ICTs, Statebuilding, & Peacebuilding in Eastern Africa

The ubiquity of new ICTs such as the mobile phone and their ability to interact with older media, from radio to poetry, is enabling citizens to experiment with innovative ways of influencing politics, interacting among each other as well as with the variety of actors that shape political processes, from governments to private companies to religious organizations. In “media and development” theory, policy and practice, however, strong normative statements about the transformative power of ICTs have often clouded the understanding of how people and communities actually make sense of, and engage with, the old and new communication technologies that surround them. By focusing on three neighboring countries in Africa – Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia – each characterized by a very distinctive approach to ICTs, and by concentrating on processes of state-building and peace-building, our project seeks to bring greater clarity about the expectations and the realities of the use of communication technologies in developing contexts.

In these three countries, research is being conducted at two different levels:

At a macro level the project examines how norms and practices in the field of ICT which have emerged internationally are adopted, resisted or reshaped at the local level. Donors, international organizations and NGOs have sought to promote standards defining how ICTs should support state-building, peace-building, and governance, for example by facilitating transparency and accountability or by opening new avenues for people to raise voice and participate in decision making processes. These attempts, however, have promoted mixed reactions: some governments have embraced them while others have selectively adhered only to some aspects, while marginalizing others. By looking at the way ICT policies have been shaped and implemented in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, we want to understand how different discourses (e.g. development, stability, prevention of violence) and actors (from governments to religious organizations) have been instrumental in shaping ICT policy and practice and how these can support or disrupt state-building and peace-building.

At the micro level the project explores how the practices and policies promoted at the international and national level actually compare to the uses citizens make of ICTs. Does the day to day use of ICTs complement or contradict these macro-level conceptions? Which actors are most actively embracing ICTs as a tool for state-building and peace-building, and in what ways? This second component of the project focuses on case studies which can exemplify the emergent, rather than prescriptive, nature of ICTs uses in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, exploring for example how different actors may coalesce to provide and access services in the absence of a functioning state, or how citizens perceive the attempts of a state to capture ICTs to support its state building efforts, while reducing the space for political competition.

The work for the project is being carried out in collaboration with the Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy (PCMLP) at the University of Oxford, as well as several institutions in Africa, including the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology at Strathmore University (Kenya), the School of Journalism and Communication at Addis Ababa University (Ethiopia), The Heritage Institute for Policy Studies and SIMAD University (Somalia), and the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) (Uganda).


Click here for Africa ICT Research Website.


Project Publications and Reports