It was a great experience marching through London yesterday along with around 699,999 other people in support of another vote on whether or nor Britain should leave the EU. The organisers had originally expected some 100,000 marchers to be there, and yet final estimates are that around 700,000 people participated. This was equivalent to more than 1% of the total British population, and it was the second largest march ever held in the UK (second only to the Stop the War march in 2003). People from very different political persuasions, of all ages, from many parts of the UK, and from varying ethnic backgrounds were all there. While I wish there had been greater ethnic diversity among the marchers (the majority seemed to be rather white and middle-aged) it was great to listen to the very diverse Chuka Umunna, Sadiq Khan, Vince Cable, Caroline Lucas and Anna Soubry all united in their support for the people to have a final say on whether or not Britain is to leave the European Union (EU).
The march wended its way from Park Lane, along Piccadilly, down St. James’s Street, and then along Pall Mall to Trafalgar Square, before turning into Whitehall, and concluding at Parliament Square. By the closing speeches the last marchers had only just left the start on Park Lane! Throughout, the march was good humoured, but full of determination and passion. It was peaceful, and although monitored from on high by several police helicopters, the visible police presence on the ground seemed light and friendly. As the pictures below show, there were some great posters and costumes!
I left with one overwhelming conclusion: we must all do very much more to understand why those still advocating Brexit do so. Unless we understand them, we cannot change their minds and their opinions. No-one on the march had any doubts about why we were all marching in support of a new referendum, and most also seemed to believe that we should remain in the EU. However, very few seemed to understand why what we take as being so obvious was not understood by all those still wanting to leave the EU. In short, those of us wanting to remain have to do very much more to convince those wanting to leave that they are wrong. Part of the challenge is that those wanting to leave usually do so primarily on the basis of emotion, whereas those wanting to remain do so mainly in terms of logic. This was very much brought home to me on the way back on the train when I had to put up with the abuse of some of the passengers, shouting out “Brexit is Brexit”. No amount of logic would work; they couldn’t even say what Brexit actually meant.
Prime Minister May is so profoundly wrong when she says that there will be no second referendum on the grounds that it would be a gross betrayal of our democracy. This march was democracy at work. Tbis is the voice of the people. Whatever the outcome, politics in Britain is not going to be the same again after March next year. It is time we create new structures through which elected officials truly serve the people rather than their own self-interests.
Lotus celebrated its 70th Anniversary in style today at its Hethel site near Norwich. The sun joined in the celebration and shone brightly throughout the day. It was a huge privilege to be one of the company’s guests, and I’m very grateful to the hospitality and generosity of everyone involved. The day’s celebration finished with a procession of the largest number of Lotus cars ever to be on a track at the same time!
I very much hope that the images below capture something of the great history of the company, its cars, its staff and its owners!
Thanks once again to the Board and staff of Lotus for making it such a memorable occasion!
Participating in a conference in Tirana over the last few days has provided an opportunity to explore something of this fascinating city – a mixture of new constructions, communist era buildings, and a few much older medieval remnants. I hope that the images below capture something of its wide diversity: Skanderberg Square hosting a World Cup fan zone just a few days after it won the European Award for Urban Public Space (2018); Catholic, Muslim and Orthodox religious building reflecting the diverse beliefs of its people; the communist era bunkers and surveillance museum reminding us of the past; superficially refurbished shops beneath crumbling old housing blocks; the nearby woodland park and lake; diverse restaurants serving unusual combinations of food, with delicious local beer and wine… To these, though, need to be added the generous hospitality of our hosts! Thanks to Endrit Kromidha, and all those who made this visit possible.
When I last visited Sidi Bou Said, just to the north of Tunis, in November 2015 it was almost deserted, with tourists from across the world having largely chosen to go elsewhere following the shootings near Sousse in June of that year. I remember being saddened about the very visible loss of income for the many small traders who had previously made their livings selling souvenirs from the numerous small shops that lined its main streets. Revisiting the village yesterday on a beautiful warm, sunny day, with a cool breeze freshening the air, it was good to see the lively buzz of visitors filling the streets. It is a beautiful village, with the blue doors and shutters (reputedly to thwart mosquitoes) contrasting starkly with the whitewashed walls of the buildings.
It was also great to find that my favourite restaurant in the village, Au Bon Vieux Temps, was still there, and serving food as good as it has always done. The only sad thing was that the traders seemed very much more aggressive than I recall even in the dark days of 2015. A well-traveled friend and colleague reckoned it was the worst hassle he had ever experienced in a tourist resort! I had to agree, which is sad, because they would achieve very many more sales if they were a little bit less aggressive. Be warned, but go and enjoy Sidi Bou Said nonetheless.
Friends suggested that if I was able to take any time off from the North American School of Internet Governance meeting, and ICANN 61 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, I should try and visit Old San Juan (Viejo San Juan). So, on a warm, sunny March afternoon I set about exploring the old part of the city, which was a fair walk from the Convention Centre!
