Project Research Theme 5: Political Economy and Public Investment, Cross-Cutting Issue 3: Inequality and Inclusion

The Political Consequences of Africa's Information Revolution

This project has been retired

Years active

  • to

Funding category

  • PhD Research Grants

In the past two decades, the use of mobile phones across Sub-Saharan Africa has skyrocketed. Africans of all backgrounds can access mobile devices with unprecedented ease, a structural transformation with profound socioeconomic consequence. From farmers checking crop prices in the city to rural villagers receiving alerts about Ebola outbreaks, the mobile phone proliferation in Africa represents one of the largest information shocks in human history. This project considers how this transformation interacts with democratic processes on the continent, asking what types of information voters can access, whether these drives new, national, dimensions of political accountability, and how politicians respond to this shift. Do African voters use mobile phones to learn about incumbent performance and which aspects of performance do they prioritise? Do politicians know that voters have such information and adopt different strategies for winning votes? Does this have downstream effects on the provision of basic goods and services?

The project has two empirical arms. The first is continent wide, using STEG funds to acquire fine-grained data on mobile coverage rollouts and studying their effects on electoral behaviour, social attitudes and development outcomes . The second is a more focused study in Ghana, partnering with the Centre for Democratic Development to interview voters, policymakers and MPs about how mobile phones are used on the ground. This initial work in Ghana will form the basis of a larger field experimental project that addresses the specific types of information voters can access with mobile phones, offering a direct test of their effects on political outcomes.

The research has implications for a selection of policymakers. Firstly, gaining a nuanced understanding of the political consequences of new technology is particularly useful as governments strive to meet UN sustainable development goals to expand access to mobile telephony and fast internet. Second, studying how complex national information trickles down to individuals is useful for national agencies who serve impartial communicative functions. Electoral commissions and public health authorities, in particular, need to be able to inform voters effectively about national-level events, rules, and regulations. The extent to which voters’ demands or politicians’ behaviour distort this process is central. And lastly, the within-country research in Ghana will be useful for local civil society groups. Several organisations seek to equip voters with credible information that can be used to hold politicians to account; for instance, the CDD, Norsaac and CIVICA, work in this space and have expressed interest in the project. This project will help to understand what type of information voters want and how politicians behave, contributing to ongoing efforts to empower voter-driven democratic accountability and the developmental fruits it can bring.

PhD Research Grants

Closed • Deadline • PhD Research Grants

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