​​​Communications Technology and National Identity: Evidence from Sub-Saharan Africa

Abstract

​A long line of theoretical literature leads us to expect that technological advancements facilitate the adoption of a national identity. We investigate the effect of one dimension of technological progress: the expansion of mobile phone coverage across sub-Saharan Africa, which is believed to induce broad changes in political and social life. We use a novel combination of geocoded public opinion data and fine-grained data on mobile phone coverage boundaries. Applying a geographic regression discontinuity design, we show that access to mobile technology decreases the likelihood that an individual identifies with the nation by around 5~7 percentage points. We hypothesize that the decrease in national identification is a result of the ethnically-polarized nature of political rhetoric that is often shared via cell phone networks, especially in the run-up to elections. To establish support for this mechanism, we exploit as-if random variation in the timing of individuals’ survey interviews to presidential elections. Our analysis suggests that the proximity to elections intensifies the effect of mobile coverage.

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Working Paper
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