back to article Increased cell phone coverage tied to uptick in African violence

The increasing availability of cell phone coverage in Africa is contributing to an increase of violence on that continent, a recent study contends. "Utilizing novel, spatially disaggregated data on cell phone coverage and the location of organized violent events in Africa," the abstract of the findings published in the …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    NPO Opportunity

    Just ensure everyone has a phone, then retreats and defensive measures can be just as organized as the offense. There's a good project for a Western NPO to get behind. They'd probably forget the chargers though...

    Alternatively, they could just call the NSA and ask for SMS alerts when an attack is imminent.

  2. Daniel B.


    The real reason for African violence is ... Africans. We're talking about a continent where all the worst of the former imperialist cultures was absorbed, coupled with bad religion (some of it also thanks to European and Middle East "imports") and sick beliefs ("Muti", anyone?). See Rwanda, with the black-on-black racism culminating in the Rwandan Genocide. Somalia, which has been mostly lawless since the 90's. Sudan. Sierra Leone and the RUF bastards. Liberia. Zimbabwe, where racism targets whites these days.

    Somehow, I don't think cellphones can add any more violence to the mix...

    1. asdf

      Re: Doubtful.

      Always colonialism. Yep it always ruins the countries that experience it like the US, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore. Oh wait it doesn't. Africa problems are due to Africans like you say.

      1. Florida1920

        Re: Doubtful. NOT

        In the U.S., Canada and Australia the indigenous populations were nearly exterminated. In Africa they were dragged from the outer reaches to disease-ridden cities so their white overlords could keep them under control. They never were allowed into the inner circles of control. When the whites had plundered enough and/or the situation was getting deadly, they split, saying "You can have your country back now." Except it bore no resemblance to their or any other country. 99.99% of the evil happening in Africa today is the direct result of white exploitation.

        1. Anonymous Coward

          Re: Doubtful. NOT@Florida 1920

          A couple of thoughts for you. The two African "countries" not colonised were Ethiopia and Liberia. Both have suffered as much as the colonised countries from civil war, crime, poverty and failure to build civil infrastructure. Second, when the colonised countries were given independence, they were left with functioning governments, legal systems, property rights and so forth. Not perfect, I'll grant you, but most African states seem to have thrown away even those building blocks. South Africa is an interesting case. Having been the last white administration by some decades, it currently remains the best functioning state in Africa, and one of the most democratic. Worryingly it seems to be drifting towards a one party state, with rising levels of corruption, and rising economic problems.

          To suggest that all the ills of Africa are due to white exploitation is crap, spouted by those who wish to deny the failings of Africa and wallow in victimhood. Africa has vast potential, but that is squandered by the people who run the show now, not the people who left sixty years ago.

          If you're right, and I'm wrong, then Africa being in tatters is because sixty years isn't long enough for the locals to create their own legal systems, governments, and build infrastructure, despite Western aid running at $40 billion each and every year, African exports of $500bn a year, and foreign investment of around $10bn a year (plus Chinese aid and investment of around $8bn a year). So perhaps you should tell me how long Africans will need, and how much money it will cost?

          1. asdf

            Re: Doubtful. NOT@Florida 1920

            For the record I am not saying colonialism was good just that I don't believe Africa is the worst continent on Earth totally because of it. If you look at what Japan and then Mao did to China (Great starve forward and no culture just revolution) and see where they are today you have a modern success story of a country coming through hell to be nearly developed in a only a little more than a generation.

    2. Aldous
      Thumb Up

      Re: Doubtful.

      The Rwandan violence was helped along by the Belgians who made one tribe superior to the other based on flawed anthropological studies. This led to the Hutu's being the favored ethnic group at the time the Belgian's left but with out the colonial armies to protect them the Tutsi's went nuts and so the genocide started.

      The problem now is instead of wanting to move forward together the african leaders have all adopted the "ME FIRST" attitude. So instead of using mineral/oil wealth to drive mass education/industry they outsource it to the Chinese, pocket the nice brown envelope and buy themselves a few Ferrari's (and maybe from some money at the armed forces so they do not get overthrown).

      Not much different to the Gulf states except they import the workers from India but do not seem interested in building much else other than Oil industries. Whilst Dubai has built up on little oil income other major players like Saudi Arabia could have bootstrapped themselves into a a major aviation (brazil), electronics or space based economy. instead the various crown princes got new lambo's

  3. asdf


    Most of Africa's problems are summed up in two words. Tribe first. The cellphones just allow the tribes to organize and kill each other more effectively. When the tribe comes always before the state and the rule of law then guess what your state is going to be weak and your society is going to be ass backwards and poor.

    1. LarsG

      Re: sigh

      No you are wrong.

      Look at a map of Africa, then note all the straight lines used to show the borders of each country.

      Note that there are an abnormal number of straight borders.

      Now blame the colonial powers, France, UK, Belgium, Germany, Holland and Portugal.

      They were the ones that arbitrarily drew the straight lines without any regard or consideration the the people of Africa.

      Next blame all the despots that rule the African countries.

      Don't blame the tribes or the mobile phone.

      1. Charles Manning

        Re: sigh

        Sorry LarsG,, your argument sounds like the result of a PC education rather than experience.

