Internet Geographer


Digital Control in Value Chains: Challenges of Connectivity for East African Firms


I'm happy to report on a new co-authored paper that I have out. The piece asks what difference changing connectivity has made for East African firms. The piece emerges from a multi-year study on Development and Broadband Internet Access in East Africa that evolved into my current 'Geonet' project.

Foster, C., Graham, M., Mann, L., Waema, T., and Friederici, N. 2017. Digital Control in Value Chains: Challenges of Connectivity for East African FirmsEconomic Geography. 94(1) 68-86.


In recent years, Internet connectivity has greatly improved across the African continent. This article examines the consequences that this shift has had for East African firms that are part of global value chains (GVCs). Prior work yielded contradictory expectations: firms might benefit from connectivity through increased efficiencies and improved access to markets, although they might also be further marginalized through increasing control of lead firms. Drawing on extensive qualitative research in Kenya and Rwanda, including 264 interviews, we examine 3 sectors (tea, tourism, and business process outsourcing) exploring overarching, cross-cutting themes. The findings support more pessimistic expectations: small African producers are only thinly digitally integrated in GVCs. Moreover, shifting modes of value chain governance, supported by lead firms and facilitated by digital information platforms and data standards are leading to new challenges for firms looking to digitally integrate. Nevertheless, we also find examples in these sectors of opportunities where small firms are able to cater to emerging niche customers, and local or regional markets. Overall, the study shows that improving connectivity does not inherently benefit African firms in GVCs without support for complementary capacity and competitive advantages.

Related work

Foster, C. and Graham, M. 2017. Reconsidering the Role of the Digital in Global Production Networks. Global Networks. 17(1) 68-88 DOI: 10.1111/glob.12142.

Friederici, N. Ojanperä, S., and Graham, M. 2017. The Impact of Connectivity in Africa: Grand Visions and the Mirage of Inclusive Digital Development. Electronic Journal of Information Systems in Developing Countries. 79(2) 1-20. 

Mann, L and Graham, M. 2016 The Domestic Turn: Business Process Outsourcing and the Growing Automation of Kenyan Organisations. Journal of Development Studies 52:4, 530-548, DOI: 10.1080/00220388.2015.1126251.

Graham, M., Mann, L., Friederici, N. and Waema, T. 2016. Growing the Kenyan Business Process Outsourcing SectorThe African Technopolitan. 5 93-95

Graham, M. 2015. Contradictory Connectivity: Spatial Imaginaries and Techno-Mediated Positionalities in Kenya's Outsourcing Sector. Environment and Planning A 47 867-883 (pre-publicaion version here).

Mann, L., Graham, M., and Friederici, N. 2015. The Internet and Business Process Outsourcing in East Africa. Oxford Internet Institute Report, Oxford, UK.

The Right to the City: New Ebook from Verso

'Who is the city for?' That is the question tackled in a new (free) publication by Verso Books. Joe Shaw and I have a chapter in there. The blurb from Verso and links are below:

"In 1968, the French Marxist philosopher Henri Lefebvre wrote “Le Droite a la Ville” (“The Right to the City”), which has become one of the most essential texts in radical geography and urban studies. It transformed the way we think about urban life and the right to make and remake our cities, and ourselves. Fifty years on, the question of who is the city is for, and why, is more urgent than ever.

In this special ebook report (free to download!), some of the most important voices in the current debate on the right to city are gathered to debate what Lefebvre originally intended and what it might mean today within the neoliberal urban world. How these ideas help us to understand the contemporary struggle in housing; how to protest gentrification; the privatisation of public spaces; and the demand for places of self expression, and the security of home. The collection also explores how these ideas can be used in other fields—such as digital space and the Internet of Things.

Contributors include David Adler, Neil Brenner, Bradley Garrett, Andrea Gibbons, Huw Lemmey, David Madden & Peter Marcuse, Andy Merrifield, Anna Minton, Don Mitchell, Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi, Nina Power, Dubravka Sekulić, Joe Shaw & Mark Graham, and Alex Vasudevan."

Related links:

Shaw, J and Graham, M. (eds). 2017. Our Digital Rights to the City. London: Meatspace Press.

Shaw, J. and Graham, M. 2017. An Informational Right to the City? Code, Content, Control, and the Urbanization of InformationAntipode. 49(4) 907-927.  10.1111/anti.12312

Graham, M. and Shaw, J. 2017. An 'Informational Right to the City'?New Internationalist. Feb 8, 2017

Shaw, J and Graham, M. (eds). 2017. Il nostro diritto digitale alla città. Rome: Openpolis.

' Our Digital Rights to the City' - now in Italian
Screenshot from 2017-10-21 18-31-36.png

Earlier this year, Joe Shaw and I published Our Digital Rights to the City - a short pamphlet with our Meatspace Press outlet. The pamphlet has now been translated into Italian by the folks at Openpolis. You can freely download the Italian version at the link below:

Shaw, J and Graham, M. (eds). 2017. Il nostro diritto digitale alla città. Rome: Openpolis.

I co-wrote a song about Internet Geography: ' Use the Digital to Make the World you Want to See'

I recently co-wrote a song about my research (and my team's research) with the talented 'science troubadour', Jonny Berliner. The song, is essentially about why thinking about the geography of the Internet matters. It argues that an internet geography approach allows us to see a variety of digital inequalities, and it ends with some suggestions on what we can do to make the internet more equal and representative.

Jonny was a pleasure to work with, and it was incredible to go through the process of translating research into rhymes. Jonny of course played, recorded, and sung everything you'll hear on the track (I only take credit for some of the lyrics). Have a listen at the link below. It's a bluegrass song, by the way.

Graham, M., & Berliner, J. (2017). Use the Digital to Make the World you Want to See [MP3]. Oxford: University of Oxford (2016).


If you’re looking at a map, whether paper or an app,
It’ll tell you where to go from where you be,
The world is physical but it’s also digital,
So, we’ll think about web cartography,
All maps will tell a lie, and here’s the reason why,
They select the things they think that you should see,
So, the folks who make the map, control the way you interact,
With each other and your own locality.

What to think and what to do, where you should be going to,
We often ask the internet’s advice,
The advice that often sticks, is the first thing that we clicked,
When the search results are in you don’t think twice,
But internet geography, is allowing us to see,
Advice we get is always kinda skewed,
Breeding inequality, less opportunity,
And less voice for the folks who aren’t as viewed.

If you want to see more equality,
Recognise the internet’s physicality,
Question all the data, be a content generator,
Use the digital to make the world, the world that you want to see.

A web geographer will get themselves a code that scrapes the net,
And gives them data ‘bout the digital terrain,
For instance, Wikipedia has less on all of Africa,
Combined than can be found on the Ukraine,
Only 1 in 5 of edits on the Middle East are credited,
To the locals who are really in the know,
Do you want Google to determine, from the language that you searched in,
The things it thinks you most want it to show?

So, remember you should question, every digital suggestion,
And the algorithm that gave it to you,
If you’re too reliant, on the internet giants,
Your data gives them power to abuse,
Don’t be under-represented, and never be contented,
With a story someone else has made for you,
Making your own contributions makes the data distribution,
More inclusive of your truth and point of view.