Poker, Law and Diplomacy

I met Harvard Law Professor and Berkman Center founder Charles Nesson after ineptly trying to carry a fax machine on my back to his house while riding a bicycle. Predictably, I fell over, and arrived at his front door, the fax machine still intact, covered with scrapes and bike grease. His wonderful wife took me in and cleaned me up, and I subsequently learned about Professor Nesson's latest quest to use poker to teach strategic thinking in business, law and as of today, international relations. To be honest, I've never been a huge poker player, but I'm fascinated by the concept of games teaching serious life lessons. If you are in the Cambridge/Somerville area today at 12:30PM, join us for good Thai food and better conversation.

What can
teach us about

The Clash of Civilizations and International Trade Law Through the Lens of a Card Game

A Fletcher Roundtable with
Professor Charles R. Nesson
Weld Professor of Law, Harvard Law School
Founder, Global Poker Strategic Thinking Society

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007
12:30PM, The Fletcher School, Mugar 235
Thai food will be served

Sponsored by the Fletcher International Law Society and the Global Poker Strategic Thinking Society
Contact Josh Goldstein at or Sam Feldman at for more information

For recent articles about this new initiative...
High Stakes: A Harvard Professor Puts an Academic Face on Poker (Boston Globe 11/5/07)
Poker Just a Game of Cards? Don't Bet On It (Tufts Daily, 11/8/07)

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The Great East African Internet Infrastructure Debate: Beta

For a graduate school paper, I'm attempting to gather information on the latest state of play for bringing cheaper and more broadly available Internet access to East Africa. This is a fast-changing business and regulatory issue, so I'd be grateful for input on whether I am defining the terms of the debate correctly. The three sources I've found most helpful are:
(i) The 200 latest articles in AllAfrica's ICT News
(ii) Ethan Zuckerman and Eric Osiakwan's talk on African Internet Infrastructure at Berkman in April 2007
(iii) The syllabus of Harvard's Digital Democracy class held in Fall 2003, lead by Prof. Nesson and Andrew McLaughlin

Here is my sense of the state of play:
(i) Access to information is a crucial for human development, entrepreneurship, and integration into the global economic system;
(ii) East Africa pays more for broadband then anywhere else in the world;
(iii) A submarine cable along the coast of East Africa would be the best way to lower cost and increase access to a wide range of broadband services.
(iv) Regulation is equally important as infrastructure for creating more affordable services for consumers

Then, there seems to be two simultaneous debates taking place.
Debate #1- The Backbone Infrastructure Question

Should an East African submarine cable be:
(i) A purely free market endeavor (EASSy) with no strong regulator keeping the owners from setting rent seeking prices. This would be similar to West Africa's SAT-3 cable, and would neither create more affordable prices nor promote competition.
(ii) A public good 'Open Access' model (NEPAD Infrastructural Platform?), with price ceilings for access set by NEPAD (with support from the World Bank), allow ISP's, universities and NGO's to access the cable to provide their own services. The problem is that this would take many more years to negotiate.
(iii) 'Universal Access' model where philanthropists provide $2 billion for a submarine cable around Africa and terrestrial domestic fiber to give access to all of Africa. However, governments will immediately lost control and income through this model, and there seems to be no willing philanthropists.

Question: On Thursday, a South African news agency reported that Aga Khan invested $650 million in a SEACOM cable. This seems to be a purely free market cable. Is it the closest to being built? Has the Open Access model made any progress this year? Are any other international organizations players?

Debate #2- The African Telecom Question
Most African nations have state-owned telecoms (former monopolists) that control infrastructure and charge egregious amounts for services. There seems to be a battle of wills between these former monopolists and the ISP's, who know they can provide both data and voice at cheaper prices. Andrew McGlaughlin suggests a way to mitigate this stalemate by encouraging African Telecoms to:
(i) Diversify into IP and act as a 'connectivity cloud, selling various avenues to access that offer integrated services (voice, text, audio, video) over a single connection;'
(ii) Recognize convergence of tech issues, and encourage government departments to work together;
(iii) Encourage a strong, tenured and independent regulator that sets price ceilings when necessary.

