If you are reading Building Peace, you have access to Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs): a smartphone, a tablet, a computer at your community internet café, or a friend who has printed these pages for you. To many, but not all, these technologies are ubiquitous. In the Global North, many of us are accustomed to (saturated, even by) the everyday use of technology. At the same time, in the Global South, where widespread access to technology remains a challenge, ICTs are expanding and being refined for use in rural and conflict-affected settings, as well as war zones.
This issue of Building Peace explores the potential of ICTs and other technologies to positively influence peace in today’s world. From online platforms that connect citizens and support civic engagement, to drones that have the capacity to deliver humanitarian relief to conflict zones, technology provides substantial benefits to peacebuilding. At the same time, we are conscious of the statistics Ann Mei Chang cites in her article: “Today, only 40 percent of the world’s population is online. The number is growing rapidly, but those who do not have Internet access are disproportionately poor, rural, older, and female.”
We have developed our fifth issue of Building Peace conscious of the contrast between technology’s powerful, positive potential and its ability to exacerbate divides, further exclude, and cause harm. We ask you, our reader, to be mindful of this tension and of the reality that for the Internet to be a powerful space for free speech, it must be an inclusive and accessible space, supported and protected by civil society and government policy.
Nineteen authors from 10 different countries are linked to our Table of Contents. While this is an impressive sweep, the list does not fully reflect the thought leaders whose early insights in August 2014 were instrumental in shaping this edition of the magazine. The perspective, suggestions, and questions posed by the following individuals were of tremendous value, and I am grateful: Anand Varghese, Ann Mei Chang, Helena Puig Larrauri, Nancy Payne, Peter Nordstrom, Sanjana Hattotuwa, and Sheldon Himelfarb.
In curating this issue, we considered a range of technology, from traditional tools to new innovations. We considered the fields of information technology, computer science, and engineering, as well as telecommunications, geoinformatics, and design. These fields all have the potential to either connect or divide individuals and communities, to build peace or render us more vulnerable and exposed.
Technology is making certain aspects of peacebuilding that seemed idealistic thirty years ago, like mobilizing social movements from the ground up, suddenly possible and tangible. Ideas dismissed in the late 1990s as naive about what internet technology could do for the world are turning out to be feasible. But the true test of technology’s success lies in how we use it. Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström writes in her article: “Progress will depend on our capacity to join forces with the people who are currently working to create a better future. The times we live in suggest that technology will be at the heart of this work.” We couldn’t agree more.
We are excited to share examples with you of the many ways ICTs are connecting and channeling the energy of activists in Nigeria (Olanike Olugboji) and transforming citizen-led movements in Brazil (Miguel Lago & Courtney Crumpler).
Dmitriy Synkov’s glossary offers a concise overview of what technology means in the context of #PeaceTech—and prepares readers to understand the intricacies of the field.
#PeaceTech’s point of departure is that technology, per se, is not inherently good or bad, powerful or not; it is people’s decisions that have the power to design, use, or misuse technology—and influence where it leads us. For instance, will Unarmed Arial Vehicles (UAVs) be used solely for established military interventions or also to deliver much-needed provisions to Syria (Jessie Mooberry)? Our authors remind us of the opportunities created by flexible platforms, as we see in Jes Peterson’s article on how a social network in Afghanistan grew into a tool for collaboration and good governance. Soha Frem’s article about Lebanon highlights the physical and symbolic space of Martyrs’ Square in Beirut, a place that, over time, has served to unify and divide communities within the city. The article goes on to reveal how space innovation can positively influence how people communicate with each other and learn from one another.
Our #PeaceTech authors call out the risks, dangers, and dilemmas posed by the unique reach and openness that technology affords us. The dangers range from the imprecision of remote warfare highlighted in Caroline Donnellan’s article to the reactionary suppression of online peaceful dissent by many governments (Ivan Sigal). There are unintended consequences to the development and use of new tech tools. Whether we are peacebuilders, gadget geeks, or creative entrepreneurs, we should be led by a “Do No Harm” approach to technology in settings of war and peace—which is based on a minimum obligation to do no harm through the inclusion of technology. This approach demands that we be sensitive to divides or conflict that could be caused by the introduction of new technologies in a particular context, for instance, the vulnerability of community members who use their mobile devices to report on incidents of violence.
As a magazine dedicated to sharing the peacebuilder’s perspective on global affairs and examples of innovation and impact, we are energized by the examples described in this issue. A theme of collaboration emerges in #PeaceTech; we hope that in the coming years we will see the tech community, public sector, and civil society working on the ground in different settings—increasingly coming together to design solutions that can make lasting, positive, change.