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Mobile Phones

2009, author(s)-editor(s) Francis B. Nyamnjoh, Mirjam de Bruijn

The New Talking Drums of Everyday Africa

’We cannot imagine life now without a mobile phone’ is a frequent comment when Africans are asked about mobile phones. They have become part and parcel of the communication landscape in many urban and rural areas of Africa and the growth of mobile telephony is amazing: from 1 in 50 people being users in 2000 to 1 in 3 in 2008. Such growth is impressive but it does not even begin to tell us about the many ways in which mobile phones are being appropriated by Africans and how they are transforming or are being transformed by society in Africa. This volume ventures into such appropriation and mutual shaping. Rich in theoretical innovation and empirical substantiation, it brings together reflections on developments around the mobile phone by scholars of six African countries (Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Mali, Sudan and Tanzania) who explore the economic, social and cultural contexts in which the mobile phone is being adopted, adapted and harnessed by mobile Africa.

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ISBN 9789956558537 | 184 pages | 244 x 170 mm | 2009 | Langaa RPCIG, Cameroon | Paperback

4 Book Reviews

  • Mobile Phones 27 June 2010 21:17, author(s)-editor(s) Associate Professor Pradip Thomas, University of Queensland, (...)

    An insightful introduction to mobile cultures in Africa and, in particular, the relationship between mobile phones and identity formation in the formal and informal arenas of marginality, its role in disabling tradition and enabling social change. A must read.

    Associate Professor Pradip Thomas, University of Queensland, Australia

  • Mobile Phones 27 June 2010 21:18, author(s)-editor(s) Professor Jan Servaes, Director ‘Communication for Sustainable Social (...)

    This book goes beyond the technology hype on wireless and mobile. It digs deep in the social roots and relationship patterns that are impacting on Africa’s cultural identity and communication modes. The emerging picture may be troubling for some, and liberating for others. A must read!

    Professor Jan Servaes, Director ‘Communication for Sustainable Social Change’ Center, University of Massachusetts, USA

  • Mobile Phones 27 June 2010 21:18, author(s)-editor(s) Herman Wasserman, University of Sheffield, UK and University of (...)

    The astounding uptake of the mobile phone in African societies raises a range of interesting and complicated questions. […]This timely book refuses easy answers of the technological determinist kind, but seeks to understand mobile phones as part of the everyday lived experience of Africans in all its precariousness and unpredictability. Its multi-dimensional approach promises a richness that scholars will be able to draw upon for years to come…. The book fills an important gap in the scholarly literature about new media in Africa and contributes a valuable perspective from the margins on global new media debates.

    Herman Wasserman, University of Sheffield, UK and University of Stellenbosch, South Africa. Editor of Ecquid Novi: African Journalism Studies

  • Mobile Phones: The New Talking Drums of Everyday Africa? (Book Review) 19 June 2011 06:55, author(s)-editor(s) simoncolumbus

    I have been reading up on mobile phone use in developing countries recently for a couple of papers. One of the few books entirely devoted to the issue is “Mobile Phones: The New Talking Drums of Everyday Africa”, edited by Mirjam de Bruijn, Francis Nyamnjoh and Inge Brinkman from the African Studies Centre in Leiden and published in 2009 in cooperation with Cameroon’s Langaa group. The book takes an anthropological and historical perspective on the role of mobile telephony in a wide range of (sub-Saharan) African societies.

    It includes chapters on the call-box business in Cameroon, a traditional healer’s use of the mobile phone, and the ‘biography’ of a mobile phone in Tanzania, to name just a few.
    One chapter of particular interest to me, and which proved to be highly disappointing, is Thomas Molony’s account of a Tanzanian wholesaler’s non-use of mobile telephony. The author first outlines how traders of perishables in Tanzania use mobile phones to transmit supply and demand information, a field that is well researched in a range of quantitative studies (see Aker, 2008,2010; Jensen, 2007). He also looks at the efforts farmers had to undertake in 2004, when Molony conducted his research, to access mobile phone networks (a situation that has certainly improved since then).

    Despite finding that mobile phone usage was already wide-spread among wholesalers in 2003 (when it was considerable more expensive then today), Molony then singles out one trader who, at that point, refused to use a mobile phone to argue that “the telephone may be considered unimportant because personal relationships are formed during meetings conducted in person”. On this still successful wholesaler, he writes that while not having a mobile phone may make his jo hectic and he may lose some friends alng the way when he is unable to sell farmers’ consignments to his many contacts in Dar es Salaam, his visits to farmers ensure that he is known localy, and crucially, recommended to emerging farmers”.

    While the importance of face-to-face contact for trust-building should not be underestimated, I was disappointed with this conclusion which stands in seeming contradiction to most of the preceding chapter. Moreover, the author ignores much of the relevant literature, in particular Overå’s (2006) very similar, great research on wholesalers’ use of mobile phones in Ghana.

    This ignorance of related empirical literature has bugged me throughout the whole book. There is a great deal of references to other anthropological studies, but in the end, a lot of anecdotes still doesn’t make up for the need of quantitative evidence. Another issue is that much of the research the chapter are based on was conducted as early as 2003. In the history of mobile telephony, the six years that are between data collection and the book’s publication in 2009 are a lifetime, and many of the observations might well be outdated today.

    “Mobile Phones: The New Talking Drums of Everyday Africa” provides some interesting qualitative research from a great variety of countries and a range of different viewpoints. I also like the fact that it includes at least some chapters by African researchers, who are often greatly underrepresented. However, in the end, I felt that the book lacks a quantitative component to assess the relevance of the phenomena described.