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ICT4Peace in the Horn of Africa?

The ICT4Peace Literature

The pioneer of peace studies Johan Galtung (1996) proposed two types of peace: negative peace meaning the absence of violence and positive peace where there is coexistence, restoration and sustainable absence of violence.[i] Direct violence is traceable violent action and indirect (structural) violence is violence rooted in the social, economic, or cultural conditions prevailing within or between societies. Nonviolent conflict resolution or peacebuilding studies have now diversified with branches on peace economics, peace journalism, peace and justice and so forth. With the rise of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs)[ii], the new field that integrates ICTs with international economic development has emerged and is known as ICT for Development or ICT4D. In early and mid 2000, capital D started to be succeeded by the big P, ICT for Peace (ICT4P) inclusive of new techno tools, the Internet and Social Networking Sites (SNSs) such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram, blogs, and various other local online forum. Despite the growing hype about ICTs in general and for the purposes of peacebuilding in particular, some authors raise a moral question about the oxymoron application of ICT tools for conflict resolution when the very raw materials of our technological gadgets are sourced or are made through conflict and from conflict prone regions of the world.[iii] A recent study on the role of ICT in peacebuilding by Tellidis & Kappler (2016) came up with a conceptual framework of ICTs as tool for peacebuilding. The authors point to three distinct scenarios: “the hegemonic use of ICTs, their marginalisation or, alternatively, their use as a representative, participatory tool.” They conclude from their study that ICTs have to be viewed in “a continuous tension between disempowerment, marginalisation and empowerment, and activated in different ways by the agents controlling and using them. This perhaps suggests that ICTs have, in the field of peacebuilding, a lesser determining role than commonly expected – they represent but a tool which needs to be activated and used by those capable of and willing to use it.”[iv]

There are two main schools of thought regarding the role of technologies in peacebuilding. The techno-optimists, who see the positive, educational, and emancipatory potential of these tools these include academics, activists, the innovators of the technology themselves or groups with vested interests such as financers and the ‘cyber-sceptics’, who believe that they could be used for exploitation, surveillance, cybercrime, and extremism purposes.

The techno-optimists maintain that lack of information leads to misunderstanding and violence, therefore, the availability of large data and information defuses rumours and misinformation that could lead to conflict. They also argue that the phases of the conflict are important. According to Hattotuwa (2004) ICT interventions can be more effective when used for peacebuilding after a ceasefire or peace agreement. This analysis is contrary to the perspective purported by Tellidis & Kappler, who find that widespread information is causing conflicts. Pierskalla & Hollenbach (2013) also found that by statistically analysing spatially disaggregated data on cell phone coverage and the location of organised violent events in Africa “the availability of cell phone coverage significantly and substantially increases the probability of violent conflict.”

The ICT4Peace study and literature is not yet charted but it is destined to be a field of greater interest due to both the fast development and use of ICT tools around the world and the increase of ICT related conflicts and insecurities. Specifically, when it comes to the literature and research for the Horn of Africa (the Horn), the very few articles available are based on projects in Kenya and these articles focus on the anecdotal application of technology for conflict prevention or a description of their application rather than evidences and impacts in sustainable peacebuilding programs or post-conflict reconciliation and mediation[v]. In a region, where almost all countries currently are affected by low and high intensity conflicts, where humanitarian crises are rampant, and the Internet, SNSs and mobile phones have become critical in conflict and security, reading the regional nexus is quite relevant and important.

Case Studies from the Region

Kenya, with a 68 percent Internet penetration, only preceded in the region by South Sudan at 71 percent, is broadly viewed as a country aspiring to build a knowledge or Internet economy[vi]. In the region of repressive states, Kenya has been attempting to be a place of liberalism and ICT innovation. In Ethiopia, with a 4.5 percent penetration the ICT and Internet sector is heavily government monopolised and controlled, which is very similar to the Rwandan model. Somalia with a 6.1 percent penetration is often led by the private sector and individuals owning and leading technological development.

Cases in the Horn show that the Internet has been used for national economic developments or what could also be called control by governments and to self organise and protest government repression by citizens.[vii] In Ethiopia, the government launched the largest wide area networks (WANs), the WoredaNet, which connects over 600 local administrative districts in the country with broadband Internet access for local administration efficiency and the SchoolNet to connect more than 550 high schools in the country to access video-based distance education.[viii] Similar projects such as AgriNet and RevenueNet have been launched but there are no cases of a PeaceNet or ConflictNet launched in the whole Horn region perhaps other than the Conflict Early Warning and Response Mechanism (CEWARN) project of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) region. CEWARN largely focuses on conflict early warning and analysis in the Horn IGAD member states using a software tool – the Reporter that collects weekly incident and situation reports. The Techno-sceptics often argue that SNSs are being used for surveillance or what the optimists might call early warning and intelligence missions, which the former deem invasive of the privacy and security of citizens. In the case of, at least, the Horn pastoralist and rural conflict prevention programs, the CEWARN has showed some value.

