Book review – Africa’s Information Revolution

As part of the Global Conference on Economic Geography (GCEG) held in Oxford in August 2015 I was part of an ‘Author meets Critics’ panel which discussed the new book ‘Africa’s Information Revolution’ by James Murphy & Padraig Carmody.

Below is the commentary that I made drawing on some of the conclusions from our research at the OII. As I was taking the role of the critic, this commentary dwells on critiques for the sake of provoking discussion. But, the book definitely worth a read for anyone interested in examining issues around ICT and development, as well as those who are interested in the larger scale impacts of ICTs in developing and emerging markets.

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Thinking about Market Information Systems…

Here’s a blog summary of a presentation that I made at ICT2015 on the Market Information Systems panel

Market information systems are growing in popularity as an intervention by governments, NGOs and private firms alike. New information provision for farmers, often price infromation over mobile, have been touted as a way of helping farmers improve the price they get for their produce, and reduce their dependency on middlemen.

In our research we explored the impacts of connectivity in the tea sector in Rwanda, and we spent much time mapping the actors, information flows and relations that gave us critical insight into the potentials and limitations of market information systems…..full post

Exploring the role of internet in East African production

Two reports that I co-authored were released last week. They explore the impacts that changing broadband infrastructure is having on some of the key sectors of production in East Africa. See the short outlines, summaries and links below:

Connectivity and the Tea Sector in Rwanda

cover teaAdoption of digital technologies is not comprehensive in the Rwandan tea sector (with, for example, very low Internet use among tea growers), but we did find growing use of the Internet and ICTs.

Where they were present, digital flows of information were increasingly important to the ability of firms to improve production and ultimately to increase their share of economic value from tea.Thus we see a growing importance of ‘data-driven value chains’ – that is, new digital information flows which are becoming as important as the flows of material goods.

Blog summary | Full report

The Internet and Tourism in Rwanda

cover tourismTourist service providers in Rwanda have a very high Internet adoption, and even the smallest hotel or tour agency is likely to have at least one mobile Internet-connected laptop. Many of the global tourist platforms also have a presence in the region. So, Internet connectivity, Internet access and sector-wide platforms are available for tourism firms. However, we found impact of internet on Rwandan tourism to be modest.

In this report we explore the uneven relationships, platforms and customer relations which effects the impact of the internet in tourism

Blog summary | Full report

New project GEONET

This is just a note to flag up the new project in OII that I am part of called GEONET. This is an exciting four year research project employing mixed-methods to understand the growth and impacts of the knowledge economy is sub-saharan Africa

The GEONET project at the Oxford Internet Institute investigates the geographies, drivers, and effects of Sub-Saharan Africa’s emerging ‘information economies.’ It asks whether these economies represent a new era of development, and how information and communication technologies impact on older processes of dependence, underdevelopment, and economic extraversion.

The GEONET homepage is here which we we will be updating with discussions, findings, visualisations and open-data over the coming years.

IT sourcing and development?

On the CII blog I recently wrote a summary of some of the current thinking on new models of IT outsourcing, and particularly ideas around socially responsible outsourcing.

This discussion stems from recent discussions that took place at the University of Manchester workshop on IT Sourcing and development.

The idea of this workshop was to revisit IT outsourcing which has become a significant industry and employer in some countries. This particularly comes in the context of growing interest in ‘impact outsourcing’, the idea that IT outsourcing can be designed to include substantial social as well as economic goals.

Here I wanted to summarise what I saw as some of the key discussions, and what it implies for our future work on outsourcing and micro-work in sub-Saharan Africa.

See full article on the CII blog

Geographies of Information Inequality in Sub-Saharan Africa

Myself and Mark Graham recently wrote a short essay for the IDRC-IT for Change Network Inclusion Roundtable that took place in Bangalore, India.

Snippet below. The full essay is available on the roundtable website

while much research has been conducted into the impacts of ICTs on older economic processes and practices, there remains surprisingly little research into the emergence of the new informationalised economy in Africa.

As such, it is precisely now that we urgently need research to understand what impacts are observable, who benefits, who doesn’t, and how these changes match up to our expectations for change.

We need to ask if we are seeing a new era of development on the continent fuelled by ICTs, or whether Sub- Saharan Africa’s engagement with the global knowledge economy continues to be on terms that reinforce dependence, inequality, underdevelopment, and economic extraversion.

Discussing Piketty

In OII we recently had a discussion of the relevance of Piketty’s ‘Captal in the Twenty First Century’ on our work. Following this I wrote a summary of our discussions on the CII website.

For our inaugural discussion around “connectivity and inequality and inclusion” we decided to jump in the deep end and tackle the 600+ pages of Piketty’s much hyped “Capital in the Twenty First Century”.

Undoubtedly this work tackles important historical accounts of the distribution of wealth and the evolution of income across a number of Western countries since the early industrial revolution. However, we wanted to also probe how these portrayals of inequality relate to questions of technology and connectivity – and their significance in this….read full post

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Why efforts to spread lCTs in developing countries often fail

I have an opinion article in SciDev this week, which is a human digestible version of my paper on innovation and scaling of ICT in low income markets (pre-pub) in developing countries

“Traditional methods of ‘scaling’ information and communications technologies are flawed, says Christopher Foster“.


Low income markets and mobile – The problem of “quality”

When I started my research on low income use of mobile phones in Kenya, my goal was to understand how ICTs are adapted by these actors. But, research often goes in unexpected directions when you start talking to people….!

One unexpected outcome of my research was the level of complaints about mobile. People were running into problems with mobile technologies and services – cheap mobile phone handsets were unreliable, people were getting scammed through mobile money/SMS and mobile phone reception was terrible on some networks. Sure ICTs had created some new benefits and opportunities but not without creating a number of undesirable problems.

Mobile money scams highlight one issue of quality declines that has effected low income users

A new paper [1], now available in the journal Technology in Society, digs a bit deeper into these issues. The paper considers such complaints as symptomatic of a wider challenge of ‘quality’ of innovations in low income markets.

To my knowledge, this is one of the first attempt to explicitly research this negative side of mobile, so I think it is an important piece of work

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The economic expectations and potentials of broadband Internet in East Africa

This is a cross post from Oxford Internet Institute’s ‘internet and policy’ blog – It is an interview with me and provides some insight on our work so far on internet connectivity in East Africa.

There has been a lot of hope and publicity about the economic potential of increased Internet connectivity in the East African region; including the hope of disintermediation and better connection to global markets. Chris Foster discusses initial findings of an OII project on Development and Broadband Internet Access in East Africa. Through surveys, interviews and in-depth observations, the project examines the expectations and stated potentials of broadband Internet in East Africa, comparing those expectations to the on-the-ground effects of broadband connectivity.

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