Technology and Collective Action: The Effect of Cell Phone Coverage and Political Violence in Africa

Bakary Seckan, Journalist's Resource, June 12, 2013

Much research and media attention has been devoted to exploring rapidly emerging African countries in recent years. In addition to extraordinarily high GDP growth rates, many African countries have seen their middle classes grow substantially and demand goods and services that were formerly available only to individuals in more developed countries. Cell phone use in Africa has increased significantly in recent years; its nearly 649 million mobile users in 2011 made it the second-largest market for mobile phones in the world after Asia.

Furthermore, the continent has the fastest-growing cell phone market in the world, maintaining an annual growth rate of almost 20% since 2007. This has substantially contributed to economic development within the continent as a result of various innovations and improvements, from mobile banking to faster communications between merchants and customers, as the World Bank notes. {snip}

{snip} Although much research has been done on the rise of technology in the developing world and its positive dimensions for politics, very little research has been done regarding possible negative externalities of increased communications capacity, such as improving the organizational abilities of violent groups to incite more conflict.

A 2013 paper from Duke University and the German Institute of Global and Area Studies published in the American Political Science Review, “Technology and Collective Action: The Effect of Cell Phone Coverage and Political Violence in Africa,” examines the impact that cell phones have had on violent conflict on the continent. The authors, Jan H. Pierskalla and Florian M. Hollenbach, utilize conflict data from the UCDP Georeferenced Event Data Set, which includes data on organized violence from 1989 to 2010, and data on cell phone coverage from the GSM Association, a global association of mobile phone service providers. The authors use various statistical techniques to account for economic, social and geographical factors related to conflict and to determine whether there is indeed an association between cell phone coverage and violent conflict in the context of Africa.

Key findings include:

  • Even when confounding variables such as income, inequality, ethnic fractionalization, geography are accounted for, increases in cell phone coverage are associated with higher levels of violence throughout Africa.
  • When evaluated on an individual country level, the impact of cell phone coverage on conflict is also significant within each country.
  • Greater cell phone coverage leads to more conflict in “areas with structural conditions that favor violence” than those where the conditions do not favor violence; it “enables groups to overcome their collective action and coordination problems more easily, which translates to more organized conflict events.”
  • The authors conclude that “cell phones lead to a boost in the capacity of rebels to communicate and monitor in-group behavior, thus increasing in-group cooperation. Furthermore, cell phones allow for coordination of insurgent activity across geographically distant locations.”

“We do not believe,” the researchers caution, “that the spread of cell phone technology has an overall negative effect on the African continent. The increase in violence induced by better communication might represent a short-term technological shock, while the positive effects of better communication networks on growth and political behavior may mitigate root causes of conflict in the long run.” {snip}

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  • Puggg

    IOW, technology only enhances the already present qualities of people.

    We can see evidence of cell phones provoking African violence right here in our own backyard: The Twitter and Facebook organized Mahogany Mobs, and the numerous acts of black violence just to make World Star Hip Hop.

    • The__Bobster

      The chuckers do seem to have a unique ability to use the White man’s inventions to do evil.

      • Paleoconn

        Clearly, the inventions of the White devils are the evil objects, the blacks are the victims of those wicked talismans.

  • David Ashton

    Flash mob networking in the “British” riots.

  • Nick Gherz

    Add “sail foam” to the ever-growing list of causes to justify backward behavior.

    • sbuffalonative

      Funny how sail foams didn’t affect whites and Asians like this…

      • The__Bobster

        It depends on how you define Asians. Pakis and Lebs can form instant flash mobs by using the devices.

        • sbuffalonative

          As Americans, we define Asians as Japanese, Chinese, Korean. We tend to put Pakistanis and Indians in the Indian category, not Asian.

          I believe the British have a broader definition. When most Americans read about Asians rioting in England, they don’t think Indians and Pakistanis.

          The same confusion happens when Americans read about riots in French suburbs. In America, the suburbs are far outside the city boundaries in their own towns. In France, suburban seems to be included in the city itself.

          • In most of Europe and Australia, a major metropolitan area is a unified conurbation, with the actual central city being a very small core, and the residential areas are sliced up into legal jurisdictions they call suburbs, but they’re not actually incorporated cities of their own. Racially, in Europe, the core central cities tend to be white and some suburbs tend to be non-white. It is the European model which many American cities are quietly trying to shift towards.

            Another confusing feature of British/Australian parlance — “Town/City Council” doesn’t mean the legislative branch of the city government as it does in America, it means the actual incorporated city, usually a smaller city. To add more confusion, British “council housing” is what we call public housing.

