The Internet, Policy & Politics Conferences

Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

Andile Ngcaba: Big Data and the implications for African politics, policy and the ICT ecosystem

Andile Ngcaba, Dimension Data


Big Data and the implications for African politics, policy and the ICT ecosystem
The paper will undertake a qualitative study of the impact and challenges of Big Data on
policy and legislation in the African context – in so doing attempt to understand the
institutional arrangements required.

This paper will discuss the ICT ecosystem in Africa and the impact of Big Data thereon. Big
Data is defined within the context of the broader ICT ecosystem that consists of infrastructure
and delivery networks, content and applications, and related services. The switch from
scarcity to abundance of Big Data, driven by the exponential increase in processing, storage
and bandwidth globally, and inverse decline in the cost thereof will have a significant impact
on the current ecosystem. This will result in a fundamental realignment of the study of people
and society, both through the analysis of the data sets that are being made available across
the African Continent.

The interconnectedness of Big Data across geographic boundaries needs global rules and
could have a significant impact on the sovereignty of nations. As a result, new principles for
an age of Big Data will need to cover areas that include: privacy, security, retention,
processing, ownership and the integrity of information. Big Data poses significant challenges
to the sovereignty of nation states, as the ability to crowd source and use social media
platforms to mobilise communities and spread information could impact stability as witnessed
during the Arab Spring. The ability of government institutions to use large data sets could
improve service delivery as witnessed in South Africa, where the revenue service has
integrated numerous data sources including from financial institutions, company registrations
and other source to improve their ability to collect taxes. This case study is presented in
more detail in the paper as an example of models of using Big Data to improve government
service delivery.

In this regard, this paper will look at the Ushahidi, as a case study, and how it used crowd
sourcing to create real-time information of the violence during the Kenyan uprisings following
the 2007 Presidential elections. This application has shown the value of collecting, but more
importantly visualising large data flows in order for it to be of increased value. For
governments, the challenges include issues related to privacy laws that were not designed for
the Internet. Similarly, rules for document retention presume paper records and it will be
argued that the policy and legislative framework needs to be adapted to create the enabling
provisions in all legislative instruments to ensure that all relevant legislation considers the
impact of the ICT ecosystem. In this regard, the paper will study the current ICT Policy
development process being undertaken by the South African Department of Communications
as a case study on how institutional arrangements need to be established to give effect to the
ICT ecosystem.

In the areas of culture, the ability to store vast amounts of content and easily access it via the
Internet creates new opportunities for the African content industry and this paper looks to
identify opportunities and challenges facing this industry, focusing on the Nigerian film
industry and the shift to online delivery mediums.

This study hopes to improve knowledge of the possible utilisation of data mining and
digitisation of government information, which is still in its fledgling stages on the African
continent. In particular, looking to the challenges related to digital identity and the trust
associated therewith from both the user and government. Critically, the rise of Big Data has
an impact on policy making and this paper looks to explore how Africa’s institutional
arrangements and policy environment, will have to be altered to assist us in exploiting the
opportunities presented by these changes. The impact of widely available data sets, content
and transport medium – in the form of the Internet – has significant benefits and challenges
for the survival and growth of cultures, religion and language on the African continent. The
rise of religion as a critical player in the content delivery and development on the African
continent is of particular interest and detailed in the paper. The questions regarding privacy
with relation to the data mining that is currently undertaken needs to be addressed by
responsible institutions both public and private. In conclusion, the paper will detail the new
ecosystem approach to policy and legislation required in the age of Big Data, highlighting the
challenges and opportunities that have been identified.

The research methodology for this project will be qualitative, which lends itself to ‘thicker’,
more detailed analyses of observed phenomena, or, as Baxter and Eyles (1996: 505),
“capture[s] the richness of context dependent sites and situations”. As argued by Whittemore
et. al. (2001: 524): “Qualitative research seeks depth over breadth and attempts to learn
subtle nuances of life experiences as opposed to aggregate evidence”. Delving into rich and
context-dependent situations is not only a lengthy exercise, but, given the limitations of time,
necessarily results in deep analyses of a few cases, making it impossible to generalise the
findings across time and space. Unlike quantitative research, which seeks to identify and
explain the causal relationship between different variables, qualitative research seeks to
understand and offer explanations for given phenomena. Thus, given the specific social,
political, and historical context out of which Africa has emerged, it is important to locate the impact of big data on the Continent against the backdrop of this specific political and historical context, utilising a holistic-inductive approach.

In an attempt to address concerns with the reliability and validity of the research and its
findings, and remaining cognisant of their epistemological foundations in positivist/quantitative research, the proposed qualitative study will draw on broadly accepted research ethics, which include:

- Truthfulness

- Rigour – in the qualitative research tradition, this refers to the integrity, consistency,
creativity, and meticulous manner with and through which the researcher conducts
him/herself in designing, executing, and analysing the research in keeping with the overall
objectives of the study

- Reflexivity – that is, the capacity of the researcher to reflect on his/her positionality
and how his/her underlying assumptions, preferences, and perspectives influence the
research process (including the interviewing process) and the analytical framework within
which findings are crystallized.


Baxter J. and Eyles J. (1996) ‘Evaluating Qualitative Research in Social Geograhy:
Establishing ‘Rigour’ in Interview Analysis’, Transactions of the Institute of British
Geographers Vol.22 No.4

Whittemore R., Chase S.K., and Mandle C.L. (2001) ‘Pearls, Pith, and Provocation: Validity in
Qualitative Research’, Qualitative Health Research, Vol.11 No.4