Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Hay Festival Kenya: The Google Platform

The Google Platform picture by KenyaBuzz
My Storymoja Hay Festival officially kicked off with the above session which saw Ory Okolloh [@KenyanPundit], Dr Christian Turner [@HCCTurner] and John Kampfner [@JohnKampfner] share a platform.

This session was of interest to me because it had Google’s head of government relations in Africa, Ory sharing a platform with a diplomat HE Dr. Turner. Turner is the current British High Commissioner to Kenya who was previously the director for the Middle East and North Africa in the British Foreign Office. Moderating this session was John Kampfner who is a freedom of expression advocate and a cultural advisor to Google. If you know me, then you would know I followed the Arab Spring and being a techie based at iHub Ory can do NO wrong! So this session was heaven sent.

So what did they discuss?

From the Foreign Office with Insights
The ambassador shared with us why he is on social media, which is to connect with people like Ory and to follow trends. However, after the pleasantry’s one was able to see why governments and policy makers like he was in his previous life appreciate social media. Social media has given people power according to Dr. Turner. The international community now is able to know what is happening in repressive/closed states.
Dr. Turner gave the example of Syria which under Assad’s father a Massacre occurred in Homes However, the international community got wind of this atrocity three months afterwards. This is because repressive states tend to have closed borders and by the time the international community got to know this it was too late for them to act as the uprising had been crashed.
Google’s Platform
Ory was of the opinion that technology has made our life much easier. Take the instance of M-Pesa which a lot has been written about. Try imagining a life without M-Pesa today certainly we would be spending plenty of time doing chores such as paying bills which took much of our time.
According to Ory technology has resulted to more instances of Africa led solutions from Ushahidi which she helped to put up and served as its first executive director to Mzalendo which she co founded with Conrad to bring accountability to our Members of Parliament.
Technology platforms according to Ory have made it easier for citizens to engage with government. She talked of how these days our MP’s are all over Social Media.

Almost all presidential candidates are now on Facebook and twitter ‘– Ory Okolloh

Freedom of Speech Online
John Kampfner who is an advocate of free speech raised some pertinent question to Ory and Turner. He wanted to know their take on freedom of speech online. This was pertinent given the riots that have been occurring in the Middle East and North Africa in response to a film made in America. 
Dr. Turner gave a diplomatic answer, which is to have people upload content which is pursuant to their countries rules and regulations. However, Ory was of the opinion that anyone can upload any content online provided it’s within their limits of expression. 

Some of the things I missed
Generally this was a very informative session. However, there were some questions which cropped in my mind after sitting through this session. This relates to Google. Although, I am an online person I have reservations with Google which has been taking over almost every aspect of my life.  These questions are;
For Google
1.       How do African governments perceive Google?
2.       Do the African Governments know the ‘power’ and clout of this tech companies?
3.       Does Google as a company inform governments? Especially in cases where they have data on terrorist cells online
4.       Is Google planning on taking over the world? [If it has not already taken it over already]
For the High Commissioner
1.       I would have been interested in hearing more about the British policy on Middle East [Israel & Palestine]
2.       The position and Policy of the British government on ‘international community’ interfering in another state involved in civil strive
3.       What his older peer’s think of him adopting social media and how he goes about explaining and converting them [if he does so!]

No comments: