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Labour, Corbyn and Brexit


I have long struggled with understanding why Labour under Corbyn has not been more forthright in supporting the Remain campaign. To be sure, such ambivalence must in part be because of the diversity of views within Labour’s membership, but they risk losing many of their younger supporters once the harsh economic, social, political and cultural realities of leaving the EU hit home.

The sacking of Owen Thomas from the shadow cabinet for his principled stand in favour of a second referendum, and for highlighting the risks of Brexit, emphasises the deep divisions within Labour and the power that the leader holds.

The most plausible reasons for Corbyn’s approach would seem to be that:

  • He has long been suspicious of the European project, seeing it as a means through which the owners of capital have been able to exploit labour more effectively;
  • He sees the EU as a threat to his ambitions fundamentally to restructure Britain, especially because he thinks that membership of the EU would limit his intentions to renationalize many of the utility industries that were privatized over the last half century; and
  • Because he wants to be seen as the leader who made Britain great again.

However, his logic, if indeed that is what it can be called, is deeply problematic.

Corbyn’s recent statements on the EU and Brexit have indeed shown a more conciliatory approach to Europe, perhaps as a sop to those Labour voters who wish to remain, but many of his previous statements leave little doubt that he is highly critical of both the European project, and of the EU institutions that are seeking to deliver it:

  • He voted to leave the EEC  in 1975;
  • In 1993, he spoke out against the Maastricht Treaty because it took “away from national parliaments the power to set economic policy and hands it over to an unelected set of bankers who will impose the economic policies of price stability, deflation and high unemployment throughout the European Community”;
  • He voted against the Lisbon Treaty in 2008; and
  • In 2016 he asserted that he wanted “a Europe that is based on social justice and good, rather than solely on free-market economics”.

To be sure, some people can grow wiser with age and change their minds.  After winning the election in 2017 he said clearly that he wanted the UK to remain a member of the EU, but most of his recent actions would run counter to this assertion.  Most importantly, he has done very little to put this aspiration into practice, and seeks to penalize any of his MPs who support a second referendum and express a desire to remain within the EU.

Corbyn’s criticisms of the EU fail to acknowledge the very considerable support that it has given to workers’ rights and social welfare across Europe.  Workers in Britain have benefited considerably from this, and it is unlikely that they would have done so had the UK not been part of the EU over the last 45 years.

The scenario that Corbyn seems to be hoping for is that:

  • May and the Tories will make a disaster of the Brexit negotiations, and will become unelectable at least for the next quarter of a century ;
  • The British economy will swiftly plunge into decline as a result of Brexit;
  • This will make his renationalization policies seem much more  plausible than they do at the moment; and
  • He will then be seen as the glorious saviour of a Britain that will indeed be made great again as a result of his actions.

For this to succeed, he cannot in any way be seen as supporting any of the present government’s policies towards the EU, he must continue to advocate that the EU serves the interests of the owners of capital rather than the workers, and he must encourage the collapse of our economy and society so that his policies can be seen as restoring our (and his) greatness again.

It seems so sad that on these critical issues he has failed to see the very considerable benefits that being part of the EU gives to Britain.  Instead of simply leaving the EU, we should remain at its heart and change it from within.  Outside the EU, Britain has little voice, little power, and none of the benefits that belonging to it can bring to all of our citizens.

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Images from Old San Juan, Puerto Rico


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!

 

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Ba’Kelalan and Bario in the Kelabit Highlands, Sarawak


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).

Ba’Kelalan

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Bario

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ICTs, sustainability and development


LaunchI am delighted to see my chapter on ICTs, sustainability and development just published in the ITU’s new book on ICT-Centric Economic Growth, Innovation and Job Creation launched yesterday at the World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC) in Buenos Aires.  This was part of a fascinating project that emerged when Dr. Ahmed Sharafat (Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Tarbiat Modares University, Tehran, Iran) and Dr. Eun-Ju Kim (from the ITU) brought together a group of academics from across the world to explore issues around the ways through which ICTs can contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), focusing especially on economic growth and employment.  We held several meetings together over the last year, and particularly met up for a fortnight in Geneva in January 2017 to work through ideas and share drafts of manuscripts.

