These stories were created in partnership between IRI and esteemed futuristic authors. IRI would like to acknowledge and thank the three authors, Madeline Ashby, Brian David Johnson and Greg Lindsay for the creation of these narratives.
This story captures the power of technology when paired with transparency to reduce corruption and bad behavior. The truth, or the mere idea that misdeeds cannot hide thanks to tech-enabled accountability means that politicians, corporations, and people in power will need to answer to average citizens. Consider the following questions as you read the story:
- When you think about the potential role technology could play to advance transparency and accountability, what gaps and challenges do you see? What opportunities?
- Is your local- or national-level government already advancing transparency and open government? If not, what advocacy could be done to encourage a perception of digitization as a way to advance that cause?
- How transparent is the design of tech tools used in your country context? What regulations need to be advanced to increase transparency in their design and, later, use?
Jester (noun): During medieval times jesters were entertainers who juggled, told stories, and made jokes about contemporary well-known people in words or song. The jester was often employed to speak truth to power using humor.
Here is a story about how power can be retaken with technology and transparency – in which all are seen, all have access, all have equity.
Azi stood up from sitting on the sidewalk and stretched his back. It was a warm clear morning, and the light was as crisp and clear as water. Azi glanced up and down the line of people who had queued up in front of the medical clinic’s locked doors.
“Twelve,” he said to himself. He counted them for the sixth time. Twelve people in front of him and Ndidi, his wife.
Hesitantly he looked down at his pregnant wife. She smiled a reassuring smile. He knew that she didn’t want him to worry. It was just a routine prenatal visit. But these baby visits always made him nervous.
It was his day off from his job at the bank, and although he’d rather be playing football, he didn’t mind the visit. The clinic was supposed to be open two hours ago, but there were delays.
“These days always delays,” he said to himself.
To make matters worse, Azi glanced up at the still uncompleted network towers. He looked down at his phone and was reminded of the bad connection. Then he glanced back up at the towers, increasingly annoyed.
During the previous election, Commissioner Eze had promised that the towers would be completed and the whole network would be overhauled. But nothing had happened. There were delays.
“These days always delays,” Azi said again.
“What time is it?” a voice called from behind him. “Azi, what time is it?”
Azi turned to see his neighbor and her son Chuk. Chuk was a small, skinny boy. He was ten years old with bright eyes and a big smile. His arm was in a sling. He had broken it a while ago and it wasn’t healing well. Chuk wore a brightly colored watch on the wrist of his broken arm.
“Hey Chuk,” Azi smiled. “What time is it?” It was a joke between the two of them. Azi had given the boy the watch to distract him from his arm. Every time Azi saw Chuk, he’d ask for the time and laugh as the boy struggled with the sling to see the watch. It made Chuk laugh every time.
“How are you?” Azi asked his neighbor.
“Tired of waiting in this line, but…”
“Tell him! Tell him!” Chuk interrupted, his smiled even bigger.
“Oh yes,” she smiled. “Chuk is getting an early birthday present from an uncle overseas. It’s supposed to come any day and he can’t stop talking about it.”
Suddenly the doors of the clinic unlocked, and a ripple of excitement rushed down the line of weary people. They stood. Azi waved goodbye to Chuk and his mother and helped Ndidi get to her feet.
The crowd filed into the clinic.
The nurse who held the door open muttered, “It’s not our fault. Sorry to keep you waiting, but we are short-staffed. Most of us haven’t been paid by the government in weeks.”
No one replied. No one protested. There were delays. These days always delays.
The visit finally complete, Azi and his wife began the slow walk home.
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” Azi said to his wife as they walked home past the network towers. The visit went fine. The baby was fine.
“When we elected Commissioner Eze this was all supposed to be fixed,” Azi continued, annoyed with the sight of the towers.
“I know, love,” Ndidi replied. “But what can we do? Eze is corrupt like all the rest. He was supposed to be better, but he’s not. Everyone knows he’s on the payroll of the communications company, taking kickbacks and slowing everything down. I don’t think the networks will ever be up and running.”
