25 May 2012
The ICT4Peace Foundation, infoDev, a global partnership of the World Bank, and ITU organised a well attended High-Level Dialogue and Thematic Workshop on “ICT for post-conflict reconstruction” during the World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva on 16 May 2012. A lively question and answer session followed thought-provoking presentations by the distinguished panellists.
The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis on 18 November 2005 acknowledged the “potential of ICTs to promote peace and to prevent conflict” as well as their use in “post-conflict peace-building and reconstruction”.
As noted in the announcement of the panel, ICTs are critical tools for fuelling post-conflict reconstruction: they can attract private investment, strengthen government operations, help civil society to re-build / build community networks and democratic movements, and communicate the reconstruction progress to a wide range of stakeholders. In a post-conflict reconstruction phase, it is essential for the country in question to develop a coherent and inclusive post-conflict ICT policy, based on a clear prioritization of, and commitment to, deployments and regulatory measures.
infoDev, a Global Partnership of the World Bank, and the ICT4Peace Foundation, with funding from UKaid (DfID), have commissioned a series of case studies of countries at different stages of post-conflict – covering Afghanistan, Liberia, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Timor-Leste and Tunisia – to examine the contribution of ICTs in more detail. The studies examine how policy-makers and the private sector should prioritise ICT initiatives in the aftermath of conflict and aim to understand how ICTs can contribute to improving service delivery and assisting with nation-building. This research serves as the first large-scale comparative analysis of the role that ICTs play in countries emerging from conflict and it helps to identify the role of information in post-conflict development and social cohesion.
Speakers in the High Level Dialogue included,
H.E. Sangin from Afghanistan compared and contrasted the ICT development and use during the Taliban and war with the situation in the country today, noting that much progress had been achieved. From job and livelihood creation to education, from mainstream media to mobile payments, from the underlying telecoms infrastructure including the laying of fibre optic cables across the country to the manner in which ICTs are used to connect people who were distant from each other, H.E. Sangin noted that even though the country still faces a high-risk environment, ICTs integral to strengthening its post-war potential in terms of growth and reconstruction.
H.E. Yamakawa from Japan talked about the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that affected his country, resulting in the loss of thousands of lives, and destruction on a massive scale. Unsurprisingly, H.E. Yamakawa stressed the need for data recovery and business continuity after a large scale disaster, and flagged the importance of cloud computing and new media (Twitter, Facebook etc) as means through which to get and send information to disaster affected areas, in addition to radio. Noting the value of crowd sourced information and the deployment of the Google People Finder database and the need to standardise data gathering and strengthen interoperability of systems during a crisis, H.E. Yamakawa also stressed – given the destruction of the Fukushima nuclear reactors – that investments into green ICTs and smart grids were also vital to the sustainability of ICTs into the future.
H.E. Wani from South Sudan gave the perspective of having to design and develop a telecoms infrastructure to embrace a new country. From the operationalisation of the new country code and domain names to the challenges of creating telecoms infrastructure and regulatory frameworks, H.E. Wani’s submission focussed on how ICTs are integral to South Sudan’s future prospects as an independent country.
Prof. Ezzine from Tunisia looked at the dynamics of the revolution and how ICTs were inextricably entwined with the dynamics of social and political struggles for democracy and freedom from dictatorial rule. He flagged the importance of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube as platforms that enabled social discussion and mobilisation that resulted in thousands taking to the streets to demand change and reform. Prof. Ezzine said that now the challenge was to strengthen the education system to embrace ICTs to augment social innovation, livelihood development and in sum, to re-engineer ICT policies and practices to make it an engine of growth. ICTs had, Prof. Ezzine noted, radically changed the dynamics between the governed and those in government.
Juliana Rotich from Ushahidi spoke about the development of the now world-famous mapping platform, and more broadly about how ICTs today are redefining governance, aid and reconstruction post-conflict. Noting that open source, crowd sourcing of information, and local technologies had strengthened situational awareness, it was now possible for countries to create dashboards for measuring progress in reconstruction, with almost real time information feeds. These developments she also noted had contributed to the breakdown of information silos, and coupled with open data initiatives, had empowered people. In the future, challenges over intellectual property rights, proprietary systems, education and strategies of empowerment that went beyond technology she said needed to be addressed.
Tim Kelly from the World Bank noted that as a landlocked country, South Sudan is not served by any undersea fibre optic cables and none of the fibre backbone networks that serve neighbouring countries has been extended into South Sudan. As a result, for international connectivity, the country currently relies on satellite links, including VSAT (very small aperture terminals), which are much more costly and provide much more limited capacity and slow speeds. He went on to give an overview of the telecoms infrastructure in South Sudan and how the World Bank was helping develop ICTs.
The session was webcast live. The archived web streams can be viewed below.