Forgive me for discussing a situation as serious as that in Burma in a blog dedicated to revenue assurance in the telecoms industry, and for trying to draw connections between the two. Sometimes there is a need to go beyond the normal commercial concerns that occupy our time. I imagine all of you are aware of the democracy protests taking place in Burma, a country referred to as Myanmar by the generals that have governed it for over forty years. Fifteen years ago, I knocked on doors around Liverpool University, getting students and neighbours to sign a petition for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest. We obtained 10,000 signatures in total, but many years later the situation in Burma, and of Suu Kyi’s democracy movement, has changed little. One thing that has changed in the meantime is the technology of communication. And the military dictatorship knows it too. The repressive regime is resorting to desperation tactics to stop the rest of world seeing the truth of how Burma is governed, and to stop democracy activists from organizing their protests. The dictators are cutting off Burma’s connections to the internet and confiscating mobile phones.
Hardship is the wellspring of dissent in Burma. Once one of the most prosperous nations in Asia, decades of economic mismanagement have ravaged its people. Whilst the rest of the developing world is investing in communication as a way to fuel growth, it is typical that the Burmese junta’s first priority is to retain power at any cost. Internet access and technological leapfrogging to mobile not only help to enrich Burma, but they also enable pictures of brutality to be sent around the world, and for the brave Burmese monks and citizens to co-ordinate their protests. Whilst the rest of the world can urge diplomats and politicians to put pressure on the Burmese government, there is little immediate assistance we can give to the freedom fighters. There is, however, one way we can help the march of freedom all over the world, and to make sure it can never be forced backwards. Open communication is the enemy of the despot. Every penny invested in electronic communication enriches our liberty and makes it harder for autocrats to manipulate us. The better we do our jobs, the better the investment made. In Burma, the multiplicity of links with the outside world increases the challenge in blocking them. The more mobile handsets people have, the harder it is to take them all. Let us work to get the most from communication investment, so everyone can talk to everyone. Then we can hope that within another fifteen years, no government can commit crimes against their people without the whole world knowing.