The ubiquity of new ICTs such as the mobile phone and their ability to interact with older media, from radio to poetry, is enabling citizens to experiment with innovative ways of influencing politics, interacting among each other as well as with the variety of actors that shape political processes, from governments to private companies to religious organizations.

In “media and development” theory, policy and practice, however, strong normative statements about the transformative power of ICTs have often clouded the understanding of how people and communities actually make sense of, and engage with, the old and new communication technologies that surround them. By focusing on three neighboring countries in Africa – Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia/Somaliland – each characterized by a very distinctive approach to ICTs, and by concentrating on processes of state-building and peace-building, our project seeks to bring greater clarity about the expectations and the realities of the use of communication technologies in developing contexts.

In these three countries, research will be conducted at two different levels:

At a macro level the project examines how norms and practices in the field of ICT which have emerged internationally are adopted, resisted or reshaped at the local level. Donors, international organizations and NGOs have sought to promote standards defining how ICTs should support state-building, peacebuilding, and governance, for example by facilitating transparency and accountability or by opening new avenues for people to raise voice and participate in decision making processes. These attempts, however, have promoted mixed reactions: some governments have embraced them while others have selectively adhered only to some aspects, while marginalizing others. By looking at the way ICT policies have been shaped and implemented in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia/Somaliland, we want to understand how different discourses (e.g. development, stability, prevention of violence) and actors (from governments to religious organizations) have been instrumental in shaping ICT policy and practice and how these can support or disrupt state-building and peace-building.

At the micro level the project explores how the practices and policies promoted at the international and national level actually compare to the uses citizens make of ICTs. Does the day to day use of ICTs complement or contradict these macro-level conceptions? Which actors are most actively embracing ICTs as a tool for state-building and peace-building, and in what ways? This second component of the project focuses on case studies which can exemplify the emergent, rather than prescriptive, nature of ICTs uses in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia/Somaliland, exploring for example how different actors may coalesce to provide and access services in the absence of a functioning state, or how citizens perceive the attempts of a state to capture ICTs to support its state building efforts, while reducing the space for political competition.

By statebuilding, we do not refer solely to the improvement of the functioning of the government itself, but rather how the state functions as a whole to fulfill the needs of citizens. Our conception of statebuilding, stemming from work on hybrid governance (Boege et al., 2009; Ferguson, 2006), understands that there are multiple actors that fulfill the roles that Western normative models of governance typically ascribe to governments, such as providing services in the areas of safety, education, and health. Actors fulfilling these needs under a hybrid understanding of governance include governments but also traditional and local forms of administration, the media, civil society, NGOs, and the private sector, among other actors. Thus, while we veer from a traditional understanding of statebuilding, our study seeks to inform a more realistic picture of how governance activities function in our target countries, as well as in other parts of Africa.

By peacebuilding, we refer to activities by these various actors to promote safety and peace among citizens. Again, although this is a function typically assigned to governments, other actors (the media sector in particular) perform crucial roles. For instance, in societies where oral communication still plays an important role, voice and criticism can be expressed through forms that appear less challenging to power, such as poetry and music, but which have actually represented the most trusted and effective means to articulate dissent and propose alternatives (Bryden, 2005).

The work for the project is being carried out by the Center for Global Communication Studies (CGCS) at the University of Pennsylvania and the Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy (PCMLP) at the University of Oxford in collaboration with research partners and universities in Africa.  It is funded by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York under their programme on Eliciting Local Knowledge.

Phase 1: Assessment Period

Literature Review: We are conducting a comparative review of research on the topic based on scholarly literature with an emphasis on research coming out of Africa. We are partnering with CIPESA, a think tank in Uganda, to help identify and incorporate research from the region, including reports and publications from civil society organizations and news and information from web-based news outlets and blogs.

Stakeholder Analysis: We are creating an inventory of the influential actors in each ICT environment (international actors would include neighboring governments, western and emerging donors, and NGOs, while national actors will include civil society groups, government departments, religious organizations, media companies, entrepreneurs and activists) in order to trace spheres of influence, to see from where the key innovations in ICT and social accountability mechanisms are coming, who is influencing ICT policies and practices, and which groups present hurdles to ICT efforts in peacebuilding and statebuilding.

This will also involve a study into both the formal and more informal ways that media and ICT policy function, from national policies to traditional and customary law.

In-depth, semi-structured interviews with members of government, media organizations, activists, NGOs, IGOs, and key international donors to contribute to research questions and findings will be held by members of the international research team and national research teams.

Phase 2

Phase 1 of the project is considered an assessment period, which serves as the foundation for the development of the research agenda to follow. Following phase 1, and the launch workshop in Nairobi, we will collectively map out the future research agenda.

Other Outputs

ICT and Governance Reform Observatory: We are establishing an “Observatory” as an online vehicle for reinforcing a network of local scholars and international scholars working on ICT and governance in the target states (broadly defined). The website will function as a repository of information on the topic, as well as a place for scholars to collaborate and exchange ideas.

Nairobi workshops: We will hold two workshops in Nairobi, in Spring 2013 and in the summer of 2014, in which we will come together with our research partners to exchange ideas related to the research data.