Case studies

Case Cameroon

‘Communication technologies, politics and mobility in the Bamenda Grassfields and amongst Bamenda Grassfielders in the South West Province of Cameroon and in the diaspora’.

Mobile Phones Cameroon
Call Box in Cameroon © ASC 2008

In this marginal Anglophone region of Cameroon where the state is perceived to be Francophone-dominated, the history of ICTs is closely linked to the perception and articulation by Anglophones (largely originating from the Bamenda Grassfields) of political, cultural and economic marginality. In this project, transformations in the mobile margins arising in relation to ICTs with their significant transnational character are linked to the construction of political, socio-economic and cultural identities and the articulation of politico-social aspirations. ICTs are explored as vehicles for physical and social mobility away from marginality and also for staying in touch with the place called ‘home’ in the interests of negotiated social change. The study thus seeks to understand how the people of this region have increasingly discovered and struggled for recognition, representation and social transformation through the possibilities offered them by new information and communication technologies. Initially the lorry made it possible for them to discover the marvels and dangers of colonial plantation agriculture in the coastal region and from this came the tensions and attractions of feeling at home away from home. With better roads and increased mobility such places became less mysterious, more visible and real as predatory sites of accumulation where migrants slaved away relentlessly. Still more technological advances (planed, television, the Internet and mobile phones) are taking people from the region further afield into distant lands and virtual spaces as families and communities sacrifice sons and daughters to seek opportunities in Africa, Europe, North America and elsewhere. The interaction between migratory trends and stay-at-home communities appears to be giving rise to a whole new social landscape, but not always of a positive nature. As evident from complaints by diasporic Cameroonians, the expectations of modernity through the consumption of foreign goods have engendered highly mercantilist attitudes by kin and acquaintances determined to treat those in the diaspora essentially as disposable ‘wallets on legs’ (Nyamnjoh 2005b) In this study, the economic, political, social and cultural implications of all these encounters with and negotiation of ICT are central. The study will specifically focus on political changes, ideas of citizenship and belonging and relate these to the different forms of elite formation that go with these processes.

Case Mali 

‘Nomadic cultures in the era of new ICTs: the transformation of nomadic social hierarchies in Mali and beyond’

Nomadic peoples have a specific history of marginalization that fits well into the concept of mobile margins as livelihoods are typically gained on the move in accordance with their economy, ecology and histories of mobility. Politically the nomads of Mali − the Tuareg and Fulani − have not played an important role in the modern state as the Malian state is dominated by the non-nomadic South. The northern regions have been victims of drought and armed conflict, which have led to a large part of the population moving to southern Mali, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. The recent conflict in Cote d’Ivoire has clearly shown the difficult position these migrants find themselves in, as ‘strangers’ who are regarded as intruders in their new ‘homes’. 

Sahelian societies are at least partly characterized by specific inequalities in which the organization of labour along the lines of dependency is still dominant. This characteristic also continues to inform Malian nomadic groups: nobility, pastoralists and slaves display their own mobility histories and ways of perceiving marginality. While the elites form mobile margins between urban spaces, pastoralist patterns of mobility by and large form links between rural spaces (de Bruijn & van Dijk 2003; Keita 2007).

The regions where these cultures are ‘rooted’ in the Sahel have a history of technological backwardness. Roads were developed here only in the late 1980s and telephone lines arrived in the late 1990s. Only very recently were these areas connected through mobile technology. The elites of the nomads who live in urban spaces have easily adopted this new technology (cf. Pelckmans 2007). The nomadic pastoralists who live in areas where the coverage of ICTs is very limited are nevertheless being introduced to a technology that will change their interpretations of social space and marginality in a profound way. This study will start from the core areas in central Mali (Gourma which is Tuareg country and Douentza/Hombori which is Fulani country) but will extend also into Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. The aim is to study the different ways elites and nomads have appropriated these technologies, thus linking the programme to questions of democracy and decentralization. Mali remains relatively peaceful and democratic but is still one of the poorest countries in Africa. However with the advent of decentralization and the introduction of TV and other communication technologies, the nomads have been introduced to and are appropriating aspects of modernity. How is their marginality perceived and how do they perceive it themselves in this new era? What are the differences with other cultural groups who are seen as occupying the political centre?

Case Northern Angola

‘Political identities, social hierarchies and the history of communication technologies in northern Angola’

The kingdom of Kongo was once the centre of commerce and diplomatic relations in West-Central Africa. However as of the 17th century, decline set in and upon colonialism the area became divided. The old heartland of the kingdom became a border region of Angola, a country strongly dominated by its capital Luanda. In social, political and economic terms, northern Angola became a marginalized region within the Angola context.

