Laura Mann summarises her lecture on information technologies and marginalization in African market economies, part of the OII's Society and the Internet Lecture Series.
It is often argued that poor and marginalized communities self perpetuate their poverty by inhabiting closed networks. This argument has been most strongly lobbied against those in Africa, where Ethno-linguistic Fragmentation (ELF) has been used to explain "Africa's 'growth tragedy'". However, the rapidly increasing use of the Internet coupled with liberalisation has been seen by many as a way for people to participate in traditionally unreachable social and economic networks. Using the case study of the graduate Sudanese labour market, this talk problematizes the link between technologically mediated weak ties and embeddedness in African economic networks. It contends that tribalism is not an exogenous variable that impinges on the performance of markets but is instead partly an outcome of the failure of liberalisation to produce markets. In the context of the drastic expansion of tertiary education and the politically motivated program of liberalisation carried out by the NCP, the graduate labour market has developed stronger ties in both formal and informal sectors of the economy. 'Wasta' (the Arabic word for intermediation) is strengthening amidst liberalisation, while minorities are being shut out. In such a context, the Internet and other ICTs are not the levellers that many expect them to be. Whilst codified information on the Internet is in theory accessible to all, it remains that a range of barriers including access, technological proficiency and literacy, class, tribe and gender all play a role in restricting access to information for the traditionally marginalized. While the Internet allows for information to be more widely shared, it can also provide mechanisms for information to be kept more secret and for access to be restricted. Internet initiatives focused on development need to deal with this larger range of issues if they are to succeed.