Sociotechnical transformation of the livestock market in Tanzania: appropriation of mobile phones by the Maasai and Wasukuma pastoralists
Soares, Luis Lourenco S. S.
This thesis presents findings from a qualitative enquiry into the rapid uptake of the mobile phone by pastoral communities in Tanzania and its use as a tool to tackle marketing constraints. The research design involves an interregional comparative analysis of two key production regions: Arusha and the Lake Zone, and two groups of livestock producers (the Maasai pastoralists and Wasukuma agro-pastoralists respectively). Applying the Social Shaping of Technology (SST) perspective from Science and Technology Studies (STS), and in particular the concept of ‘appropriation’, the study examines the embrace of mobile phones by those producers – who keep livestock under the extensive (pastoralist) and semi-intensive (agro-pastoralist) systems respectively. The thesis examines the extent to which the mobile phone is changing how livestock keepers interact in the livestock market and how this is affecting their livelihoods. The thesis shows that the significance of the mobile phone varies with user groups; for instance, for the Maasai who still lead a nomadic life, the mobile phone is used ‘conservatively’ to communicate about herd management and to coordinate household affairs in ways that do not substantially disrupt traditional social practices and roles. In contrast, the Wasukuma agro-pastoralists use mobile phones to introduce new processes to support production and marketing, one good example being the strategy used to coordinate transportation of cattle to market. The study findings suggest the extension of the “appropriation” (Williams, Stewart, & Slack, 2005) conceptualisation by adding the possibility of a spectrum from shallow to extended according to users’ role and the context of use. Nevertheless, and in more generic terms, it is possible to say that the mobile phone use did not disrupt some of the traditional practices and trade customs amongst the Maasai, and it has reinforced the innovative behaviour of the Wasukuma. The thesis also examines a parallel initiative whereby aid agencies and public bodies in Tanzania supported the development of the Livestock Information Network and Knowledge System (LINKS), as an ICT platform designed to improve the livestock market by sharing market information. However, studies show that LINKS has not had the intended effect, is not trusted and has not been adopted by many pastoralists. The study shows how the concept of trust, which is key in market dynamics and trade relations, has been reshaped, because the mobile phone has supported informal communications that reinforce traditional methods of policing trust in the market. The thesis contributes to ongoing debates surrounding the conceptualisation of Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D). The failure of early ICT4D initiatives was attributed to a failure to address users’ specific requirements, due to gaps in the translation process, as well as to socio-political and technical fragilities such as the lack of adequate infrastructure, and a deficient social learning process. The initial reworking of ICT4D highlighted the need to design technology as a specific solution appropriate to particular contexts/user groups. These were seen as finished solutions (corresponding to the idea of a ‘technical fix’). Focusing upon ‘appropriation’, in line with the Social Shaping of Technology – Mark 2 approach – allows scope for a further rethinking of ICT4D which addresses not just design but the active role of users in shaping technological innovation to the context and purposes of communities in developing countries.