        Your arguments might make sense if the violence was along the straight lines, or if the conflict was between countries

        In Africa most of the violence is in cities. And most of the straight lines are far away from the cities. That's why the colonial masters put them there. They tend to be in places with few natural features and hence a straight line was as good a dividing line as any.

        There are many straight lines in Canada and USA with very little conflict along those lines.

        Having lived 30 years in Africa, and having been able to speak two African languages, I would agree that Africa tends to be very tribal.

        In some of the bigger cities with a burgeoning middle class, tribalism has fallen away to an extent, but in the lower rungs of society that is not the case. Gangs are typically affiliated on a tribal basis. Speak the wrong language or "look" like the wrong tribe and you're a target.

        There is likely a very strong correlation between mobile phone coverage and violence, but it is unlikely a causal relationship. Mobile phone coverage is better around cities and it is just coincidental that more people, from different backgrounds, gravitate to the cities and the violence tends to be greater in the cities.

        1. Resound

          Re: sigh

          Right, so the social groups brought into conflict as part of the disruption brought on by colonialism wouldn't have migrated from those borders into the cities over the past 150 years? Because they're clearly going to be immune to the whole urban migration thing that happened over the 20th century.

  4. Anonymous Coward

    Cell phones linked to increased African violence

    AT&T call drop rage?

  5. YARR

    Racism? It's Gaia

    Most of the killing in Africa is between people of the same race, so this is tribalism as is the tradition, rather than an imperial influence. You can't defeat Mother Nature. Like any life form, we are genetically programmed to adapt our population size to the anticipated resource availability. A regular cull of the weakest also improves the fitness of the surviving gene pool. If anything, peaceful populations are defective and are more likely to become degenerate and eventually suffer a mass die-off.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      "Most of the killing in Africa is between people of the same race"

      Um, yes : most of the killing in Africa is between humans.

      I have to agree with what you said, but I somehow doubt you said what you meant.

  6. Herby

    Cause, or effect?

    Maybe the violence increases cell phone usage. Could be that way, you never know.

    Oh, well live and learn. Also: makes you wonder that a flag in Africa has an AK-47 on it.

    Various others have made other arguments (see above), so I won't repeat them.

  7. tazmanian

    Re: sigh

    > sigh


    > Most of Africa's problems are summed up in two words. Tribe first.

    You're absolutely right that sub-Sarahan Africans consider tribe before country. But making that fact the scapegoat for Africa's violence is misguided. Nationalism is one way to think, but is no more 'right' than tribalism.

    In 1884 and 1885 at the Berlin Conference, European powers divided up Africa between them with no consideration of tribal boundaries. It was not until after the Second World War that African countries started to regain their independence from various European colonials. The real reason for the violence is because the many tribes were forced to coexist with other tribes as one national entity, in a way that does not have any historic meaning to them, and those national entities and all of their problems continued after independence from Europe.

    Oh, that and the poverty and corruption.

  8. Eddy Ito


    It isn't the colonialism per se, it's the transition and reason for the transition from colonial to independent state. Your list of former colonies represents transitions that were conducted orderly with established governments ready to take on the socioeconomic burden of becoming independent. If you look at much of Africa oftentimes the transition consisted of the imperial power saying "bye, we're leaving now" as opposed to being violently kicked out, smooth transitions to new governments or moving from one power to another.

    Of all former imperial colonies with abrupt transitions India has, IMHO, done the best but part of that was because the political structure suckled up to Soviet structures for a softer transition and has done a good job of weaning itself into a global power. Sure, they could have done better but considering they started by groping around in the darkness of global politics it wasn't bad.

    In all, it's generally the most recently independent colonies which is where the trouble is. Ghana, which is 10 years "younger" than India, seems to be doing quite well while Somalia which gained independence only three years after Ghana isn't. Zimbabwe isn't much of a surprise given it's such a young pup and given South Africa's heritage it's no surprise either.

    #mount /dev/soapbox

    Africa also has another problem that doesn't get mentioned in the sociopolitical context and the prevalence of violence. Africa, for all it's history, is a young continent that most likely just needs to grow up. By young I refer to the age of the population which is probably a result of poor health care and rampant disease. If you look where there tends to be a surplus of strife you will find a rather low median age everywhere in the world. Let's have a look; Somolia: 17.7 years, Zimbabwe: 19.5, Rwanda: 18.7, Sudan: 18.9, Sierra Leone: 19.0* compared to India: 26.7, Hong Kong: 44.5 & Singapore: 33.6. (Quickly before someone jumps up and says Mexico: 27.7 has lots of drug violence. I'd call that an aberration since once you get away from the borders where it's really prevalent it either isn't reported or isn't much of a problem and besides it's all backlash from the current version of Prohibition.) Africa's real problem is there aren't enough old cantankerous fucks, like many of us here, who won't put up with the crap given off by the young dumb and full of come little shits who have nothing better to do than cause trouble.

    #umount /dev/allthatbullshit

    *All taken from the CIA World Factbook so salt as required.

