Thursday, July 2, 2020

Here and there? Mobile money and the politics of transnational living patterns in West Africa

by Solène Morvant-Roux and Anna Peixoto-Charles, University of Geneva in Oxford Development Studies (Volume 48, 2020 - Issue 2)

Ouagadougou, Burkino Faso. Photo credit: Solène Morvant-Roux

The authors examine the use of mobile money in the context of cross-border remittances in West Africa. Relying on mixed methods and a multi-sited empirical strategy they look at both the sending and receiving conditions of mobile money transfers. By looking at money as socially embedded and the role of migrants in the production of a transnational space, their results highlight that uptake and usage of mobile money for remittances are shaped by a transnational living pattern. At the same time, mobile money also contributes to strengthening and reshaping this pattern. By showing that conversion of virtual money to cash may be performed by brokers that live far away from the end recipient, the paper highlights an important gap between spatial distribution of mobile money infrastructure and the social mediation that supports e-money flows. Cash-based transactions, in turn, are shown to play a key role in the social mediation dynamic.

Select Citations
"According to Leon Isaacs (cited in Heyer & Mas, 2010), 65% of the 23 million African migrants are regional as opposed to trans-continental migration with West Africa hosting major sub-regional corridors. Côte d’Ivoire is one of the countries with the largest long-standing diasporas from neighboring countries. This is especially so for the Burkinabè diaspora which accounts for almost 2 million people (IOM 2018) compared to the total population of Côte d’Ivoire (at 23 million). This migration flow is mainly composed of rural males leaving their village to settle in a more dynamic agricultural region in Côte d’Ivoire. Remittances between the two countries are a major component of the flows between migrants and their family members in Burkina Faso (IOM 2018). This shows that despite an old migration corridor (existing over several generations) that allowed migrants to invest in lands and houses in Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso still appears to be considered their ‘home’, at least partially."

"Our findings highlight that while the spatial spread of MM retailers (supply) is impressive in sending and receiving settings, the social spread of MM in Burkina Faso exhibits a much more complex web of in-between informal brokers. Far from the person-to-person transaction and beyond issues of proximity, MM sending and receiving patterns are strongly shaped by the migrants’ transnational living pattern (distributive livelihoods) as well as the imperative to maintain community membership over the long run."

"With MM transfers, migrants can play a more active role in daily expenses or timely responses to financial difficulties without it being communicated to others. Previous to MM access, migrants would not have been able to quietly send money to their children for school in their home country, or for family events without it being known more widely. In interviews, they described: ‘we were neither able to send our children to our home country school nor to take part to family events because we had to rely on intermediaries who are always indelicate.’ Discretion is key: ‘Unless you talk, these transfers remain secrets’. "

Read more on the research findings in the full paper in Oxford Development Studies:

Read up on original IMTFI-funded research project: "Cross-border Transfers as a Strategic Tool to Promote the Diffusion of Mobile Money in Rural Areas. The Case of Burkinabe Diaspora Living in Ivory Coast".

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