By Artwell Nwaila
Keeping that figure in mind, it's hard to believe that in 1996, there were fewer than four million mobile phones on the continent. This rise in mobile usage may be due to the fact that the majority of the population does not have access to personal computers or internet cafes. It could also be a simple case of the cost-effectiveness of mobile surfing. For some analysts, bad and expensive landline connections are a major reason for this boom. Either way, mobile has become a powerhouse in Africa.
An interesting aspect of mobile usage in Africa is undoubtedly the rise of mobile banking. In an article written by Killan Fox, there is mention of how innovative mobile products like M-Pesa have made life easier in Africa. “If you want to pay a utilities bill or send money to a friend, they simply dispatch the amount by text and the recipient converts it into cash at their local M-Pesa office". Fox goes on to write that "it is cheap, easy to use and, for millions of Africans unable to access a bank account or afford the hefty charges of using one, nothing short of revolutionary.” The mobile phone has become a way to service the financial needs of the poor who have never seen the inside of a bank. Currently Kenya is at the forefront of mobile money transfers, with 8.5 million users.
Then there is also the instant nature of cell phones, which creates a new dynamic for small businesses in Africa. "Customers give my number to other customers. The business has grown extensively," says Kenyan tailor Susan Wairimu
). Farmers have also benefited greatly from mobile devices as they have the ability to hold on to large amounts of money and better their standard of life by sharing information about crop prices, and researching the availability and costs of material. "The cell phone is the single most transformative technology for development," says Columbia University economist and emerging markets expert Jeffrey Sachs.
One should also not count out the rise in social media as a major factor behind mobile usage among youth in Africa. A 2011 Research Project by Mobility showed that 39% of urban South Africans and 20% of rural users over the age of sixteen are now browsing via mobile
. This will continue to grow as social media is tailor-made to suite African mobile users.
Yet with all this growth, 36% of Africans still have no access to mobile services. These unconnected masses live in rural areas with poor conditions. It brings about a new challenge to cell phone makers and service providers to accommodate those who earn less than R10 a day. It's not to say that the process of lowering prices for all to connect has not begun. In Kenya, one is able to buy airtime for less than R6 and have more than 10 minutes of talk time off-peak. If you were to glance at South Africa, you are able to buy a cell phone starter kit for R99. Should such trends continue, Africa will be soon be 100% mobile.
Do you think mobile is contributing in a positive manner in Africa? Tells us about it below.