(Guest post by Michael J. Oghia, Project Manager, Public Intelligence Project. His team is leading efforts to create transparency in censorship and freedom of speech violation issues throughout the world using Ushahidi)
Freedom of expression is a fundamental civil liberty imperative to democracy. However, in societies throughout the world, it is at risk, and George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty Four is increasingly becoming more of a prediction of the future instead of far–fetched, fictional hyperbole. Indeed, democracy has been weakened by journalists being killed; public bans on books, speech and dissent; and governments cracking down on peaceful protests. Increasing censorship, surveillance, Internet monitoring, and citizens being disengaged or refusing to listen to different viewpoints threatens to make democracy a shallow exercise in electing rulers. Eroding freedom of expression is but one part of the problem facing contemporary democracy though. Others include the lack of a citizenry educated in of critical thinking or in the skills required to engage in open and constructive dialogue to manage differences and conflict.
What these issues shed light on is that most so called “democracies” do not exist with a corresponding ethos or “culture” of democracy. When we refer to a culture of democracy, we are talking about much more than just mechanisms like voting and elections or institutions like parliament or the judiciary. While mechanisms and institutions are vital for creating democracy, these are merely the scaffolding that surrounds the system. An effective and mature democracy is more than the sum of its institutional mechanisms. A mature democracy is characterized by the values, dispositions, and capabilities of its citizenry, which are the underpinning of the culture of democracy.
This is what our mission is: to help create a culture of democracy. And to do that, we established the Public Intelligence Project. It is an independent, non-partisan, not-for-profit think tank conducting research, education, and advocacy on the importance of diversity, critical thinking, dialogue, and freedom of expression. It seeks to foster a robust culture of participatory democracy, develop empowered citizens, encourage constructive civic engagement, and promote an environment of dialogue and conflict prevention by helping safeguarding the free expression of ideas, dissent, and opinions.
The Project aims to do so by providing intellectual resources and networks for those working to build stronger democratic institutions, provide platforms for the raising of voices that are otherwise likely to be marginalized or silenced, and promote critical thinking, conflict prevention, and conflict resolution capabilities throughout the world. We are also developing educational curricula that can assist teachers and educators address subjects such as civics, diversity, conflict management, intercultural communication, media literacy, and critical thinking in order to encourage free and open expression, and foster intelligent citizenship.
The Project arose out of our experiences as conflict resolution professionals, mediators, and dialogue facilitators. Most conflict and mediation processes tend to be reactive; but in order for us to do our work in a more efficient and constructive manner, we should be committed to taking proactive steps in order to better foster environments for conflict prevention which includes defending the spaces for expression and the liberty to think, write, dissent, and speak freely. If people cannot express themselves openly, it adversely affects how people can address conflict in a healthy and constructive way, and has far-reaching implications for human rights, education, governance, public policy, development, peacebuilding, conflict prevention, and most of all, for creating democratic societies.
Our relationship with Ushahidi is based on our using this unique crowd-mapping platform to address attacks on freedom of expression specifically: by aggregating these attacks worldwide (check out our map). Already, organizations like IFEX, Index on Censorship, Committee to Protect Journalists, The Hoot, Human Rights Watch, American Civil Liberties Union, and Reporters Without Borders record attacks against freedom of expression. However, to our knowledge, there is no all-encompassing map in existence that details all of these in a central, unified, and consistent place.
To address this gap, using Ushahidi, we seek to create a map to help monitor and demonstrate the ways in which freedom of expression has been restricted, attacked, or repressed globally and at local, state, or community levels. We will then aggregate and analyze the data, and identify trends in order to generate better solutions for how to address current and future abuses.
Any person or organization can submit a report, and it only takes about 2-3 minutes to do so. We encourage you or your organization to join with us and Ushahidi to map attacks against free expression and help us spread a culture of democracy!