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

To what extend do information and communicaton technologies contribute to sustainable macroeconomic development? What is the influence of foreign investment?

Project Summary

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. This project analyses telecommunication and media politics in developing countries, with a focus on the influence of foreign investment. It argues that the way in which ICT is domestically managed determines their potential to contribute to sustainable macroeconomic development.

Academic Output

Working Paper

Blocking the Bottleneck: Internet Shutdowns and Ownership at Election Times in Sub-Saharan Africa

The Internet is often portrayed as offering new communication and information channels resistant to state control because of its decentralization. At the same time, the Internet relies on a hierarchical physical infrastructure that, connecting the individual customer to the Internet, provides states with control opportunities. We argue that ownership of the Internet infrastructure, in particular Internet service providers (ISPs), is critical to understanding state Internet control because most direct forms of control require ISPs to comply with government requests. Using qualitative comparative analysis, we systematically link documented Internet shutdowns in sub-Sahara African countries to configurations of ISP state majority ownership, regime type, and election violence. The results support a positive relationship between a temporary halt of Internet provision and ISP majority ownership by authoritarian states when facing election-related violence. Our study underlines the importance of varying ownership structures in explaining political effects of Internet penetration, including its role in challenging authoritarian rule.

Executive Summary

The interdisciplinary project ‘Telecommunications Politics in Authoritarian Developing Countries’ investigated specific political and economic effects of key properties of telecommunications companies providing access to internet services. During the funding period, we primarily focused on the conceptualization and measurement of our key variables, namely ownership structures and management practices, respectively. The St.Gallen team created a novel quantitative dataset of the owner identities of all telecommunication companies that provide access to the internet in 49 sub-Saharan and Northern African countries from 2000 to 2016. The Neuchâtel team collected comprehensive information on managerial practices of selected (foreign/multinational) telecommunication companies operating in Africa. While each team focused on different outcomes—internet shutdowns in St.Gallen; human development in Neuchâtel, the two sub-projects are united in their interest in the effects of specific firm properties. Their insights will be brought together through a joint publication project on the relationship between ownership identities and managerial practices.

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
OtherFrançois Rancy
Associated Member

Veronique Wavre
Associated Member
Universität St. Gallen

Nils Weidmann
Associated Member
Universität Konstanz







All countries in Africa

Host Institution