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Accepted Paper:

“Digital for Development” (D4D) or Digital Silk Road: who drives digital development in Africa and why?  
Stephanie Arnold (University of Bologna)

Paper short abstract:

As digitalization and data-driven technologies became the centerstage of geo-strategic competition, this paper analyzes to what extent China and the European Union instrumentalize “digital development” in Africa to promote their own agendas and assert their power in a changing world order.

Paper long abstract:

What does “digital development” mean in the 21st century international political economy? With the rise of big data and the diffusion of the “Internet of Things” (IoT), entire economic sectors and even critical infrastructure came to rely on data-driven technologies. Thus, digital development in Africa and other developing regions is no longer just about digitally driven solutions to century-old challenges such as land management, remote health services, or democratic governance. Instead, well-intended “digital development” efforts by various external actors must be reevaluated in light of Africa’s growth potential and the role of ICTs and data-driven technologies in the contemporary international political economy.

Against this background, the scope of this paper is twofold. Firstly, the paper compares the European and Chinese approaches to digital development, namely “Digital for Development” (D4D) under the Global Gateway and the Digital Silk Road. It argues that African states’ dependency on foreign finance and technology represents an opportunity for foreign actors, alias development partners, to promote their own priorities in the digital realm. In particular, China laid broadband networks, built data centers, and catered cheap mobile devices to poor Africans. By contrast, European countries were mainly concerned with implementing digital policies that would attract private investors, tackle inequalities arising from the rapid digitalization, and protect citizens’ rights. Secondly, the paper analyzes how African states balance these external inputs. By presenting evidence from a series of expert interviews with African-based academics and practitioners, the paper also contributes to the growing literature on African agency in digital development.

Panel Poli20
Infrastructural futures: situating Africa within global connectivity initiatives [CRG African Politics and International Relations]
  Session 1 Friday 2 June, 2023, -