There are some individual cases showing the use of ICT for peacebuilding from Kenya. Una Hakika, is run by Canadian non-governmental organisation (NGO) focusing on preventing genocide and atrocities, a violence prevention program that uses mobile phones to dispel rumours and misinformation in Kenya’s Tana Delta region, and the Sisi Ni Amani project, which offers community training on peacebuilding.[ix]  Ushahidi is crowd-sourcing software developed after the 2007 post election violence in Kenya to collect and map crises information, was extended and applied to map crises in Gaza, Afghanistan, Haiti, Chile and to monitor the 2016 election in the US.

In Ethiopia, Kenya as well as countries in the region the use of hashtags (#) for campaigns and protests has become popular. The #OromoProtests, #AmharaProtests, #OccupyHarambeeAve or #FeesMustFall were protest (sometimes referred to as conflict inciting) and campaign hashtags with a short-term goal and recognisable impact. There is a noticeable absence of either short-term or long-term peacebuilding orientated hashtags applied for peacebuilding and conflict resolution objectives. It is also not yet possible to witness if hashtag campaigns of peacebuilding could bring about sustainable peace or even end conflicts.

Since 2013, several African governments have disrupted or shut down Internet or electronic communication due to elections or anti-government protests. Since the Arab Spring wound down, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn became one of the first leaders to officially disparage social media at the United Nations in September 2016 blaming it for the local protests. The anti-government protests in Ethiopia in 2015 and largely of the 2016 were allegedly mobilised, coordinated, executed and communicated by local and Diaspora-based activists using social media tools. The declaration of a State of Emergency by the Ethiopian government in October 2016, the shutting down of social media helped to de-escalate the protests as well as the usefulness of the social media for opposition activists.

A study by a local South Sudanese peacebuilding organisation published in 2014 found that social media particularly Facebook users instrumentally ‘facilitated’ the 2013 conflict in the country.[x] In October 2016, the South Sudan government threatened that it could cut off access to social media and other online mainstream media “for circulating ‘false information’ about President Salva Kiir’s health status.”[xi] In 2016 social media activists in the Sudan organised a successful stay-at-home strike opposing the government but the Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir boasted that his government “will not be overthrown by keyboards” and dared the activists “to come out on to the streets.”[xii] The events in Sudan suggest that the SNSs indeed can cause a headache to regimes but other factors are necessary for them to be fully effective. This overview of the Sudan, Somalia (except a mobile phone SMS assessment), South Sudan[xiii] (a developed #PeaceApp and peace messaging courses, whose impact has not yet been evaluated), Eritrea, Djibouti and Ethiopia did not come across unique cases where the Internet or SNSs tools, software or projects were applied for peacebuilding.

These eventualities indicate that the Internet and SNSs could be very effective tools for liberation and insurgency however; they could also be employed to impede the successes of popular causes as governments or Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can easily shut them down. This means SNSs seldom lead to political changes or overthrow regimes unless they are supplemented by practical on-the-ground human actions.

So far the review of the secondary materials and empirical cases of ICT4Peace have not shown evidence and the impact of the Internet and SNSs used for structural, positive peace and peacebuilding projects in the HoA region other than few descriptive and anecdotal cases. The conclusion draws on the limited evidence of a nascent research field and inclines to the findings of Tellidis & Kappler that for peacebuilding, ICTs represent a tool “which needs to be activated and used by those capable of and willing to use it.” It is also worth noting that SNSs are in a process of continuous innovations and redevelopment, therefore developing a permanent theory and analytical framework or reaching at a conclusion may not be an uncomplicated undertaking. Users, trends, and participation are high during crises, special events, and Breaking News announcements on SNSs, especially in the Horn, and these features gradually reduce or calm in times of “no news.”

