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Digital futures and analogue pasts? Citizenship and ethnicity in techno-utopian Kenya

Abstract
Abstract

In this article, I explore how digital technologies in Kenya emerged as a site through which questions of citizenship were posed – if not resolved – at a moment of national crisis. I draw attention, specifically, to the ways in which developers, bloggers and state actors mobilized techno-utopian narratives about Kenya's ‘Silicon Savannah’ to advocate for what I call ‘digital citizenship’, an ethical blueprint for how best to belong to the nation. While social scientists writing about ICT in Africa have focused primarily on Africans’ novel uses of objects such as mobile phones, I contribute to this conversation by interrogating how digital technologies have been mobilized as an idiom to both challenge and perpetuate social cleavages of ethnicity and class. ‘Digital citizenship’, I suggest, compels us to revisit debates about (post)colonial history, ideologies that undergird digitality, and the formation of local, national and transnational scales of belonging.

Résumé

Dans cet article, l'auteur explore l’émergence des technologies numériques au Kenya en tant qu'espace à travers lequel ont été posées, voire résolues, des questions de citoyenneté en période de crise nationale. L'auteur attire particulièrement l'attention sur la manière dont les développeurs, les blogueurs et les acteurs publics ont mobilisé des discours techno-utopiques sur la « Silicon Savannah » du Kenya pour plaider en faveur de ce que l'auteur appelle une « citoyenneté numérique », un modèle éthique du meilleur moyen d'appartenir à la nation. Alors que les spécialistes des sciences sociales traitant des TIC en Afrique se sont essentiellement concentrés sur les nouveaux usages d'objets comme le téléphone portable, l'auteur contribue à cette conversation en s'interrogeant sur la mobilisation des technologies numériques en tant qu'idiome pour remettre en cause les clivages sociaux d'ethnicité et de classe, mais aussi pour les perpétuer. L'auteur suggère que la « citoyenneté numérique » nous contraint à revisiter les débats sur l'histoire (post)coloniale, les idéologies qui sous-tendent la numéricité et la formation des échelles d'appartenance locales, nationales et transnationales.

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