Technology Improving African Lives : New gizmos, Gadgets gazette Blog

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Technology Improving African Lives

Mobile phones and social media are greatly improving Africa's struggle for human rights, according to Amnesty International.

Amnesty International secretary general Salil Shetty said that Africa's springtime revolutions, which have continued to oppose entrenched and oppressive dictators, demonstrate the grassroots power of technology.

Free-flowing information on the Internet and mobile phones, he says, are becoming vital in changing the lives of Africans, even those in heavily restricted countries.

As an example, Shetty notes WikiLeaks' effect on the Tunisian revolutions. WikiLeaks published secret government documents that acknowledge Tunisian torture of detainees. Such information led to revolt against President Ben 'Ali in December.

"Support for activists from outside the country may have been strengthened as people scrutinized the WikiLeaks documents on Tunisia and understood the roots of the anger," Shetty said. Tunisia erupted into turmoil against its dictator President Ben 'Ali, throwing him out after 23 years of rule.

Other African countries have experienced similar transformations as a result of technology. After Iran's live Twitter feeds on its controversial elections in 2009, Egypt used Facebook to organize its citizens against ex-President Hosnai Mubarak.

News of Egypt and Tunisia's success spread via phones and the Web to Libya, where a besieged government is now restricting Internet and mobile phone control. This clampdown prompted activist organizations to create the "Free Libyana" mobile network, opening up airwaves for those in the country to talk freely with each other.

Rebels even used Skype chat to communicate with U.S. university students recently, spreading their message to the outside world as well.

African governments are worried and unplugging digital communications to prevent organization of protestors. Turkish authorities are planning to black out the Internet, leading to activists taking to the streets to protest the move.

Censorship may slow down what may only be inevitable, however. As Shetty says, this year "repressive governments faced the real possibility that their days were numbered."

But Shetty also warns people not to rely solely on technology to bring down dictatorships or create peaceful governments.

"There is nothing magical or deterministic about the Internet and other communications technologies. Technology neither respects nor undermines human rights," Shetty said. "It is and will continue to be a tool used by both those who want to challenge injustices around the world and those who want to control access to information and suppress dissenting voices."

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