April 27, 2017
Activities /
Posted by NCID

As information and communication technologies (ICTs) become increasingly ubiquitous, interest in their role on the integration of the less fortunate and disenfranchised has surfaced. On April 24, Andrea Tesei, an assistant professor at Queen Mary, University of London’s school of economics and finance, presented a paper titled: “Liberation Technology: Mobile Phones and Political Mobilization in Africa,” which sets out to uncover whether mobile phones have an impact on the incidence of political mobilizations.

The authors first cite the liberation technology hypothesis. From an economic rational, increased information can lead to collective action as grievances against an entity increase. Moreover, ICTs decrease coordination efforts which lower participation costs. However, this is not necessarily the case. ICTs can weaken social capital accumulation and thus, the ties of individuals to their social environment which are thought to be key determinants of mobilizations. Also, these technologies could improve accountability and improve living standards, so that individuals are less likely to pursue collective action.

To determine which mechanism prevails in this context, Tesei and his co-author, Marco Manacorda, use novel geo-referenced data from 1998 to 2012 on mobile phone signal coverage, occurrence of protests, individual participation in protests and individual mobile phone usage in Africa. The continent is the perfect scenario for such a study. Mobile penetration has increased substantially in the past decade. In 1999, there were 60 million users while in 2008, this number was 477 million. Nowadays, mobile technologies have a wide arrange of creative applications that include SMS-based campaigns, SMS-based election monitoring, and mobile banking. Additionally, Africa has seen various mass mobilizations such as food riots and civil unrest.

Results using two distinct datasets that compile news information on protests, and individual data on participation, suggest that mobilizations are counter-cyclical. That is, worse economic conditions lead to more protests. Additionally, exploiting micro-data from Afrobarometer, the authors ascertain that there are two effects driving their result: increased information and enhanced coordination. Thus, increased availability of information lowers individual opportunity costs in participating in a protest, leading to a larger provision of protests. This effect is then furthered by an individual iterating over their neighbor’s best choice. Simply put, individuals are more likely to participate in a protest if they know others will be joining. Results also indicate that mobile phones incite protests in autocratic regimes, and/or countries where the media is captured. 

 

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