Liberation Technology. Mobile Phones and Political Mobilization in Africa

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IZA Seminar

Place: Schaumburg-Lippe-Str. 9, 53113 Bonn

Date: 19.01.2016, 12:15 - 13:30


Presentation by 

Marco Manacorda (Queen Mary, University of London)


Can digital information and communication technology foster mass political mobilization? We use a novel geo-referenced dataset for the entire African continent between 1998 and 2012 on the coverage of mobile phone signal together with georeferenced data from multiple sources on the occurrence of protests and on individual participation in protests to bring this argument to empirical scrutiny. We find that mobile phones are instrumental to mass mobilization when reasons for greivance emerge, i.e during economic downturns. Estimated effects are if anything larger once we use an instrumental variable approach that relies on differential trends in coverage across areas with different incidence of lightning strikes. We show that these results are in line with insights from a network model with imperfect information: recessions increase the probability of a protest occurring, as they decrease individuals’ opportunity cost of participation, and this effect gets magnified by strategic complementarities in protest provision. Mobile phones amplify this effect, as they make individuals more responsive to both changes in economic conditions - a mechanism that we ascribe to ehnanced information - and to their neighbors’ participation - a mechanism that we ascribe to enhanced coordination. Empirically both effects are at play, but the first effect dominates, highlighting the channels through which digital ICT can alleviate the collective action problem.

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