Question: Are there any shining lights in African governance in this area? Are there any NGO initiatives promoting these goals?

This month, during the 2nd meeting of the Internet Governance Forum, a consensus emerged that access continued to be the most important issue for developing nations. The two debates mentioned above seem to be the most fundamental basic access policy questions. I would be grateful for feedback and thoughts about how this fast-changing issue is playing out.

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The Fierce Urgency of Now

Andrew Sullivan, an incredibly thoughtful conservative Catholic, writes in the Atlantic that an Obama presidency is the only way to transcend the bitter divide in of the Baby Boomer generation. His piece is hands-down the most persuasive argument for an Obama Presidency.

Money quote:

"But if you sense, as I do, that greater danger lies ahead, and that our divisions and recent history have combined to make the American polity and constitutional order increasingly vulnerable, then the calculus of risk changes. Sometimes, when the world is changing rapidly, the greater risk is caution. Close-up in this election campaign, Obama is unlikely. From a distance, he is necessary. At a time when America’s estrangement from the world risks tipping into dangerous imbalance, when a country at war with lethal enemies is also increasingly at war with itself, when humankind’s spiritual yearnings veer between an excess of certainty and an inability to believe anything at all, and when sectarian and racial divides seem as intractable as ever, a man who is a bridge between these worlds may be indispensable.

We may in fact have finally found that bridge to the 21st century that Bill Clinton told us about. Its name is Obama."


Wednesday Links 11.18.07

Mitch, via Meg Rorison's Photostream

In New York, I briefly escaped the academic confines of Fletcher. Meg also took some pics of us at the URB Magazine 150th Issue party.

In Washington, WaPo Book Review, the greatest American weekly book section, starts Short Stack, a book blog by the staff. They blogged about travel books this week, and tragically left out any Kapuscinski.

In Cambridge, Iqbal Quadir launches the Center for Development and Entrepreneurship at MIT with $50 million from a private Dubai based firm. This could mean good things for the Africa digerati.

In Kampala, Jeremy follows the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGUM). This is a great blog to read if its been a while since you've been to Uganda (10 months for me!) and want to know the changes. Free wireless across downtown Kampala!?!

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On Mobiles and the Kenyan Election

Africa is often left out of the Internet and democracy discourse. I believe there are several reasons for this. First, some find it difficult to identify a robust civil society, where citizens challenge authorities on the basis of issues, not just power. Second, discussions on the African blogosphere are often more related (and rightly so) to using technology creatively to alleviate poverty instead of take part in the political process.

I believe that Kenya provides the best challenge to this stereotype. Long home to the most robust blogosphere in sub-Saharan Africa outside of South Africa, Kenya has utilized the Internet and mobile technology to keep their leaders accountable in creative ways. The most prominent project is mzalendo: Eye on Parliament, a volunteer effort created by young people who were ‘frustrated by the fact that it has been difficult to hold MP’s accountable for their performance largely because information about their work has been inaccessible.’ Further, Kenyan blogosphere meetups were the inspiration for similar efforts in Uganda and elsewhere.

Kenya will be a fascinating place to watch in the next few months as the nation prepares for late December elections. How will technology be mobilized for civic ends? One new initiative is called Voices of Africa (VOA), an effort by the Dutch-run Africa Interactive Media Foundation, which aims to bring powerful mobile technology to journalists. VOA’s pilot program is currently active in 4 African countries. Specifically in Kenya, journalists are receiving mobile phones with high-speed General Packet Radio System (GPRS) connections that allow them to upload large amounts of data, including video and audio. As Kenya VOA coordinator Evans Wafula says, “Technology has to be incorporated in journalism. The telephone is used to document, it’s a complete office. It takes human rights to the next level; perpetrators can be held accountable.”

In a nation where nearly half the population believes that election fraud regularly takes place, and where Daniel Arap Moi’s legacy of corruption still lingers, it will be fascinating to explore whether Internet and mobile phones can help keep leaders accountable.

This is my latest post on Berkman's IDBlog.

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