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.
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.
Oxford Internet Institute
Postdoctoral Researcher, Oxford Internet Institute
Oxford Internet Institute
Associate Professor, School of Computing and Informatics, University of Nairobi
Research Assistant, University of Nairobi
Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Applied Science, National University of Rwanda
Research Assistant, National University of Rwanda
- Graham, M. (2014) Kenya BPO and ITES Policy Brief. OII White Paper March 2014.
- Graham, M. (2015) Contradictory Connectivity: Spatial Imaginaries and Techno-Mediated Positionalities in Kenya’s Outsourcing Sector. Environment and Planning A 47 (4) 867-888.
- Graham, M., and Foster, C. (2016) Geographies of Information Inequality in Sub-Saharan Africa. The African Technopolitan 5: 78-85.
- Graham, M., Andersen, C., and Mann, L. (2015) Geographical imagination and technological connectivity in East Africa. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 40 (3) 334-349.
- Graham, M., Mann, L., Friederici, N. and Waema, T. (2016) Growing the Kenyan Business Process Outsourcing Sector. The African Technopolitan 5: 93-95.
- Graham, Mark, and Mann, Laura (2013) Imagining a Silicon Savannah? Technological and Conceptual Connectivity in Kenya’s BPO and Software Development Sectors. The Electronic Journal of Information Systems in Developing Countries 56 (2) 1-19.
- Mann, L. and Graham, M. (2016) The Domestic Turn: Business Process Outsourcing and the Growing Automation of Kenyan Organisations. Journal of Development Studies.
- Hammett, D., Twyman, K.C., and Graham, M. (2014) Research and Fieldwork in Development. London: Routledge.
- Foster, C., and Graham, M. (2015) Connectivity and the Tea Sector in Rwanda. Value Chains and Networks of Connectivity-Based Enterprises in Rwanda. Project Report, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford.
- Foster, C., and Graham, M. (2015) The Internet and Tourism in Rwanda. Value Chains and Networks of Connectivity-Based Enterprises in Rwanda. Project Report, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford.
- Mann, L., Graham. M., and Friederici, N. (2015) The Internet and Business Process Outsourcing in East Africa. Value Chains and Networks of Connectivity-Based Enterprises in Rwanda. Project Report, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford.
- Waema, T. and Katua, C. (2014) The Promises of Fibre-Optic Broadband in Tourism and Tea Sectors: A Pipeline for Economic Development in East Africa. Project Report.
Date Published: 11 October 2015
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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?
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".
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.
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.