Evaluating Shared Access in Rural Uganda

One of the readings in the bibliography of the article “Mobile Phone Use in Rural Africa” by Wyche and Murphy was entitled, “Evaluating Shared Access: Social Equality and the Circulation of Mobile Phones in Rural Uganda” by Jenna Burrell. In this article, she describes how she and her team spent 9 weeks split up over two trips to several rural villages in Uganda in order to discover how the culture of sharing (specifically mobile phones) was established in these types of areas. She begins by refuting the claims made that, “the idea of a singular African ‘culture of sharing’ as shaping mobile phone access and use proved to be an inaccurate overgeneralization in relation to observed practices of mobile phone sharing in rural Uganda… Sharing depended upon the object in question and the relationship between potential sharers” (Burrell, 236). She examines multiple social interactions which were leading motivators determining whether or not someone was willing to share their phone with another person. Many of these social interactions were very visible to me during my study abroad in Uganda during the last semester.

One example which she mentions and I can relate to is the practice amongst those courting individuals to share airtime via text messages or the phone itself in “a process of cementing social relationships” (Burrell, 237). This happened often to most of the girls on my study abroad program as men with cell phones attempted to show off their status and to convince them to use that airtime to talk to them even when they are not around each other.

Another aspect she touches on in this article which I saw commonly is the usage of mobile phones to manipulate and manage the dependency of women upon men. Many women she interviewed had similar stories where their husbands would allow them to use the phone only in their presence or would even gift them a phone of their own only to go through the call log each night interrogating them about every call made. If the woman is single and attempting to borrow another man’s phone, however, they are often expected to return the favor which is such a common practice that there are billboards and street signs urging women not to be involved with “Sugar Daddies”. She went on to say, “The billboards show a mobile phone, perfume and other luxury items, gifts that an older man would give a younger women in the course of the developing relationship. The phone serves as a lure or enticement along with these other desirable items” (Burrell, 239). Although she claims that these billboards “dot the paved roads around Uganda” and I would be surprised if any of the rural villages she went to had any paved roads. But that’s beside the point. Basically, though, the article is saying that there are many reasons that sharing happens or doesn’t happen which has little to do with the technological capabilities of even the powerless rural villages of Uganda.

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