Namal R as revolutionary change agent? | Sunday Observer

Namal R as revolutionary change agent?

27 June, 2021

Could young Namal Rajapaksa, State Minister of Digital Technology, bring us into the digital age — obviate the need for currency transactions that are now fast becoming obsolete, and set the country on a path to salvation through a future of digital literacy?

Our regular culprits in the armchair critique department have entire discourses on China that lasts for days these days, and we are hectored every hour on the hour about how having anything to do with China would be like touching a high voltage wire with live electric current. The jolt would kill us, they warn.

Perhaps some of these people on high dudgeon about China should try going to Beijing or Shanghai, or for that matter any relatively remote part of the sprawling country. They would see how paper money has been made obsolete in a nation that has taken some of the bravest strides towards enabling a digital milieu of convenience and efficiency.

From the fish vendor to the purveyor of haute couture high-end merchandise, they all deal in digital transactions, and producing paper money these days in China draws some ‘looks.” Those who transact in currency notes such as us foreigners on a visit are looked at as if we may have landed from another planet.

But, for the Chinese, transacting with their smart phones and Q-code is as easy as A, B, C. The same is true for folk in newly digitally literate locations in the African continent as well. The advantages are multifarious. There is no need for the shopkeepers to rummage for change, and it’s much easier than validating a credit card.


Looking at a similar digital future is an imperative in our milieu, in a country that survived the recent Covid related travel restrictions almost entirely due to online conveniences. Where would work from home rank as a solution if the country wasn’t internet literate, and what would have happened to food deliveries that kept most folk fed during the shutdowns?

Sans those options, a phase of travel restrictions such as what we faced, would have been unthinkable. There was no option of digital delivery or work from home during the dark era of LTTE terrorism in the remembered last, for instance.

But yet, a recent global survey apparently shows that Sri Lanka is among the worst in the world in terms of location based internet reception. It’s unknown if this so-called global survey is credible, but it’s time the private service providers sought to step up their game.

Bad signals are the order of the day in some rural areas, and some urban areas too, and this has led to online learning becoming a nightmare for some schoolchildren during the recent extended periods of school closures.

If we are on the cusp of a new digital revolution is that a happy place to be? No, and it’s bewildering why the private sector service providers cannot address these issues when they have become such behemoths — with some of them enjoying advertising-reach that boggles the mind in comparison to the kind of commercial advertising base similar companies had in the nineties, for instance.

To enter the digital era, it seems we need a complete overhaul of systems and with his relative youthfulness Namal Rajapaksa seems cut out for the job. It’s the young millennial generation so called that are the drivers of any digital revolution in any modern milieu, and it’s no different here. But we are lagging behind already.

“Bangladesh bank rolled out an interoperable QR code as a part of its efforts to boost cashless transactions across the country, particularly in rural areas,” states a report in the Decca based Daily Star.


The pandemic has fast-tracked digital transformation in companies worldwide. The recent appointment of Namal Rajapaksa as Digital Minister comes into focus in this context. Digitally enabled societies would thrive — others would struggle, wither and perhaps die.

China for instance performed much better than any place else in the world when the Covid scourge hit, and there was a scramble for alternate methods to replace the traditional office based work culture.

The country was already digitally equipped for work from home, in contrast to the USA for instance, which according to Forbes Magazine, had a mere third of the workforce functioning from their homes during the pandemic. The result? The Chinese economy thrived. Relative to that performance, Western economies continue to struggle.

In the context of the digital resourcefulness of a country that’s a modern day imperative, our close relations with China is a considerable boon, but it’s is funny that the so called enlightened thinkers of the NGO community look at China with the aid of stereotype.

They fail to see China as the new power in terms of digital literacy, and consider Ali Baba as the puny baby next to Amazon. Mr. Jack Ma must surely be amused.

“Technology cannot be described as “a political” or “irrelevant” (Porter 2003). It goes beyond the domain of economics and traditional military confrontation. It necessitates a unanimous agreement at the international level and a consensus of values on the proper means of enforcing crisis management systems,” states an article in

What it means is that no big power can interact with China the way they used to. They are “forced to arrive at a unanimous agreement at international level”, which means that essentially the Chinese cannot be challenged and isolated as it was in the past.

That era is over, and digitisation and China’s competence in that area, is the most compelling cause for this new power dynamic. Namal Rajapaksa would have a great deal to learn from the Chinese in this regard.


Chinese president Xi Jinping has already articulated the shared cyberspace concept. China’s digital economy, alone, hit 35.8 trillion yuan ($5.45 trillion) in 2019, accounting for 36.2 percent of its total GDP, according to a report by the Chinese Academy of Cyberspace Studies, which was released at a conference recently. (

Those unaware of such developments see China as the quaint Middle Kingdom which is perennially isolated. We are advised not to touch the country with a bargepole. It’s all quite hilarious. These people do not know how out of step they are with the times to be so colossally unaware of the power China has amassed as a tech behemoth, especially in the area of digitally empowered growth.

They are still trapped in their fixed notion that everything in high-tech comes from the West and that Google, Amazon and Facebook run the world. This ignorance seems to be their bliss.

They are in for a rude awakening. It’s hoped Namal Rajapaksa can helm the Q-code revolution in this country in which every remote villager transacts with his e-wallet. It can be done sooner than imagined.

A few years ago, who would have thought every villager would have a mobile tucked under the belt? These digital revolutions move extremely fast. Before our political scientists utter say the word ‘geopolitics” Sri Lanka and the world would have changed before their eyes.

At least it’s better late than never that it has been realised digitisation would be the driver of our economy in the new age.

The last government was feeling Google-lunatic and thought the Google lune project was the be all and end all of entering the era of high tech.

Those loona-tics spectacularly flopped.

We are now on the path to a more realistic digitised era and it would be exciting to watch these developments now that digitisation has received an unexpected shot in the arm due to a pandemic.

People’s recent experiences online would have convinced even the most hard boiled sceptic that the country has to tie its future to a high-functioning digital economy. This is the area that should be prioritised for innovation, as we have a digitally literate younger generation that can potentially innovate their way into a bright future, even as the doomsayers are saying the walls are closing in around all of us. In the digital age such Cassandras would be considered as being offline, isolated, and clueless.