Francis I. Njilié Yap
ENA Presence Manager
framework of Ethno-Net Africa (ENA) - a project of the Management of Social
Transformations Programme (MOST)
of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
(UNESCO) a seminar was held from 18-21 March 2002 in Yaounde - Cameroon
on "New Information and Communication Technologies (ICT's) and their
use in training and co-operation in scientific research". Jointly
organized by the "International Centre for Applied Social Science
Research and Training" (ICASSRT), UNESCO and the "Laboratoire
d'Informatique pour la Mécanique et les Sciences de l'Ingénieur"
(LIMSI) of the "Centre national de la recherche scientifique"
(CNRS), France, the seminar brought together twelve of participants from
five African countries (Benin, Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville, Côte
d'Ivoire, Nigeria) and France.
In his introductory statement, the UNESCO representative Mr Halward Plinkert
portrayed UNESCO's strategic objective to enhance access to more diverse
information sources and thus to facilitate comparable international scientific
research in order to enhance learning opportunities through access to
diversified contents and delivery systems and to strengthen capacities
for scientific research, information sharing, and to promote the use of
ICTs for capacity building. In the framework of this objective, UNESCO/MOST
contracted the research team of Prof. Turner to develop a software: the
"Information Support System" (ISS).
The ISS permanently scans online news agencies, newspapers and an extendable
list of other Internet information sources such as the observatories of
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. It regroups information
from those sources with the use of a "natural language analysis"
in text format. The added value of this software in comparison to existing
Internet search-engines is first, the control of the information sources,
second, a natural language analysis of the articles, recognising related
issues monitored by other researchers, and third, the feature that all
articles can be commented on by the users of the ISS. Those comments are
stored together with the articles in a newly established database, accessible
through the recently decentralised website of the
Ethno-Net Africa Project. Mr Plinkert suggested that this tool should
be evaluated in the light of the following question: "What are the
possibilities and the limitations of a software application for international
scientific co-operation; In how far can it contribute to the necessary
improvements concerning the mandate of Ethno-Net Africa and can it help
to refocus its activities on policy relevant social science research;
Is it a useful application to meet the demands of the members of the Ethno-Net
Africa to improve their still insufficient access to the Internet based
information sources, and their limitations to co-operate internationally
and hence the relatively low efficiency regarding the creation of new,
policy relevant knowledge. However, the members of the Workshop did not
want this question to blurr the difficulties met by the National Monitoring
Units in their functioning. The lack of technical and logistic infrastructures
in the various countries was unanimously considered the main obstacle
in their activities.
Mr Plinkert replied that even better infrastructures, would not answer
the main problem: the relevance content for scientific analysis and the
importance to differentiate between access to information and the production
of new knowledge. The Workshop was thus organized to train the researchers
of ENA in the features of the ISS relating to its adaptability, its new
modes of co-operation and communication (the evolution from end-user to
producer, editor, reader and distributor at the same time) and its possible
function as a peer review mechanism to continuously monitor the scientific
quality of ENA reports.
After the discussion on the Workshop objectives, the national coordinators
presented on one hand, an analysis
of the situation of the ethnic conflicts in their respective countries
during the years 2000 and 2001 and on the other hand, the report of activities
of their National Monitoring Unit providing an analysis of the geopolitics
of the ethnic conflicts recurred in each of the regions. The ethnic conflicts
appear to be strongly connected with issues such as democracy, elections,
political debate, water, land, economy, etc
Although every country
has its specificities, it was obvious that ethnicity is instrumentalized
in many cases in favor of certain groups.
The National Monitoring Units identified the centralized coordination
of the project, the mobilization of the members at national level, the
lacking information infrastructure and the irregularity of feedback from
the project management as main obstacles to good functioning.
The central subject of the seminar was presented by the representative
of the LIMSI/CNRS, Mr. William Turner. He spoke on the transformation
of information into knowledge for collective action relating to the ISS.
