Sunday, November 6, 2011

Mobile Phones in Africa

This first appeared on Africa in Transition.

A few days ago, I blogged about Africa’s population growth, based on research from a series of reports produced by Standard Bank looking at “five trends powering Africa’s enduring allure.” The reports are loaded with statistics and provide some food for thought (although if you read the previous post, you know how I feel about the “benefits” of population growth). The reports are not available publicly, but they have been written about widely, so you can get the gist.

In this post, (apropos given today’s release of the new IPhone), I wanted to turn your attention to “Trend 3: Leapfrogging Through Technology.” In it, report author Simon Freemantle notes,
“In no area has the terrain altered more seismically than in mobile telephony. Much of the importance of mobile phones in the African context rests in the manner in which they allow Africans to sidestep pervasive infrastructure constraints, share information more freely, thus making markets more efficient, and stimulate and support entrepreneurial verve.”

I wanted to include this point as another example of ‘African solutions to African problems,’ in this case, finding innovative solutions to challenges that often contribute to investor timidity, such as underdeveloped infrastructure and limited access to credit.

In Kenya, as Freemantle points out in a separate report on African finance, “mobile banking…has introduced financial services to 70 percent of the country’s adult population, up from less than 5 percent in 2006.” And the industry across Africa is predicated to be worth twenty-two billion dollars by 2015.
I won’t argue that mobile phones in Africa are a “silver bullet.” But they demonstrate the potential of simple and widespread technology–the most popular phone in Africa is the relatively unflashy Nokia 6300.

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