a risky, but clever strategy. Indeed, the EU Observer Mission stated that unequal access to resources meant a “level playing field” was distinctly lacking during campaigning. Despite this, it appears “Dont Kubeba!” paid off. (Emphasis added)

This strategy was not only extremely intelligent, but also contains an important reflection, in my view. These are times dominated by new Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs), from mobile phones to social networks. Tools we all (including myself) praise as a powerful way to bring social change, or at least help to create alternative narratives and mobilisation opportunities. More information, and the ability to share and communicate this, will help to bring political transformation. And yet, in the Zambian case it has been precisely the opposite strategy, one of silence, which has unleashed the power of the Zambian people in voting for a change of government (something possibilitated also by Banda’s acceptance of defeat, something that unfortunately cannot be taken for granted in other African cases). In an era of abundant information and a myriad of communication channels, it has been a strategy built deliberately on remaining silent, that has proved successful in bringing about political change. Something to relfect on, I think.

But before that, have a listen to “Donch Kubeba”, which is also a great song and a prime example of “kombi music” (it was my girlfriend who came up with this label, to refer to the music commonly heard on Southern Africa’s public transport system). Enjoy!

Supporting Africa’s new civil society: the case of Kenya (Nairobi Notes part II)

Never actually got down to finish posting more entries after my visit to Nairobi back in April/May. One of the reasons for this was that, among other things, I was busy putting together some of the insights I got during the visit and the interviews I has there into a publication for FRIDE. This was centred of the role wich new technologies are playing in helping a new “generation” of activists and organisations promote better governance and push for democratic consolidation.This is the teaser:

Supporting Africa’s new civil society: the case of Kenya

The spread of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and other socio-economic dynamics are contributing to the formation of a new Kenyan civil society. This includes potentially key drivers of democratisation which remain largely invisible to donors. International actors need to re-examine their engagement with civil society in order to support these emerging organisations which may be essential to achieve real democratic consolidation in Kenya and the rest of Africa.

The policy brief,  was finally published a couple of weeks ago, and I passed it on to some people on Twitter and via email;  some got back with their views. This is for example what Robert commented:

  • You need to take note that this years budget will have 13% component of external borrowing (from 5-10% component in the policy brief). Institute of Economic Affairs does provide concise info on the economic front. This is their site
  • Bunge la Wananchi is certainly something we need to watch out. i would be interested to know if they will be competing in next elections under independent candidates. I have had discussions with some of their members BUT I tend to think there are some of them who have socialist ideals. Hope you have contact on that end. I would be interested to know what is their end game
Recently also the new Kenyan Open Data Initiative platform (which I mention on the brief but assumed would take longet to be up and running to be up and running) has been launched, which has generated plenty of comment from White African & Kenyangriot among others. These are extremely exciting times regarding ICTs and governance in Kenya, so  I woud be extremely interested to get any comments on the policy brief, or ICTs generally from Kenyans and other people interested on the topic of new technologies.
The full text (pdf) of the policy brief “Supporting Africa’s new civil society: the case of Kenya”, can be accessed here.

Nairobi bleg

In exactly two weeks time I’ll be landing in Nairobi! This will be the first time I visit Kenya – and the first time I’ll be in Africa in almost six and a half years – way too long!

I’ll be there for work – presenting a FRIDE report on “Assessing Democracy Assistance: Kenya” that was published last year. But besides this, I wanted to use my time in Nairobi (I’ll be there for five days) to get in touch and talk to people based there. My idea is to talk to people involved with new technologies and with a political angle – anyone who is using new media in the civil/political arena, really. I want this to be a first step on a broader project on how ICTs are changing (for good, bad, or not at all) how people view their position and views within society.

So far, I have contacted some of the people at the Research arm of the iHub – who have been extremely friendly and helpful – with the idea of putting together some sort of meeting (as soon as there are more details, I’ll let you know). Given how little time I will be in Kenya I know this first contact will necessarily be shallow and incomplete – but I hope to make the most of it and use this as a starting point for a wider and more extensive project.

So (as the “bleg” part of the title promised), if you happen to be in Nairobi in late april and working on/ interested in politics and/or ITCs, or more generally activism, civic mobilisation, new technologies, development, ICT4D, or whatever else you are doing, and would like to meet for a beer (looking forward to taste the much talked about Tusker), I would love to hear from you.

Leave a comment below, or drop me an email! Asante!