Pakistan – watch this space

October 21, 2012

Pakistan may hardly be a frontrunner in the world of e-government but might provide an interesting country to view given the messy politics, illiteracy of the masses, and the many, many more variables that can affect matters around using it. Why am I interested? As a long-time supporter of Khwendo Kor (KK), since its chief executive Maryam Bibi first studied in York, I have followed the machinations in Pakistan, particularly in KP, the former North West Frontier Province, with great interest – I’m also rather partial to the food from the Indian sub-continent. Observers of the KK website can see that actually having one and electronic newsletters is probably more for gaining external aid and support, as communicating inside the country, so this is why I was interested to find Fouad Bajwa’s blog post “Politics and Social Media in Pakistan – The struggle for new power within an immature democracy!” when he presented himself to the W3C E-government Interest Group recently.

I frequently argue on these pages about the lack of chance of social media moving a representative democracy to any kind of direct democracy, which many of its adherents assume will happen, and remain dubious that the Arab Spring was a direct result of social media. Given the lack of chance in the west or ‘developed’ world, what are the chances in a country like Pakistan where it regularly hovers between military despots and one party control, and is thus hardly even a representative democracy. The Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre (NOREF) argues similarly and emphasises the Internet’s value as a communication tool – as NOREF state in their conclusions “Europe can help mitigate these risks by sponsoring projects that develop guidelines for appropriate content and by supporting initiatives that promote tolerant online communication.” There is obviously some use (good and bad) being made of social media in Pakistan, so as Fouad Bajwa states in his blog “For all those political leaders and their parties that lack interest or do not follow the Social Media in Pakistan should be alerted that the largest voter base of Pakistan irrespective of their rural or urban location are following and commenting on the political carnage in Pakistan.” In other words, if you are in Pakistani politics, one needs to be practising in the social media game, if only to communicate your values and actions.


Communications and trust

July 13, 2011

Some learning not quite on the topic of egovernment but which emphasises the focus required when considering egovernment projects was clearly presented to me when catching up recently with an old acquaintance. The person concerned, Maryam Bibi, was back in England to receive an Honorary Doctorate from York University, in this instance a well-earned one.

Maryam founded the organization Khwendo Kor in what used to be known as the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan (FATA). These areas, bordering Afghanistan, and culturally similar are largely populated by groups of the Pashtun people.

Maryam’s experience is one of trying to improve the well-being  of women and children in the region by improving their education and health. This she has been doing since 1993. When the central government dealing with the area is in far-off Islamabad, where the language is Urdu or Punjabi, and here the tribespeople speak Pushto and the women commonly wear the burka, even Pakistani officials find some difficulties in introducing change. So, as the military are finding in Afghanistan, other approaches are required.

This is where Khwendo Kor come in. Bringing their understanding of the languages and the cultural gap they are able to communicate with the local people, starting off with the leaders and establishing a level of trust with them before introducing what is new to the village people. In this way a small group is able to improved the education and conditions of women and children in many hundreds of villages in a way that would ordinarily be met with violence, or at least antipathy. Khwendo Kor are also able to mediate on behalf of international organizations such as UNICEF, when people are displaced by earthquake or flood, as has happened recently.

What Maryam’s message means to me is that change requires trust, and that in order to gain trust one must first be able to communicate with those one is dealing with. Communications is also not just a matter of speaking the right language, but being able to speak the language with the cultural overtones necessary to gain that trust. It also means a laborious process that can’t be rushed.

Much trust has recently been lost between journalists, police, politicians and the wider public. This can only be regained by talking the same language that demonstrates truth i.e. by acting upon those words, and from that slowly rebuilding what has been lost. The News of the World revelations, follow the Parliamentary expenses scandal, which follows a long line of others. In the NWFP these actions would have probably been dealt with by execution! We’ve moved on from that, but it does mean regaining trust is a slow and painful project. Similarly introducing participation, digital government and similar projects will require skills and patience, rushing will only result in rejection.