Mobile Activism Specific to East Asia? No.

In yesterday's WaPo, Anne Applebaum writes about mobile phones in political organizing in East Asia. "That covert cellphones have become the most important means of transmitting news from certain parts of East Asia is no accident. Llasa, Rangoon, Xinjiang and North Korea are all places dominated, directly or indirectly, by the same media-shy, publicity-sensitive Chinese regime."

She is almost certainly wrong that there is something specific to China-dominated regions that make them more amenable to using mobile phones for activism. Anyone who follows this space can immediately think of a handful of anecdotes from Eastern Europe or East Africa where mobiles have played much the same role. But is these any evidence that certain types of regimes make certain digital activist tools more useful? While there may be different kinds of government surveillance or various levels of internet penetration in different regimes, I think the fundamentals of digital activism are the same. What MIT Computer Science professor Steve Mann calls 'sousveillence', using mobile technology to keep governments accountable, is useful regardless of location.


Hip Hop Portraiture at the National Gallery

Finding myself in DC with a few idle hours yesterday afternoon, on a tip from Chris Blattman I checked out the National Portrait Gallery's Hip Hop & Contemporary Portraiture exhibit. I was mostly curious which version of hip hop would be presented to the country alongside portraits of George Washington and Pierre L'Enfant.

Luckily, they chose hip hop's better side. The creators were pithy enough to showcase photography, painting, graffiti, film and poetry from artists like Supernatural, Prince Paul, Nas, Public Enemy, KRS-One, Jean Grea and the Roots. A great group of artists, but there was a noticeable lack of Mobb Deep ("they only 19 but they mind is older, when things get for real their warm hearts turn colder) and Big Pun feat. Fat Joe.

I was clearly not the only one bothered by the lack of Fat Joe. I saw one family of tourists walking through the gallery with a befuddled look. After a few moments, the father proclaimed, "These aren't the Civil War portraits!"


Could AFRICOM Bring Humanitarian Scale?

One of the arguments in favor of AFRICOM (cautiously) made by the humanitarian community is that it may encourage the military to apply their remarkable ability to scale operations to humanitarian operations.

In my role as staff editor for the Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, I recently transcribed an interview with Fletcher graduate Admiral James G. Stravridis, commander of the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM). While I can't quote the interview until the issue comes out in June, one comment he made reminded me of this scaling potential.

He mentioned the work of USS Comfort, a hospital ship, in running humanitarian missions in South America last summer. The ship had 400,000 patient encounters, handed out 25,000 pairs of eyeglasses and visited a dozen countries with an inter-agency and NGO-based crew.

I'm not an expert in the scale of humanitarian operations, but it seems to me that these types of operations dwarf any of the current efforts run by USG in, for example, the Horn of Africa or East Africa. Is this another reason not to dismiss AFRICOM?

Labels: ,

2007 Ugandan Best of Blogs Award

In 2006, the Rebekah and I convened the first Ugandan Bloggers Happy Hour at Mateo's in Kampala. From this group, Rebekah went on to create the 2006 Best of Blog Awards. This year, with Rebekah back in Kansas, the tradition continues. Hat tip to Dee for making it happen this year and Rebekah for reporting.

Best Photography
Ugandan Insomniac for Arbitrary Beauty II

Best Design
Citizen Uganda

Best Writing
I Am Ernest Bazanye

Best Overseas Blog
Return of the Phoenix

Best Blog in Uganda
Ugandan Insomniac

Best Post
Ugandan Insomniac for Dilemma of a Gorgeous 30 Something

Uganda Blog of the Year — Tie
I Am Ernest Bazanye
Ugandan Insomniac


AFRICOM Moving Away From Development Assistance?

On Thursday, General William Ward, Commander of AFRICOM, testified on Capital Hill. According to J Stephen Morrison from CSIS, they takeaway seems to be that AFRICOM is moving away from the development and humanitarian assistance space, and focusing on the more traditional bilateral military partnerships and emergency relief matters where they have unique capacity.

This statement may placate much of the development community who worried about massive Pentagon budgets usurping their turf, but I'm still wondering where AFRICOM will fit into the US counter-terrorism policy that is explicitly about "capturing or killing terrorists and countering the conditions that breed violence and extremism."

Can AFRICOM be a force for good towards the latter goal? For those interested in seeing where the U.S. currently focuses most of its counter-terrorism efforts, check out Al-Qaida's (Mis)Adventures in the Horn of Africa. Spoiler: it's not Somalia.

Labels: , ,

AFRICOM, the American Military and Public Diplomacy in Africa

For those in DC tomorrow, my dear friend Vanessa is organizing the Annenberg Washington Series:

AFRICOM, the American Military and Public Diplomacy in Africa
Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

In 2007, the U.S. established a new military command for the continent of Africa. According to the Department of Defense, AFRICOM recognizes "the emerging strategic importance of Africa, and recognizing that peace and stability on the continent impacts not only Africans, but the interests of the U.S. and international community as well." Led by USC Annenberg journalism and public diplomacy professor Philip Seib, author of the forthcoming The Al Jazeera Effect: How the New Global Media Are Reshaping World Politics, this program offers the first thorough, independent examination of AFRICOM, which promises not only to reshape America's strategic approach to Africa, but also will redefine the role of the military in public diplomacy. Areas for discussion include soft power and American strategy in Africa, the relationship between the military and foreign policy agencies, and African responses to this initiative. 4 p.m., University of Southern California Washington Office. 701 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C.

Labels: , , ,

Researching AFRICOM

I spent much of last week thinking about the overlap between security and development at a conference called Countering Terrorism in Africa Through Human Security Solutions. Part of the purpose of the conference was to develop a research agenda. Here is a quick napkin sketch of what I see as one critical research need.

Starting from the big picture, U.S. counterterrorism policy is explicitly about "capturing or killing terrorists and countering the conditions that breed violence and extremism." However, the impetus for many recent conferences is that we aren't doing the second half of the equation very well.

In Africa, the experimental grounds for this two-pronged strategy are in two places: Combined Joint Task Force- Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) and the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCPTP). Put aside TSCPTP for a moment, CJTF-HOA aims to "enhance the long-term stability of the region." The research question then becomes:

(i) What is CJTF-HOA actually doing to seek this "long-term stability"?
How do they make decisions about what supports "long term security"?
Who are their partners?
What are the problems they face in attempting to implement this?
How would they measure success?

Then, if that doesn't fill up a research plate, one could add a normative component:

(ii) What could be a good framework for them to decide all of the above questions?

As a final note, I believe the AFRICOM question is interesting (vis a vis development) because of the reality that, as Colin Thomas-Jensen writes, "institutional changes within the U.S. government and a growing American constituency for Africa have coalesced to create a unique moment for Africa — an opportunity for Bush’s successor to take stock of past mistakes and aggressively pursue a coherent approach to Africa that furthers U.S. foreign policy objectives
and improve the lives of millions of Africans."

Labels: , ,