|London School of Economics and Political Science (United Kingdom)
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This thesis questions and examines the role Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) are playing in the political transitions of developing countries. While there is much discussion about the contribution of ICTs in promoting economic growth and supporting the democratisation process, there is less understanding of the ways in which ICTs are often re-interpreted, re-defined and reshaped to fit political and cultural contexts that are substantially different from those of their origin. Focusing on the case of Ethiopia, I analyze one of these processes of selective adoption, examining which components of ICTs have been endorsed and proactively promoted by the government of Ethiopia, which have been constrained or inhibited, and for what reasons. I build on a conceptual framework that combines critical insights from different forms of constructivism, especially as they have emerged in international relations and in the history of technology tradition. I offer a new approach that reframes ICTs from consensual objects with an agreed set of characteristics and possible effects to nodes surrounded by conflict, which can be appropriated or resisted by different actors to pursue potentially competing goals. This thesis draws on extensive fieldwork and employs a variety of methods that have allowed me to analyse both the discursive and the material elements intervening in the adoption and adaptation of ICTs in Ethiopia. The research progressed through an iterative comparison between conceptualizations emerging from interviews with individuals who shaped the path of ICTs in the country, as well as from other textual material, and observations of how the technical artefacts were actually implemented. This process made it possible to understand how the complex nation building project pursued by the government of Ethiopia motivated the development of two large scale ICT projects, known as Woredanet and Schoolnet, and led to the marginalization of alternative uses of ICTs promoted by other components of society, such as the private sector, Ethiopians in the diaspora and international organizations.