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Liberation Technology: Mobile Phones and Political Mobilization in Africa

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  • Marco Manacorda
  • Andrea Tesei

Abstract

Can digital information and communication technology (ICT) foster mass political mobilization? We use a novel geo-referenced dataset for the entire African continent between 1998 and 2012 on the coverage of mobile phone signal together with geo-referenced data from multiple sources on the occurrence of protests and on individual participation in protests to bring this argument to empirical scrutiny. We find that mobile phones are instrumental to mass mobilization during economic downturns, when reasons for grievance emerge and the cost of participation falls. Estimated effects are if anything larger once we use an instrumental variable approach that relies on differential trends in coverage across areas with different incidence of lightning strikes. The results are in line with insights from a network model with imperfect information and strategic complementarities in protest provision. Mobile phones make individuals more responsive to both changes in economic conditions - a mechanism that we ascribe to enhanced information - and to their neighbors' participation - a mechanism that we ascribe to enhanced coordination. Empirically both effects are at play, highlighting the channels through which digital ICT can alleviate the collective action problem.

Suggested Citation

  • Marco Manacorda & Andrea Tesei, 2016. "Liberation Technology: Mobile Phones and Political Mobilization in Africa," CEP Discussion Papers dp1419, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  • Handle: RePEc:cep:cepdps:dp1419
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    1. repec:eee:wdevel:v:117:y:2019:i:c:p:344-356 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Filipe Campante & David Yanagizawa-Drott, 2018. "Long-Range Growth: Economic Development in the Global Network of Air Links," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 133(3), pages 1395-1458.
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    5. repec:anr:reveco:v:10:y:2018:p:383-410 is not listed on IDEAS
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    7. repec:kap:netnom:v:18:y:2017:i:2:d:10.1007_s11066-017-9118-6 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. repec:eee:riibaf:v:44:y:2018:i:c:p:518-531 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Mathilde Maurel & Charlemagne Nikiema, 2016. "Media and Political Participation in North Africa," Université Paris1 Panthéon-Sorbonne (Post-Print and Working Papers) hal-01396055, HAL.
    10. Asongu, Simplice & le Roux, Sara & Nwachukwu, Jacinta & Pyke, Chris, 2018. "The Mobile Phone as an Argument for Good Governance in Sub-Saharan Africa," MPRA Paper 89364, University Library of Munich, Germany.
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    17. Simplice Asongu & Ndemaze Asongu, 2017. "The role of mobile phones in governance-driven technology exports in Sub-Saharan Africa," Working Papers of the African Governance and Development Institute. 17/036, African Governance and Development Institute..
    18. Simplice Asongu & Jacinta Nwachukwu, 2017. "The Role of Openness in the Effect of ICT on Governance," Working Papers of the African Governance and Development Institute. 17/050, African Governance and Development Institute..
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    protests; politics; Africa; mobile phones;

    JEL classification:

    • D74 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Conflict; Conflict Resolution; Alliances; Revolutions
    • F50 - International Economics - - International Relations, National Security, and International Political Economy - - - General
    • O55 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Africa
    • L96 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Transportation and Utilities - - - Telecommunications

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