Tag Archives: Fletcher

Do “Liberation Technologies” Change the Balance of Power Between Repressive Regimes and Civil Society?

My dissertation is now available for download. Many thanks to my dissertation committee for their support and feedback throughout: Professor Dan Drezner, Professor Larry Diamond, Professor Carolyn Gideon and Clay Shirky. This dissertation is dedicated to Khaled Mohamed Saeed and Mohamed Bouazizi.


Do new information and communication technologies (ICTs) empower repressive regimes at the expense of civil society, or vice versa? For example, does access to the Internet and mobile phones alter the balance of power between repressive regimes and civil society? These questions are especially pertinent today given the role that ICTs played during this year’s uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and beyond. Indeed, as one Egyptian activist stated, “We use Facebook to schedule our protests, Twitter to coordinate and YouTube to tell the world.” But do these new ICTs—so called “liberation technologies”—really threaten repressive rule? The purpose of this dissertation is to use mixed-methods research to answer these questions.

The first half of my doctoral study comprised a large-N econometric analysis to test whether “liberation technologies” are a statistically significant predictor of anti-government protests in countries with repressive regimes. If using the Internet and mobile phones facilitates organization, mobilization and coordina-tion, then one should expect a discernible link between an increase in access to ICTs and the frequency of protests—particularly in repressive states. The results of the quantitative analysis were combined with other selection criteria to identify two country case studies for further qualitative comparative analysis: Egypt and the Sudan.

The second half of the dissertation assesses the impact of “liberation technologies” during the Egyptian Parliamentary Elections and Sudanese Presidential Elections of 2010. The analysis focused specifically on the use of Ushahidi—a platform often referred to as a “liberation technology.” Descriptive analysis, process tracing and semi-structured interviews were carried out for each case study. The results of the quantitative and qualitative analyses were mixed. An increase in mobile phone access was associated with a decrease in protests for four of the five regression models. Only in one model was an increase in Internet access associated with an increase in anti-government protests. As for Ushahidi, the Egyptian and Sudanese dictatorships were indeed threatened by the technology because it challenged the status quo. Evidence suggests that this challenge tipped the balance of power marginally in favor of civil society in Egypt, but not in the Sudan, and overall not significantly.

The main contributions and highlights of my dissertation include:

New dataset on protests, ICTs, political and economic variables over 18 years.
New econometric analysis and contribution to quantitative political science.
New conceptual framework to assess impact of ICTs on social, political change.
* New operational application of conceptual framework to assess impact of ICTs.
New datasets on independent citizen election observation in repressive states.
* New insights into role of ICTs in civil resistance against authoritarian regimes.
New comprehensive literature on impact of ICTs on protests, activism, politics.
New targeted policy recommendations based on data driven empirical analysis.
New lessons learned and best practices in using the Ushahidi platform.

A PDF copy of my dissertation is available here.

Why Universities are Key for the Future of Crisis Mapping

In January 2010, I launched the Ushahidi Crisis Map for Haiti. In February, I launched the Ushahidi Crisis Map of Chile. Neither initiative would have been possible without the incredible student volunteer network that formed at The Fletcher School/Tufts University, the Graduate Institute in Geneva and Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). We also had a few volunteers from the London School of Economics (LSE).

At one point, I had set up a Skype IM chat group titled “Global Situation Rooms” which included the core reps from Fletcher, Geneva and SIPA. The highlight for me was when we all got on the chat group to debrief. I moderated the session and would literally write “Geneva, you have the floor”, “New York, you have the floor”, “London, you have the floor”, etc. Talk about the first open source, global neogeography disaster response operation.

Given that The Fletcher School/Tufts group have paved the way forward in absolutely amazing ways, I  suggested back in February that we formalize this set up and launch a network of global situation rooms. I think the Fletcher team could play a leading role in this bold initiative and become the convener or Secretariat of this global network. If a disaster strikes Madagascar, for example, the Fletcher team could convene reps from other University Situation Rooms (USRs) and coordinate the near real-time crisis mapping support.

I ran with this idea and pitched it to the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI-U), which will take place in mid-April. I’ve called the project “Universities for Ushahidi” and made this my commitment as a student participant at CGI-U. I’ve thought about this initiative further over the past two months and would like to focus  specifically on universities in the developing world and not restrict operations to emergency response, or to Ushahidi.

So here’s my dream: have the awesome team at Fletcher pave the way in training 12 universities around the world, 4 in Africa, 4 in Asia and 4 in South America. Have each of these new Situation Rooms be capable of launching near real-time crisis mapping support projects within hours after a crisis strikes in their countries/regions. In between crises, the new Situation Rooms could run other projects using Ushahidi. As I noted above, however, I would want this to include training and applications combined with other tools including OpenStreetMap, FrontlineSMS, etc.

I’m really excited by the potential. Universities have a clear comparative advantage. What other organization or institution has the ability to mobilize hundreds of student volunteers for weeks on end? I do see this as a form of activism. Students should be paving the way, revolutionizing the way we think and do things. I’m proud to be a Fletcher School student and can think of no better way to contribute to our moto: “Preparing Leaders with a Global Perspective.”

Fletcher students are exactly the type of students who will go on to work for the UN and other humanitarian/development/human rights organizations. They are the first generation of Crisis Mappers and their leadership, professionalism and camaraderie will change what is possible in this space. That is why universities are key to the future of crisis mapping.

Patrick Philippe Meier