Mistrust and social hierarchies as blind spots of ICT4D projects
Lessons from Togo and Rwanda
Information and communication technologies for development (ICT4D) are seen to have great potential for boosting democratization processes all over the world by giving people access to information and thereby empowering them to demand more accountability and transparency of authorities. Based on ethnographic research in Togo and Rwanda on an SMS-based citizen monitoring and evaluation system, this article argues that focusing on access to information is too narrow a view. We show that it is crucial to take into account the respective socio-political backgrounds, such as levels of mistrust or existing social hierarchies. In this context, mobile phone usage has rather varied and ambiguous meanings here. These dynamics can pose a challenge to the successful implementation of ICT4D projects aimed at political empowerment. By addressing these often overlooked issues, we offer explanations for the gap between ICT4D assumptions and people’s lifeworlds in Togo and Rwanda.
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