In the past few years, the social media have revolutionized communication. They have opened doors for many ordinary citizens, giving them an informal platform from which to voice their concerns, thoughts and views.
They have transformed the public from being passive receivers of news to an audience that can determine what is important to them. And in many places they have opened debates and discussions which have contributed directly to policy-making and solving the pressing problems of the 21st Century.
Today is Blog Action Day. And I want to use this blog today to stress how important it is for countries to honour and facilitate their citizens’ freedom of expression.
The relationship between a government and its citizens is like a marriage – requiring two-way, healthy communication if it is to succeed. Governments that want to achieve prosperous, secure, confident nations can only benefit from encouraging a culture of debate and open discussion, in which they listen attentively to their citizens.
“The Power of We” can create a strong synergy between governments and citizens. And when it does not exist things can go badly wrong – as we have seen during the Arab Spring.
Blogs are a recent phenomenon. They are a new way to get information. They have turned many ordinary people into opinion makers. And they have empowered many to get their stories heard, which otherwise might have stayed hidden.
I write this blog because foreign policy is no longer just about government-to-government relations. It is about reaching other audiences too – for instance in business, NGOs, sport, culture, education and civil society in general. There are some people whom I will probably never meet face-to-face who read my blog and therefore have some idea of what the UK is doing in Ethiopia.
And I was immensely pleased when I was listening to a presentation to a business group by an organisation based in Addis Ababa the other day and an extract from my blog suddenly appeared on the screen.
I would like to dedicate this particular blog to another blogger, Malala Yousafzai, a young girl who defied the Taliban to defend the right of girls to education. (You can read more about her on the BBC website) She now lies in hospital, recovering from the cowardly attack on her.
She is a powerful symbol of those who risk their lives to defend what is right and of “The Power of We” in general.