Despite this relative political and economic insignificance, strong elite formation continued throughout the colonial epoch, mainly under the influence of British Baptist missionaries. This missionary influence also contributed to the development of a strong emphasis on literacy in the region and written correspondence became very important for the Northern nationalist movement that operated from Congo/Zaire and fought the Portuguese colonial regime in the 1960s and 1970s. During the war over half a million people fled northern Angola, mostly to Congo/Zaire, and these communities tried to remain in contact with guerrillas and civilians still in northern Angola through letters and messages.

After independence, the Northern nationalist movement was unsuccessful in securing a place in the Angolan political and military theatre, and northern Angola became even more marginalized than before. Although local perceptions about the links between literacy and elite formation did not diminish, the area itself was impoverished, lacking facilities for health and schooling, and was rendered politically and economically insignificant (Brinkman 2003, 2005a).

The spread of the mobile phone into northern Angola in 2004 has led to questions about transformations in the realm of social hierarchies, orality and literacy. What has been the influence of the spread of ICTs on the historical role of literacy and literate elite formation in northern Angola? Are new elites, perhaps illiterate in the usual meaning but familiar with technologies such as the mobile phone and thus in a sense technologically literate, formed in the process of ICT expansion? Is the use of these modern devices such as the mobile phone regarded as a means of (re-)establishing northern Angola as an economically and politically vital area, as a way of reasserting Kongo identity and the northern provinces in the national context? These questions are particularly relevant in a post-civil-war situation and in a nationwide context of oil and diamond wealth that is strongly influencing patterns of political power and economic change. The redistribution of Angola’s wealth and access to modern technologies may be widely regarded as a test of the government’s promise of political transparency and increased economic equality.

Case south-east Angola

‘Losing the peace? The post-war history of south-east Angola and the introduction of new communication technologies’

The myth of five centuries of Portuguese presence in Angola certainly does not hold true for the south-east of the country. In this sparsely populated region, known in Portuguese as ‘the lands at the end of the earth’, colonial rule barely succeeded colonial conquest and the area remained ecologically, politically and economically marginal to the colony. Many inhabitants moved to South Africa, South West Africa (later Namibia), Northern Rhodesia (later Zambia) in search of labour and cash. Apart from these long-distance forms of migration, the area is also characterized by a high degree of internal mobility.

These historical patterns of mobility in Angola were disrupted when war started in the 1960s. With brief intervals, the area was on the battlefront of first the nationalists and then the civil war from 1966 until 2002. In the wake of extreme violence and deprivation, people tried to flee to the small regional towns, to the capital Luanda and across the border into Zambia and Namibia (Brinkman 2005b).

Since the Angolan peace treaty was signed in 2002, a number of international development organizations have been coordinating the return of refugees and IDPs to south-east Angola. How do the returnees view the possibilities of these new communication technologies? Do they see them as assisting their own ‘development’ or do they view them as being largely outside their reach and related only to the realm of development agencies? Are the new ICTs playing a role in these newly created communities and in the reconfiguration of the mobile margins that connect south-east Angola to a range of other territories?

Case Central Chad

‘Disconnecting the margins? Conflict mobilities and the introduction of ICTs in Central Chad’

Central Chad is a region that for various reasons can be defined as extremely marginal: outsiders consider the area as economically deprived; droughts and the war have exacerbated conditions in an already impoverished region. During the long civil war (1965-1990), people from this part of Chad played a central role as soldiers or rebels but they never attained a significant presence in any of the successive governments. On the contrary, they have always been on the margins of political life (de Bruijn & van Dijk 2007). This marginality has in itself made this zone into one of migration, and the mobility of the population has always been very high and dates in fact from ancient times. Of old, Central Chad’s population moved to the east, and large communities of central Chadians were formed in Khartoum and in diverse rural areas of Sudan where they worked as labourers in mechanized agriculture. The civil war ended this migration pattern and shaped new forms of migration – people became IDPs and refugees – fleeing to the capital city N’djaména and further into Cameroon and Nigeria. In both countries there are large communities of Chadians. The recent economic boom in the south of Chad as a consequence of the exploitation of oil has again encouraged people from central Chad to try their luck in the south. This time it has been young men and women who left the area. Thus various mobile margins are formed, and new social spaces created. These new social spaces, partly brought about by war, drought and by the new resource of oil, have shaped oppositions and spaces of contestation.

Chad, even more than its neighbours, is almost completely lacking in adequate communication technologies: no tarmac roads and little motorized transport were present until the 1990s, and it is still very poorly served in this regard.

The introduction of the mobile phone in 2006 in Central Chad is therefore expected to produce quite revolutionary effects. In this study we will investigate the mobile margins that originated from Central Chad; their different social composition and the social spaces as these are recreated by ICTs. It will also consider how the marginality of Central Chad has been affected as the new ICTs force people to redefine their position and to link up with other communities. How are ideas about marginality and mobility shaped and reformulated with the advent of the new ICTs? The case of Chad is particularly striking as technological and economic change, in part owing to its oil resources, reshapes populations recovering from civil war while at the same time encountering dramatic shifts in their historic situation where communication in general was notoriously difficult.


