Frailties at the Borders: Stalled Activist Media Projects in East Africa

Christina Dunbar-Hester


This article considers two activist projects involving attempts to export communication technologies. Groups of technologists based in the United States and Europe designed a radio station and an “oral wiki” for use in Tanzania and Rwanda, respectively. Both projects stalled before they could be fully implemented. But they did not languish because of user ambivalence or disregard; indeed, in both cases activists and local grassroots actors alike hailed the technologies as uniquely suited to the local conditions in which they were to be deployed. Drawing on social studies of technology, I argue that the Tanzanian radio station and Rwandan oral wiki cases illustrate that it matters where actors draw lines around where “technology” starts and ends. To distinguish between “the artifact” and “the social” is an act of boundary-drawing, with important consequences for media activism and technology transfer projects.



media activism, design, technology transfer, failure, Global North, Global South

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