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

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 were high. Tanzania’s president, for example, saw the cable as a way to allow East Africans to ‘become part of the global economy.’ Politicians and commentators from around the world 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 were often made in the absence of data about current East African communications practices. By using surveys, interviews and in-depth observations, this project examined the expectations and stated potentials of broadband Internet in East Africa and compared 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 provided a much needed empirical look at the effects of broadband within the contexts of the Global South, a long-term goal of the project was 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 allowed for a movement beyond existing research in several ways:

  • The recent upgrading of East Africa’s communication infrastructure offered 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 were compared against the material effects that ICTs are having. Doing so allowed 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 significantly contributed 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 could 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 is able to conclusively underpin future policy and strategies related to the intersections between communications technologies and economic development.


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

Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)John Fell OUP Research FundUniversity of Nairobi




  • Internet For All Is An Impossible Dream Right Now

    Date Published: 11 October 2015

    Source: Gizmodo

    Mark Graham authors an article in which he challenges the notion that within 10 years the internet will be available to everyone, pointing out problems of affordability and digital divide.

  • Internet for all remains an impossible dream, no matter what Jimmy Wales says

    Date Published: 8 October 2015

    Source: The Conversation

    Mark Graham argues that despite predictions from Jimmy Wales, problems of affordability and new digital divides will impede progress towards world-wide internet connectivity.

  • Why we shouldn’t get too excited about using big data for development

    Date Published: 22 June 2015

    Source: The Guardian

    In an article about the use of big data in development, Mark Graham strikes a note of caution. “Despite changing and widening connectivity in much of the world, the majority of the people on our planet are still entirely disconnected.”

  • Broadband may be East Africa’s 21st century railway to the world

    Date Published: 17 November 2014

    Source: The Conversation

    Similarities and differences in the hopes, expectations and fears surrounding the advent of the Uganda Railway in 1903 and the introduction of the internet to Africa in 2009 have been compared by Mark Graham and team.

  • Four Thought

    Date Published: 14 May 2014

    Source: 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

    Date Published: 27 June 2013

    Source: 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?

    Date Published: 26 March 2013

    Source: 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

    Date Published: 31 October 2011

    Source: 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

    Date Published: 7 July 2011

    Source: 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?

    Date Published: 7 October 2010

    Source: 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.