Thursday, 18 November 2010

Dakar Without A Car...and Not Submerging The Maldives

Owning a car wouldn’t have made much difference to a trip I made last week, when I went to Dakar. I suppose I could have followed in the tyre tracks of the Paris-Dakar rally, but instead I took the soft option, and flew. I was speaking at the 10th Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR), a gathering of ICT regulators run by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) which is a specialised agency of the United Nations. I’ve undertaken a study for the ITU on Climate Change, ICTs and Regulation, and went to Dakar to deliver the paper. (Both are available from the ITU website: Discussion Paper and Slides). After a sleepless night on a couple of planes, arriving in Dakar at 2am, getting through customs and immigration at 3am, the last thing you want to hear is “You don’t have a room at the hotel.”

Which is what happened, despite having a confirmed reservation. What I (and probably the hotel) hadn’t banked on was that President Wade of Senegal would turn up to open the GSR, and, with his entourage, seemingly occupy most of the hotel – including my room. Bailing out to another hotel at 4am would not have been my choice, but there are times when you just have to recognise the overwhelming might of state power. This became abundantly clear with the number of soldiers on duty at the conference.

I have spoken at a lot of telecoms conferences but never in the company of so many armed guards – I hadn’t realised telecoms regulation was so controversial! xP1050458 As I delivered the study, the moderator on my panel was, appropriately enough, the telecoms regulator from The Maldives – that chain of atolls in the Indian Ocean that is the world’s most low-lying country. Averaging 1.5 metres above sea level, all of the 1,192 islands of the Maldives are likely to disappear if sea levels rise as predicted. To dramatise what might happen, the Maldives Government has already held a Cabinet Meeting under water. It's ironic that the biggest industry is international tourism, based on climate-changing jet aircraft. But with a population of around a third of a million, the people of the Maldives are not in control of their climate destiny - we are. Something to think about next time you jump in a car, or step onto a plane, wherever you might be going.

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