    1. Charles Manning

      The history of tribal violence

      Many posters here seem to think that African violence and tribalism was started by colonialists forcing different tribes to live close to eachother and to go into conflict. Before that it was all peace and love. Right?

      Sorry to blow your guilt driven history, but it just ain't so....

      Tribal conflict in Africa predates colonialism by a long time. Some of that is the small skirmishes that are somewhat akin to fights between football yobs and some was more organised war mongering and imperialism (eg. Shaka et al).

      During the times of the greatest of the Zulu warriors (Shaka etc) the Europeans were far too small a factor to be considered of any consequence. What stopped the Zulus going South was a generally peaceful, but vehemently defensive group called the Pondo. Unlike the Zules who used a weapon and a shield, the Pondo would fight with a stick in each hand. Think African Swiss people if you will, except no snow or chocolate I knew some Pondo people personally and can vouch for their stick work. If it wasn't for them, the Zulu would have continued south and wiped out the softer Xhosa tribes (Mandela's ancestors).

      Many of the original colonial boundaries were established along tribal lines (eg. Pondoland, Zululand, Lesotho, Swaziland, Bechuanaland ->Botswana...) and many of those still exist today.

      Africa is not a young continent. In terms of human habitation it is the oldest.

      Sure colonialism did disrupt things. If anything, colonialism reduced violence by making murder and violence illegal and generally increasing prosperity and longevity. Of course when the colonials left much has just reverted, but with AKs and cellphones...

      1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

        Well it's not like

        Europe has a history of tribal violence. Viking, Goths, Spartans, they all have an undeserved reputation for violence. And of course with the coming of the Nation State Europe got busy civilising the rest of the world not engaging in a series of increasingly bloody continent wide wars.

        Seriously, you don't have to blame colonialism for all of the continent's woes to find the "violence - it's just the African way/the problem is the Africans"* sort of thinking deeply disturbing.

        *As expressed upthread not in the comment above. I consider guilt-based history to be stupid and unproductive.

      2. Eddy Ito

        Re: The history of tribal violence

        I didn't say there wasn't preexisting tribal violence but it's hardly an Africa only thing so Africa isn't special in that regard. It was hardly peace, love doves, tie-dye sheets and waterbeds anywhere in precolonial days. Go back to the Aztecs and you'll find they weren't the nicest people around and were overthrown in part because all the nearby tribes signed up with Cortez in hopes of sloughing off their existing master. Also notice that many alliances between Native Americans and the different European powers were based on joining the side opposite the alliances of their tribal enemies.

        My comment that Africa is young refers to the actual living populous not the historical record. If you want to see similar behavior have a look at the young hoodlums that form gangs (not exactly tribal lines but often racial) in parts of some US cities. In general the former colonies that had easy transitions also had the benefit of an older population and longer life expectancy. Africa has a population that is mostly made up of children who are easily influenced by the nearest figurehead, be it tribal or warlord, who promises them some shiny.

        Sure colonialism may have temporarily suppressed violence but it didn't do anything to address the cause so when the time came for withdrawal it's hardly surprising that little changed. Effectively the colonial powers screwed up by installing a fragile toy government and walking away only to wring their hands when it quickly swings back to either chaos or a powerful dictator and the only thing they can think to do is throw money at it.

        1. Daniel B.

          Re: The history of tribal violence

          Go back to the Aztecs and you'll find they weren't the nicest people around and were overthrown in part because all the nearby tribes signed up with Cortez in hopes of sloughing off their existing master.

          And there goes an interesting thing: unlike Africa, the Latin American former colonies aren't killing themselves in the stupid way the Africans seem to be doing. By the time we started breaking free as independent countries there was more of a national identity than a tribe affiliation; though the intermingling of Europeans and the native population might have a lot to do with that, something that didn't happen in Africa.

    2. asdf

      Re: FFS

      Will agree thats it true most of the violence and true evil in the world are actually done by males under the age of 40 (often even 30). Sure older leaders are often to blame as well but generally they don't depend on packs of old guys to do their killing for them. Hell look the age of the prison population in the West as well.

  9. zoomer777

    Correlation is not Causation

    Research 101 fallacy. The building of more roads is causing more car accidents...really? People communications and collaborating is fulfilling an obvious need...Arab Spring ring a bell? The fact that it is the service if conflict is just the reality of the dynamic currently in play. Now there will be an infrastructure to support an economy once they get sick of fighting.IMHO

  10. veeguy

    Tribe comes first

    The commentators who cite the tribal identification before national identity are correct. I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya and later traveled around Africa from East, to South to west Africa. I realized the tribal affiliations was the most important fact very quickly.

    I would do a lot of traveling with Kenyan officials to meet assorted ministry workers to accomplish our projects. Whenever we would arrive at our destinations, before we met the local officials, I would be told "Here we will meet Mr. Barundaa, he is Kikuyu", or "This is Danial Moyea's office, he is Masai"

    The majority of government employees were Kikuyu, the tribe of Presidents Moi and Kenyatta. Thus when we would meet an official of a different tribe, it was often times accompanied with an explanation "Mr Aruna's family gave a lot of money to Jomo Kenyatta in the years before independence, as if to answer the unspoken question "How did a Luo or Akamba get such a good government job.

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