The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute vol:22 issue:3 pages:633-652
The expression ‘talking like a Motorola’ (koloba lokola Motorola) was long used during Mobutu’s reign to indicate the undesired disclosure of information. It manifests the perception of many Kinois (inhabitants of Kinshasa) that the Motorola handset was only deployed by Mobutu’s secret service agents in order to detect and report critics of the regime. Today, mobile phones are no longer the preserve of political agents. Nearly everybody can have one. The idiom is thus outdated. Yet other lines between ‘what can be said [over the phone]’ and ‘what cannot be said’ are being drawn in Kinshasa’s political society. Indeed, transformations in practices of secrecy, concealment, and, their counterpart, the divulging of information – all three significant axes of the production of power and contestation of authority – are key, both in state actions and in strategies of civil society. In this article, I attempt to locate the mobile phone within Kinshasa’s political society, and analyse how relations to the Congolese state are articulated through the politics of cellular technology and practices with the mobile phone.