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IDIA2014 Conference
Port Elizabeth, South Africa
3-4 November 2014

Towards self-sustaining community networks in rural areas of developing countries: Understanding local ownership

Carlos Rey-Moreno
Computer Science Department
University of the Western Cape
South Africa

Amalia G. Sabiescu
School of Art and Design, Coventry University, United Kingdom

Masbulele Jay Siya
Computer Science Department
University of the Western Cape
South Africa

Full paper


Community networks have been proven as a strong indicator for digital inclusion, which turns them into an attractive candidate if deployed in areas with scarce possibilities for communication and information, such as rural communities in the Global South. However, the lack of awareness and confidence prevents rural communities to embark themselves on their deployment, such that similar projects are usually initiated by external agencies. External intervention often incurs the creation of a rapport of dependency, and many such projects do not arrive to be long-lasting, sustainable, and community-controlled. The lack of local ownership has been often indicated as one principal factor for the failure of such externally-initiated initiatives. This paper tries to determine if it is possible to support the build-up of local ownership around a community network deployed through an external intervention. To this purpose, the paper introduces a case study of an externally-initiated community network project in rural South Africa. Based on the analysis of this case, the paper brings two contributions: First, it outlines an approach for operationalizing and studying ownership, based on an adaptation of a model from social psychology. This comes as an important contribution, since despite great interest in studying ownership, there are no established rigorous approaches to measuring it in community and development informatics. Second, the paper offers an analysis of the forms that ownership takes, and how ownership relates with other determinants of successful project management, such as the exercise of power, responsibility and commitment, applied to the South African case reported.

Key words

Community networks, local ownership, rural communities, South Africa