Archive for December 7th, 2004

More on the Digital Green Ribbon Campaign for Darfur, Sudan.

Digital Green Ribbon Campaign for Darfur, Sudan: the projection of
witness and collaboration into areas of conflict and repression.

It looks like we may be able to launch the “Digital Green Ribbon Campaign for Darfur, Sudan” this week at the Harvard Internet and Society Conference.


The military has long talked of the “projection of power”  into
particular  regions.  The  Digital Green Ribbon Campaign is about
learning to project the power of witness and the power of
communications-enabled social organization into situations of conflict
and repression. 

This is an opportunity for civil society to learn to use the
techniques of modern communications to develop rapid response
communications systems that can penetrate national borders, can evade
censors, and that can help people connect with each other to liberate

This is “Radio Free Europe” for the 21st century.  As Nicco said of
the situation in Ghana, whatever the intentions of the government of
Ghana, Ghana is so much “on the grid” that repression can scarcely
happen. Sudan and Darfur, by contrast, are off the communications grid..

Thomas Barnett speaks eloquently of the “gap states” that are off the grid of global society. 
The projection of digital access into such states could be a very
low-cost, fast-response way to start to connect the citizens of these
areas into the most interesting people across the rest of the world.

By the way, what is the status of WorldSpace radio?  Barnett in his blog speaks of it here
Could WorldSpace help in Sudan?  Perhaps by providing updates and
logistics of use to the citizen resistance to the government?  Not
sure.  WorldSpace is cool, but one-way.


I just spoke with Nicco, formerly Webmaster of the Dean campaign
who now works on a variety of web-based initiatives.

In regard to the Digital Green Ribbon Campaign, Nicco called our
attention to the use of ham radio to carry email in Haiti, as well as
the use of motorcycle-based email pickup and delivery services in
Nigeria–both could be implemented in Darfur and other parts of Sudan.

The ham radio idea is particularly powerful, it seems to me. As Nicco
said, “Ham radio folks were the first bloggers.”

I wonder if anyone out
there knows folks in the ham radio scene the might have relationships
in Sudan, or could work with us to develop them? The content of ham
radio communications could be immeiately blogged, and might develop
into “ham moblogging” and “ham podcasting.” By the way, for the middle
east and Africa we might want to rename “ham” to “lamb.”

Nicco was recently in Italy and was invited by a
friend to tour the World Food Program situation room –which Nicco
describes as “very intense.”  The bottom line is that people are
starving in Sudan, and the UN Food Program is crippled by lack of
security. The tragedy is tracked day-by-day in the WFP situation room
in Rome.  Nicco is going to write up his impressions,
and we will post them here.

December 07, 2004 | Permalink
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Cross-posted on the human rights site  December 7th, 2004

Human rights and the blogging community: A Digital Green Ribbon Campaign for Darfur, Sudan, Africa!

Here is an important, inspiring post on the human rights blog today:

A call to digital action for Darfur and Sudan! Creatively applying
the lessons of bridging the digital divide in Ghana and other nations,
and thus inceasing global citizen witness and local communication and
coordination in Sudan and Darfur.

Zuckerman today has a very important post on the Ghanaian elections and
monitoring of these elections by cell phone and Internet-enabled
  The election is expected to be super well-attended, fair
and open.  This is in no small measure due to the prevalence in Ghana
of digital bridging–ubiquitous cell phones and SMS messaging, well
over a hundred Internet cafes in Accra, the capital.  Widespread use of
satellite-based–and thus uncensorable–Internet connections to the
outside world, and a thriving ecosystem of Internet entrepreneurs,
using, among other things, Hotmail and Yahoo! mail and instant
messaging to stay in touch with the world at large.

And not to mention that in Ghana FM radio is nearly universal,
playing in cabs, cafes and nearly everywhere else.  Free, spirited. 
And Ghana also has a thriving free press.

