Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

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


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.

Corresponding author
Jan H. Pierskalla is a Postdoctoral Fellow, German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA), FSP 2, Neuer Jungfernstieg 21, 20354 Hamburg, Germany (
Florian M. Hollenbach is a Ph.D. candidate, Department of Political Science, Duke University, Perkins Library 326, Box 90204, Durham NC 27708, USA (
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Reuben Abraham . 2007. “Mobile Phones and Economic Development: Evidence from the Fishing Industry in India.” Information Technologies and International Development 4 (1): 517.

Jenny C. Aker , and Isaac M. Mbiti . 2010. “Mobile Phones and Economic Development in Africa.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 24 (3): 207–32.

Catie Snow Bailard . 2009. “Mobile Phone Diffusion and Corruption in Africa.” Political Communication 26 (3): 333–53.

Neal Beck , Kristian Skrede Gleditsch , and Kyle Beardsley . 2006. “Space Is More than Geography: Using Spatial Econometrics in the Study of Political Economy.” International Studies Quarterly 50 (1): 2744.

Christopher Blattman , and Edward Miguel . 2010. “Civil War.” Journal of Economic Literature 48 (1): 357.

Halvard Buhaug , Kristian Skrede Gleditsch , Helge Holtermann , Gudrun Østby , and Andreas Forø . 2011. “It's the Local Economy, Stupid! Geographic Wealth Dispersion and Conflict Outbreak Location.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 55 (5): 814–40.

Halvard Buhaug , and Jan Ketil Rød . 2006. “Local Determinants of African Civil Wars, 1970–2001.” Political Geography 25 (3): 315–35.

Piet Buys , Susmita Dasgupta , and Timothy Thomas . 2009. “Determinants of a Digital Divide in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Spatial Econometric Analysis of Cell Phone Coverage.” World Development 37 (9): 1494–505.

Sylvain Chassang , and Gerard Padro-i-Miguel . 2009. “Economic Shocks and Civil War.” Quarterly Journal of Political Science 4 (3): 211–28.

Paul Collier , and Anke Hoeffler . 2004. “Greed and Grievance in Civil War.” Oxford Economic Papers 56 (4): 563–95.

Ernesto Dal Bó , and Pedro Dal . 2011. “Workers, Warriors and Criminals: Social Conflict in General Equilibrium.” Journal of the European Economic Association 9 (4): 646–77.

Larry Diamond , and Marc F. Plattner , eds. 2012. Liberation Technology: Social Media and the Struggle for Democracy. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Jonathan Donner , and Camilo Andres Tellez . 2008. “Mobile Banking and Economic Development: Linking Adoption, Impact, and Use.” Asian Journal of Communication 18 (4): 332.

Jennifer Earl , and Katrina Kimport . 2011. Digitally Enabled Social Change: Activism in the Internet Age. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Jennifer Earl , Andrew Martin , John D. McCarthy , and Sarah A. Soule . 2004. “The Use of Newspaper Data in the Study of Collective Action.” Annual Review of Sociology 30: 6580.

Kristine Eck . 2012. “In Data We Trust? A Comparison of UCDP GED and ACLED Conflict Events Datasets.” Cooperation and Conflict 47 (1): 124–41.

James D. Fearon , Kimuli Kasara , and David D. Laitin . 2007. “Ethnicity Minority Rule and Civil War Onset.” American Political Science Review 101 (1): 187–93.

Robert J. Franzese , and Jude C. Hays . 2008. “Interdependence in Comparative Politics: Substance, Theory, Empirics, Substance.” Comparative Political Studies 41 (4/5): 742–80.

Elisabeth Gilmore , Nils Petter Gleditsch , Päivi Lujala , and Jan Ketil Rød . 2005. “Conflict Diamonds: A New Dataset.” Conflict Management and Peace Science 22 (3): 257–92.

Brian Greenhill , Michael D. Ward , and Audrey Sacks . 2011. “The Separation Plot: A New Visual Method for Evaluating the Fit of Binary Models.” American Journal of Political Science 55 (4): 9911002.

