Highwaymen Running Business

Mobile Phone Acquisition and Use on African Streets


The project was funded by a Development Trust Research Fund grant from the University of Edinburgh's College of Humanities and Social Science. 


‘Highwaymen Running Business’ looks at the acquisition and use of mobile phones on streets in various cities in east and southern Africa. The project covers the mobile phone use of those who have been ignored by influential researchers preoccupied with surveying entrepreneurs in fixed premises, and investigates a small number of businesses run from handsets carried on the person.

The focus is on the business of mobile phone acquisition and resale, or what might more accurately be described as the trade of low-cost handsets acquired through often illegal means. The research, undertaken by Tom Molony, is inter-disciplinary and uses locally-tuned qualitative research methods based on questionnaires, semi-structured interviews to introduce an ethnographic and Africanist perspective to geographies of mobility.


Presentations of the research findings have been given at the ‘On-the-ground accounts of the mobile phone “revolution” in Africa’ panel, Society for the Social Studies of Science (‘4S’) Annual Conference, Rotterdam (21 August 2008), and the ‘Mobile telephony in Africa: Daily lives and societal debates’ workshop, Africa Studiecentrum, Leiden (10 October 2008).

A paper is currently being prepared for publication in an Africanist peer-reviewed journal.