San Juan was founded by the Spanish in the early 16th century, around a fine natural harbour, and until the 19th century almost all of the settlement was contained within the impressive walls and fortifications of the city. However, by the late-1940s the physical and social fabric of the old city was in a state of disrepair, with buildings decaying and prostitution widespread. There was strong pressure to demolish much of the old fabric, and construct new buildings with modern architectural designs. Instead, thanks largely to local activism, especially by the anthropologist Ricardo Alegria, it was agreed to remodel the old city using traditional Spanish motifs and design elements. In 1949 the San Juan Historic National Site was established, and this became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. It is now a lively place with numerous restaurants, shops and historic sites, and I hope that the pictures below capture something of the bright colours, impressive situation, and considerable diversity of Old San Juan. Thanks so much to everyone who suggested I should visit it!
The Kelabit Highlands in Sarawak is an isolated plateau at an altitude of around 1000 m on the border with Indonesia. Named after the Kelabit people who live there, it is also home to the Penan and Lun Bawang. It is a vast forested area, and has been subject to logging for many years. However, until recently it was largely without electricity other than that provided by generators or small micro-hydro plants, and roads have only reached the interior of the region in the last decade. Being so isolated, it is now becoming popular as a tourist location for trecking in one of the last wilderness areas of the world. Rice production dominates in the flat valley floors, but some Penan people still pursue their traditional hunter gathering practices. Some long houses are also still occupied and new ones are being built, although most people now live in individual houses, with many offering homestay opportunities for visitors.
I was recently invited to participate in the e-Borneo Knowledge Fair held in Ba’Kelalan from 25-27 October, and so had the amazing opportunity to visit both Ba’Kelalan and the neighbouring community of Bario. The rapidity of change, mainly brought about through the introduction of roads, electricity (a substantial new solar farm in Bario), and new ICTs, is transforming these communities, and in a few years they will be very different from how they appear now. I hope that the pictures below do justice to these beautiful areas, and to the generous hospitality of my hosts (including Lian Tarawe in Bario).
Far too many ICT4D initiative are thought up by the rich and privileged, often, but not always, with the intention of using technology to improve the lives of poor and marginalised peoples. More often than not, well-intentioned researchers and academics in Europe and north America, or those living in major urban centres of economically poorer countries, try to develop new “solutions” that will help to eliminate poverty or deliver on some aspect of the Sustainable Development Goals agreed by the global elite. Invariably, they have little understanding of the real needs of poor people or marginalised communities, and all too often such initiatives prove to be unsustainable once the initial funding for them has dissipated.
Some initiatives do, though, run counter to this all too familiar tale of woe. One of these is the work of the Institute of Social Informatics and Technological Innovations at the Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, which has over many years sought to work with local communities in some of the most isolated areas of Sarawak. This action research started almost 20 years ago with the creation of the e-Bario telecentre initiative in 1998. It was therefore a real privilege to be invited to give a keynote presentation at their 6th e-Borneo Knowledge Fair, held on the theme of community-based sustainability in Ba’Kelalan from 25-27 October (EBKF6). The first e-Bario Knowledge Fair was held in 2007, and a decade on the change of name indicates a broadening of its focus beyond the village of Bario to be more inclusive of other initiatives across Borneo.
The central belief underlying these knowledge fairs has been the importance of sharing understandings between communities and researchers in co-creating new knowledge. In a fundamental reversal of the normal conference format, where participants usually meet in major cities of the world, the e-Bario and now e-Borneo Knowledge Fairs have been held in isolated rural communities, with participating academics being encouraged to learn as much from those living there as the latter do from the conference and workshop speakers. To emphasise this difference, outside participants were encouraged this year to travel to Ba’Kelalan on a nine-hour journey along roads cut through the forests initially by logging companies.
The knowledge fair consisted mainly of a series of workshops that placed as much emphasis on the views of the inhabitants of Ba’Kelalan and other isolated communities in Malaysia as they did on the experiences and knowledge of outside academics. Great credit is due to the Co-Chairs of EBKF6, Narayanan Kulathu Ramaiyer and Roger Harris, and their team, for having brought together an amazing group of people. The pictures below hopefully capture something of the refreshing energy and excitement of these workshops (link here to the official video). Many things impressed me about them, not least the commitment of all involved to work together collaboratively to focus on delivering solutions to the needs and wants of people living in these very isolated communities, and ensuring that “development” does not irrevocably damage the essential elements of life that they wish to maintain. It was also very impressive to see three community healthworkers present, who were offering a free service of health checks (blood pressure and blood sugar levels) for those participating.
The most important feature of the Sixth e-Borneo Knowledge Fair for me was that it was all about working with isolated communities rather than for them. I came away I am sure very much more enriched by the experience than will other participants have been by my keynote! For those interested in what I had to say, though, the slides from my keynote are available here: Safeguarding the interests of the marginalised: rhetoric and reality of global ICT4D initiatives designed to deliver the SDGs.
Thanks again to everyone involved for making this such a special event!