Over the Easter weekend of April 2012, thousands of people gathered in Sir John Guise stadium in Port Moresby to protest at the political crisis gripping the country. Social media played a significant role in organising these protests, and key bloggers addressed the crowd. The weekend's events saw commentators mark it as the beginning of a 'PNG Spring' — a new era in Papua New Guinean politics driven by the upsurge in information and communication technology (ICT) use following the liberalisation of the telecommunications (telecoms) market in 2007. There is strong research on and evidence of the impact of ICT on economic growth and poverty reduction (Aker and Mbiti 2010; Qiang and Rossotto 2009). This impact is also evident in Papua New Guinea (despite there being little Papua New Guinea-specific research). The liberalisation of the telecoms market in 2007 led to a 0.7 per cent increase in GDP the following year, and innovative projects in microfinance and financial services draw on extensive experience elsewhere in the developing world (Digicel 2007; Muente-Kunigami 2011). These projects exploit ICT's ability to 'leapfrog' infrastructure deficiencies — one of Papua New Guinea's longstanding development obstacles. There is also abundant, though ultimately inconclusive, evidence on the political impact of ICT use. Various studies point to its benefits in terms of increased transparency — a positive impact on non-civil society and empowerment of marginalised groups (Ling 2004; Goodman 2005; Sinha 2005). However, there is little specific research on the political impact of ICT in Papua New Guinea. This paper begins to address this gap by drawing together and outlining existing research that points to the potential impact of ICT on Papua New Guinean politics. It asks: can ICT 'leapfrog' obstacles to a strong Papua New Guinea state such as weak political institutions and corruption? Does it intensify longstanding problems and introduce new ones? Or does it simply mean very little? The research is by no means conclusive and is often scarce, but this paper seeks to outline key issues and possibilities in a critical fashion and situate them in the Papua New Guinean context, laying the groundwork for future research. Section 1 outlines the dramatic increase in Papua New Guinea's mobile coverage and internet access since 2007. Section 2 puts these increases into the context of literature on the political impact of increased ICT access, relating this literature to the particular circumstances of Papua New Guinean politics. This literature focuses on ICT as changing the way information flows among citizens and between citizens and the state, and the impact of these increased information flows on political practice. This section focuses specifically on the following potential effects of increased information flows: 1) increased transparency; 2) changes in collective political identity, including changes in the nature of civil society and changes in protest politics, and; 3) changes in political participation, including changes in gender politics and the role of the diaspora. The paper concludes by proposing two key themes for further research on this topic in Papua New Guinea.
|Publication status||Published - 2012|