IMG_8860 smallIt is the first time I have actually worked on such a collectively authored project, and its publication says much about the willingness of all involved to collaborate supportively together under the leadership of Ahmed and Bill Lehr, who was later brought on board to co-edit the book.  Each of us took the lead on a single chapter, but everyone contributed to the ideas contained within the book.  The process of negotiation and discussion around the concepts and ideas within each chapter was fascinating, especially since it required us to hone our arguments very finely and precisely.  Most of the contributors were economists, and although at times I struggled with accepting some of their arguments, I know that their contributions very much improved the chapter on which I led.  Moreover, I am very grateful to Ahmed as editor, for letting me write what I did, since it enabled me to craft my most critical piece of work on the sustainability of the ICT sector.

ICT4SDGThe second chapter (on which I led) examines the interface between ICTs and sustainability, especially focusing on environmental issues and the conditions that need to be in place for ICT initiatives to be sustainable socially and economically. It focuses specifically on the importance of universal infrastructure, the affordability of technologies, the need for appropriate skills and awareness, and the importance of locally relevant content. For these to be delivered, the chapter emphasises that those who develop policies and implement programmes and projects to use ICTs to promote sustainable development need to address issues of empowerment, focus on the needs of the poorest, develop innovative technological solutions and new business models, legislate new kinds of regulation through which governments facilitate the ICT and telecommunication sector, and ensure that there is effective security and resilience within the systems being developed. The chapter concludes with a brief analysis of the role of multi-stakeholder partnerships in implementing such initiatives.

Where I think it makes the most significant new arguments is at the interface between ICTs and sustainability.  It does this in three main contexts:

  1. First, although this is indeed a book published by the ITU, a UN agency, and we therefore had to be very careful in our arguments, the chapter does nevertheless challenge some of the assumptions behind, and implementation of, the SDGs. In particular it draws attention to the tensions between sustainability (implying maintenance or stability) and development (implying change or growth).
  2. Second, it provides a strong critique of the environmental credentials of the ICT sector.  For example, while it acknowledges that some companies have sought to show their environmental concerns through delivering on carbon emissions,  it notes that there has been no comprehensive and rigorous environmental audit of the sector as a whole.  In particular, I recall some challenging discussions during our work on the book about the increasing amount of debris accumulating in space as a result of satellite launches, and I am pleased that colleagues eventually allowed me to include an, albeit toned down, section on this, which argues that space pollution should indeed be included as an environmental impact.
  3. Third, the chapter argues strongly that many of the main business models adopted by the private sector in rolling out ICTs are fundamentally unsustainable.  It is therefore contradictory to assert that ICTs are an important vehicle through which the Sustainable Development Goals can be implemented (even if it is accepted that these can indeed reduce poverty).  To give but one example, the mobile phone and app/content sectors function as an ever increasing spiral of unsustainability.  New devices require new apps and operating systems, which then in turn require another generation of new devices with more memory and functionality.  Hence, instead of the old landline telephones that lasted for years, most people are now encouraged to purchase new upgraded phones every couple of years.  This is unsustainability built in by the very design of the technology and business models, and it is enhanced and encouraged by the companies’ focus on marketing, modernity and fashion.

Several case studies to support these chapters are also included in the book, but sadly two of mine had to be excluded because of space, and so I will shortly be posting them separately here on my blog.

Once again, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved in this co-created book, many of whom have now become good friends.  It was a privilege to work with you all on this project, and I am so grateful to colleagues in the ITU for inviting me to participate.

 

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SDG Stories: reflections on sustainability of ICT systems


E_Logo_No UN Emblem-01In the run-up to this year’s UN General Assembly, the Office of the DG of the UN Office in Geneva has launched a novel initiative on big conversations driving the big goals of the SDGs as part of their Perception Change Project.  The UNESCO Chair in ICT4D is delighted to have been invited to participate in this initiative, alongside other leading figures in the ICT4D world including Houlin Zhao (SG of the ITU, and one of our Honorary Patrons), Kathy Calvin (President and CEIO, UN Foundation), and Nicholas Negroponte (Founder MIT Media Lab).

Our stories are about the question “What are the biggest hopes and challenges we face in providing reliable ICT access to communities as we work towards improved sustainable development?

This was my response:

Seeing the eyes of a group of street children in Ethiopia light up when I let them play with my laptop in February 2002 convinced me in an instant of the potential of technology to be used effectively for learning by some of the poorest people in the world.  However, the plethora of global initiatives that have been designed to use ICTs to contribute to reducing poverty through economic growth over the last 15 years have had the consequence of dramatically increasing inequality at the same time.  The poorest and most marginalised have not benefited sufficiently from the promise of ICTs.

