In seeking a better understanding of the impact of mobile telephony on micro-enterprise in developing countries, the research reported here focused on the aso oke (meaning "top cloth") industry. This produces cloth for ceremonial occasions by hand-weaving and is primarily associated with the Yorùbá people of south-western Nigeria (see Figure 2).
Figure 2: Aso Oke Clothing (Africa Styles 2007)
We wanted to choose a production-oriented sector to study since such enterprises are crucial to wealth creation and poverty alleviation. Production-oriented enterprises form up to 40% of all micro-enterprises in developing countries, and they constitute a core source of value addition (Albu and Scott 2001). Aso oke specifically has been a key economic activity in rural and peri-urban areas of south-west Nigeria, partly because its high quality and customised design make it relatively resistant to the scale economics and imports that have damaged other small-scale textile activities (Liedholm 1982, Clarke 1999).
Aso oke was also chosen for three other reasons. It has a well-developed supply chain, from thread suppliers through weavers and sub-weavers to final buyers. Intermediaries have traditionally played an important role in the supply chain. And it is a sector that had seen some level of penetration of mobile telephony in the year or two prior to planned fieldwork.
A case study methodology was thus adopted, in contrast to the more generic survey-based approach that has typified studies of telephony in developing countries. This involved conducting in-depth, face-to-face, semi-structured interviews with representatives of the different groups of participants in the case industry. A total of sixteen interviews were documented from seven intermediaries, six weavers, and three buyers. These covered not only their own experiences but also their reports of prevalent patterns of mobile phone use in the aso oke supply chain. Observations and personal reflections were also documented in the form of field notes, with photographs collected to supplement explanations of some product features and production techniques.
Interviews and the researcher's observations and reflections were written up as descriptive text, and were analysed with the aid of the qualitative analysis software package NVivo. Analysis was an iterative process involving the segmentation of data into clusters and the creation of matrices. Causal maps (Eden and Ackermann 1998), also referred to as causal networks (Miles and Huberman 1994) were used to integrate data into an explanatory framework of the phenomena being studied. In this manner, the circumstances that give rise to information failures in the industry, and the effect of such failures on the process and structure of trade were identified. The analysis also allowed for the contextualisation of the use of mobile phones in addressing information failures, and the causal maps helped in ascertaining the opportunities and limitations associated with mobile phone use.