Microwork and Virtual Production Networks in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia
= research project of the Oxford Internet Institute
"This project aims to understand the current and potential impact of Internet and mobile technologies on social and economic development, especially when it comes to the emergence of new and transformative 'virtual' economic activities and work.
Sub-Saharan Africa has traditionally been characterised by stark barriers to non-proximate communication and flows of information. However, in the last few years, there have been radical changes to SSA’s international connectivity; fibre-optic cables have been laid throughout the continent and there are now almost one hundred million Internet users and over seven hundred million mobile users in the region.
This rapid transformation in the region’s connectivity has encouraged politicians, journalists, academics, and citizens to speak of an Internet-fuelled economic revolution happening on the continent. For the first time in decades, Sub-Saharan Africa is receiving more capital through investment than in foreign aid and many see the potential for SSA to move away from dependence on agriculture and extractive industries and towards a focus on the quaternary and quinary sectors (in other words, the knowledge-based parts of the economy).
However, while much research has been conducted into the impacts of ICTs into older economic processes and practices, there remains surprisingly little research into the emergence of new transformative Internet and mobile-based economic activities and work in Africa. The question therefore remains if, and under which circumstances, we are seeing a new era of development on the continent fuelled by networked technologies, or whether Sub-Saharan Africa’s engagement with the global economy will continue to be on terms that reinforce dependence, underdevelopment, and economic extraversion.
Southeast Asia (SEA) is a region that has a population and demographics comparable to SSA, but that has enjoyed good international connectivity for somewhat longer. Due to its location between Europe and East Asia, Southeast Asia was traversed by some of the earliest submarine cables. A modern high-capacity fiber-optic cable providing direct links to Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines and the island of Borneo was completed in 2009. Although SEA is more prosperous than SSA, it, too, grapples with issues of development and dependency, and has seen improved connectivity lauded as ushering in a new era of development. SEA thus provides an interesting comparison to SSA: with socioeconomic similarities, but 3-10 years ahead of SSA in the connectivity revolution."