Can Connectivity Kill?

(Photo: Erik Hersman)

The standard narrative around technology in the developing world usually focuses on the positive: cell phones make it easier to check crop prices, transfer money, and understand violence.  But a new study, summarized in Foreign Policy, finds that all this connectivity can also increase political violence in violence-prone regions and countries:

new study by Jan Pierskalla of the German Institute of Global and Area Studies and Florian Hollenbach of Duke University looks at the relationship between mobile phones and political violence in Africa. They found that from 2007 to 2009, areas with 2G network coverage were 50 percent more likely to have experienced incidents of armed conflict than those without. The clearest overlaps between cell coverage and violence were observed in Algeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.

The authors think that improved cell-phone coverage helps insurgent leaders overcome what’s called the “collective-action problem” — that people are reluctant to join group endeavors when there’s a high level of personal risk. But better communication helps leaders recruit reluctant followers, whether they’re demonstrating for higher wages or killing people in the next town.

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COMMENTS: 8


  1. Charles Rice says:

    Another way to look.

    Oppressive countries have to control the population and do so by controlling their access to information. As people get unfiltered information from their cell phones they stop being so passive and rise up.

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    • James says:

      But many of these “Arab Spring” events are aimed at replacing a moderately-repressive regime with a far more repressive theocracy.

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    • Thenatrix says:

      I’m surprised the author didn’t form this conclusion. Makes a lot of sense!

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  2. Dorothy Sorensen says:

    I have often wondered if the Arab Spring’s ability to gain traction was in part due to a higher level of direct communication such as cell phones.

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  3. Doubtful says:

    Or is it simply that richer regions attract 2g networks and conflicts ?
    Let me guess, there are also less 2g networks and less conflicts in desertic areas…

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  4. G Pendergast says:

    could it be that areas with coverage also had better reporting?

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  5. tamiasmin says:

    As I recall, the six countries named in the article had plenty of violence, much of it organized, before anyone had a cell phone. Armed conflict and cell phone coverage may both be more likely in heavily populated areas than in relatively empty ones. Years ago, when there were riots in Los Angeles, things were pretty calm in Death Valley.

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  6. Dan says:

    Is the correlation about communication or does it relate to a certain income level that areas without connectivity are lacking?

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