Mobile Assemblages and Maendeleo in Rural Kenya: The Case of Marakwet

PhD Thesis

Komen, Leah Jerop 2014. Mobile Assemblages and Maendeleo in Rural Kenya: The Case of Marakwet. PhD Thesis University of East London School of Arts and Digital Industries
AuthorsKomen, Leah Jerop
TypePhD Thesis

Research on Information Communication Technology (ICT) and Development involves assumptions about the potential of such technologies to engender social transformations and development. Corporate organisations have financed studies that seek to understand the impact of such technologies in a bid to push for their business agenda (Castells et al., 2007; Vodafone, 2005; ITU, 2004) and also act as a means of helping developing nations eradicate poverty levels in the wake of the millennium development goals (MDGs). This kind of development is seen as synchronic, without considering the target populations’ involvement in decision making, and also tends to dictate what development should look like in the eyes of most development economies where such ICTs like mobile telephones have come from. Such development is also considered as being linear in nature (Melkote and Steeves, 2003; Donovan, 2011).

This thesis is an attempt to advance the second kind of development that is diachronic in nature, which pays attention to the interrelationships of human technology rather than the former that privileges technology as engendering social transformations and development. This kind of development has been conceptualised as maendeleo, a Swahili term that denotes process, participation, progress and growth. Unlike the first perspective of development that views technology as causing changes, maendeleo sees social transformations and development as an interaction between mobile telephony users and their specific contexts. It is a localised understanding of development from the participants’ encounters with mobile telephony in their everyday life. This thesis thus examines the role of mobile telephony in the social transformation and development of the Marakwet people of rural Kenya, using ethnographic methods of data collection and assemblage theory as theoretical framework.

Historically the Marakwet community of Kenya suffered from decades of insecurity due to cattle-rustling with their neighbours. Since its advent in Marakwet a decade ago, mobile telephony still remains complex. On one hand, it is seen as answering the insecurity question by allowing users to alert each other in case of an invasion, but at the same time is seen as the source of more insecurity, especially since mobile phones can also aid the enemies to cattle-rustle. Physical meetings that are the domain of most Marakwets are also affected by the technology, with it being seen as reducing the need for social gatherings, yet enhancing it at the same time. Mobile money transfers, discussed as M-PESA, have not been spared either regarding services deemed to boost development and bring about social cohesion, on one hand, while still believed to cause disharmony within households and also be a ‘risky’ endeavour with lack of sufficient money deposit security, on the other.

Twenty-five ethnographic interviews were conducted with 12 households, taking into account age, gender, literacy levels and the length of time the device had been accessed by users. The interviews were complemented with data obtained from 5 focus group discussions among homogeneous groups (women, men, clan elders, girls and boys). The findings show that mobile phone is implicated in everyday life of the people of Marakwet, challenging concepts such as co-presence, power and gender relationships, interpersonal networks and also the idea that the use of mobile telephony in the region incorporates older modes of communication models such as the community horn. Mobile telephony influences and is influenced by all areas of community life: health, education, and agriculture, religion forming assemblages of people (users), financial institutions, government and mobile phone service providers.

This thesis challenges the dichotomisation of society into micro (individual or household) and macro (national or societal) that ignores the intermediate or meso levels. The boundaries suggested by such categorisation are blurred by communication technologies that re-define terms, such as time and space, public or private places, here and there. In a way, macro and micro distinctions also assign power to macro forces to determine the micro, which in the advent of technologies, the micro can only be changed if they so wish and not necessarily because change has been decided, packaged and delivered to them via mobile telephony or any other communication technologies. Instead, it is how they negotiate power, gender relations, cultural inclinations and socio-economic dispositions in their domesticated use of mobile telephony that facilitates social change and development.

Key words: Assemblage, Maendeleo, M-PESA, Social transformation, Co-presence, Development and Sharing.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Publication dates
PrintOct 2014
Publication process dates
Deposited13 May 2015
Publisher's version
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