American Political Science Review

Research Article

Technology and Collective Action: The Effect of Cell Phone Coverage on Political Violence in Africa


a1 German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA)

a2 Duke University


The spread of cell phone technology across Africa has transforming effects on the economic and political sphere of the continent. In this paper, we investigate the impact of cell phone technology on violent collective action. We contend that the availability of cell phones as a communication technology allows political groups to overcome collective action problems more easily and improve in-group cooperation, and coordination. Utilizing novel, spatially disaggregated data on cell phone coverage and the location of organized violent events in Africa, we are able to show that the availability of cell phone coverage significantly and substantially increases the probability of violent conflict. Our findings hold across numerous different model specifications and robustness checks, including cross-sectional models, instrumental variable techniques, and panel data methods.


  Authors’ names are listed in reverse alphabetical order; equal authorship is implied. This project was in part funded by the Program for the Study of Democracy, Institutions and Political Economy (DIPE) at Duke University. We thank Andreas Forø Tollefsen and colleagues for sharing the PRIO-GRID dataset with us. The availability of these data made life much easier on us. We are very grateful for comments and criticisms from four anonymous reviewers, the editors of the APSR, Cassy Dorff, Vincent Gawronski, Evan Lieberman, Nils W. Metternich, Brittany N. Perry, Audrey Sacks, Michael D. Ward, Erik Wibbels, and William Wittels. Their comments and suggestions helped to substantially improve our research and this paper. A previous version of this paper was presented at MPSA 2012 in Chicago. All remaining errors are our own. Data and replication files are available on the authors’ dataverse subject to dissemination restrictions by the GSMA.