Few people pay appropriate attention to the dark side of technology, and yet we must understand this, and change it, if this potential is fully to be realised for all.  In the context of the SDGs, there is a fundamental challenge.  To be sure ICTs can contribute to the achievement of the SDGs, but few people sufficiently highlight their unsustainability: ICTs have seriously negative environmental impacts, and their usual business model is built on a fundamentally unsustainable logic.  In terms of environmental impact, for example, they have contributed to substantially increased electricity demand, and the amount of waste in space is now presenting very serious threats to future satellite deployment.  The business model, whereby people are encouraged to replace their mobile phones every couple of years, and new hardware often requires the next generation of software, which in turn then requires new hardware, is good for business, but not for sustainability.

If we are serious about using ICTs for sustainable development, we must do much more to address negative aspects such as these, so that the poorest individuals, communities and countries can indeed benefit.

Follow the stories at: http://www.sdgstories.com, or on Twitter using #sdgstories.E_Logo_No UN Emblem-01

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Reclaiming ICT4D – output from workshop at WSIS 2017


Thanks so much to everyone who contributed to our workshop this morning at WSIS Forum 2017 in Geneva on what we need to do to ensure that the poorest and most marginalised can indeed be empowered through the use of ICTs.

Reclaiming small

Our co-created mindmap is available here in .pdf format and by clicking on the image below:

Reclaiming small

A special thank you to our panel:

  • Alex Wong (Head, Global Challenge Partnerships & Member of the Executive Committee; Head of the Future of the Internet Global Challenge Initiative, World Economic Forum) on The power of partnership
  • Dr. Bushra Hassan (School of Psychology, University of Sussex) on The wisdom of marginalised women
  • Charlotte Smart (Digital Policy and Programme Manager, Department for International Development, UK) on The delivery of donors
  • Michael Kende (Senior Advisor, Analysis Mason, and former Chief Economist of the Internet Society) on The trust in technology
  • Nigel Hickson (VP IGO Engagement, ICANN) on The design of the domain name system
  • Torbjörn Fredriksson (Head of ICT Analysis Section of the Division on Technology and Logistics, UNCTAD) on The energy of entrepreneurship

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Reclaiming ICT4D at the WSIS Forum 2017


BookTo coincide with the recent publication of my new book entitled Reclaiming Information and Communication Technologies for Development (Oxford University Press, 2017), the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D is convening a workshop on Friday 16th June from 11.00-12.45 in ITU Room Popov 1 at the 2017 WSIS Forum being held in Geneva.  The key premise of the workshop is that the global spread of ICTs has increased inequality, and that the poorest and most marginalised have therefore failed sufficiently to benefit.  The workshop will explore whether the continued focus on the ways through which ICTs can contribute to economic growth will inevitably lead to ever increasing, and dangerous, inequality, and will make recommendations as to how different stakeholders can best ensure that the poorest and most marginalised can indeed benefit from their use.

It will begin with short (5 minute) perspectives from some amazing people (listed in alphabetical order of first names):

  • Alex Wong (Head, Global Challenge Partnerships & Member of the Executive Committee; Head of the Future of the Internet Global Challenge Initiative, World Economic Forum) on The power of partnership
  • Dr. Bushra Hassan (School of Psychology, University of Sussex) on The wisdom of marginalised women
  • Charlotte Smart (Digital Policy and Programme Manager, Department for International Development, UK) on The delivery of donors
  • Michael Kende (Senior Advisor, Analysis Mason, and former Chief Economist of the Internet Society) on The trust in technology
  • Nigel Hickson (VP IGO Engagement, ICANN) on The design of the domain name system
  • Torbjörn Fredriksson (Head of ICT Analysis Section of the Division on Technology and Logistics, UNCTAD) on The energy of entrepreneurship

Following these short, and undoubtedly provocative, presentations there will be an open discussion focusing on participants’ thoughts as to what are the most important priorities for action that different stakeholders must take so that the poorest and most marginalised people and communities can indeed be empowered through the use of ICTs.

The workshop is open to everyone with interests in ways through which ICTs can indeed benefit poor people, and there will also be an opportunity after the workshop for participants to purchase copies of Reclaiming Information and Communication Technologies for Development at a 40% reduction from list price.

I very much look forward to seeing you there!

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