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African Economies: Simply Connect? Problematizing the Discourse on Connectivity in Logistics and Communication


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In this chapter, we situate the contemporary discourse of connectivity in its historical context, excavating the “living links” (Farmer 2004, 309) that connect the policy past to the policy present. We then engage with the similarities and differences between colonial and early postcolonial discourses of connectivity, as well as the contemporary one, by considering the fields of logistics and communication as two examples that are emblematic of current development efforts under the connectivity paradigm. While acknowledging the progressive and cosmopolitan potential of connectivity, we argue that contemporary discourses of connectivity in the realm of communication and logistics are problematic for their uncritical continuation of the modernist gaze, which manifests itself in an uncritical embracement of “technoliberal boosterism” (Carmody 2012, 12). Against this background, we therefore wish to propose an alternative reading of contemporary connectivity and its underlying materialities, socialities, and spatialities by bringing to the fore three key arguments that signal the problematic nature of connectivity as a blueprint for transforming economies “at the margins”.
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... India's economic growth on the basis of export-oriented services has inspired policy-makers elsewhere to emulate its trajectory. These aspirations fit into a broader narrative about information and communication technologies (ICTs) which positions ICTs as opening and enabling new forms of economic inclusion and market access (Graham and Mann 2013;Ouma et al. 2019). This narrative echoes earlier colonial modernization theories that linked economic development to big infrastructure projects; narratives which are now experiencing a revival with the growing importance of digital infrastructures in facilitating economic activities (Ibid; Graham et al. 2015). ...
... Thirdly, especially pronounced in the case of Kenya, is the belief that the main barrier to ITES is internet connectivity (Graham et al. 2015). However, what this focus on connectivity as market access neglects is the hierarchical nature of production networks, not just within ITES but within the global economy more generally (Ouma et al. 2019). ...
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Information-technology-enabled services (ITES) has become a sector of promise for many low- and middle-income economies seeking to leapfrog industrialization and build knowledge-intensive economies. Yet as a sector defined by accelerating processes of commodification and skill elimination, its long-term developmental promise must be carefully scrutinised. Analysing the development of the sector in India, the Philippines and Kenya the paper reveals both the contextual nature of past successful ITES policies and their developmental vulnerabilities. Drawing on literature on industrial policies and global value chains and production networks, the paper critiques the existing policy approaches by arguing that they are largely focussed on enabling value and employment creation and that they pay insufficient attention to questions of value capture and long-term socio-economic transformation.
... More critical perspectives draw from other connectivity debates in alluding to the pitfalls of Internet connectivity (cf. the reference to African port infrastructure by Ouma et al. (2019) or the comparison of railway and fibre optic cable construction in East Africa by Graham et al. (2015)). A major conjuncture in this debate lies in the understanding that technology and connectivity is not neutral per se (Ouma et al., 2019). ...
... More critical perspectives draw from other connectivity debates in alluding to the pitfalls of Internet connectivity (cf. the reference to African port infrastructure by Ouma et al. (2019) or the comparison of railway and fibre optic cable construction in East Africa by Graham et al. (2015)). A major conjuncture in this debate lies in the understanding that technology and connectivity is not neutral per se (Ouma et al., 2019). This becomes particularly relevant with the pivotal question about 'who controls the digital' . ...
Driven by the rapid adoption of Internet-based technologies amongst producers in the Global South, the question of how and whether global value chain arrangements are reconfigured remains open to debate. This article addresses the changing practices of export-oriented smallholders accompanying the transition from simple phone towards smartphone use. Our dynamic approach compares cross-sectional survey data from 2013 and 2017 to answer to what extent Kenyan smallholders have adopted the Internet, which digital practices in relation to agricultural value chains they use and how this affects the inter-firm coordination between smallholders and subsequent actors. Smartphones have gained broad importance for smallholders as they are used for digital practices in value chains. Contrary to the debated dark sides of Internet connectivity, we can however not confirm sweeping digital control or value appropriation by lead firms. So far, long-established, analogue practices widely persist in arrangements between smallholders and exporters. Nevertheless, smartphones are used to nurture multilateral knowledge networks of unprecedented reach and size and further allow for incipient experiments with marketing strategies on digital marketing platforms devoted to domestic markets. We argue that these practices resemble strategic niche seeking that has to be interpreted in relation to captive export arrangements. With qualitatively and quantitatively increasing options to access and share knowledge and to market commodities, the Internet can serve to navigate the multiplicity of chain alternatives (domestic production, informal export production). Such niches should be considered as creating leverage against the take it or leave it deal of captive export production.
... Some scholars also point to other FinTech-induced challenges such as individual indebtedness through borrowing and gambling Bateman et al., 2019;Bernards, 2019), fraudulent FinTech transactions (Karpoff, 2020;Makina, 2019), and dispossessing people of their capacity to form and sustain social ties (relational value) necessary for everyday social and economic stability (Guermond, 2020). For some, these counter empowerment narratives pose critical empirical and theoretical questions around the uneven geographies of FinTech often enacted with and through new forms of neoliberal financialization and digitalization processes, especially in the global South (Gabor & Brooks, 2017;Lai & Samers, 2020;Ouma et al., 2019). ...
This article probes how uneven access to digital financial technologies maps onto and reinforces existing inequalities in the global South. Grounded in Sen's capability approach, it deploys a network science approach to examine emergent factors reinforcing techno-financial inequality or the uneven access to FinTech instruments, such as mobile money (MM) or m-banking services. Focusing on a case study in Dhaka, Bangladesh, our findings suggest that unequal access to MM services is driven by a lack of capability inputs (e.g., low income and savings) needed to access certain goods (e.g., mobile phones). This lack affects and is affected by personal conversion factors (e.g., functional and financial illiteracies), environmental conversion factors within the MM ecosystem (e.g., unreliable MM operators), and socio-cultural practices (e.g., gender norms) within which MM services are embedded. We argue that these factors must be understood and analyzed as a network of converging forces that constrain digital financial capabilities and wellbeing within the peripheries of the global South. This network understanding highlights the need to avoid one-size-fits-all policy interventions, including moving beyond techno-centric paradigms that privilege the proffering of technological fixes: dumping more FinTech instruments into global South markets. Rather, FinTech policy models must recognize and carefully address the intersection of micro and macro factors inhibiting FinTech access in the global South.
The debate on the difference between value creation and value extraction has resurfaced since the 2008 financial crisis. Digitalization further raises the question of the frontier between productive and extractive activities in the data economy. Critical internet studies have developed the concept of free digital labour in order to highlight the issue of value creation and extraction in everyday online activities. While an emerging literature explores the issue of value in the digital age, the consequences in terms of development policies remain insufficiently researched. Against this background, this article analyses National Development Plans in Colombia to investigate the underlying notion of value. It shows that value creation is largely absent from development agendas that focus on access and infrastructure. However, it argues that the concept of digital labour is insufficient to understand the articulation of value creation and development, and the role of the state in the digital age.
Understanding the intensification and expansion of extractive industries in contemporary capitalism requires an approach attentive not only to the literal forms of extraction prevalent in mining and agribusiness but also to new fronts of extraction emerging in activities such as data mining and biocapitalism. This article introduces the concept of operations of capital to trace connections between the expansive logic of extraction and capitalist activity in the domains of logistics and finance. Arguing that extractive operations are at large across these domains, we explore their relevance for capital’s relation with its multiple outsides. The resulting analysis provides a basis for mapping struggles against the changing forms of dispossession and exploitation enabled by extraction.
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