Watching the unfolding events in Egypt, as I am dedicated to working with our partner organisations on their policy work, I am compelled to pause and think about the implications. While development agencies are obviously not in the business of “revolution”, but we are concerned with “development,” economic and social development.
So what happens when you cut off telecommunications to a country of over 83 million people, many of those living in poverty? As a friend of mine on Twitter observed, like a banal household appliance, the internet “has an off switch.” The definitive blog entry on the “switch off” asked last night:
What will happen tomorrow, on the streets and in the credit markets? This has never happened before, and the unknowns are piling up.
We watched with trepidation in September, as pre-paid mobile customers were shut off in Mozambique, in an attempt to dampen protests by the poor against increases in the cost of living. People still found ways to communicate about protest, much of it was word of mouth. The government made concessions after deadly rioting and things returned to “normal”.
At times like these, when we are often rightly focusing our outrage and indignation on civil rights and free speech, I hope we do not forget to ask: what is the impact of communications blackouts like these on the poorest?