The downloaders of Yaoundé

Via the UCL Why We Post series, I saw this post by Patrick Awondo from the project Anthropology of Smart Phones and Smart Ageing. Really interesting… read the full post here. Some quotes:

Among the material elements that mark the smartphone economy in Yaoundé, there are shops and sales counters that resale low-cost phones, predominantly from Asia. There are also houses and buildings in the same stlye and colours of the operators of local phone companies ; yellow for  South African MTN, Orange for French Orange, red for Korean Nextel, and blue for Cameroonian Camtel. There are also more discreet kiosks. Sometimes these are mobile, but mostly they are  sedentary. They often contain simple tables, where a laptop is installed and speakers are held by a young man between the age of 20-30 . At these kiosks, you find working persons known as ‘downloaders’, whose job it is to assist with people with their digital queries and technical needs for a fee.

Once called ‘engravers’, downloaders are not a new body of tradesmen in Yaoundé. They appeared in the urban landscape with the invention of the compact disk (CD) in the 90s. At that time, young working men here established the act of burning CDs for people (actually a large majority of the urban population), who had no computers to copy music and other films and data via digital media. they They also recorded music onto cassette tapes. The CD gave way to downloading and streaming, and  uses of USB sticks, and eventually smartphones. Downloading has since become a central business in Cameroon in the informal labour economy.

As an informal presence occupying the street, downloaders’s status within the  urban / labour community appears ambivalent, sometimes falling within, and sometimes outside of official protocols. Since the 2000s, public life has become increasingly disciplinary. Assisted by policemen, agents of the municipal brigade carry out daily observations of the streets, and where they deem necessary, do not hesitate to use violence against  young people  occupying parts of urban space and engaging in a variety of commercial activities (Ottou, Forthcoming).

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