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Sellers on the street: the human infrastructure of the mobile phone network in Kigali, Rwanda

Mann, Laura and Nzayisenga, Elie (2014) Sellers on the street: the human infrastructure of the mobile phone network in Kigali, Rwanda. Critical African Studies, 7 (1). pp. 26-46. ISSN 2168-1392

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Identification Number: 10.1080/21681392.2015.974136


This paper looks in detail at the social and economic background of mobile airtime sellers on the streets of Kigali. While informal networks have proved to be an invaluable resource for large multinational telecommunication companies seeking to penetrate African markets, changing technological capabilities may soon displace them. As Rwanda develops its Internet and payment systems, companies and institutions hope to provide airtime and services directly. The paper draws on interviews with airtime sellers in three neighbourhoods of Kigali to ask what this temporary source of employment has done to their long-term career prospects. While the Rwandan government information and communication technology (ICT) strategy has hereto focused on high-end ICT and business process outsourcing, this paper uses the experiences of airtime sellers to advocate for a more bottom-up approach to entrepreneurship and economic development in Rwanda. We stress that planners and researchers need to think more critically about value chains at the bottom of the pyramid, not just in terms of how informal networks can be used as temporary appendages to further the reach of formal multinational corporations, but how these new kinds of chains and networks can be re-engineered to provide permanent and sustainable livelihoods to workers and business owners at the base of the economy.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2014 Centre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh
Divisions: LSE
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HE Transportation and Communications
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
T Technology > T Technology (General)
Date Deposited: 02 Nov 2017 14:21
Last Modified: 17 Jul 2024 20:21

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