14th journées Louis-André Gérard-Varet

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Liberation Technology: Mobile Phones and Political Mobilization in Africa
Andrea Tesei, Marco Manacorda

Last modified: 2015-03-13

Abstract


Can digital information and communication technology (ICT) foster mass political mobilization? We use two novel geo-referenced data for the entire African continent between 1998 and 2012 - respectively on the incidence of protests (GDELT) and the spread of mobile phone technology (GSMA) across cells of ap- proximately 55 x 55 km on the ground - to bring this argument to empirical scrutiny. We show that protests are anti-cyclical and that the availability of mobile phones in a local area amplifies the effect of economic downturns on the incidence of mass political mobilization: a 5 p.p. fall in GDP growth leads to an estimated increase in the differential rate of protests per capita in covered versus non-covered areas of approximately 8%. IV estimates that exploit the slower adoption of mobile phone technology in areas prone to high rates of lightning - which negatively affects both the supply of and the demand for mobile phone services - points, if anything, in the direction of these effects being conservatively estimated. Our results lend strong support to the liberation technology argument that digital ICT fosters political mo- bilization.


Keywords


ICT, protest, Africa, mobile phones