The breakneck pace of development in African connectivity recognizes important changes taking place on the ground. How do the man and woman in rural and urban Africa engage with new ways to communicate? To what extent is ICT already incorporated into local activities and cultures and what are the motivations behind their usage? What are the new opportunities and challenges ICTs afford civil society and what does this mean for the future development of ICTs on the continent?
To answer these questions a group of four master students, with a common interest and expertise in New Media, propose to write their Master thesis on the topic. Combining Business, Economics, Journalism and Anthropology the group proposes to set up a social research project that touches four distinct fields; Entrepreneurship, Politics, Social Life and Media. This research will take place in Uganda.
An ICT Revolution
Africa is fast embracing Information and Communication Technologies. The continent is experiencing a mobile phone revolution that now defines the continent’s potential. In a span of ten years, more than one third of the African population has gained access to the mobile network. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) says that the mobile phone industry in Africa is growing at twice the global rate and remains the fastest growing mobile phone market in the world.
This growth is also reflected in the spread of Internet connections that have increased by 1,031.2 % between 2000 and 2008. (UN World Investment Report, The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Internet World Stats – June 2008). Internet connectivity is growing faster than anywhere else in the world and significant investments in fiber optic cables and satellite technologies promise to accelerate the process.
The breakneck pace of development recognizes important changes taking place on the ground. This unprecedented economic growth is parallel to the Economist Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the Earth Institute at New York’s Columbia University says, “I actually think that we’ve turned the corner on the digital divide… a gap that seemed to be widening pretty relentlessly is now going to be narrowed in the coming years and I think quickly. (AllAfrica.com – October 2008) As ICT makes headway in the continent it is important to understand the changes it brings.
Why a Social Approach?
Most research is focused on technology, its growth and expansion. Given Africa remains relatively unconnected, most analysis looks at the technical issues needed to increase access. Very little attention is given to what happens when people finally do make use of ICTs. This is where we propose to focus our research. Not on how users will become part of the system, but what happens when they are apart of it.
The Research Project
Four Master students from the University of Amsterdam, Wouter Dijkstra, Ben White, Ali Balunywa and Guido van Diepen, propose to visit one African country for two months of field research. The aim of the project is to understand how local African communities engage ICT. Each researcher has an individual approach and research question and will write a personal Masters Thesis based on the two months of field research. Geert Lovink (often referred to in international publications as a ‘New Media Guru’) is the project advisor.
The aim of the research is to better understand the significance of ICT from the end user perspective. In this way the group chooses to focus on the “man on the street” as opposed to an organizational or governmental approach. This is out of the interest to understand how ICT has already found a presence at a local level and irrespective of organizations or governments involved.
Given this focus, the aim is to classify four distinct groups of users and to study them individually using ethnographic research techniques. The aim is to sketch different profiles of end-users based on various research methods. In this way the project aim is to capitalize on the backgrounds and interests of the group participants while at the same time working to develop a research model and approach that might be replicated (by other research groups) in the future.
Individual research questions and specific research methods are described in the individual chapters of the proposal. We strongly believe that this project will add value to the current discourse and seek your partnership and cooperation.
In the meantime, we remain available to answer any questions.
Mambo Mpya Research Team