“I’ve been thinking. There is something I can do. We can do.” Azi began, the excitement rising in his voice. “I want to call in the Jester. Use their tip line…”
“The Jester!” Ndidi interrupted. “Why? Why the Jester?” She sounded scared just hearing the name of the powerful journalist group.
“What else can we do. What choice do we have?”
“Yes, love,” Ndidi shook her head. “But the Jester…” then she stopped herself from saying more.
They walked silently for a while. Then Azi added, “Something has to be done.”
In a week’s time it was done. Azi took pictures of the unfinished network towers and uploaded his explanation of the situation to the Jester’s tip line. This was the path to the Jester.
Once it was done, Azi sat back and breathed a sigh. He wasn’t sure if it was a sigh of relief or a sigh of desperation, so he just sighed.
It was done.
Something had to be done.
“Now let’s see what the Jester can do,” he said to himself.
Three Weeks Later
In the middle of the night, a sticker was placed on the front door of Commissioner Eze’s house.
It was a simple vinyl sticker. Modestly printed in black and white, it depicted the symbol of an idealized medieval jester. The symbol of the fool and the truth teller – the only person in the land that would speak truth to power, using humor as a cloak, humor to unmask the truth.
It was a simple sticker of a jester and circling it was the investigative journalist and hacker collective’s motto: “Tooth to power.”
It was a clever play on the old saying that jesters spoke truth to power. But tooth to power went one step further. Tooth to power brought a bite to the powerful. The collective exposed the corrupt and used its website and media app to hold the unaccountable to consequence.
The Jester brought fear to anyone who received the sticker. It was a sign, a notice, a warning…tooth to power was coming. The Jester had been called.
The next morning, when Eze left at his usual time for his usual walk to his government office, he saw the sticker. Tooth to power. And cold fear struck his heart like an iced dagger. He tried not to react when he saw the sticker, but did a poor job of it. He jumped, looked nervously around at the empty morning street, and started his walk. His steps were tense and faster than usual. He looked around again at the sleepy street with its vendors preparing for the morning commuters. No one took notice of him, but Eze noticed all of them.
Was any one of them the Jester? Was the Jester watching him now?
Finally, the tension in him erupted. He tapped his watch and dialed his wife Oni. Oni was his campaign manager and partner in crime.
“Yes, dove,” she answered.
“It’s the Jester!” Eze blurted abruptly.
“What? Didn’t you just leave?”
“It’s the Jester. The Jester! Someone has called the Jester on me…on us. The Jester, do you hear me?”
“I hear you, dove,” Oni tried to remain calm and gather her thoughts.
“Don’t you remember what he did…what they did?” He corrected himself. Eze knew some of the Jester’s exploits. The investigative journalist and hacker collective worked to expose hidden corruption and corrupt politicians around the world. Some thought they were in Nigeria. Others figured they were hiding out just over the border, while others thought they were underground in Paris, France. It didn’t matter. They had exposed countless politicians’ corrupt connections.
The sticker of the Jester was the curse, the sign of trouble and of doom. There was going to be a reckoning. Everything that you wished to keep silent, to keep out of sight, would be exposed, brought out into the light for all citizens and constituents to see. Posted for the world. You would be ridiculed. Shamed. Humiliated. There would be scandal. That’s what awaited you when the Jester was put on you.
A drone flew overhead as Eze made his way around the corner, getting closer to his office. At first, he didn’t notice the flying machine. Drones were nothing new in the city. But when he turned the next corner, the drone was still there. It passed over him with a lazy indifference. Sometimes it hovered. Sometimes it just passed by. Then it was waiting at the corner.
Eze watched the drone in the clear morning light. It was black and white. There was something about the markings on the small machine that resembled the Jester’s cursed sticker.
“There’s a drone!” he blurted out to Oni.
“What?” she replied. “What are you talking…?”
“There’s a drone following me. I think it’s the Jester.” Eze kept his eyes fixed on the thing as he walked.