          • Lop_Eared_Galoot

            Be careful what we wish for?
            City centers have more value as points of retail sale and high end government and commercial office work.
            But they also have no defenses as lack of access through TOD restricted (rush hour only) bus routes and absent low income housing.
            Currently, the Americanized model for suburbs are still largely white dominated by taxes and property values behind what amounts to ‘subdivision’ housing and ‘covenanted’ rentals/condos.
            I prefer the latter because they carry with them established value as private contract that is less readily erased at the scribble of a government signature.
            If there is to be a good thing that derives from the coming economic second dip into major depression it will be that redlining will again return as ‘never again’ limits on home loans.

    • me

      Without ‘sail foams’ from the ‘gubment’, how would we be able to laugh at things like this?

  • sbuffalonative

    Closing the digital divide wasn’t such a good thing after all. The white man’s technology has once again corrupted the noble black man. Maybe we should take this technology away from Africans; for their own good.

  • KevinPhillipsBong

    Blacks in the US use cell phones to organize mob violence…blacks in Africa do the same. Who’da thunk it?

    • sbuffalonative

      As I say, black behavior is universal.

  • bigone4u

    I’m quite happy to sit back and enjoy the spectacle of blacks in Africa destroying each other. If cell phones aid in that process, then what can I do about it? I do worry about the African wildlife going extinct because of the blacks’ savage rapacious ways, but other than that (plus the Africakers’ genocide) I am going to ignore any of their stupid tribal wars in Africa. If it turns out that I can somehow help the innocent animals, then I’ll take action.

    • brengunn

      Me too. It’s a pity that such beautiful animals will have to die because of the tribal nature of their human brethren.

      • bigone4u

        I’m not a big fan of zoos, but if that’s the only way to save some of the animals then I’m for them. The problem is that as America turns dark and becomes more like Detroit, the dark races have no interest in zoos or the beautiful animals. Zoos, classical music, great Western literature–all will be lost if the white race does not survive.

  • APaige

    Please send used cell phones to Africa! The more ‘coverage’ the better.

  • libertarian1234

    Once things get a bit worse and whitey has reached a point where he’s ready to take to the streets, I think we’re going to find that cell phones and instant communications are going to benefit whites more than blacks.

    Wasn’t it cell phones that the Aussies used to unite on Cornulla Beach to crack some Muslim heads, and it turned out to be quite effective, because, after that, as far as I know the police started doing their job and arresting Allah’s followers when they brutalized young white women.
    As I recall the text message that was sent our by the Aussies was something like, “Let’s roll.”

    It is as I said many times. The authorities DO NOT RESPECT anybody unless they KNOW they will resort to violence if they’re not appeased.

  • OhWow

    Add cell phones to the long list of excuses freeing black people from any responsibility for their violence. So to recap, we have:
    1. Cell Phones
    2. Warm Weather
    3. White People
    4. The System
    5. Poverty
    6. Slavery
    7. “Black Rage”
    8. Racism

    Feel free to add your excuse!

    • anarchyst

      The “man” . . .

    • Non Humans

      Those raaayciss skoos, those raaayciss opportunities, other non humans, etc….
      Let us not forget the most raaaycisss things holding those poor underserved and neglected non humans back: the Truth and Reality. Those are the most raaaycisss of all!

  • AngloCelt

    Are there any variables that don’t spur blacks on to violence?

    • Brian

      1. Books
      2. Classical music
      3. Country and Western music
      4. Light beer.
      5. Exercise machines
      6. Healthy food
      7. Tazers

      • Non Humans

        You forgot Job Applications

  • IstvanIN

    According to the white liberals on TV who are always begging for money to send to Africa, Africans are starving and dying from AIDS. Where do they get the money for cell phones and the energy to fight?

    • joesolargenius

      Beware of any charity that ask for money to help someone in a country far away as it is always a scam even if they do give some money or do a little good, the bulk of the money is siphoned off somehow.

      • evilsandmich

        It’s debatable how much of an ‘un-scam’ that it is if 100% of the donations found their ways to the targets. Altruism of that sort does no one any favors.

  • You should have —-ed him up just for the h— of it. I chased a rat into the street a few months ago that was trying to set me up to be robbed. You have never seen such a POS scurry away when he realized I was on 911 and had the sack to come after him.

  • Irishgirl

    I had my “great awakening” about 15 years ago when I was a young, attractive 23-year-old girl in a CA city when, in the middle of the afternoon, a small group of black guys said,”Get your white a** down on the ground,” with an obvious implication of what they had in mind. Several people were passing by and, while they seemed as shocked as I was, kept walking. I realized all of a sudden that I was utterly alone, and scared out of my wits. I just moved on, and quickly. Now I carry pepper spray.
    As to cell phones, I use mine to stay in touch with family and loved ones. Am I hopelessly out of date?

  • Rhialto

    I had a similar experience many years ago, when a group of 3 black thugs mistook me for a nasty plaincloths cop. The leader just said, “Let’s go”, and they vanished.

  • evilsandmich

    The increase in violence induced by better communication might represent a short-term technological shock

    Makes sense, I remember the same thing happening in Japan (not).