The influx of accelerated culture has transformed the lives of many in Africa since the turn of the century, with mobile technology heralding new ways of working, banking and communicating. But what has the real impact of this change meant for the people of this vast continent?
Africa claims to be the “mobile phone continent” of the world. More than half of the population owns a mobile phone, while landline telephones have rarely existed on the continent. It’s estimated than just two per cent of all Africans have a landline, while in the US, 60 per cent are still connected to a landline.
It was predicted that at the end of 2014 nearly 600 million Africans owned a mobile phone, and it’s this mobile phone generation who are causing a surge in entrepreneurship.
Considering that in 2000 just one per cent of the African population owned a mobile phone, it becomes evident that this increase is staggering. While disparity still exists here, mobile phone usage is helping to even out the playing field a little - for example in 2014, 92 per cent of adult Tanzanians sent a least one text.
1. Business boost
Phones across Africa aren’t used just for keeping in touch with friends and family. They’re used for business too. In a continent where there are so few landlines, remote and rural communities have become dependent on mobile phones.
The World Bank has predicted that this surge of mobile phone users will increase business in sub Saharan Africa - phones are being used to connect people who don’t have access to computers or televisions.
A mobile phone is an accessible and affordable gadget with the potential to have extremely positive economic repercussions. When roads and other infrastructure are so poor, mobile technologies can be relied upon to complete business deals and make payments. With banks, retailers, and even educational institutions all moving online, those with access to a phone and internet signal could see their lives transformed by their phones.
Education can move online with relative ease - With internet could come online textbooks, online exams, e-libraries and distance learning, all of which could be accessed through a mobile phone. To access these, Africans need to be able to access internet through their phones. It is for this reason why technology needs to advance from phone connectivity to WiFi.
Phones in Africa have accelerated growth, cut down on corruption and helped entrepreneurs to become more independent.
3. Mobile banking
Safaricom, a mobile phone internet service provider, introduced MPesa in 2007.
The M stands for mobile while Pesa is the Swahili term for money - the app is a mobile banking and microfinancing service.
It allows users to make deposits, purchase airtime, transfer money to other users, and also, in Kenya at least, between bank accounts. It’s effectively a branchless banking system, and has been credited with cutting fraud and money-laundering in a country that until relatively recently relied on cash.
Big multinationals are also starting to look for way they can access a whole new customer base in Africa using mobile technology. The connection isn’t fancy. There’s rarely 3G or 4G - most people have SMS and a basic 2G connection. But for business to thrive using mobile phones, that’s all that’s needed.
The agricultural sector accounts for around a third of Africa’s GDP, and farmers are benefitting from mobile phones too. Farmers across Uganda and Kenya use mobile phones to check market prices and weather forecasts. iCow is an app that started out as a mobile app to examine a cow’s gestation period, but has since evolved into a full on farming app, helping to educate on livestock best practice. MFarm is another app that East African farmers have found particularly helpful. It weeds out the middlemen by providing information that helps small farmers to negotiate market prices.
Phones in Africa have helped to accelerate growth, cut down on corruption, and help entrepreneurs to become more independent. Most importantly of all perhaps, mobile phones are slowly beginning to democratise Africa by helping to level the playing field.