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A New Socio-Economy in Africa? Thintegration and the Mobile Phone Revolution

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Abstract

Much has been written about the impacts of information and communication technology (ICT) in Africa and its transformational socio-economic potential. The penetration of mobile phones in particular has been particularly marked in recent years. This paper seeks to interrogate the hypothesis of transformation by examining the ways in which Africa is integrated into global mobile phone value chain, and the uses to which this technology is put on the continent. While mobiles are having significant, and sometimes welfare enhancing impacts, their use is also embedded in existing relations of social support, resource extraction and conflict. Consequently their impacts are dialectical, facilitating change but also reinforcing existing power relations. As Africa is still primarily a user, rather than a producer or creator of ICT, this represents a form of thin integration (“thintegration”) into the global economy, which does not fundamentally alter the continent’s dependent position.

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