The first interventions made clear that this transformation passes by
the access, the socio-cognitive evaluation, the interpretation and the
distribution of the information.
The ISS is designed to support both the "in-house" and "co-operative"
research activity of the ENA National Monitoring Units, and help organize
a "science watch" for systematically drawing attention to new,
emerging subjects of interest for social science research and analysis.
It is still in the process of finalization to implement the useful and
important comments by ENA members and by LIMSI-CNRS to improve the monitoring
of the mass of information on ethnic conflicts and social change in Africa
which is available on Web Sites of electronic newspapers and a wide variety
of other American, European and African sources.
The ENA Data Archive will be constantly updated by periodically downloading
Web-based information resources located at specific Internet sites. With
each update, new documents that are relevant to an specific profile have
to be identified and extracted for delivery to the appropriate country
in Africa. This "filtering" task is based on expressions which
might be used to index the article or might be appropriate for considering
the event as being relevant for analyzing ethnic conflicts. Any Ethno-Net
user can define his set of expressions (profile), which are pertinent
according to his research area. A group of documents originating from
a particular source is called corpus.
PERSON A: Litiges fonciers -- Conflits halieutiques -- Régions
Quotas ethniques -- Obscurantisme politique -- Exclusion
Démocratie béninoise -- Régionalisme -- Ethnocentrisme
Vie politique et conflits politiques
Partis politiques -- Micro tribalisme -- Ninjas -- Milice -- Conflits
PERSON E: Ethnic conflicts -- Sharia -- Niger Delta -- Marginalisation
UNESCO -- MOST -- Ethnic conflicts -- Decision Makers
are posted to the system's administrator via the Internet, who carries
out the technical tasks of filtering the information sources designated
by the user. The filtering is done overnight and, subsequently, the day
after posting a filtering strategy (profile + information source), the
user can open his Internet browser to see the results through the ISS
The user has the choice between three options which we will explain focusing
on concrete examples practiced during the workshop.
1: Information relative to the specific subject area of an user (Deepening)
Assume Mr. A is the current user. After he activated his profile, he had
access to the list of paragraphs that contain the expressions of his profile.
In other words, the system will provide him with information that is directly
related to his "in-house" research, his specific area of interest.
A link for accessing the document that contains the detected paragraph
is available near the paragraph.
2: Information that broadens the scope of the subject area (Widening)
Now, Mr. B is operating. When he activates option 2 within his profile,
he then has access to the list of paragraphs that contain words in the
expressions of his profile that are used by other members of ENA. For
example, his profile contains the expression "conflits halieutiques"
whereas Mr. C's profile contains the expression "conflits éthniques".
Both expressions contain the word "conflicts"; for Mr. B ethnic
conflicts often erupt e.g. in the Ivory Coasts around water issues, and
he prefers using the expression "conflits halieutiques" which
is specific to his country context; whereas Mr. C chose to use the more
general term "ethnic conflicts" in the Congo context. However,
the system will alert both Mr. B and Mr. C to the fact that they are both
interested in situations of open conflict.
3: A list of words for up-dating your subject area profile (Emergence)
The ISS offers help in updating subject area profiles by automatically
extracting from the source material (French corpus and English
corpus), the 100 expressions which characterize the corpus.
Generally, a corpus is built using a single point of view to define a
document collection, and this is when science watch comes into play. In
the English corpus, two completely different points of view were combined
(artificially) to produce a corpus for experimenting with the functions
of the ISS system. The French corpus is much more coherent. The papers
presented by Joachim Agbroffi, Christian Agossou, Norbert Gami, Dieudonné
Zognong concern ethnic conflicts in their different countries. The terms
that appear on the table of extracted expressions are all related to this
general theme. Consequently, when theyconsult the list, they can immediately
identify the terms specific to their own papers and those extracted from
other papers, and this is the basis of a science watch.