K. Alio, Conflict, mobility and language : the case of migrant Hadjaraye of Guéra to neighboring regions of Chari-Baguirmi and Salamat (Chad). Leiden: African Studies Centre, ASC working paper 82, 2008.

Case Senegal

‘The technologies of information and the communication and the construction of the State under the rule of law in Senegal’

 In this case study the central issue is formed by the complex and dynamic interaction between new ICTs and the construction of the rule of law in the Senegalese context. New ICTs and the business aspects that accompany them clearly show characteristics of international management and globalization. This poses challenges for the often fragile nation states in African countries and the rule of law that is constructed within the context of African political history. Senegal forms an example where the absence of technological control and legal security poses problems in terms of licensing and regulation of ICT multinationals.

Yet, apart from the risks, the specifics of the interaction between state and new ICTs in Senegal may also open up new possibilities and lead to a sort of revival of the state and/or African forms of the rule of law.

In this case study the focus will be on the conflict-ridden situation in the Casamance in southern Senegal. This region, lying South of The Gambia, has a long history of movements struggling for more autonomy. Here local notions about the normative configurations surrounding new ICT may be at extreme variance with state notions thereof.

Case South Africa/Angola

‘Negotiating mobility, identity and belonging: young Angolan immigrants in Cape Town and their connections’

Since South Africa had its first democratic elections in 1994, and the ban on immigration of black people to South Africa was lifted, many people have sought out South Africa as an immigration destination. Regular media hypes have popularised the image of ‘tidal waves’ of people from the rest of Africa trying to ‘get in’ illegally, wanting to benefit from the South African economy to the detriment of its local population. The strict South African immigration laws make it difficult for any foreign national to settle in South Africa, but even more so for Africans. Judging from research prior to and again after the wave of violent attacks on African ‘foreigners’ in May 2008, levels of mistrust and hostility towards people from the African continent are high in all levels of South African society[1], in effect leaving African immigrants somewhere at the bottom of the social and political hierarchy.

Many Angolans have been coming to South Africa since (and most probably before) the 1990’s: in large part as refugees and asylum seekers fleeing the lengthy civil war, but also for business, studies, and visits. There is very little knowledge available on this migration flow and the connections between Angola and South Africa, or on the experiences of Angolans living in South Africa. According to the latest UNHCR statistics in 2008, there has been a relatively stable population of just under 6000 Angolan refugees and asylum seekers for the past six or seven years (this does not include people on study or other visas). However, the wave of extreme violence against ‘foreigners’, the mounting obstacles in attaining any kind of permanent residency status as well as a growing connectedness with and optimism around the future of Angola, has encouraged many Angolans who have lived here for ten years or more, to seriously consider returning to their country of birth. At the same time, some have already come back to South Africa after giving up on trying to establish themselves ‘back home’, and many returnees advise those still in South Africa to stay put as long as they can, as life in Angola is very difficult.

This case study will specifically explore notions of identity, home and belonging in relation to mobility and how these play out in the particular circumstances of young Angolans, who moved as children or teenagers and have for a large part grown up in Cape Town. They are young, urban, and ‘connected’, and at a critical time in their lives, trying to make decisions about their future. Should (and can) they stay in South Africa, “go back home” to their relatively unknown country of birth, or look for another place in this world to be? This case study will look at how they make these decisions, and what this can tell us about their agency. What local and global values and power dynamics become visible by looking at these young people’s negotiations of boundaries and strategies for their future? Ultimately this should lead us to understand more about how young urban Africans ‘connect’ and negotiate (im)mobility and (not)belonging in contemporary Africa and a globalised world.  

Case Sudan

‘The Nile Connection: Mobile Telephony in Sudan’

In 2007 we carried out research on mobile telephony in Sudan. The research team consisted of Mirjam de Bruijn, Inge Brinkman of the African Studies Centre in Leiden (The Netherlands), Hisham Bilal and Peter Taban Wani, both Sudanese researchers. The project was funded by Celtel, and supported by Mobitel/Zain Sudan and aimed at understanding local perspectives on and usage of the mobile phone.

Using qualitative methods, we did research in three areas, namely Sudan’s capital Khartoum, Karima in Northern Sudan and Juba (the capital of South Sudan).

The research results were put together in a report: ‘The Nile Connection: Effects and Meaning of the Mobile Phone in a (Post)War Economy in Karima, Khartoum and Juba, Sudan’. To read the forword of the report, click here: Foreword.

[1] See for example SAMP (Southern African Migration Programme) studies (available on as well as CoRMSA (Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa) reports for 2007, 2008, 2009 (available on



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