Technological development – the 21st century’s singular most defining phenomenon – continues to determine the reconfiguration of a constantly globalizing world in ways that alter virtually all aspects of our everyday lives.
Individuals, organisations and governments alike have become dependent upon nothing more than the latest technologies the market can offer. ICT scholars in their wisdom repeatedly point to the ever-present hazards of inequality that an inter-dependent world bears as it surges forward prioritizing national interest ahead of the international common good.
Open University (UK) scholars Bromley, S et al, writing in “A world of whose making? Making the International: Economic Interdependence and Political Order”, writes: “Countries do not develop in parallel along similar trajectories or phases, even when they evolve in broadly similar directions such as, for example, the road to industrialization.” They add: “A country’s trajectory, therefore, depends not only on its own history but also on the histories of other countries that have gone before and others that are lagging behind.” A total summation, one may opine, of an inter-connected and inter-dependent world order.
This is quite crucial at any stage of development, particularly for countries that do not fall in the category of the “first world” or “developed democracies”. Please note my reluctance to use the phrase “Third World”. Despite the common appreciation of the latter-day’s importance of technological development – characterized by the compression of time and space – there will always be uneven or, better still, unequal, path to a better tomorrow for every country.
In the final analysis, therefore, it remains incumbent upon our rulers, or governments of the day, to fathom for their nation-states effective trajectories and partnerships that secure a brighter and assured future for their citizenry.
The above scenario wet particularly the appetite of tech companies whose innovation capability is constantly in full mode.
Some eighteen months ago the SA government, through the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Microsoft South Africa, paving the way for the government to adopt public cloud services, which has become a global phenomenon.
And in a separate development, Microsoft announced a multi-million-dollar investment aimed at creating major economic opportunities for South Africa. This was done through a vehicle known as EEIP, acronym for Equity Equivalent Investment Programme. In addition the giant-tech, Bill Gates-founded global enterprise, announced the opening of new enterprise-grade datacenter regions in Africa. The objective was to ensure a world-class cloud infrastructure with the main aim of powering emerging countries. Microsoft’s new cloud regions in South Africa were established in Johannesburg and Cape Town.
What are the benefits in all this? Well, Yousef Khalidi, corporate vice president at Microsoft South Africa, explained: “The combination of Microsoft’s global cloud infrastructure with the new regions in Africa will increase economic opportunity for organisations in Africa, as well as connect businesses across the globe through improved access to cloud and internet services.”
SA government’s SITA believes that the government’s ability to accelerate its digital transformation will enhance economic growth, widen social inclusion, improve good governance to the benefit of the citizenry and infuse energy into the productivity of the entire civil service. I hereby declare: Well and good!
But bear in mind that technological development has brought with it the good and the bad. Some of the positives, of course, include aiding nations lagging behind to get uplifted and modernize their economies and thus become competitive.
The downside, sadly, is what Socialism teaches all of us: He who controls the means of production is king, or queen. Paraphrased, the owners of advanced technologies hold total control of the end-users.
Take for instance, at the height of the Cold War Crypto AG – a company that was for nearly a century trusted by government agencies and other public sector entities globally was exposed as a front for the American Central Intelligence (CIA).
In leaked records published by the highly-esteemed Washington Post, the CIA had boasted about how it pulled off “the intelligence coup of the century” since it purchased Crypto AG jointly with former West Germany’s BND intelligence agency in 1970.
The reports further claimed that the CIA designed Crypto AG’s encryption devices in a way that allowed the agency to easily “decrypt” and read all messages exchanged by the company’s large clientele.
By the turn of the 21st century Crypto AG, a company first founded in Sweden in 1920 as AB Cryptoteknik, was selling cryptographic equipment and services to at least 120 countries including India, Iran, Pakistan and the Vatican. In Latin America, Brazil and Argentina were clients. Africa’s client list included Libya, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Tanzania and South Africa, among others. The biggest failure and frustration of the CIA’s espionage was in the agency’s failure to enlist either China or the former Soviet Union as clients.
Among other media houses that blew the cover of the CIA was the Baltimore Sun. The publication’s records dating back to the ’90s revealed how the national security agency secretly rigged encryption devices to the detriment of unsuspecting long list of governments and institutions.
With massive reputational damage that seemed irreparable coupled with dwindling profits against high cost of operations, Crypto AG eventually closed shop in 2018 when it was officially dissolved.
The technological mistrust between nations persists to this day. Governments and IT systems of large corporates are frequently hacked by cybercriminals.
One of former US President Donald Trump’s flagship projects was to establish a cyber force as part of the military. The Trump administration black-listed China’s Huawei as a security risk. Soon thereafter other Washington Western allies such as Canada and the UK followed suit. Although Beijing has been at pains declaring innocence the plea seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
China’s ground-breaking 5G technology has also had aspersions cast over its rapidly rising reputation. This has resulted in the 5G masts being burned down in a number of countries in Asia. The mistrust continues, and largely it is premised on Geo-political relations between nation-states.
Technological development, therefore, seems to be the epitome of nothing else but, sadly, the necessary evil without which our international world order cannot do without. In the final analysis, it’s a case of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”.