Mapping the digital Douala: lights and shadows of an African City

Pucciarelli, Marta and Vannini, Sara and Cantoni, Lorenzo (2015) Mapping the digital Douala: lights and shadows of an African City. In: Community Informatics Conference. Challenges and Solutions., 13.10.2014-14.10.2014, Monash Centre, Prato, Italy..

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The topic of access to knowledge and information and communication technologies (ICTs) in Africa has been intensively discussed in discourses related to the digital divide and democratization. In this vein, this paper addresses the relation between two interconnected representations - virtual and physical - of a very specific African urban context, the city of Douala. In this study, the city is interpreted as a macro-community enacted by micro-communities of practices, which are constituted by people who perform the same commercial or public activity, or who live in the same neighborhood. The study focuses, then, on the analysis of the websites of socio-economic activities which have an online presence and that, thus, are reachable in the virtual realm. By promoting their activities, these websites contribute to constitute the image of the digital Douala. The paper, then, portrays not only on the extension of available information (including both the parts of the city which are extensively represented and the parts that are left in the shadow), but also the micro-communities that have a presence online: who they are, where their online presence is produced, and in which areas of the city they are situated. Outcomes provide an energetic and dynamic picture of the city which define a clear digital divide in-between sectors and areas. While the digital Douala confirms to hold economic and commercial images and narratives, it also presents an irregular and unregulated development and a scarce involvement of the public sector into the social well-being of its inhabitants.

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