Controversy and the Progress of the Glo-1 Fiber Optic Cable

This stunning image of the many fiber optic undersea cables in the process of being laid down along the West and East coasts of Africa is treated by many as a sign of coming transformation of the continent.

[image created and continually updated over at Many Possibilities]

A recent article titled ‘Glo 1 Cables At Risk’ in Ghana’s Daily Graphic newspaper (June 13, 2011, by Charles Benoni Okine) suggests some concerning and certainly (for residents) very annoying problems in connecting this cable from the coast into the next phase of infrastructure building on land. The cable in question is the one in yellow on the above map. The article is a helpful illustration of some of the problems of business management and service delivery that remain.

In summary: residents accuse the contractors hired by GLOBACOM to lay cable infrastructure within Accra of doing a shoddy job. Note this is preliminary infrastructure building work, not quite the ‘last mile’ delivering Internet access to buildings. Residents in certain areas of Accra received a letter requesting access to their land with promises that after laying the cable the land would be restored to its prior state (within 24 hours in the case where cement driveways have been demolished). It’s the rainy season in Ghana right now. Some residents are now saying trenches dug have not been properly resealed and have opened up in the rains. Driveways “have either not been restored or have been patched with sand and stones instead of cement.” One affected resident noted, “I cannot invest in cementing my home only for another company which wants to make money to destroy it with impunity.” As a result residents are threatening to pull out the cables to get the attention of the company and its contractors.

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Spotted in Accra, Ghana: Obama Biscuits

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Brief quote in Technology Review

Quoted briefly in Technology Review on Nokia’s work in Africa.

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‘Sakawa’ and Western Media Representations of Ghana

My comments on the recent media coverage on CNN of ‘sakawa’ (Internet scamming) in Ghana at the excellent blog – Africa is a Country.

Also, while we’re at it, I thought Timothy Burke’s comments on his blog on how the development industry trades in Messianic narratives (with the recent controversy over Greg Mortenson’s book Three Cups of Tea as the case in point) resonated with this theme of problems in Western ‘depicting’ of the "Third World."

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Out in STHV this month

My article titled “User Agency in the Middle Range: Rumors and the Reinvention of the Internet in Accra, Ghana” is in this months Science, Technology & Human Values, 36(2): 139-159.

Abstract: This article is an analysis of rumors about Internet scamming told by Internet cafe users in the West African capital city of Accra, Ghana. Rumors provided accounts of how the Internet can be effectively operated by young Ghanaians to realize “big gains” through foreign connections. Yet these accounts were contradicted by the less promising direct experiences users had at the computer interface. Rumors amplified evidence of wildly successful as well as especially harmful encounters with the Internet. Rather than simply transferring information, through the telling of rumors, Internet users reclaimed a social stability that was disrupted by the presence of the Internet. These stories cast young Ghanaian Internet users as both good and effective in relation to the Internet. The study of accounts as they relate to the activities accounted for is an established area of interest in social theory. By considering how rumors function as accounts and how such interpretations of the technology are propagated among users, this analysis contributes to a broader understanding of user agency.

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Recent Funding News

Received a 3-year NSF Grant from the Science, Technology, and Society program. The title of the project is “How Marginalized Populations Self-Organize with Digital Tools: ethnographic case studies in Africa and China.” For more information see the announcement.

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Panel on ‘Designing for Freedom’ at Stanford

Gave a talk on “Use as Redesign” as part of the Rebele First Amendment Colloquium at Stanford University, department of Communication.

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Talk at Northwestern TSB

Spoke about phone gifting and phone sharing in rural Uganda as part of the Technology and Social Behavior speaker series at Northwestern.

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Computing at the Margins

At the computing at the margins workshop this week at Georgia Tech.

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teaching Spring 2010

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