An International Civil Servant in Geneva at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations specialized agency for Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).
Born and raised in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia, he holds an MBA in Management of Technology from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) and is a part-time PhD Fellow in Governance and Policy Analysis at the University of Maastricht – UNU-MERIT.
Disclaimer:The views and opinions expressed in this blog and extracts of research work are solely those of the author and may not necessarily reflect the official position of his employer and the academic institutions he is affiliated with.
Who would have known that a pandemic would erupt few months later unveiling different perspectives in assessing that very same question?
Sadly, even before the outbreak of the coronavirus, democracy and democratization were on decline worldwide as evidenced by data from Freedom House and V-Dem. While the pandemic has certainly created more demand for Connectivity, it is unlikely to alleviate calls for more democratic governance.
The conventional wisdom of the late 90s that the Internet is inherently of a democratic nature is nowadays less and less obscuring the net impact of Internet Use on democracy, and this, in almost all countries across the democracy and development continuum. Even the US will likely rate lower this year, affected by the toxic polarization effect of Social Media (concept captured by V-Dem indices).
SMART or not, regulation seems unavoidable but what might that look like?
A lot of disinformation has been spread on the legitimate law enforcement operation by the Ethiopian Government as it is now making efforts to facilitate humanitarian access, restore telecom services and infrastructure that has been deliberately disrupted and damaged by the Tigrean People Liberation Front (TPLF) as evidenced by recent press briefings.
Amidst massive misrepresentation campaigns particularly on social media, often missing or distorting the underlying reasons for the obligation to conduct the operations in Northern Ethiopia, the informative press conference at the Geneva Press Club provides clarification from well-grounded sources, shading lights on the situation in Ethiopia to international media and the international community in Geneva.
For those who are having questions on the (now completed) law enforcement operation in Northern Ethiopia, here is an article by Lawrence Freeman, a highly respected researcher and writer on topics concerning Africa, giving insights on the origins of the current situation. The government of Ethiopia has announced that, as of end of November, the military aspect of the operation is fully concluded.
The author explains “Notwithstanding criticisms by some spectators, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was obligated to respond with force to safeguard the sovereignty of Ethiopia, in a similar manner to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln’s all-out war to preserve the Union”.
If the Nobel Peace Prize existed at the time of President Abraham Lincoln, he would certainly have been a laureate just like PM Abiy of Ethiopia was in 2019.
For the government, the priority now, in the Northern Region, is to guarantee humanitarian access, re-establish the delivery of public services, and apprehend criminals and bring them to justice.
Ethiopia needs the restoration of a lasting peace and continue with full steam on the reform agenda initiated by PM Abiy towards a homegrown economic development and democratization.
Last year, in June 2019, Ethiopia’s invitation to host the 2021 World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-21), presented by H.E Getahun Mekuria, the then Minister of Innovation and Technology of Ethiopia, was received with thankful messages and unanimous support by ITU Council Member States in the presence of Ambassador Zenebe Kebede. The newly appointed Minister H.E Abrham Belay followed up on Ethiopia’s commitment making the opening remarks of Telecommunication Development Advisory Group (TDAG) in June 2020.
Last week, in October 2020, the organizing team of ITU and the Government of Ethiopia conducted a fruitful meeting in the presence of State Minister H.E. Ahmedhin Mohammed, to make the World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-21) a truly African and development focused one.
As Addis Ababa (New Flower in Amharic), capital city of Ethiopia, African “hub” of opportunities, is preparing to host this important conference from 8th to 19th November 2021, ITU member states and all stakeholders are organizing Regional Preparatory Meetings for WTDC-21 to effectively and efficiently provide future direction and guidance to the ITU Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU-D).
This important conference comes
member of the League of Nations in 1923
founding member of the United Nations in 1945;
first sub-Saharan country to join the International Telecommunication Union in 1932;
home to the Economic Commission for Africa since 1958 and the African Union since 1963 and to ITU’s Africa Regional Office since 1992;
is undergoing a profound transformation, placing Digital Connectivity through its strategy at DigitalEthiopia.info in a wider framework of socio economic objectives of its homegrown economic reform agenda under the government led by H.E. Prime Minister Abiy, whose efforts were recognized through the award of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.
has promisingly started to liberalize the telecommunications sector, creating a new regulator and continuing plans to partially privatize Ethio Telecom, one of the world’s largest state-owned monopoly in the second most populous African Country.
as Africa, is striving to implement the African Union Commission’s comprehensive Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa, which was developed in collaboration with the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Smart Africa, AUDA-NEPAD, Regional Economic Communities, the African Development Bank, Africa Telecommunications Union, Africa Capacity Building Foundation, International Telecommunication Union and the World Bank.
as the World, has all eyes rived on the Covid-19 pandemic’s second wave and exploring how Connectivity can help in recovering and building back better,
as the World marks the start of the Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, endeavouring to use digital technologies and Internet connectivity to accelerate efforts to achieve each of the 17 SDGs.
as ITU, its Telecommunication Development Sector and Advisory Body, the Telecommunication Development Advisory Group (TDAG) are discussing reforms of the World Telecommunication Development Conference in 2021 to be a solutions-based conference that addresses the real challenges in the development of telecommunications/ICTs and make it a landmark conference.
