A NECESSARY EVIL? MOBILE TECHNOLOGY AND ITS APPROPRIATION IN RURAL TANZANIA
George Mason University (UNITED STATES)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2013 Proceedings
Publication year: 2013
Page: 3229 (abstract only)
Conference name: 7th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 4-5 March, 2013
Location: Valencia, Spain
Abstract:Since the introduction of the first mobile phone provider in 1994, Africa has become the fastest growing mobile market in the world. In East Africa, where even the rural landscape has been transformed by the respective colors of mobile companies, technology is intersecting with local cultivation and pastoral practices. These technologies extend beyond the market as African innovators create open-source mobile programs that address issues central to daily life – such as information on healthcare, AIDS awareness, mobile banking, social networks and crowd-mapping. Through an ethnographic study of a rural village in northern Tanzania, I focus on the ways that mobile technology is circulated in the local economy, and the new meanings it acquires as it both reproduces and creates social structures. While many global commodity studies focus on specific sites of production and consumption, examining the cultural appropriation of new communication technologies into local knowledge sheds light on Tanzanians’ notions of "maendeleo" (Swahili for progress or development). The failure of "maendeleo" policies throughout Tanzania's history – spanning from colonial to World Bank policies – has made an enduring impact on the ways in which Tanzanians identify themselves and view their position in the world. Using fieldwork methods of participant observation, semi-structured interviews and questionnaires distributed to students and teachers of the village's primary school, a broad range of attitudes emerge about mobile phones acting as a symbol of "maendeleo." In response to Tanzanians’ skeptical position toward development policies, this study emphasizes the possibility of mobile technology as an alternative to state-driven initiatives as an “indigenized” form of development. Using their available technologies, East Africans are transforming environment-specific problems to global solutions. Rather than ascending the West’s gradational developmental staircase, East Africans have set out in the “undeveloped world” armed with mobile phones, blazing their own path towards "maendeleo."
Keywords: Mobile technology, Tanzania, EAC, development.