Mobile phones as tools for social change. A case study of mobile phone use and access amongst Tanzanian youth

University essay from Malmö högskola/Fakulteten för kultur och samhälle (KS)

Abstract: Access, use and ownership of mobile phones is increasing rapidly in Tanzania, as in the rest of Africa. It is estimated that a staggering 97% of the population are able to access a mobile phone, according to a study carried out by the Centre for Economic Policy Research and Vodafone. The growing number of people using mobile phones has led to optimism and speculation regarding its effect on economic and social development. Expectations from mobile phones are high and it has already been coined as Africa’s PC. Expectations are further fuelled by sensationalist headlines in the media such as, Mobile phones join war on African poverty, The mobile revolution sweeps across Africa or Cell phones the latest tool in Africa's fight against HIV and is shaping the discourse on mobile phones for development (M4D). This study was carried out between January and March 2010 in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania and funded by SPIDER, The Swedish Program for ICT in Developing Regions and commissioned by Femina HIP (Health Information Project) a Tanzanian multimedia civil society initiative that expressed desire for research to be conducted on mobile phones and SMS (Short Messages Service) in Tanzania. This paper contains data from three group interviews and one quantitative survey that was completed by 97 youths. The empirical material gathered is discussed in relation to empowerment and participation, two concepts that have become mainstreamed in development theory and practice and in communication for development. The paper is structured as following. The first chapter provides the aim and purpose of the study as well as its delimitations. The second chapter discusses mobile phones for development while critically looking at the M4D and ICT4D discourse. Also incorporated in this chapter is an example of a mobile phone project that was started in Bangladesh in the late 1990s and is used as an example to represent the empowerment narrative in M4D. A short discussion on this sentiment will conclude the second part. In the third chapter I present my theory. I take a critical look at empowerment and participation, two concepts that have gained, one can say, a moral authority that effectively hides power relations amongst participants, facilitators and donors in development projects. In the fourth chapter I discuss my methodology and how I gathered my material. In the fifth part I present my data and in the last chapter I analyse the empirical material by applying the framework of participation and empowerment. I also discuss what an organisation such as Femina HIP could gain from incorporating mobile phones into their communication strategy.

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