Future Scenario Analysis

  • The digital divide narrows and more people would be online and the Horn’s social media scene continues to be a chaotic space. Some countries recruit and deploy a ‘social media army’ to dilute and suffocate independent and protesting voices with pro-government and ‘anti-insurgency or protest messages and malwares’. In line with this, the digital insecurity or vulnerability of citizens and activists will become a focus of intervention as well as huge investment and control by governments’ cyber security agencies and Intel branches. Horn governments will follow the Chinese model of highly controlled Internet and SNSs governance and policy leading to the ‘hegemonic use of ICTs and then their marginalisation’.
  • There are hopes and opportunities for the development of digital peacebuilding, digital mediation and digital security in the region. This means the cyberspace will become a place of macro and micro conflicts between major non-state ICT actors, attackers and hackers versus state actors and multinationals or between ‘Internet anarchists and controllers’, between individuals and small groups on the cyberworld such as SNSs. These conflicts could be follow ups of the offline tensions and conflicts but could also be new digital conflicts and insecurities over problems that have entirely emanated on the digital world and could best be solved using innovative digital/cyber peacebuilding or mediation programs. Innovation, therefore, will be the catchword in the ICT for peace nexus in the region
  • As much as these technologies could be threatening or forcing reforms of authoritarian regimes in the region (especially with the prospects of Free Basics or Internet.org), they may also likely save and prolong the lives of dictators. Regimes could use them to progress their political ends, intelligence or during disasters or coups – for example recently Turkey’s president Tayyip Erdoğan used FaceTime to reach his supporters from outside Turkey calling them to successfully take to the streets and crush down the coup.
  • The rise of fake news on SNSs is also likely to be a cause of concern with the increase of tribalist, ethnic, religious radicalism and extremism themed discourses and conflicts.

 

Tedla Desta (PhD) is a Research Assistant at the Edward Kennedy Institute for Conflict Intervention in Maynooth University, Ireland. His teaching and research areas are interdisciplinary but with a focus on ICT4D, peacebuilding, mass media, and development in its broader understanding. Tedla is also a SARChI on Innovation and Development Research Associate, Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria, South Africa. He can be reached at dteklet@tcd.ie.

 

Sources

[i] GaltungJ. (1996) Peace by peaceful means: Peace and conflict, development and civilization. London: Sage Publications.

[ii] Hamelink’s defines ICTs as “all those technologies that enable the handling of information and facilitate different forms of communication among human actors, between human beings and electronic systems, and among electronic systems” (Hamelink, 1997: 3). For more see Hamelink CJ (1997) “New information and communication technologies, social development and cultural change” UNRISD Discussion Paper No. 86. Geneva: United Nations Research Institute for Social Development

[iii] Tellidis, I & Kappler, S. (2016) “Information and Communication Technologies in Peacebuilding: Implications, Opportunities and Challenges”, Cooperation and Conflict 51, 1, 75-93.

[iv] ibid.

[v] For more see Gagliardone, I., Kalemera, A., Kogen, L., Nalwoga, L., Stremlau, N., & Wairagala, W. (2015) “In Search of Local Knowledge on ICTs in Africa. ICTs, Statebuilding and Peacebuilding in Africa”, Stability Journal, retrieved from http://repository.upenn.edu/africaictresearch/

[vi] Outside its capital, Nairobi, Kenya is building the Kenyan equivalents of Silicon Valley, the Malili Technopolis and the $14bn techno city, Konzo Tech City. In 2016, Kenya allocated KES 6.1 billion for ongoing ICT Projects. Kenya and South Africa lead the continent in mobile commerce. Kenya’s ICT policy aims to boost ICT’s GDP contribution to 8 percent and create 180,000 jobs to emerge as the ICT hub of Africa.

[vii] Major e-government, fiber optic and ICT development projects in Kenya and some countries of East Africa in general helped make life easier, better and efficient. Yet, the Internet as well as SNS have been exploited by governments and non-state actors to control, spy and harass dissidents and political targets respectively – prime examples are several Ethiopian digital dissidents at home and in the Diaspora who have been unfairly accused of treason and terror.

[viii] For more see Lemma, L. Mesfin, B. & Salehu, A. (2011) “Sustainability of E-Government project Success: Cases from Ethiopia”, AMCIS 2011 Proceedings – All Submissions. Paper 411. http://aisel.aisnet.org/amcis2011_submissions/411

[ix] Shields, C.M. (2014) “ICTs in conflict early warning – possibilities and challenges”, Insight on Conflict, retrieved from https://www.insightonconflict.org/blog/2014/07/icts-conflict-early-warning-possibilities-challenges/

[x] For more see Insight on Conflict https://www.insightonconflict.org/blog/2014/10/role-social-media-south-sudan-crisis/

[xi] For more see Sudan Tribune http://dev.sudantribune.com/All/Article/Index/10-13-2016-S.-Sudan-threatens-internet-shutdown-over-Kiir-s-health-rumour/60520

[xii] For more see The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/jan/11/sudan-social-media-drive-for-civil-dissent-boosts-hopes-of-change

[xiii] A South Sudanese youth founded Junab Games to produce peacebuilding video games in 2017. One of the games known as Salaam (peace) is a game in which the gamer must destroy symbols of war to [to promote peace). This is still a very tender project to evaluate. For more see http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/02/building-peace-video-games-south-sudan-170209114717744.html

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