ICT for whose development?

ICTs are used by developing countries to facilitate development. In her paper explaining the link between ICT4D and Modernization theory, Kunst (2015), argue that ICT4D brought about the revival of Modernization Theory in the 1990s. Is there a link between ICT4D and Modernization Theory? Some authors argue that there is.

Nederveen Pieterse (2010) noted that, western development efforts after 1945 were aimed to bring economic development. Similarly, development efforts in Ethiopia since 1991 are focused on facilitating economic growth.

The government has spent millions developing the infrastructure for ICTs. However, instead of using the ICTs to facilitate development they use them to silence alternative voices.

Ethiopia is described by the Committee to Protect Journalists as one of the most censored countries in the world. On the other hand, Ethiopia has been a darling of investors and development economists.

The land grabs in Ethiopia show the dark side of south-south co-operation. Western donor agencies has been supporting the government despite repeated call for independent investigation on gross human rights abuses.

Pieterse noted that if development is to be a worthwhile objective of public policy, it could not be reduced to economic growth; rather, a number of other values had to be satisfied, including human rights, cultural liberty, environmental sustainability etc.

I agree with Pieterse. “Culture must be the basis of development”. People should not be evicted from their own lands without consultation or compensation. Human rights has to be respected and environmental sustainability should be considered.

In countries like Ethiopia, bloggers are using new media to peacefully voice their concerns about the lack of democracy and organize virtual campaigns including one calling on the government to respect the constitution.

The government continues to subject journalists and bloggers to persecution including threats, arrests and enforced disappearances. If you are a vocal blogger or an independent journalist you are a terrorist.

The current Prime Minister was recently heard to say “the moment you join a terrorist group you become a blogger“. The reality is that the journalists and the bloggers who are still in prison are well known for their integrity.

The government has blocked social media and internet. Ethiopian Authorities Shut Down Mobile Internet and Major Social Media Sites.  The UN says internet cut, arrest of bloggers and mass arrests is not the solution.

What is happening is civil resistance by the public. “Instability”, the typical accusation of dictators against civil resistance was recently used by the government to declare a state of emergency for 6 months.

For the mainstream media, civil resistance may lead to “unrest”, the word the media use to describe any uprising in public. In the case of Ethiopia, the mainstream media is very much casual in its coverage of the human rights abuse.



  1. Sara Nässén

    Very interesting topic. I have found this “technocratic” mindset, and the tendency to ignore context, when reading literature on Big Data for our blog (especially when it is addressed from an economic perspective such as when Monsanto argues for the benefits of Big Data for agriculture). I find it highly relevant to complement this mindset with a more contextual perspective. Nederveen Pieterse discusses how today´s state of development theory reflects a ‘colonial legacy’ in knowledge. Just like Pieterse and the author of this post I agree that culture needs to be the basis of development, since realities are socially constructed and knowledge does not simply reflect, but also construct reality (p. 2). It is important that ICT4D not only inherits the traditional notion of development as a one-dimensional perspective, but sees that what constitutes improvement is contextual and varies according to class, culture, historical context and relations of power. I have to say that when reading UN documentation on Big Data and the “technological revolution”, I get the impression that cultural contextualization is very often taken into account – at least on a theoretical level. It would be interesting to get a more profound idea of how different organizations address the issues of mindset and theoretical foundation – if at all. And, most of all, how, and if these considerations are put into practice.

    1. Yoseph Berhane

      Sara, I agree with your reflection about the tendency to ignore the context.The mainstream media is repeatedly reporting about the economic “miracle” that is happening in Ethiopia. However, famine remains a threat for millions of people and there are millions of people who cannot meet their basic needs. On one hand the country exports billions of dollars worth of agricultural commodities every year. The government proposes to export even more in the future. Meanwhile, the country’s population remains reliant on hundreds of millions of dollars a year in foreign aid. The protests in Ethiopia show what is really at stake when we hear the word “development”. It is one more battle with local communities on one side and the donors, development agencies and the government on the other. ICTs as one instrument should be put in use for the benefit of development. However, the majority of the ICT projects are not being set up for the benefit of intended communities. Sosale (2007) under the book: communication for development and social change examines the strategy of framing employed by agents and institutions that were historically in a position to establish the dominant meanings of communication and development.

  2. Natasha Verco

    Thank you for posting about these important political events. This political repression is a good counterpoint, backdrop and reality check for thinking about the broader theoretical bases of promotion of ICTs in this post. It is a timely reminder to me that while theoretical discussions are important we can’t loose touch with the real world out there and the enormous efforts people are going to everywhere to make this world a better place. In this, Rettberg (2014) observation that participating in social networks means giving up a large portion of our privacy is an important reminder to be internet safe for those speaking out peacefully in more overtly repressive contexts. Be careful y’all.

    To some extent the link of ICTs and modernization is clearer even for me with social movement theorizing than with development work though. Remember the cringable reports on “facebook revolutions” in 2011- where ICTs took the tools of the west into less western contexts so that people could move more towards a more modern western democratic norm- eek. I think there is fabulous critique of this in Denkik and Leister (2015) too.

    But somehow the less obviously regressive parts of the stories about ICTs and New media are a bit more troublesome to me. Im thinking here about Meikle’s (2016) argument that use of the terms Web 2.0, sharing, platform and social media are actually telling particular narratives which are used by industry to attempt to change the way we think about them and their products. Or Marwick’s (2013) linking of increased quantification promoted by self-tracking applications and the data platforms collect through user and neoliberal ascendance as it reduces us tracked humans to cogs in machines we can not and do not control (Cited in Rettberg 2017). Or Morozov’s critique of solutionism- idealizing efficiency, transparency and all those other nice clean controlled things that come at a sacrifice of human freedom and creative joy. URGH. It’s enough to make a cyber shy person like myself want to pack up my laptop and trade in my connection to the internet for good. Still, even without the internet- repression happens. And I do think that groups like the Zapatistas would in times gone past just been massacred in a hidden assertion of state control. Repression, control, co option and reduction of our hopes and dreams into commodities predate social media by quite some. As does Modernization theory. Just because a theory, group of people or powerful interests can use something to justify their position doesn’t make that thing inherently steeped with their position….maybe 😉

Comments are closed.