WTDC-21 offers an invaluable opportunity for all stakeholders including ITU member states, private sector members of ITU-D, regional development banks and telecom organizations to work together in this unprecedented era and provide direction to the ITU Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU-D) through an Addis Action plan 2022-2025.
As we prepare to conduct a virtual signing ceremony of host country agreement with Ethiopia on the 9th of November 2020, we remain hopeful that the pandemic situation will allow a physical WTDC-21, on the land of 13th Months of Sunshine (Ethiopia) , from 8th to 19th November 2021 as planned!
On the 23rd of September 2020, in conjunction with the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations, UNICEF, the International Telecommunication Union, UNDP, and the Office of the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General, on Digital Cooperation, working together with other UN partners convened a High-Level Digital Cooperation event, focused on concrete actions to safeguard the technological era for future generations. It is our global shared responsibility to find a path forward and to build back better digitally.
The panel included H.E. Sahle-Work Zewde, President of Ethiopia, H.E. Paula Ingabire, Minister of ICT & Innovation, on behalf of H.E. Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Inventor of the World Wide Web and was moderated by Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director Telecommunication Development Bureau, ITU
“Ethiopia places Digital Connectivity in a wider context of socio economic objectives of its homegrown economic reform agenda”
“At the multilateral level, we need to identify mechanisms to ensure that digital technologies are used in a way that optimally shows their promising, bright and positive applications”
H.E. Sahle-Work Zewde, President of Ethiopia at the High Level Meeting organized by UNICEF, the International Telecommunication Union, UNDP, and the Office of the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General, in conjunction with the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations.
With the launch of the report “Geneva and Internet Governance”, the Geneva Foundation and the Centre for Trade and Economic Integration (The Graduate Institute, Geneva) have organized a roundtable discussion with’ a panel of experts including. The objective was to discuss the issues and challenges of Internet governance and the role that Geneva could play in this area.
Here are some of my takeaways for recollection purpuses.
From “Tech for Good” to “Good in Tech” – Marie-Laure Salles , Director, The Graduate Institute, Geneva.
Alors que le monde a les yeux rivés sur la pandémie Covid-19, ce juillet 2020 annonce le début de la fin d’une injustice séculaire sur l’utilisation des eaux du Nil. Ce fleuve légendaire, souvent cité comme nourricier des grandes civilisations du delta, a manqué de récits mentionnant l’Éthiopie, pourtant source de 86% des eaux du Nil dont elle utilise 0%. L’Éthiopie, à l’aube du nouveau millénaire selon son calendrier, s’est enfin attelé avec détermination à faire usage de ces eaux pour son développement, sous le principe d’utilisation équitable et raisonnable. Les éthiopiens, d’ici et d’ailleurs, se mobilisent dans une campagne de sensibilisation à l’égard du droit de l’Éthiopie sur le Nil sous le hashtag #NileForEthiopia alors que leur pays a commencé le remplissage du réservoir du Grand barrage de la Renaissance sous le gouvernement mené par le Premier ministre Abiy, lauréat du prix Nobel de la paix de 2019
On one hand, ITU’s analytical publication, with its new friendly format, emphasizes that Internet use continues to spread, warning however that the digital gender gap is widening. The estimated 4.1 billion people using the Internet in 2019 reflect a 5.3 per cent increase, confirming the trend of slowing global growth rates. More men than women use the Internet in every region of the world except the Americas, which has near-parity and 97 per cent of the world population now lives within reach of a mobile cellular signal, reveals the report, offering interesting snapshots of other important ICT indicators. With its global and regional perspectives, ITU’s Facts and Figures 2019 also recalls that most of the offline population (46 per cent of the world population) lives in least developed countries, Europe and Africa having the highest and lowest Internet usage rates, respectively.
On the other hand, the Freedom on the Net 2019 focusing on ‘the Crisis of Social Media’ comments that the Internet, once a liberating technology, has opened new conduits for surveillance and electoral manipulation. Internet Freedom Declines outnumber gains for the ninth consecutive year with Ethiopia recording the largest gains in 2019 following the election of a new Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, who loosened restrictions on the Internet and unblocked 260 websites. “Digital platforms are the new battleground for democracy and Internet freedom is increasingly imperiled by the tools and tactics of digital authoritarianism” notes the report recalling that of the 65 countries assessed, 33 have been on an overall decline since June 2018. The future of Internet freedom rests on our ability to fix social media, predicts the report offering series of recommendations to ‘fairly’ regulate a technology now pervasive in business, politics and personal lives.
