Development and Broadband Internet Access in East Africa

By using surveys, interviews and in-depth observations, this project examines the expectations and stated potentials of broadband Internet in East Africa and compares those expectations to on-the-ground effects that broadband connectivity is having.

Contact:

Dr Mark Graham

Tel: +44 (0)1865 287203

Email: mark.graham@oii.ox.ac.uk

Overview

East Africa was the last major region on Earth without fibre-optic broadband Internet access, and until the summer of 2009 had been forced to rely on slow and costly satellite connections for access. However, after hundreds of millions of pounds of investment, the region has recently been connected via the first of three submarine fibre optic broadband cables, thus, in theory, allowing much greater speeds at much lower prices.

The expectations for the cable are high. Tanzania's president, for example, sees the cable as a way to allow East Africans to 'become part of the global economy.' Politicians and commentators from around the world have hailed the potential of the Internet to spark economic development and allow East African businesses and entrepreneurs to market their strengths, unhindered by many of the previous limiting effects of distance.

However, these projections are often made in the absence of data about current East African communications practices. By using surveys, interviews and in-depth observations, this project examines the expectations and stated potentials of broadband Internet in East Africa and compares those expectations to on-the-ground effects that broadband connectivity is having.

Map of African Undersea Cables in 2009 and 2012

Project Objectives

Although this project will provide a much needed empirical look at the effects of broadband within the contexts of the Global South, a long-term goal of this project is to lay the groundwork for a larger study in which the effects of broadband will be examined with a much broader sample of economic actors in East Africa.

This project will allow for a movement beyond existing research in several ways:

  • The recent upgrading of East Africa's communication infrastructure offers a unique opportunity to document empirically the short and medium-term effects of technologies on economic development at the moment of change.

  • A range of discourses about the benefits of broadband connectivity can be compared against the material effects that ICTs are having. Doing so will allow for better conceptualisations of how technologies can influence local, regional and global economic relationships.

  • By focusing on the intersections between ICTs and economic development in East Africa, this project will significantly contribute to literatures on development, technology and economic change in the region.

  • Given that Kenya is the first of a cluster of East African countries to have broadband connectivity, the implications for the larger region can be learned from the Kenyan case as broadband is ultimately brought to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and other countries in subsequent years.

Throughout Africa, there is a significant potential for lasting social and economic change brought about by the provision of high speed internet, and it is therefore imperative that we develop better understandings of the specific ways that people and businesses in East Africa have used the Internet to circumvent a previous lack of economic opportunity.

By uncovering the most effective implementations and best practices, this study will be able to conclusively underpin future policy and strategies related to the intersections between communications technologies and economic development.

Support

This project is supported by grants from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the UK Department for International Development (DFID), John Fell Fund, and a British Academy Small Research Grant.

Partners

Sponsors

People

Researchers

  • Dr Felix Akorli, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Applied Science, National University of Rwanda

  • Claude Bizimana, Research Assistant, National University of Rwanda

  • Dr Christopher Foster, Oxford Internet Institute (Researcher)

  • Professor Mark Graham, Oxford Internet Institute (Primary Investigator)

  • Charles Katua, Research Assistant, University of Nairobi

  • Dr Laura Elizabeth Mann, Postdoctoral Researcher, Oxford Internet Institute

  • Professor Tim Waema, Associate Professor, School of Computing and Informatics, University of Nairobi

Publications

Articles

News

  • Four Thought

    14 May 2014 BBC R4

    Mark Graham explores the causes, manifestations and effects of global informational inequalities in a first-person talk as part of the Four Thought series on BBC Radio 4.

  • Kenya’s laptops for schools dream fails to address reality

    27 June 2013 The Guardian Poverty Matters Blog

    The Kenyan Government is investing a massive £400 million in 1.3 million laptops for school children. Mark Graham argues that this strategy ignores the realities of a country of great inequalities and the funding might be better directed elsewhere.

  • Who Writes the Wikipedia Entries About Where You Live?

    26 March 2013 The Atlantic

    Mark Graham tackles the issue of where our information comes from, and how this should influence the way we interpret it?

  • Fibre-optic hopes for East Africa

    31 October 2011 Economic and Social Research Council

    Mark Graham interviewed on East African broadband: "The arrival of fibre-optic cables has been generally perceived as a hugely transformative event. There seems to be a lot of optimism that East African businesses will now be able to compete globally".

  • Oxford: East African SMEs Clamoring to Use Internet

    7 July 2011 GBI Portal

    The ESRC and DFID have awarded funding to the East Africa research group at the Oxford Internet Institute (OII), led by Dr Mark Graham, to study the economic impact of broadband roll-out in East Africa.

  • Will broadband internet establish a new development trajectory for east Africa?

    7 October 2010 The Guardian

    Mark Graham on how recent investment in broadband in East Africa (the last major region on Earth without fibre-optic broadband Internet connections) will fundamentally alter the connectivity of the region.

Blog