Mobiles for Modernization: Newspaper Framing of the Mobile Phone in Sub-Saharan Africa



Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Media Studies


Fiona Chew


Africa, Framing, Mobile Phones, Newspapers

Subject Categories



The mobile phone is helping to make major strides in the modernizing of developing nations. It has helped to strengthen economies and better lives, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa has become a global success story. It seems that this device has integrated itself seamlessly into daily life, contributing to it becoming the second largest mobile phone market in the world (GSMA & Deloitte, 2011).

Many scholars have successfully explained the phenomenon of the mobile phone in the developing world and how it has bettered economic and social conditions, but no one has looked at it from the standpoint of the press and in the voice of the people until now. With the growth in popularity of the mobile phone, research will continue to expand, and this thesis intends to be included in that collection of literature. This thesis seeks to discover through the studying of framing in newspaper stories from sub-Saharan Africa, specifically the countries of Nigeria and Kenya, how the mobile phone has been used to develop this area of the world.

This study's theoretical foundation for examining mobile phone use in sub-Saharan Africa will rest upon theories of modernization, diffusion of innovations and framing, in addition to, the concepts of newspapers acting as representations of community and the practice of development communication. However, the journalistic routine of framing will guide much of the study.

In examining the modernization frames of urbanization, media, government, technology, economic, health and education, it can be understood how the mobile phone has been used and adopted through time. To arrive at any conclusions about this device in this area of the world a mixed- methods approach was employed in this thesis. A census of stories on the mobile phone was identified in two newspapers of Nigeria and Kenya from 2004 - 2012. First, a quantitative content analysis was used to uncover the way in which modernization frames appeared. Next, a qualitative content analysis provided textual details and context for the data.

Results of this thesis showed that the mobile phone was largely linked in this area of the world to technology and economics. The technology frame was the most frequently occurring frame in the study, but the economic frame was the most popular dominant frame. This was true in both countries. The priority with which modernization frames were reported in each country was similar - technology, economics, government and urbanization. However, the frequency pattern of dominant news stories published over the years was different. Nigeria had the most stories produced on the topic of mobile phones in 2012 (n=42), while Kenya had far more published in 2010 (n=105). There was an inverse relationship between the countries in story volume during the period analyzed. Also, an analysis of the cumulative percentage of stories over time showed that the two country curves corresponded approximately with the diffusion of innovation theory projections. Examining the "early adopter" (2004- 2005) period and the "late majority" (2006-2012) period revealed that the frames of technology and economics continued to remain popular throughout the different periods of adoption.

Technology and economics are two components of modernization that have become signifiers of modernity. The overall acceptance of the mobile phone by individuals as evidenced by increasing mobile phone subscription figures is responsible for the proliferation of valuable information to the population, which allows for easier communication, commerce and the access to information, amongst many other things. The acceptance of this device is proving that the mobile phone is the new digital media technology for this era and a viable tool for improving lives.


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