Africa Connected (originally published in November 1998)
This paper explores an apparent paradox and what this implies in Africa. What are the politics of digital technology when, on the one hand, it is used to mark exclusive status and, on the other hand, is argued to be a democratizing form of mass communication? It is argued that new digital technologies do indeed allow new forms of privilege, and also - simultaneously - new forms of individual power and mass participation. While digital communications are clearly part of the ways in which new elites are being marked out in Africa, developments within the same technology are simultaneously supporting the opposite trend. Telecommunications prices are falling, and there is considerable political and economic pressure on national regulatory authorities to allow free competition. At the same time, technical innovations will bring connectivity to marginalised communities. This same antinomy seems evident in the content of the Internet - in differing forms of intervention, and in the uses to which digital communication is put. Previously, time and space were major barriers in the defence of privilege and position. But digital information is infinitely mutable, transferable from machine to machine without change in its quality. This collapse of space and time can be seen most clearly in the new conjunctions of the local and the global, and the individual and the community, in the new politics of identity.
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