Self-determination in the information age. It’s a critical matter and affects minority communities in all countries. We all have the issue of what to do with globalized information and ideas; or as coined by Dr. Arjun Appadurai, Ph.D “ideoscapes” and “ethnoscapes”. As a contemporary social-cultural anthropologist, Dr. Appadurai (Wiki) writes on “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy”. (1990). I read this for a class on Global Governance and Educational Change but you can find a small excerpt on Wiki. What the heck, I’ll post it for you here:

Appadurai articulated a view of cultural activity known as the imaginary (sociology), or the social imaginary. For Appadurai the imaginary is composed of five dimensions of global cultural flow: 1) ethnoscapes; 2) mediascapes; 3) technoscapes; 4) finanscapes; 5) ideoscapes.

He describes the imaginary as: “The image, the imagined, the imaginary – these are all terms that direct us to something critical and new in global cultural processes: the imagination as a social practice. No longer mere fantasy (opium for the masses whose real work is somewhere else), no longer simple escape (from a world defined principally by more concrete purposes and structures), no longer elite pastime (thus not relevant to the lives of ordinary people), and no longer mere contemplation (irrelevant for new forms of desire and subjectivity), the imagination has become an organized field of social practices, a form of work (in the sense of both labor and culturally organized practice), and a form of negotiation between sites of agency (individuals) and globally defined fields of possibillity. This unleasing of the imagination links the play of pastiche (in some settings) to the terror and coercion of states and their competitors. The imagination is now central to all forms of agency, is itself a social fact, and is the key component of the new global order” (“Disjuncture and Difference”, Modernity at Large, 31).

Similarly, Anthropologist Dr. Victoria Bernal, Ph.D. has written extensively about the Eritrean Diaspora and Eritreans in Cyberspace. The following articles relate to the subject. Click on the link for the Full Text article:

Abstract: In this article I analyse the Eritrean diaspora and its use of cyberspace to theorize the ways transnationalism and new media are associated with the rise of new forms of community, public spheres and sites of cultural production. The struggle for national independence coincided with the rise of the Internet and the Eritrean diaspora has been actively involved in the new state. Eritreans abroad use the Internet as a transnational public sphere where they produce and debate narratives of history, culture, democracy and identity. Through the web the diaspora has mobilized demonstrators, amassed funds for war, debated the formulation of the constitution, and influenced the government of Eritrea. Through their web postings, ‘Internet intellectuals’ interpret national crises, rearticulate values and construct community. Thus, the Internet is not simply about information but is also an emotion-laden and creative space. More than simply refugees or struggling workers, diasporas online may invent new forms of citizenship, community and political practices.

Abstract: For Eritreans in diaspora, identities are deterritorialized, one’s most pressing communication may be with far-flung strangers in cyberspace, and one’s political engagement is centered on a distant homeland. Eritrean experiences, thus, seem to bring together various qualities that scholars have been grappling with trying to chart the implications of the infotech revolution and life on-line, in seeking to understand processes of transnationalism and globalization, and in charting the elusive construction of community in the postmodern age. Through an analysis of the social history of http://www.dehai.org, a website developed by Eritreans in diaspora, explore the ways that new forms of technological and geographical mobility are changing the conditions not just of capitalist production but also of knowledge production and the constitution of publics, public spheres, communities, and nations. [Keywords: cyberspace, public sphere, politics, diaspora, community, conflict, Eritrea]

Likewise, Dr. John Sorensen, Ph.D. worked with the Eritrean Relief Association in Canada; he has a background in anthropology and a PhD from the interdisciplinary Social and Political Thought Program at York University. His field research has concerned African nationalist movements, refugees and diaspora communities and repatriation of Afghan refugees in Pakistan. His books include: African Refugees: Development Aid and Repatriation (Westview), Disaster and Development in the Horn of Africa (Macmillan), Imagining Ethiopia: Struggles for History and Identity in the Horn of Africa (Rutgers University Press), Ghosts and Shadows: Construction of Identity and Community in an African Diaspora (University of Toronto Press) and Culture of Prejudice (Broadview) and he is currently writing on gender and reconstruction of the state in Eritrea, looking at the experience of the thirty-year struggle for independence and the 1998-2000 war with Ethiopia; it is largely based on interviews with women who served in the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front.

Information, Cyberspace and Good Governance

I think the relationship between information and information-management needs to be carefully studied as a subsect of good governance in Africa. I was lucky enough to meet a very bright woman by the name of Azeb Tewolde who works as Director of the Research and Documentation Centre in Eritrea.  (They are re-doing the website – should be complete January 2007 so go back and visit!) This woman is brilliant and very forward-thinking. She is one example of how the “partnership” maxim in development programming and implementation: that individuals and communities know what they need and what works best – but just need some resources and capacity-building– if adhered to by progam planners- would succeed brilliantly. Ms. Tewolde thinks that information management should be the road to development.

Information is capacity-building. Many people tend to politicize everything about Eritrean development – as though any activity is determined by and cloaked in a political affiliation. I guess this is the view that frustrates me. Politics changes, our ideas and sentiments about politicians change given fresh information and events. Our positions are guided by new knowledge. So why, in any regional context, and especially now in the information age, should we put our political allegiances before the information we have at our disposal? Get informed and then make decisions. This is the best (and in my view most responsible) way to be an agent of change in Eritrea and any other developing nation in Africa, Asia, Middle East, etc. The only position I adhere to religiously in development projects is capital “T” Transparency. Be transparent with your people – it’s only fair. The people pay tax, send remittances, pray and hope for development. And in the diaspora, there is an urgency around helping with national development but I think there needs to be a broad-based discussion (I’m scared to use the D-word, democratic) and needs assessment on how, when, why, where and with whom and what purpose this development assistance should take place. The government can lead us, the diaspora can lead us, the international community can lead us – with collaborative work this all happens simultaneously. The diaspora is a major voice in this discussion and the internet is a major tool.

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