GEOG 479
Cyber-Geography in Geospatial Intelligence

Summary and Final Tasks


Up until 2000, it was cheaper to call the US or the EU from Africa than it was to call a neighboring African country. We’ve seen that Africa’s entire Internet connectivity was less than that of the many individual EU countries. This lack of infrastructure hindered intra-African regional trade. Since 2009, this has changed with some 68,000 km of subsea cable and over 615,000 km of national backbone networks being installed. The Internet bandwidth available to Africa’s citizens expanded more than 20 times between 2008 and 2015. The information infrastructure provides the trading routes of a future information society on the continent, but also provides unheard of transparency for the citizens of the 54 nations of Africa.

So, it's not about the technology only, it’s also about the information delivered and the transparency provided. ICTs have facilitated political change across the north of Africa and offer the potential to do so in sub-Saharan Africa as well. The technology as embodied by cellphones, computers, and websites are powerful tools, but it is individuals that are organizing for change and individuals that are driving change.

The situation in the Middle East known as the “Arab Spring” actually is very similar to a long history of contagious revolutions around the world. When oppressed peoples see others revolt, it can be a catalyst that emboldens them to push back against their own oppressive situations.

So far, there seems to be no formula to predict where a revolution will start, how far it will spread, or when it will end. Analysis of static data from NGOs and dynamic data from such sources as Social Media may provide insights that were unexamined and unavailable before.

While the current set of uprisings has been alarming, were they really unpredictable? The recent chain of events seems similar to numerous other periods of discontent that stretch back more than 200 years.

For example, think back to the impact of the Berlin Wall's demise in 1989 as a recent example or the series of revolutions that swept Europe in 1848. Unrest has triggered more unrest, time and again -- especially when enabled by any form of mass communication that allowed word to spread quickly from one place to another.

Dr. John McManus, a military historian at Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla has postulated that revolutions can sometimes be contagious, - the take-home lesson from history is that you always have no idea how it's going to turn out, and that's kind of the scary part. You have no idea where the forces are going to go once they're unleashed. [1]

Think of the US Revolution against Great Britain. Its eventual success in 1783 has been viewed by many historians as what inspired France to seek and win its own independence by 1789.

An even more extensive revolutionary strife started in France in 1848, when the French people revolted against King Louis Philippe – viewed as corrupt and elitist. As the French King fled the country, rebellion spread to Germany, where the common people already had similar grievances and the idea of rebellion had long been fermenting. Revolt surged from there to other kingdoms in Europe including Austria, Poland, Russia, and Italy.

As mentioned earlier, another example includes the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 that set off a wave of uprisings against Communism in Poland, Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria, eventually leading to the dissolution of the USSR.

The current situation in the Middle East involves its own unique cultural and political details, but it shares some common themes with the past. Like earlier examples, this set of uprisings began years ago with a sense of dissatisfaction toward oppressive regimes particularly among the growing urban centers. These factors can set the stage for a “trigger event,” which starts the toppling of other oppressive regimes like so many metaphorical dominoes. In this case, the trigger was a Tunisian protester who set himself on fire in mid-December. Subsequent protests led quickly to the flight of Tunisia's president and similar revolts in neighboring nations. Revolt spread rapidly from Tunisia to Yemen and as far as Syria as well.

For a single revolt to become contagious, communication is key. In the 1848 sequence, it was the recently invented telegraph combined with printed newspapers that informed people as to what was happening across national lines. Currently it's Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. When Mubarak shut the Internet down for a time, and the electronic means failed, Egyptian protesters made do the old-fashioned way, with printed instructions about where to meet and what to do. When people in one nation see people in similar situations striking back – and succeeding – it can be contagious.

What history has not been able to do so far is help experts predict where the next uprising will take place. The outcomes can be surprising and not always positive – Egypt and Syria are both examples of this, albeit to different degrees.

Now, in 2014, simultaneous uprisings in Ukraine, Venezuela and Thailand are raising questions about whether revolutions can be contagious, even when countries are separated by continents and oceans (another example of ICTs making distant places closer). Unrest has triggered more unrest, especially since mass communication allows the news to spread quickly. Venezuela’s leaders have taken steps to cut off the Internet much as Mubarak did, but history may show that the effort will be in vain.

Reminder - Complete all of the Lesson 5 tasks!

You have reached the end of Lesson 5! Double-check the to-do list on the Lesson 5 Overview page to make sure you have completed all of the activities listed there before you begin Lesson 6.