Herschel I. Grossman , and Minseong Kim . 1995. “Swords or Plowshares? A Theory of the Security of Claims to Property.” Journal of Political Economy 103 (6): 1275–88.

Stefano M. Iacus , Gary King , and Giuseppe Porro . 2011. “Multivariate Matching Methods that are Monotonic Imbalance Bounding.” Journal of the American Statistical Association 106 (493): 345361.

Stathis N. Kalyvas 2006. The Logic of Violence in Civil Wars. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Gary King , Michael Tomz , and Jason Wittenberg . 2000. “Making the Most of Statistical Analyses: Improving Interpretation and Presentation.” American Journal of Political Science 44 (2): 347–61.

James LeSage , and R. Kelley Pace . 2009. Introduction to Spatial Econometrics. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Päivi Lujala , Nils Petter Gleditsch , and Elisabeth Gilmore . 2005. “A Diamond Curse? Civil War and a Lootable Resource.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 49 (4): 538–62.

Päivi Lujala , Jan Ketil Rød , and Nadia Thieme . 2007. “Fighting Over Oil: Introducing a New Dataset.” Conflict Management and Peace Science 24 (3): 239–56.

Nils W. Metternich 2011. “Expecting Elections: Interventions, Ethnic Support, and the Duration of Civil Wars.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 55 (6): 909–37.

Eric Neumayer , and Thomas Plümper . 2012. “Conditional Spatial Policy Dependence: Theory and Model Specification.” Comparative Political Studies 45 (7): 819–49.

William D. Nordhaus 2006. “Geography and Macroeconomics: New Data and New Findings.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 103 (10): 3510–17.

Clionadh Raleigh , Andrew Linke , Havard Hegre , and Joakim Karlsen . 2010. “Introducing ACLED-Armed Conflict Location and Event Data.” Journal of Peace Research 47 (5): 110.

William Reno . 2011. Warfare in Independent Africa. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Michael L. Ross 2006. “A Closer Look At Oil, Diamonds, and Civil War.” Annual Review of Political Science 9: 265300.

Idean Salehyan , Cullen S. Hendrix , Christina Case , Christopher Linebarger , Emily Stull , and Jennifer Williams . 2012. “The Social Conflict in Africa Database: New Data and Applications.” International Interactions 38 (4): 503–11. (Accessed June 25, 2012).

Nicholas Sambanis . 2002. “A Review of Recent Advances And Future Directions in the Quantitative Literature on Civil War.” Defence and Peace Economics 13 (3): 215–43.

Clay Shirky . 2008. Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. London, UK: Allen Lane, Penguin Group.

Stefan Siebert , Petra Döll , Jippe Hoogeveen , J-M Frenken , Karen Frenken , and Sebastian Feick . 2007. “Development and Validation of the Global Map of Irrigation Areas.” Hydrology and Earth System Sciences 9 (5): 535–47.

Andrea Forø Tollefsen , Havard Strand , and Halvard Buhaug . 2012. “PRIO-GRID: A Unified Spatial Data Structure.” Journal of Peace Research 49 (2): 363–74.

Nils B. Weidmann 2009. “Geography as Motivation and Opportunity: Group Concentration and Ethnic Conflict.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 53 (4): 526–43.

Nils B. Weidmann , Jan Ketil Rød , and Lars-Erik Cederman . 2010. “Representing Ethnic Groups in Space: A New Dataset.” Journal of Peace Research 47 (4): 491–99.

Nils B. Weidmann , and Michael D. Ward . 2010. “Predicting Conflict in Space and Time.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 54 (6): 883901.

Elisabeth J Wood . 2003. Insurgent Collective Action and Civil War in El Salvador. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Type Description Title
Supplementary Materials


 PDF (2.7 MB)
2.7 MB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 52
Total number of PDF views: 518 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 2623 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 19th September 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.