Telecommunications Politics in Authoritarian Developing Countries – Development, Control and Ownership in the African Information and Communications Technology Sector

What consequence does foreign ownership have in terms of a regime’s capacity to control the flow of information through ICT? To what extent does it release ICT’s potential to contribute to sustainable development in authoritarian contexts?


The increasing spread of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) is commonly seen as contributing to sustainable development worldwide. Leading academics, global organisations, and industry analysts agree that there is a direct correlation between the use of ICT and sustainable macroeconomic growth as well as prospects for democracy. This project takes a more critical approach and takes a closer look at political effects of ICT in authoritarian developing countries.

As a matter of fact, ICT rely critically on the incumbent government and have no automatic positive effect but can also empower repressive regimes. At the same time, ICT have no automatic negative effect either: most regimes are interested in coping with social and economic grievances if perceived as threats to the regimes’ stability. If economic development was to be stimulated, there is no way past ICT. Yet, setting up telecom infrastructure is extremely costly and often requires foreign investment. If foreign companies provide telecommunications services, authoritarian rulers are restricted in their use of ICT for political purposes. This research argues that the way in which ICT is domestically managed determines their potential to contribute to sustainable development, notably economic growth and democratic governance, – or not.

Overall, the project offers the first systematic and comprehensive analysis of telecommunication and media politics in authoritarian developing countries focusing on the influence of foreign investment. By providing a systematic account of the effect of foreign ownership on the use of ICT as tool of repression or development, the results are expected to have important implications for development cooperation and foreign investment.


  • Accountability
  • Authoritarian survival
  • ICT
  • Ownership
  • Foreign direct investment strategies
  • Private sector
  • Repression
  • Sustainable development


  • Development
  • International relations
  • Political science
  • Technology


International Organisations

  • International Telecommunications Union (ITU)
  • European Broadcasting Union (EBU)

NGOs, state- or other institutions

  • Geneva Internet Platform (
  • Fondation Hirondelle
  • Mo Ibrahim Foundation

Relevant Countries

  • Developing countries
  • Continent – Africa


This is an ongoing project, which started in autumn 2016. The information here is updated regularly. If you have any inquiries please don’t hesitate to contact the project team via the form below.

Contact the project team

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Research team

Tina Freyburg
Universität St. Gallen

Cinzia Dal Zotto
Université de Neuchâtel

Jovan Kurbalija
Associated Member

Julia Leininger
Associated Member

Giacomo Mazzone
Associated Member

François Rancy
Associated Member

Veronique Wavre
Associated Member
Universität St. Gallen

Nils Weidmann
Associated Member
Universität Konstanz