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Mobile Telephony and Socioeconomic Dynamics in Africa

Mirjam de Bruijn

May 2013, English

This paper by Mirjam de Bruijn examines the development of telecommunication infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa and illustrates the impact with anthropological case studies in four specific countries. The revolution in mobile telephony that is sweeping through Africa has made it much easier for residents in rural areas and small towns to become knowledgeable about market prices, to learn of opportunities in other locations, and to keep in touch with distant relatives and friends. The mobile technology itself creates new jobs: running charging stations where electricity is not readily available, selling mobile credit for minutes, and repairing mobile phones.

This transformation is changing relationships as people once spatially isolated become connected through mobile communication. This paper shows different ways of accessing the new communication technology and argues that, through this technology, new social positions with economic and political power are being created, social relationships are reinforced, and in some cases these relationships are taking new forms, leading to a redefinition of the social or a reinforcement of existing relationships and thus social boundaries.

This paper was presented at the Lincoln Institute’s annual Land Policy Conference in 2012 and is Chapter 3 of the book Infrastructure and Land Policies.