The best PM we never had

Jean Sese, lifetime public servant, passed away on November 8, 2013, aged 55

[Originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post]

I last saw Jean Sese a few hours before he suffered a fatal heart attack. He was at his customary seat at chief John Tarilama’s nakamal. We shared a few pleasantries and he was kind enough to chuckle at my feeble humour.

I’d always been nervous around him, and more than a little intimidated, even though he gave me no reason to feel that way. He could be effortlessly charming, even gracious, and if he seemed at all forbidding, it was by virtue of his implacably calm demeanour. He was a deep current untouched by storms. And in a country often roiled by the tempestuous passions of its leaders, his influence was immeasurable.

Vire Dare Naure Jean Sese was director general of the prime minister’s office in Vanuatu for years. I was only two weeks in-country when I first met him. I had been asked to brief the PMO on a matter that required an impartial analysis, and given that I didn’t know jack about Vanuatu at the time, I was as impartial as could be. Mr Sese listened to me patiently for about an hour and a half, asked some pointed, probing questions, then thanked me for my time.

If this is the calibre of the senior civil service, I told myself as I left, then Vanuatu has a lot going for it.

Over the years, I got to see him at work, and came to admire him more than just about any other leader in the country. He was calm, confident –even cool– and one of the very few people in national politics who emerged untainted and admired by all.

Prime ministers came and went, but Jean Sese remained. Read more “The best PM we never had”

Talking Shop

The Internet Governance Forum is sprawling, unfocused and formally useless. You should go.

I hate talking shops. Most sensible people do. If you are involved in any way in policy making, advocacy –or heck, if you just have to work for a living– the last thing you want to do is waste time talking. The Internet Governance Forum is a global conference that draws together governments, telecommunications interests, standards & technical management bodies, NGOs & social development groups… well, pretty much everyone who gives a fig about the internet. It was one of very few tangible results to emerge from the 2003 World Summit on the Internet Society, a UN-sponsored get-together that attempted (and ultimately failed) to address a widely-held perception of US dominance of the internet’s governance structures.

The IGF, quite deliberately, was designed to have no regulatory authority, no policy levers and indeed, no formal mandate to advocate even for issues about which the entire world is in screaming agreement. It can’t even publish findings. And that is its genius.

It’s a sprawling, unfocused event with disparate interests. Discussions cover everything and anything even remotely related to internet governance, from human rights and freedom of speech to child protection to spam and cyber security to standards development and law. It draws thousands of attendees from all walks of life. It’s uneven in quality and sessions range from the enlightened meeting of minds to fractious verbal brawls. As Winston Churchill might have said, it’s the worst possible forum we could possibly have, except for all the others. Read more “Talking Shop”