Rebranding a Nation

A recent NPR article highlighted the recent efforts made by the Haitian government to “rebrand” Haiti. After living in Haiti for six years as a child, I couldn’t contain my excitement. For years, I’ve listened to natives, visitors, scholars, and policymakers speak about the troubled state of the nation. I never understand why Haiti was considered such a “basket case” of a nation. In just one moment everything can change from being tranquil to violent. Haiti has changed a lot and the country has experienced a great amount of stability, especially when compared to the early 90s and other years. Although it is suffering from the aftermath of a devastating earthquake, the level of stability has enabled the government to move forward in rebranding the nation.
Lessons learned in this class have demonstrated that communication can go far in rebranding a product or a country. In the past couple of months organizations in Haiti have taken real steps to show a different, more positive, side of the country. As illustrated by the NPR article, President Martelly insists on introducing the world to new Haiti—the Haiti that many have effectively kept out of the picture for centuries. Speaking about the country’s beauty and potential was just not the mainstream thing to do. However, with new media the Haitian government is fighting to change the norm when referring to Haiti. Many new organizations are establishing Facebook pages and Youtube videos that focus on the beauty of Haiti and the touristic opportunities provided by the country. Using new media will not erase the many stereotypes held about Haiti but it can began—and actually has begun—a new conversation about the country. The rebranding of Haiti is starting with tools found in communication strategies and new media.

Isn’t it Just a Phone?

I’ve had a mobile phone since I was 13 years old. At the time, I talked my parents into buying one of the old prepaid Nokia models that all my classmates had. The truth is that I didn’t need the phone but like my peers, I wanted to be connected with others—whether through a quick text or call. To get and keep my lovely Nokia phone, I had to earn a specific G.P.A throughout the year. If my grades were any lower than expected than I knew that it would be taken away from me. Today, I have a smart phone that’s able to do much more than my old Nokia could have ever done but I now see the true benefits of having a mobile phone in a country enshrouded in social and economic turmoil—Haiti.
Just last year, I found out that one of my uncles living in Haiti bought a Blackberry. I was taken aback by the news but just two weeks after hearing the news, I received a text in Haitian Creole from an international number. It shocked me to find out that my uncle—although working a job that barely feeds his family—now has access to a mobile phone that can get him information from all over the world without ever having to leave Haiti. Over the next couple of months, I was able to receive information about my family via his new blackberry. Even his wife began to use the phone for practical reasons such as health related information and even getting access to remittances, which form a large part of the Haitian economy.
The State Department and organizations throughout the world have also caught on to the usefulness of mobile phones in advancing development. Through my uncle’s experience, I too, was able to learn of the importance of something as simple as a phone whether it’s an old Nokia or a new Blackberrry. At the end of the day, mobile phones enable people from all over the world to practice the art of communication.

Soft Power: Another Form of Imperialism?

Soft power as explained by Joseph Nye is getting others to want what you want without the use of coercive means. Reading Nye’s piece of public diplomacy and soft power from a post-colonial perspective motivated me to rethink my understanding of soft power and its place U.S. diplomacy. If we are a question that values diversity and freedom for all, is it ethically correct to use “soft power as a means to obtain our ends? That is the question that I’ve been reflecting upon since I read Nye’s piece.
The sole objective of soft power is to advance U.S. interests without making our nation look like the “bad guy.” It almost seems like a euphemism for manipulation. This is the problem that many developing and non-western nations have with the U.S. government. This to many of them is just another form of American imperialism. The most frustrating aspect of this is that it is packaged as something good and almost beneficial when for many, it is a manipulation of power.
I also understand that as a nation, the use of soft power is an important tool in our diplomatic toolbox. Rather than using force, this is seen as a more benevolent way of getting our objectives met. However, I think that it’s time to reconsider the way that we approach developing nations when practicing public diplomacy. If not reconsider than at least be honest about the approaches that we employ. I would love to hear other thoughts on this topic.