The more we connect the World, the less free it becomes?
Ethiopia saw an 11 point improvement in its internet freedom score recording the biggest improvement this year in Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net Index.
The April 2018 appointment of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed led to an ambitious reform agenda that loosened restrictions on the internet. Abiy’s government unblocked 260 websites, including many known to report on critical political issues.
Insightful and thought provoking discussions among distinguished panel members:
Brad Smith, president of Microsoft;
Doris Leuthard, former president of the Swiss Confederation;
Amandeep Singh Gill, former co-executive director of the High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation’s Secretariat;
Jovan Kurbalija, head of the Geneva Internet Platform and former Co-Executive Director, Secretariat of the High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation
Amidst the conversations on the role of Geneva in Digital Cooperation, it was mentioned that:
the Swiss Digital Initiative (including GAFAM) to promote ethics in the digital world will to be officially launched on World Economic Forum 2020
Geneva is where ‘Technology meets Humanity’ referring to the early technologies, the birth of the Red Cross
‘De-ideologizing’ the issue of data which ranges from private data, scientific data, business data and that emphasis on those specificities is important when discussing regulation on data
Inclusiveness is one of the most pressing challenge in view of ‘not missing out on opportunities’
only 5% of articles about Africa on Wikipedia are written by Africans yet optimism was echoed about Africa’s growth and digital transformation
Interestingly, alluding to the Cloud Act (a United States federal law enacted in 2018) and bilateral agreements, @Jovan Kurbalija referred to the creation of the ITU (International Telecommunication Union) in 1865 after bilateral agreements could not properly address issues relating to Telegraph Exchanges. The International Telegraph Convention was indeed a precursor of multilateralism, many decades before the creation of the League of Nations.
Here are some of my main takeaways from the afternoon session on “The Future of Cybersecurity: Artificial Intelligence and other Challenges”.
There are still many known unknowns with regards to potential new threats in the Global Cybersecurity landscape with the advent of AI (and other related trends in Big Data and IoTs)
There is an understanding of the apparent dual-use of AI (i.e. used toward beneficial and harmful ends) What unique legal, ethical and other challenges, if any, does AI pose as a dual-use technology?
There is still lack/absence of data to conduct evidence based academic research and policy making relating to AI and Cybersecurity. Assessment of AI-based attacks/threats and their impact on Cybersecurity is still work in progress. As of today, there is no publicly documented evidence of AI-based attacks.
Novel type of attacks (e.g. causing autonomous vehicles to crash, swarm of micro-drones) could lead to fatal casualties taking away human lives unlike the ‘traditional’ Cybersecurity threats known today with limited or no vital consequences.
There are concerns about policy choices made today with regards to AI that may affect future generations (analogous to the Climate Change).
There is a need to examine what is working and what is not in the various models of ‘multiskaholderism’ and how multi-disciplinary competencies could be built very early in education of the digital natives. (e.g. the need to have legal and ethics modules in Computer Sciences and Engineering curricula and vice-versa)
Civil Liability for Cyberattacks may face additional complexities with increased anonymity and difficulty to attribute attacks that are based on AI. New challenges in the legal aspects could emerge as malicious actors may exploit vulnerabilities of AI systems through new dimensions such as data poisoning, machine learning and related algorithms etcetera.
Former Secretary-General of the CTO shares his views on ‘ the contrast between attending a series of side events around the UN General Assembly in New York immediately following a marvellous two weeks in India has made me reflect again on the rhetoric and reality of using ICTs for development, especially in the interests of the poorest and most marginalised”
The reflections provide interesting figures on ‘Connecting the next billion’ as well as the views of a Maasai chief in Tanzania on why he has no reason to be online.
Interestingly, when asked about one particular field where the ‘Digital World’ (in other words – ICTs) can specially speed up the attainment of the SDGs, she singles out ‘Digital Finance’ as an investment to the SDGs themselves. (Forward to 3:50 min)
She also gave tips on the inclusion of women and the youth in the Digital World.
While offering insights into the risks and opportunities in using Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, it also cautiously refers to other elements to be considered in effectively embracing the potential of global connectivity to spur human progress.
“Another element to be considered in the advancement of ICT services is the issue of democracy, human rights, individual freedom and the right to privacy. Literature is rife with references to dystopian risks associated to the authoritarian control of ICTs (e.g. Huxley, Orwell). But reality has also provided clear examples of wrong-doing as frightening as the nightmares of fantasy. Espionage, manipulation of social media and other malpractices can become systemic risks of this technology. We cannot rule out at a certain point the emergence of a minority refusing to enter into any contact at all with ICTs, as a reaction to any unethical excesses. Time will tell how an open, democratic and liberal society will protect itself from such abuses.”
Time will also tell how authoritarian regimes will apply more and more restrictive measures on ICTs and misuse them due to fear of power replacement against some of SDGs.