Time to test your sarcasm detectors: It's the UN's global comms shakeup extravaganza!

Five days of socializing and… well, judge for yourself

The United Nations is often mocked as an old boy's network where representatives spend all their time making speeches about nothing and attending social events while wasting millions of dollars congratulating each other for doing so.

But that is far from the truth, as the arm of the UN focused on the latest technological developments can testify. The first week of the International Telecommunications Union's three-week Plenipotentiary in Busan, South Korea, is over and after five days, some dramatic developments have emerged.

  • South Korea's president gave a speech in which she noted that telecommunications has "brought about great changes and made it possible to share knowledge in all areas of human lives including politics, the economy, society and culture."
  • South Korea's IT minister gave a speech in which he noted that there was a telecommunications gap between rich and poor countries.
  • The UN's Secretary-General gave a speech over videolink that noted: "Information and communication technologies are a global powerhouse."
  • The ITU's Secretary-General gave a speech in which he noted that in the past seven years the number of mobile phone users had more than doubled.
  • Just under 100 countries gave speeches continuously over three days in which they noted that: telecommunications have brought about great changes and made it possible to share knowledge; there is a big gap between rich and poor countries; ICTs are driving economies, and; that the number of mobile phones users has jumped in the past decade

But that wasn't all. Extraordinary interest and lobbying took place during the week (and at literally dozens of social events throughout the day and into the evening) over who would take the key positions in the UN body.

Vote now ... ballots cast at ITU meeting

The election was fast: just two full days to take votes from around 100 people on five positions. Why so fast? Because three of the positions were uncontested.

With Secretary General Hamadoun's Toure's hitting his two-term, eight-year limit, it turned to Deputy Secretary-General Houlin Zhao to run uncontested for his seat. Dramatically, Zhao was voted in unanimously, resulting in several hours of congratulations.

Similar excitement was felt during the uncontested re-elections of director of the Radiocommunication Bureau (BR), who will again be Francois Rancy, and director of the Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT), whose holder will remain exactly the same in Brahima Sanou.

With Zhao moving up however, the race was on for the deputy secretary-general position. An extraordinary and nail-biting race leading to the extraordinary choice of… two-term director of the Telecommunication Standardization Bureau (TSB) Malcolm Johnson.

But, hang on, with Johnson moving to the next role in the sausage process that means that the TSB director position is open. A startling three candidates put themselves forward and the election was eventually won by Chaesub Lee, a newcomer to the ITU having only started chairing committees in 2004.

Never let it be said that the ITU is not an open and dynamic environment.

Other extraordinary events during this first week:

  • Cuba thumbed its nose at the United States and complained about the trade embargo, while noting that it was doing well regardless.
  • Israel complained about Palestine.
  • Russia said it was concerned about security and the United States' role in the internet.
  • The United States argued that the internet should continue to be run as it has been for the past decade.
  • Every African country said it need assistance developing their communication networks.

Tune in next week to find out what progress has been made on a range of resolutions about something or other. ®

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