P154 – Beyond Digital Engagement: ICT Routeways to Youth Contestation, Resistance and Revolt in Sub-Saharan Africa
8 July, 16:00-17:30

Porter Gina / Durham University
Molony Thomas / Edinburgh University


The role that information and communication technology (ICT) plays in young lives has expanded massively in sub-Saharan Africa over recent years. Cheap calls and other network promotions, along with more affordable handsets capable of accessing increasingly-available broadband have brought levels of connectivity unimagined a decade ago. These new ICT-enabled engagements hold the potential for disturbance and rearrangement of everyday social, spatial and temporal rhythms. At the international level this has been recognized through media coverage given to the role of ICT in supporting the contestations, resistance and revolts of the Arab Spring. In sub-Saharan Africa, by contrast, the place of ICT in diverse contexts – from intra-family gendered and generational disputes, to social and political engagements – has received much less attention than at the global level. This is partly because the application of these technologies has been less revolutionary in the context of global power relations. But it is also because keeping apace with developments on the ground makes research in this field particularly challenging, especially when an intimate understanding of local contexts is required and the actual impact of ICT can be more nuanced and slow-moving than some researchers are prepared to acknowledge. This session will offer reflections on recent developments in the role of ICT in youth contestation, resistance and revolt at a variety of scales in sub-Saharan Africa.

Au delà des technologies numériques : les TIC comme voie de résistance, de révolte et de contestation pour les jeunes en Afrique subsaharienne
Ces dernières années, le rôle des technologies de l’information et de la communication dans la vie des jeunes s’est massivement accru en Afrique subsaharienne. Le développement des réseaux et des appels à bas coût, conjugué à l’emploi de téléphones offrant un accès internet à débit de plus en plus élevé, a permis des niveaux de connectivité inimaginables une décennie plus tôt. Ces nouvelles technologies vont perturber ou réorganiser les rythmes du quotidien social, et spatial. Au niveau mondial, cette capacité de bouleversement fut reconnue lors du Printemps arabe, la couverture médiatique pointant le rôle des TIC en matière de contestation, résistance et révolte. En revanche, en Afrique subsaharienne, l’impact multiforme des TIC (allant des conflits inter-générationnels ou entre sexes aux engagements sociaux et politiques) a moins retenu l’attention. Ceci tient partiellement au fait que le recours à ces technologies est moins révolutionnaire en termes de rapports de forces mondiaux. C’est aussi dû au fait que, suivre les évolutions dans ce domaine sur le terrain est un défi pour le chercheur, exigeant une compréhension intime du contexte local: l’impact réel des TIC est plus nuancé et plus lent que les chercheurs sont prêts à l’admettre. Cette session propose une réflexion à différentes échelles sur le rôle des TIC dans la contestation des jeunes, la résistance et la révolte en Afrique subsaharienne.

Paper 1

Diepeveen Stephanie / University of Cambridge

Political agency and the digital: youth activism online and on the ground in Mombasa, Kenya

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) draw attention to the dynamism and hybridity of spaces and networks through which people access and share ideas about politics. The speed and pervasiveness with which ICTs appear to transform how people communicate suggests a fundamental shift in the way that ideas come to inform people’s thoughts and expectations. Still, the significance of digital communications within the multitude of spaces and networks through which ideas are made public remains difficult to determine. ICTs could significantly alter the nature of communication, or perhaps might simply augment existing dynamics.
This paper considers the political significance of digital exchange by examining the particularities of the digital within the wider spaces through which people share ideas about politics. It seeks to avoid overdetermining their significance by focusing first on the wider networks and places through which people engage in politics in the everyday. To do this, this paper draws on a case study of a group of youth in Mombasa, Kenya, following their political activities on the ground and in social media from October 2013 to September 2014. By illuminating the webs of relations, places and media through which these youth engage, this paper provides a grounded and nuanced perspective on the relevance and integration of digital communications into citizens’ experience and influence on the exercise and contestation of power.

Paper 2

Porter Gina / Durham University

Hampshire Kate / Durham University

Youth, phones and generational conflict: perspectives from Ghana

The scale of mobile phone usage among young people in Ghana is remarkable. An older generation looks on at this enthusiastic consumption of technology, sometimes with fascination, even anticipation, but often mixed with palpable unease and apprehension, especially where girls are concerned. This paper reflects on how mobile phone usage is both facilitating cohesion and generating conflict in family and inter-generational networks. In-depth interviews, focus groups and a survey [N=1,500] were conducted with young people 9-25 years in eight sites in Ghana [from remote rural to urban]; further interviews and focus groups took place with older age-groups. Everyday disputes around the mobile phone range from usage of family members’ handsets and educational impacts to youth romantic relationships, secret calling and carer surveillance, all of which may be rolled into wider debates about ‘Respect’. However, conflictual elements must be balanced against the widely reported benefits which phones have brought in connecting stretched families and enabling emotional support. The role which many young people have taken on as family co-ordinating hubs is of particular interest. Youth have increasingly wide peer networks with age/education, but there is little evidence of any major re-orientation towards their own age cohort. Nonetheless, the fact that youth phone competency continues to outstrip that of their elders suggests the potential for some power shift towards youth.

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