CGHR's approach is inspired by two main tenets: that an understanding of ICTs’ potential to reconfigure citizen-state relations in Africa has to be grounded in empirical evidence; and that new frameworks are needed to capture the ways in which ICTs interact with the unique structures and practices characterising governance in Africa. The project will analyse the extent to which these interactions have practical implications on flows of information dealing with social issues, as well as on the access and the quality of public services and goods.
New ICTs such as mobile phones hold great potential to affect governance in Africa. The graph below shows the importance of mobiles in Africa, where they outstrip fixed line telephony. Their pervasiveness and ability to interact with older communication technologies such as radio, enables users to contribute to the shaping of new public spaces and to experiment with innovative ways of influencing political actions such as government policies, service delivery and claiming of rights. Examples of civil society-led innovations combining mobile phones with other media are emerging in areas ranging from election monitoring in Nigeria and Sudan, to the fight against counterfeit drugs in Ghana. At the same time, the role of radio and mobile phones in inciting violence and promoting sectarianism has also been a significant concern, as illustrated in the aftermath of the highly contested elections in Kenya in 2007.
Source: International Telecommunications Union and StatPlanet/Frank van Capelle
The research will focus on three key questions:
- How do citizens interpret and value ICTs, and mobile phones in particular, for their ability to access public goods and participate in public life?
- How are people combining new and old ICTs, such as mobile phones and radio, for political participation?
- How do the increased opportunities to articulate voice and coordinate political actions affect formal and informal governance processes?
The research project will answer these questions by employing a combination of participatory techniques, an analysis of messages sent to and from radio stations and recorded through FrontlineSMS, and the exploration of whether and how citizen-radio interactions have affected demands and access to public goods.
The diversity and pace with which these innovations have grown has made it difficult for researchers to adequately explore their nature and political effects. CGHR’s interdisciplinary research project is among the first attempts to empirically study the political significance of these emerging phenomena. It employs a framework that recognises ICTs as multi-purpose tools and studies their potentially transformative ability to enable individuals to achieve outcomes of their own choosing. The framework draws on the human development and capability approach pioneered by Amartya Sen, and combines critical insights from the academic tradition investigating processes of governance in fragile states with the literature on Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for development. The project is designed to capture not only the instrumental effects of these innovations on improving public decision-making and outcomes, but also their intrinsic value and their constructive roles in shaping how citizens understand political and social issues.
The paper offers an overview of the research framework developed by CGHR to study the implications of innovations in ICTs on governance in Africa. It first addresses some key ongoing debates among both scholars and practitioners, and then suggests a structured approach to data collection and data analysis. The framework is designed to allow researchers studying the implications of ICTs on political participation, flows of information and the delivery of public good and services, to ground their analysis on a better and localised understanding of the unique features characterising power and politics in Africa.