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Digital and other poverties

exploring the connection in four East African countries

Julian May


There has been a remarkable growth in the use of information communication technologies (ICT) across the world over the past decade. Writing in 1999, Kirkman (1999) commented that half the world’s population had never made a telephone call. By 2008 this had changed dramatically and instead over half the world’s population was now connected via mobile telephony (WISIS, 2008). Indeed, despite the persistence of widespread poverty, the use of mobile telephony in African countries in the last few years has grown more rapidly than in any other region in the world suggesting convergence in at least this aspect of development if not in economic well-being more generally (Chen and Ravallion 2004; Coyle 2005; ITU 2009).

 This phenomenal increase in ICT access has been accompanied by a burgeoning literature on the contribution of ICTs to economic growth, development and poverty reduction. At the most optimistic, ICTs are described by the African Information Society Initiative (AISI) and others as the means whereby developing countries can use technology to leapfrog over development stages or technology barriers to achieve both economic growth and broad-based development (Singh 1999). Other analysts are more cautious about attributing direct benefits to ICT (Nulens and van Audenhove 1999; Arunachalam 2002; Athreya 2004; Bollou and Ngwenyama 2008). This school of thought is concerned that a one-dimensional push for greater use of ICTs may increase the divide between urban and rural areas, the rich and the poor and between generations. Thus while there may well be a link between ICT and poverty reduction, the mechanisms through which the connection takes place are not fully understood. In fact, whatever dimension of welfare change is being considered, the direction of its causal link to ICT is contentious. Problems of reverse causality and spurious correlation that apply to the relationship between any investment in infrastructure and increasing output are equally of relevance to the analysis of the ICT/poverty nexus.

 “Poverty, ICT’s in Urban and Rural East Africa” (PICTURE-Africa) is a three year research project funded by the International Centre for Development Research (IDRC) investigating the nexus between different dimensions of poverty and ICT usage in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. PICTURE uses a panel survey methodology with data collection taking place in 2007 and scheduled again for 2010. This paper discusses the results from the first wave of data collection in order to identify the dimensions of poverty associated with differential access and usage of ICT. The causal link between changes in ICT usage and poverty status can be examined once the second wave of data has been collected


Publication Type(s)

Conference Paper

Ten Years of War Against Poverty Conference Papers

Conference: Ten Years of War Against Poverty


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