More Information and more Intolerence

Wouldn’t the world be better if we were more informed? What if everyone in the world had unlimited access to information…would peace come to earth? Recent research demonstrates that access to information doesn’t guarantee a higher level of tolerance or peace. In their article, Powers and El-Nawawy examine the role of balkinization of global news or a shift towards a globally connected world. Unfortunately the research indicates that the world has selected balkanization over connectedness and tolerance.
Although access to information abounds in developed and even many developing countries, individuals often steer towards information that affirm their personal beliefs. More information, unfortunately, does not lead to a more educated and accepting world. Whether it’s the morning news or the evening documentary, few individuals will choose to lend their imagination to information that may challenge their existing views. Even worse, the news media has detected this fact and often pander to specific groups and sensationalize international conflicts based on the beliefs held by their viewers. Rather than providing balanced and honest news coverage, different media stations choose to reproduce negative stereotypes in ways that easily conform to the personal and national narratives of their viewers.
The goal should not simply be to provide more access to information, especially in light of recent research. We should instead seek to build a culture that encourages a diversity of views without stifling or perpetuating nay single position

New Media: Not a Magical Bullet

The Arab Springs, brought an overwhelming amount of attention to new media (i.e. Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, and blogs). The possibility of one blog setting a country on fire has captured the imagination of people in policy circles and academia. It seems that blogs are setting the standard for revolutionary action in the 21st century. Even organizing a community towards action seems to necessitate some virtual forum. However, I think that researchers who have suggested that blogs are not “magic bullets” or the panacea for all social ills hit an important point.
Although new media can help facilitate social transformation, they cannot be seen as modern day saviors. It’s a lot more than just a blog or a Twitter account to push a revolution beyond the starting point. To suggest otherwise would be a misleading. The article “Blogs and Bullets” does a great job of illustrating both the benefits and the challenges of new media activism. It’s not that this form of activism is ineffective but that any successful revolution will need much more than just a blog to obtain its objective. A great example of this is the protest that began in Iran. Although many in the west were hoping for a revolution to topple the current regime, as it occurred in Egypt, but it was evident that the same social structures were not set up for such an outcome. This is an important example of why, activists in the 21st century should not throw out the lessons learned from those who have walked similar paths in the past before the advent of new media. Does new media help? Yes, without a doubt it does but it must not be seen as a magical bullet.

Going Viral!

Five hundred years ago Martin Luther, an obscure theologian, went viral and helped transform the face of faith. The reformation began because one man went up to the entrance of a church and posted a pamphlet: a pamphlet, ladies and gentlemen. Who would have thought that going “viral” wasn’t something for 21s century Youtube or Facebook fanatics? The lessons that Luther’s 95 Theses taught are still very much relevant today, especially for those seeking to raise awareness through the use of social media.
Organizations like Invisible Children have followed in the footsteps of Luther by going viral. In the beginning of 2012, Invisible Children posted a video featuring Joseph Kony, a Ugandan warlord who has used young children as his personal soldiers, in order to make him “famous.” The organization believed that if they could get enough people to learn about Kony’s horrendous crimes against humanity, the international community would bring him to justice. This then began the hunt for Kony years after his most deadly activities in Africa. One Youtube video cause the attention of millions of westerners, including the President of the United States who sent advisors to the region with hopes of catching Kony. Who would have thought that one video could catch the eyes of a president?
Kony 2012 is just one of many examples of the videos that have gone viral in recent months. How many more people will go the way of Luther and leave an impact by going viral?

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Noopolitik: the Way Forward?

If I was asked to read “The Promise of Noopolitik” during the last semester of my undergraduate year, I have been a true skeptic. During those years, I believed that only realism could grasp the reality of international relations in a meaningful way. I religiously studied the works of Hans Morgenthau, Kenneth Waltz, and John Mearsheimer and thought that their assumptions regarding how and why states function as they do made perfect sense. After all, these traditional scholars were not only respected but also revered by many studying statecraft. In recent months, this class and others like it have helped transformed my views of the nature of grand strategy and diplomacy.
I’ve come to realize that traditional paradigms alone cannot effectively provide solutions to the complex challenges of the 21st century. Realpolitik is not rich enough to answer the questions surrounding non-state actors, information and communication technologies, or the growing power of information over hard power. Leaving these issues on the margin of history will not provide a prosperous way forward. Therefore, understanding the promise of noopolitik is not just a suggestion but also an imperative if we are to successfully achieve the advancement of U.S. interests around the world.
As Ronfeldt and Arquilla assert, “states will remain paramount actors in the international system” but they will have to evolve into a world that no longer values states as the referent subject of IR. It is the power of ideas and stories—not bombs—that will define the strength and power.
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