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Phones, foreigners and the fluctuating digital divide in Southern Mozambique

27th October 2011

Phones, foreigners and the fluctuating digital divide in Southern Mozambique

Dr. Julie Soleil Archambault (University of Oxford)

Mobile phones played an ambiguous role in Mozambique’s riots against rising food prices in early September 2010. If they were initially used to coordinate mobilisation, they soon became useless when the country was hit by network failure of an unprecedented scale. Mobile phones have in fact been more successfully put to the service of the petty crime economy as coveted objects that circulate and as communication tools that facilitate the circulation of other stolen goods. For many, crime is not a way of life but rather an alternative to address some of the social contradictions that sparked the riots in the first place: a postwar post socialist economy marked by growing disparity, expanding individual potential and decreasing opportunities to secure a reliable livelihood.

Based on research conducted in the city of Inhambane, southern Mozambique, the paper focused on the social dimensions of petty crime that mobile phone use both reveals and animates. It argued that mobile phones, which act as quasi-currency, and mobile phone communication offer alternative avenues - albeit uncomfortable ones — for young adults to claim a space for themselves in Mozambican society.