Friday, September 23, 2011

WikiLeaks and The New Information Age

By Tazoacha Asonganyi in Yaoundé.

Seismologists usually say that long before the top of a volcano blows off, they hear it clearing its throat because they see the seismic rumblings. This is becoming the case with many areas of human endeavour since the seismic rumblings of our human futures in most areas can now be monitored. Humanity is fashioning various tools for such monitoring, but some are usually invented even before we can imagine how they will be used.

Such tools are embedded in the great social transformations of the 1980s that married computers to electronic communication, thus producing a revolution that is touching everybody, and everything, in all domains of human endeavour. This is unsettling some of those who lived much of their lives in the 20th century, and who are faced with the 21st century challenge of having to revise all sorts of assumptions they used to treat as solid, but which have since become fragile and flawed.

One of such assumptions is about the nature of information. The press has been awash with revelations from WikiLeaks of conversations between top nudges of the CPDM regime and the former American Ambassador Janet Garvey. Due to their past certainties, these barons failed to integrate the fact that in our new world, information tends to leak. When it leaks, we have more of it, and more of us have it! Information has become aggressive, even imperialistic in striving to break out of the unnatural bonds of secrecy in which secrecy-minded people used to imprison it. Today, like a virus, information tends to infect most of those around it. Therefore secrecy and confidentiality of all kinds have become anathema with the restless resource called information.

It is for these reasons that Harlan Cleveland in his wonderful book Nobody in Charge, urges those who claim to be at the service of the people to always take time to respond to the following self-test question before engaging in any line of action, public or private: “If this action (utterance) is held up to public scrutiny will I still feel that it is what I should have done (said), and how I should have done (said) it?”

After all, a definition of integrity is that you should be the same person to the world as you are in your private life, and in your secrets. We have to always take full moral responsibility for the judgments some relevant public now or in the future would ultimately make of our public or private actions and utterances.

Those who claim to be leading our society to the Promised Land should constantly reflect on the verdict they will get in the court of public opinion in relation to their unearthed secrets. They must always imagine that at one time or the other, there will be public judgment of their actions. We need leaders that no matter what they are doing in whatever field, come to feel personally responsible for the much wider context in which what they are doing has to be done.

It is the absence of an imagined future public knowledge of our secret deals, the absence of our constant self interrogation and probing of the rightness of our assumed secret deals, that have produced most of the known and yet to be known instances of public corruption that have debased our political history today. The best antidote of irresponsibility is the certainty that sooner or later, “secrets” will become public knowledge.

In any case, in the final analysis, the future of Cameroon will not depend on the “secret” utterances of self-seeking “leaders;” it will depend on the purity of the intentions of those who seek to provide leadership. After all, if becoming president of the USA depended on what some white people thought/think of black people, Barack Obama would never have become president. I personally watched a white diplomat in Yaoundé weeping openly when it became obvious that Obama had won! The weeping might have been on Democrat/Republican lines, but it could as well have been on racial lines…

Incidentally, the “Septentrion” seer-cum-soothsayer just mentioned the Anglophones in passing in his succession paradigms. But the secrets revelation galore brought forth Anglophones as the master players of the second fiddle! What with Mengot not looking beyond his nose? What with Inoni not expressing any ambition for power (although the Ambassador thought that he was a good PM)? To crown it all, Cardinal Tumi tells us in his recent book Ma Foi: Un Cameroun à Remettre à Neuf that one day he found himself alone with Prime Minister Peter Mafany Musonge; during their conversation he asked him if he believed an Anglophone could become president of Cameroon one day. A graveyard silence followed!

It is usually said that silence is golden, but not when it is the result of fear or lack of moral fibre. Silence is golden, if you think that what you say in private, you cannot assume in public!

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