For example, we saw that Mr A has an interest for the general question
of "obscurantisme politique". Mr B filed a paper in which he
speaks of the "mécontentement des Ivoiriens face aux étrangers"
which the machine has extracted from the French corpus as being a potentially
useful term for science watch. Science watch aims at offering a list of
terms for visualizing links between concepts that structure a corpus:
for example, we might expect that one of the reasons why foreigners are
sometimes considered with distrust and hard feeling is a context of political
obscurantism; the fact that "obscurantisme politique" and "mécontentement
face aux étrangers" appear on the same list could prompt either
Mr A or Mr B to explore this link, and even to up-date their respective
profiles. The intellectual proximity of the expressions on the list is
justified by the fact that they are extracted from a coherent set of documents
addressing the general theme of ethnic conflicts.
The following two tables provide examples of the expressions extracted
from the corpuses English corpus and French corpus.
sample of expressions automatically extracted from the English corpus
of ethnic conflicts
of scientific knowledge
examination of the prominent ethnic conflicts
of scientific knowledge
frequent ethnic tension
sample of expressions automatically extracted from the French corpus
en Côte d' Ivoire
politique de Kolélas
des conflits en Côte d' Ivoire
de Bernard Kolélas au Congo
des partis ethniques
des partis ethniques
Kongo région du Pool
Téké-Kukuya du Congo
des Ivoiriens face aux étrangers
cours au foisonnement des partis politiques
du Sud Comoé
statistiques des litiges halieutiques
forestières de la Côte d' Ivoire
research requires discussion and interaction with the other members of
ENA. The system ISS uses a forum to allow this discussion and interaction.
In the example, the system assumes that because Mr A is interested in
the subject "obscurantisme politique", other members of ENA
might want to share with him their point of view on the question. In order
to do so, they type their password credentials and comments in the appropriate
fields of the dialogue box and this information will appear on the bulletin
board of the ISS so that other members of the Network can also interact.
Conceptually, the results supplied by the system can afterward be exploited
by the members of the network ENA to, among other things, produce objective
analysis, extract data for its database (Web), prepare colloquiums, lead
debates (Forum), etc. A stage of validation of the various productions
which ensue from it will then be necessary before scattering wide broadcasting,
in the intention of others, the decision-makers.
The main recommendation stemming from the seminar concerns the follow-up
of this project and the application, in the short-term of the ISS. The
participants also formulated very useful suggestions for further product
improvements to make the ISS easier and more efficient to use.
The Workshop was a success in the sense that participants gained a critical
perspective on how their research practices might evolve through adoption
of new information and communication technologies. That agreed that much
remains to be done in order to develop a technical as well as anorganizational
framework to meet the needs of ENA.
The first point concerns the information infrastructure in most African
countries. National and international investment programmes to develop
infrastructures are underway and so one can expect that Africa's current
handicaps in this field will hopefully be overcomed in the future, but
there is still a long way to go. For example, even the ENA system administrator
in Yaoundé has only limited access to Internet at extremely high
costs. Solutions to this problem as to offer remote distance access to
LIMSI/CNRS computers, or to use satellite broadcasting technologies have
to be discussed.
The second point concerns the efforts of UNESCO to produce high quality
social science research in order to provide decision-makers with knowledge
for successfully managing social transformations. We saw in Yaoundé
that the knowledge produced by the ENA network will necessarily be the
product of a wide variety of in-house research programs carried out in
different contexts, using different theories and different observation
protocols. Up to now, the project coordinator did not identify procedures
to reach agreement on how to aggregate across the heterogeneous research
results produced by ENA's participating members. The Information Support
System is designed to carry out an in-depth analysis of a subject area,
to promote cooperative research and to monitor available information sources
to detect new, emerging subjects of interest. Although members of the
Workshop recognized the necessity of building an infrastructure to support
these procedures, it is as yet too early to understand their value for
building confidence in the coherence of a distributed scientific practice.
The ideas and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author
and do not necessarily reflect the views of UNESCO.
Les idées et opinions exprimées dans cet article sont celles
et n’engagent pas la responsabilité de l´UNESCO.