I spent most of the past week reading around 200 pages of academic papers about transparency, accountability, and governance in a cabin in Mexico’s Sierra del Tigre mountain range. No tweeps tweeting; only birds chirping and the wind rustling through the pine trees. Today is my first day back and I find myself immobile under the weight of open tabs and impatient emails. I feel like I need three or four more days back in the cabin just to soak it all in.
Bloody Tulips, Bektour, and Twitter
I began the day catching up on Kyrgyzstan’s “Red Blood Tulip Revolution.” The name, probably the most flowery of all the revolution labels (excuse the pun), is a variation of the 2005 “Tulip Revolution” that overthrew then-president Askar Akayev to bring into power Kurmanbek Bakiev. Now it’s Bakiev’s turn to flee the capital, Bishkek, as he’s chased out by rock-pelting protesters led by opposition leader Roza Otunbaeva. Now get this: prior to being called the “Tulip Revolution” in 2005 (by none other than the outgoing Akayev, ironically) the ‘revolution’ was variously referred to by the media as “Pink,” “Lemon”, “Silk”, and “Daffodil”. Honestly, there must be a guidebook out there for coming up with these names, right? If not, I am fairly sure that McSweeney’s will have it by the end of the weekend.
The other thing we can count on is that with every flora-named revolution we will see an internet-pundit-wide debate about whether it is an “analog revolution“, as Evgeny Morozov insists, or a true “Twitter Revolution” as the ever-argumentative Catherine Fitzpatrick claims. The funny thing is that last year it was Evgeny defending his claim of “Moldova’s Twitter Revolution” with Ethan playing the part of skeptic and Catherine playing the part of … hmm, I’m not sure. (Actually, for those that keep up to date on this type of stuff, I thought that the analysis by Alexey Sidorenko and Sarah Kendzior was the most thoughtful.)
Bektour is the founder of Kloop.kg, the largest citizen media platform in Kyrgyzstan. They also have an English-language website, which chronicled the events of the coup on April 6, 7, and 8. I received an email from him this morning:
I am safe, as well as my family, and reporters of Kloop. Our website is proud to be the one that never stopped broadcasting the truth, even the day before the revolution, when KGB started pressuring everyone so heavily, and KyrgyzTelecom blocked access to all the foreign websites. On April 7 I was at the protests, recording the sound, while my colleague Rinat Tuhvatshin was making a video. We had to hide from stones thrown by protesters, and from tear gas spread by the police (though we could not avoid it. It was the first time I experienced it).
Later on, we had to hide from bullets, which, I must say, is very-very frigthening. Don’t think I have ever been that scared. But we made reports that attracted so much attention, Kloop had more than 32,000 visitors in a day, while our record before was 5,900 (which we thought was an incredible peak). It’s very sad that so many people died, I actually saw how it happened, how people were shot. On the other hand, I am very happy that repressions have stopped (at least for some time), and there is no website filtering again.
Stay safe Bektour and keep up the good work.
Next it was a string of Skype calls, a week’s worth of telephony crammed into a single morning. It began with a fascinating call with Karin Christiansen of Publish What You Fund, an initiative to increase transparency in aid given by major donors. I won’t write too much on the topic because I have a lengthy blog post about it coming up on Global Voices, but if you happen to be reading this in London then consider stopping by the Guardian newspaper offices for tomorrow’s Aid Information Challenge hack day. And if you’d like to learn more about aid transparency, the International Aid Transparency Initiative is a good place to start.
Question Box and Ceasefire Liberia
The afternoon ended with a refreshingly offline meeting with Rose Shuman of Question Box who happens to be based just a few streets away from where I’ve been living these past few months in Santa Monica. The project has been getting some nice press, most recently in the New York Times, and I wanted to get a bit of the inside scoop about the pilot projects in Mbale, Uganda and Noida and Pune, India. Over at Idea Lab Prabhas Pokharel from Mobile Active has a nice post about the use of voice in ICT development projects which features Question Box. Like just about every project leader I come across these days, Rose is trying to come up with a business and service model that won’t make her always reliant on funders, or taking care of hundreds of implementations all over the world.
I came across Rose when I found out that she’ll be at next week’s “Innovation Fair for Week and Fragile States” that will take place in Cape Town and is being convened by the World Bank. I won’t be there myself, but I’m thrilled that Nat Nyuan-Bayjay from Ceasefire Liberia will be. I had the pleasure of meeting Nat when I was last in Liberia and his work has impressed me ever since.
Over at Rising Voices Eddie published an excellent profile feature of Nat earlier this week. While I won’t be able to see him in Cape Town next week fortunately I will catch up with him in Santiago next month at the Global Voices Summit.
Back on the Road
These four months sure went by quickly. No more Los Angeles for me. This weekend I’ll be working when not packing and then Monday I’m off to Berlin for re:publica 2010 which looks like one hell of a bash. Then it’s back to Linz for this year’s Prix Ars Electronica jury which – if Twitter is to be believed – will not make for an easy week. Next stop: Perugia for the International Journalism Festival where I get to re-connect with some old friends. Then I have a few days in Rome with the ever-impressive Antonio Lopez, a weekend in Buenos Aires, and then to Chile for our very major Global Voices Summit.
I wouldn’t be so foolish as to complain. I’m truly blessed to have each and every one of these opportunities. And so I will try my best to enjoy them all and give back whenever possible. Now, back to that post about the aid transparency movement …