Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

Drivers and Barriers of Digital Market Integration in East Africa: A Case Study of Rwanda and Tanzania

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Abstract:  Digital development has become a firm pillar in the national development strategies of many countries in the Global South. Although the geopolitical competition over ICTs leveraged their diplomatic and economic relevance in the international sphere, developing countries remain in a subordinate position in global power relations. However, while they could collectively improve their standing by uniting behind an integrated digital market, national governments in the East African Community are reluctant to implement a single digital market, leading us to inquire: What constrains digital market integration in East Africa? This article compares Rwanda and Tanzania, two relatively digitally mature but less developed countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, whereas one is a small landlocked country and the other a larger emerging economy. Following the classification of Hout and Salih, material, ideational, political, and external aspects affect a nation’s enthusiasm for regional initiatives. By examining factors related to domestic politics and political economy, this article finds that material and political factors encourage digital regionalism in Rwanda but discourage it in Tanzania; ideational factors contribute to national rather than regional unity in both countries. Yet, external factors linked to EU foreign policy and developmental cooperation seem to lead current regional projects. Therefore, this article concludes that drivers of African regionalism may turn into barriers depending on the domestic political and economic circumstances while digital market integration is currently driven by foreign players. More generally, the study contributes to the debate on African agency in ICT for development and developing countries’ capacity to overcome traditional dependency structures.

Keywords:  African regionalism; digital development; digital market integration; ICT infrastructure; Rwanda; structural power; Tanzania



© Stephanie Arnold. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.