Friday, April 4, 2008

Still Feeling the Chill of the Cold War In a New Media World

Given the recent focus on human rights in such areas as Tibet and Kenya, I thought I'd share this excerpt from an article in Oxford Analytica, which was posted on Forbes' Web site. Unfortunately, to see the entire report, you have to register and pay but regardless, the short excerpt gets the main point across: ethnic conflict is an increasing problem.

The article then provides a brief summary of the three most recent ethnic conflicts--Tibet, Kenya and Kosovo.

It's something that I never gave too much thought to simply because in my lifetime it's always been around. But as I read that ethnic conflict has dramatically increased since the end of the Cold War when previously it was social class that played a major role in dividing citizens, it made me think a little more.

I looked into the history of the matter and came across this report analyzing conflict in Africa. It's not a quick read so I can't say that I read into it completely but I skimmed and got the gist of it:

The notorious genocide and ethnic cleansing in Rwanda and to some extent Burundi, civil wars in Liberia Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Coˆ te d’Ivoire and Somalia, minority uprisings in Nigeria, and separatist agitation in Cameroon and Senegal, represent reference points of the turbulence in the African continent. In addition, conflicts of varying magnitudes, mostly local but no less state-threatening have ravaged many other countries including Ghana, Zambia and Benin which were regarded for a long time as peaceful and less prone to deadly conflicts. Although the conflicts generally have deep historical roots that date back to the colonial and even pre-colonial periods, they became more prevalent and destructive in the post-Cold War period.

I was also able to dig up this article form the New York Times in 1993 examining the increase of refugees around the world after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Considering the 15-year difference between the articles its clear that the situation is lacking in improvement.

But what is interesting and extremely encouraging is the role that new media is playing to help citizens spring into action--especially the conflict in Kenya. The country, which has suffered turmoil after its recent presidential election in December 2007, has made a big scene within the African blogosphere which was recently covered by MediaShift.

An online community worthy of noting is Ushahidi which allows citizens to share acts of violence they witness via SMS or e-mail reports as it is happening. The fascinating part to this is how quickly the site was established considering the unrest in Kenya began at the end of December 2007. It was up and running by Jan 9. More on Ushahidi will be touched upon in another upcoming post.

Ushahidi is not the only site that was able to come together in such a short period of time. MediaShift notes other sites like Mashada and Kenyan Pundit had created methods such as hotlines and Google mashups, respectively, to document the violence.

While Kenya was one of the first African countries to create an online community, other countries have been jumping on the bandwagon:

I remember when I started blogging in June 2004 the number of African bloggers was quite small and most were in the Diaspora. There was also a substantial number of Westerners blogging on Africa. I used to have Darfur and DRC categories because there was hardly Africans writing on these at the time. Now I hardly write about either as there are so many Sudanese and Congolese bloggers who are far more knowledgeable than I am.

Interestingly it was around the time of the 2006 elections that I began to notice Congolese bloggers. There are now active blogging communities across languages — French, Portuguese, Arabic and Swahili — and across countries and regions. Nonetheless three countries dominate the blogosphere, South Africa* (see below), Kenya and Nigeria, and there is a tendency for bloggers to remain within their linguistic and geographical communities.

As online communities such as the ones in Kenya continue to spring up and rely on citizens to uncover conflict as it happens, it will hopefully be easier to combat violence. Perhaps it can even lead to action before unrest unfolds.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just a quick note to say that if you go via the Forbes page you do not need to pay to see the whole report - just register