Update: Standing still in a changing world

I attended an interesting talk by Prof. Ian Goldin recently. More about him here. I won’t go into details on everything he discussed but I’d like to share one thing which I thought was very interesting. And worrying to a certain extent.

The world, and we humans, has transformed rapidly over the last thousand years. Yes there are all the positives with increased life expectancy and advances in technology and communication and all that. But there are the negatives as well. Perhaps none so important as an individual’s capacity to destroy. The damage to life and property that a single individual can do today is so much higher than was possible a few decades ago. Prof. Goldin predicted in another TED talk I saw online that by 2030 a single person will have the capability to destroy the entire planet. Scary huh? In such a world survival will depend on society’s ability to prevent such occurrences as opposed to punishing after the fact. Of course we are not at that point yet but you have to admit that things are moving rapidly in that direction.

Which brings us to Nigeria where things have definitely moved in that direction. Disgruntled and disenfranchised parts of our society have become increasingly powerful in their ability to destroy. It has taken time to get to this point but they have learned. It is not so much a case of “it is our turn” but more of us catching up with the rest of the world. Whether it’s from our ability to disrupt key sectors of the oil industry or to simply destroy life and property. And we are unlikely to forget how to do these things. Once you learn how to light a fire it’s very difficult to forget.

Unfortunately as a country we don’t seem to be adapting quickly enough to the change. We have a security arrangement that has not really changed since the 1960s, both in terms of organization and financing. This makes me wonder if, as a country, we are really equipped to handle the challenges of the next century. Yes the current focus is on defeating Boko Haram but this isn’t about Boko haram. There will always be disgruntled elements in our society. Before Boko haram there was the Niger Delta crisis and after Boko haram I’m willing to bet there will be some other group willing to go to any length to achieve its objective. The strategy seems a lot like using knives and swords in a world that uses guns.

I don’t claim to be an expert on security but it seems to me that we need a radical restructuring of our entire security system. One that is focused more on preventing and less on reacting. One that is financed and controlled not just by the FG but also by ordinary people who want peace and security. And of course, one that is just and accountable.

You can watch an older TED talk by Prof. Goldin here.


UPDATE: The Ebola pandemic (is it a pandemic yet?) is another example of the changing world I wrote about. This isn’t the first time the Ebola virus has reared its ugly head. But this is the first time it has spread so rapidly. So what is different this time around? Well the world is more connected than it was during previous outbreaks. For the first someone with Ebola actually got on plane and flew half way across West Africa with the virus. The idea that Ebola could be transmitted via air transport wasn’t really considered before now. Cue panic.

The interesting thing is that we are unlikely to move back to a world were people can’t hop on flights and spread Ebola, or other infectious diseases. This possibility is a permanent reality of the world we now live in. As even more remote parts of the world become increasingly connected, the threat increases.

As a consequence, measures taken to halt the spread of Ebola in this instance shouldn’t be seen as temporary. Yes authorities should be especially alert during a pandemic, but the threat of a pandemic is never really going to disappear. Health systems will have to evolve to take into account the fact that diseases from half way across the world could appear anywhere. Systems that worked in a world where Liberia was a galaxy away may not work in a world where Liberia is a flight away.

So keep washing your hands, even after the pandemic is over.


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