Thursday, 24 February 2011

Technology induced waves

So much has happened in the Arab world in the month since I signed up with Twitter. Upheavals in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrein, and Yemen, and now Libya. Reading selected Twitter feed updates is proving a very useful way of keeping up with Libyan developments along with the BBC and Al Jazeera news website coverage. Several years ago Jean Paul Jeanrenaud in Switzerland was praising Al Jazeera's high standard of international news coverage in English, to be compared with the Beeb, far superior to the American channels. There wasn't the need to follow it regularly at that time, but now it opens a window on the world from a different angle.

The Foreign Office is getting a pasting from the UK press for the slow and seemingly disorganised response to the urgent need for evacuation from Libya. Allowances have to be made for the complexity and difficulties to be overcome in making arrangements in such a dangerous, constantly changing environment, but even so, there does seem to be a response that suggests unpreparedness and indecision. To what extent is this an issue of leadership in the upper realms of the civil service, not just at ministerial level? 

Owain's sojourn at the British Council is nearly at an end. He wouldn't consider staying and being redeployed there because of the management incompetence and mishandling he's experienced over the past year of 'restructuring' and reorganisation resulting in his redundancy, even though the valuable work he's been doing is still a vital part of what the B.C. does. Serious errors have been made in handling people and processes, suggesting those in charge aren't competent to manage what they're meant to be doing. This smacks of poor leadership and effective accountability at a high level. The British Council is part of the F.C.O. empire.

New social media technologies have made communication possible between people living under oppression all over the world in the past few years. Because people in freer countries can eavesdrop, news can be spread, encouragement and solidarity can be expressed, as well as protests organised before the engines of tyranny can react in their characteristic way.

What was first deployed to promote new music and consumer fashions around the world is now giving a voice to the voiceless, and transforming the way political change can be achieved in places where no change has been possible for many decades. These tools are known and well used in politics as well as commerce where we are. Changes requiring urgent response can be spotted and acted upon quickly, so long as the decision makers are fit for the task. Let's hope the upheavals of the Arab world will also rattle the comfortable cages of our foreign policy stewards.

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