Linking capabilities and technology: an exploration of mobile money and poverty in bauchi, nigeria.

Lawal, Maryam (2019). 'Linking capabilities and technology: an exploration of mobile money and poverty in Bauchi, Nigeria.' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA 2019, London, UK.


The capability approach has emerged over the decades as a theoretical framework for understanding poverty, justice, inequality and human development. Although the approach has been extensively operationalised in varied contexts, there remains scarce overt interaction between the capability approach and the branch of research focused on assessing ICTs for development (ICT4D). This paper operationalises the capability approach and connects it with ideas of disruptive innovation to offer a distinct critical lens to conceptualise the transformative role of ICTs in human development, with emphasis on rural poverty. Specifically, the paper explores the role of mobile money on reducing poverty as ‘capability deprivation’ in rural parts of conflict-affected Bauchi State in North-Eastern Nigeria.

The research takes a qualitative approach to engage with rural dwellers whose insights into poverty as reality primarily underpins a capabilitarian exploration of the underlying microeconomic conditions linked to social issues around agriculture, education, health, safety and security that are enabled or enhanced by mobile money. In addition, the research engaged with subject matter experts and policymakers at the national and state level to understand their conceptions of how mobile money is expected to transform the living circumstances of unbanked populations, and how these could be connected to the valuable human capabilities of those directly affected by poverty as ‘capability deprivation’. Essentially, the fieldwork exercises draw out capability-based perspectives from two analytical groups of respondents (subject matter experts and rural populations) to better illuminate how mobile money should work and how mobile money actually works in the context of Bauchi’s rural population.

Results highlight a slight but central disconnect between the benefits of poverty reduction and financial inclusion that mobile money is thought to bring about and the actual effects mobile money has on the capabilities and functionings of rural populations. This mainly relates to the direct and immediate effects of mobile money as experienced by poor rural populations, and on the other hand, the indirect and longer term effects of mobile money on wider socioeconomic development that are more broadly conceived and challenging to measure as understood by subject matter experts. The study therefore, focuses on understanding the former part in order to adequately apply theoretical constructs of the capability approach to understand how mobile money as a conversion factor and a means to certain ends changes the living circumstances of poor and marginalised individuals by creating opportunities or enhancing the range of existing opportunities for a person to lead a flourishing human life.

Analysis indicates that a social practice of engaging in ‘adashe’ club is the dominant financial instrument used as an alternative to traditional banking by nearly all respondents. While this practice encourages savings that allow small-scale investments for individuals and households to escape acute poverty, a majority of the respondents cited their interest in owning a bank account or accessing similar alternatives including mobile money in order to tackle the challenges that accompany subscribing to adashe clubs. In addition, research insights show that among those that use mobile money (i.e. as registered users or through a shared device with a registered user), it is perceived as valuable relative to the extent that an individual is able to pursue their wellbeing goals in a manner that enhanced certain human capabilities. In this sense, a single capability impact triggered by mobile money was identified to have a direct or indirect effect on other capabilities by serving primarily as a savings platform and a facilitator of quick and dependable payments and transfers (such that access to education translated to greater safety and security). Since these capabilities and their connections to other capabilities varied among individuals, a thematic approach was used to identify valuable capabilities that contributed towards addressing rural poverty. In conclusion, we gather that harnessing the power of ICTs (i.e. mobile technology) to make available a range of non-traditional financial products and services in areas that lack access to traditional banking could enable the poor and vulnerable to pursue their individual goals and collective objectives in order to lead a worthwhile life.

By exploring how mobile money plays a role in enhancing or obstructing the capabilities and functionings of rural populations in Bauchi, this paper demonstrates that the capability approach lends itself useful to make a more substantiated analysis that allows the theorisation of stronger links between ICTs and human development. This paper therefore aims to contribute primarily to the scholarly work on connecting the discipline of ICT4D with human development and capability approach.

Keywords: Human Capabilities, ICT4D, Mobile Money, Rural Poverty, Nigeria

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