“How is that possible, dove?” his wife reassured him. “Really, how can you believe that this morning….”
Just then Eze’s watch dinged with a message. He saw the message, from an unknown number. Attached to the message was a scan of a check from the communications company made out to him for “marketing insights.”
He knows! The Jester knew about the kickbacks and the bribes. They had uncovered the paper trial! He knew about the work slowdowns and the diversion of funds.
“He knows!” Eze nearly screamed to his wife. “He knows about the checks!”
The drone buzzed overhead and Eze nearly threw himself on the ground.
“They know everything,” Eze blabbed. “Check the news feeds! Check the TV! Is it out? We have to do something. We have to fix this. We can salvage the office. We just have to start right away….”
“Dove! Slow down,” Oni tried to get him to get control of himself. He was in a panic. Maybe the Jester was a myth. Maybe it was a nightmare story, told to people in power to scare them. She searched the news feeds.
“Dove,” she continued. “Get to the office and check in with the team. Call the company, I’m sure you’ll find out that everything is fine. Oh, wait….” She stopped with in a hot panic. There was a news item in the Jester’s feed. It was small, but it was there.
The headline read: “Local politician in the pocket of Telco?”
“What?” Eze could tell there was something wrong by the sound of his wife’s voice.
“There is a piece on The Jester. It’s very small, but there is a scan of a check…” she tried to reassure him. “I’m sure we can deal with it. It will all be fine.”
“Fine? Fine!” The drone sliced through the air overhead as Eze dashed down an alley. “Nothing is fine!”
“My dove…” Oni started to say, but paused as a message came into her phone. It was an unknown number with a frightening screen shot. It showed her incriminating texts with their executive contact at the communications company. Fear struck her. No one must see those texts!
“Fix it!” she exclaimed.
“What? Wait, I didn’t hear you. The phone….”
“Fix it! Fix it now!” she screamed in desperation. “Fix it! Fix the Jester as quick as you can. Call the team. Call that executive. Do it now. Fix it!”
The panic in his wife’s voice kicked Eze into a frantic run. He raced with abandon down the streets to his government office. The drone buzzed behind him, lazily turning left when Eze went right.
One Month Later
Azi waited in the waiting room. His wife had told him to wait outside the examination room. His nervous energy was too much for her to bear on this visit to the clinic.
A message came through his phone. It was a simple picture, a stylized Jester with the words Tooth to Power.
The image quickened his pulse. He didn’t know what to do with the energy. He paced the room, then walked outside.
“What can it mean?” he asked himself. The Jester had replied.
Azi caught his breath as he stood on the sidewalk and looked up. The network tower across the street was covered with a utility crew. He looked further down the street and saw the next tower was getting installed as well. All down the line, work was happening.
Azi checked the time. He hadn’t realized that the clinic had opened on time.
Tooth to Power
It had been over a month since he had contacted the Jester’s investigative journalism tip line, but maybe it had worked. Azi had seen an article on the Jester’s site hinting at Eze’s corruption but wasn’t sure if that would be enough. Things were getting better. Delays were delays, but these days there were fewer delays. Perhaps it had worked.
Standing in the middle of the street like a crazy man, Azi saw a drone hovering in the air above him. The black and white decal on the machine resembled those of the Jester, but….
“Hey Azi! What time is it?”
Azi looked over and smiled at Chuk.
“You know what time it is, little one,” Azi replied.
“Look at what my uncle sent me.” Chuk showed Azi the drone controls.
“This was the present you were waiting for?”
“Yes! Yes! It’s amazing! I’ve been flying it all over the city.”
Azi watched the joyous little boy with his joyous little drone with a smile. He both thought about the Jester and didn’t think about the Jester at all.
Then another message arrived on his phone. It read:
Here is the story of a corrupt politician and his wife who changed their ways because they knew now technology was watching and they could not hide in the shadows. Here is a story about how power can be retaken with technology and transparency – in which all are seen, all have access, all have equity. —The Jester