This is in contrast to Sudan, which has censored radio and press,
and among the lowest penetration of phones and cell phones, and almost
no Internet access.  Only the Sudanese military, their proxies the
Janjaweed, and the Chinese military overseeing the Sudanese oil fields
enjoy high technology communications capabilities.

What is the connection between bridging the digital divide in developing and/or repressive nations, and improving human rights?

Digital access promotes witness, and witness makes it less likely that the external world will miss the early signs of a repressive crisis. In
East Timor, for example, cell-phone-based, Internet-feeding activists
gave the world a way to hear the crisis moment-to-moment.
  Today’s phones could enable the world to see, as well.

More important, digital access promotes self-awareness within a society. 
In Khartoum, the government has been able for years to convince part of
the population that it is not carry out a genocidal campaign in other
far-flung parts of the country, despite doing this for more than a
decade in the South, and more than a year-and-a-half in Darfur.

One of the things we need to do for Sudan, as our movement becomes
longer-term and more like the campaign to free Burma, is focus on
bridging the digital divide and opening up citizen-to-citizen
communications.  Sudan is increasingly a Chinese client state, as is Burma, so this will not be easy. Chinese know how to help the Sudanese keep digital access suppressed. China has well-established, if often hidden from the world,
interests in Sudan and Sudanese oil, and will work hard to protect
these interests and their client, the current Sudanese government.

On the other hand, access can be increased with enough creativity
and will.  Ethan Zuckerman was part of the scene in the early days in
Ghana, when seeds of change were planted.  Perhaps we need a
communications-oriented Geek Corps now for Sudan.

Perhaps one way to increase access is to use the Sudan-based
humanitarian organizations to introduce Internet access and cellular or
portable-phone-based near-cellular phones.  The use of international
organizations as key early users for open communications systems has
precident in other situations.  In other developing nations these
organizations have often been supporters and early customers of
land-line, cell phones and Internet access, bringing down the cost for
other users and helping to bridge the digital divide. The Soros foundation/Open
Society Institute has established free radio, micro-transmitter-based
citizen stations, in many other nations, and often these stations are
initially supported by paid public service advertising by the
humanitarian organizations.

I think we need to find a way to expand citizens communication in
Sudan and especially Darfur, both to improve local coordition, as the Grameen Phone
Village Phone Program has done in Bangladesh, and to deepen access to
and from the outside world.  This sort of initiative could start in the
south of Sudan, in areas controlled by rebels associated with John
Garang, and it could also start in Chad, where cell phone services and
other radio-based communications could reach into Sudan..

The comparison between Ghana and Sudan suggests an approach to
action on Darfur and Sudan, an action that could harness the talents of
the high technology community around the world.  We could do an “open
source digital bridges movement” for Darfur and Sudan. Our goal could
be numbers of people and villages connected with open, uncensored,
affordable methods of local and international communications
technology…This is the sort of thing that readers of Passion of the
Present know about and can do.  Few of us are doctors who can sign up
with MSF, and few of us are soldiers and peacekeepers.  But many of us
are, almost be definition, techonology-based communications activists.
Let me know what you might have to offer, at either or

This weekend is the Internet and Society Conference at Harvard.
The conference is free but already over-subscribed. However, there is a
workshop day on Saturday that can accomodate more folks, and that is
the most open of the days.  There is a working session on Global Internet activism.  I will be there, as will Ethan Zuckerman,
Rebecca McKinnon and others.  So come join us if
you can. If you cannot come physically, join us on the web and/or by email, here or on the INS site.  See you!

Finally, if you are attending the conference and will take part in action for Darfur and Sudan, consider wearing a green ribbon to signify to others your interest. 
Then others can find you, and you will help spread “social permission”
(Yossi Vardi’s term) to discuss Darfur and Sudan. I will be doing so,
so if you see a green ribbon, feel free to come up to me and talk about
action for Darfur and Sudan.

In fact, maybe our campaign could be called the “digital green ribbon campaign” for Darfur and Sudan.

December 07, 2004 | Permalink
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December 7th, 2004


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