Decolonising in the gaps: Community Networks and the identity of African innovation

Community Networks (CNs), or decentralised computer networks built and operated by citizens for citizens, offer an alternative to dominant views about innovation in Africa. This talk reflects on ethnography and participant experience of CNs in Uganda, South Africa and Namibia. I show that CNs in rural Africa exhibit characteristics that resist some of the ways that the postcolony exhibits, as Mbembe writes, ‘a form of private indirect government and novel technologies of domination’.    In this seminar, I will refer to the ways CNs fill in gaps created by electric and telecommunications capitalisms and a ‘universal’ paradigm for technology production. I suggest that CNs in rural Africa afford a type of agency, that differs from typical views on ICT-access, equality and empowerment. This is because they emphasise ‘wealth in people’ in setting-up, maintaining and using infrastructure. Thus, I link values about sociality in African CNs to the importance of actively creating self- and communal identity in liberation.

Resources from the talk:

Bidwell, N.J and Jensen, M. (2019) Connectivity Strategies Where People Matter: Insights from community-led small-scale telecommunication infrastructure networks in the global South

The village that built its own wi-fi network – BBC Africa

Rey-Moreno, C. (2017) Understanding Community Networks in Africa.…

Bosco Uganda,

Zenzeleni Network…

About the series:

The Global Media & Policy Seminar Series is an online seminar series jointly organised between the University of Oxford’s Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy (at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies) and the University of Johannesburg’s School of Communication. The series fosters an international dialogue about pressing issues affecting new media and human rights, particularly at the margins. The speakers in this series tackle issues related to technology and policy across different contexts, including (among others) algorithmic bias and inequalities; misinformation and elections; social media and migration; extreme speech online; community-driven internet access solutions; autonomous and feminist infrastructure; and privacy. This innovative global seminar series uses the power of technology to bridge the geographic and epistemic distance between the global north and the global south – to bring together critical perspectives on new media in context and facilitate a diverse dialogue on the most important questions of human rights, internet governance and our technologically mediated lives.