Information and Technology for socio-political Change

I had an interesting interaction this morning with Christina Goodness and a group of graduate students in New York University on Sri Lanka, touching upon the challenges it faces post-war and the ways in which information and technology can play a role in more systemic peacebuilding and reconciliation.

The class wiki (as PDF here), largely based on Christina’s exemplary vision, is a cutting-edge, interdisciplinary and international syllabus that I wish universities in Sri Lanka also had. They don’t, and it is one reason why our tertiary education especially in the journalism, mired in outmoded and outdated pedagogy and syllabi, cannot cultivate in students a critical appreciation of our contemporary domestic and international affairs.

We sadly didn’t have enough time for questions, but I hope to be in touch with at least some of these students as they grapple with, as outsiders, some of the pressing challenges that face peacebuilders in and from Sri Lanka have to deal with post-war. My presentation looked at the systemic nature of governance, the root causes of violence and the situation around and immediately after the presidential elections. I was asked at the end by Christina to give the class an idea to work on, and I could think of no better one than the vexed challenge of reconciliation, especially with a government that simplistically sees the end of war as the perfect peace.

The future of reconciliation in Sri Lanka I see as an intersection of inimical partisan politics, progressive technologies, the empowerment of marginalised narratives, contesting narratives ad the disintermediation of such narratives through technology to form new civic identities, the progressive engagement of the diaspora and strengthening community resilience to enduring systemic violence. ICTs can play a role in all of these aspects and areas.

For other ideas, I pointed students to Building peace through ICT – Ideas for practical ICT4Peace projects and The future of mobile applications and some other ideas. We didn’t have time to talk about (new) media development post-war, but this too is an area that shows tremendous potential in Sri Lanka, despite disturbing developments in the recent past to clamp down on dissent online. Obviously, such autochthonous or endogenous media, resonant with community concerns and aspirations, have a great role to play in reconciliation as well.

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