This is the first article of the two-part series: “How the Mobile Phone Revolutionized Africa”. This first part focuses on Banking and Education, and the upcoming second part will focus on Disaster Management, Agriculture, and Health.
In a few years, the increase of mobile phone usage has transformed how people communicate and live in Africa. Mobile phones allowed Africans to buck the trend by skipping the landline stage of development and jumping straight into the digital age. Only about 2 percent of African households have a landline phone, but around 90 percent of adults own mobile phones. It is worth noting that most of the cell phones in Africa are what we call basic or feature phones – they are capable of calling, texting, and basic Internet browsing only.
For Africa, most of the people’s first experience with the internet comes through their mobile phones. Around 70% of mobile users browse the internet on their mobile phones, and Africa’s mobile broadband growth is increasing at a rate of more than 40%, which is twice the global average. This prevalence of mobile phones in Africa is mainly due to the weak landline infrastructure on the entire continent, which makes connecting through a desktop or laptop computer quite difficult. Mobile phones are also much cheaper to buy today, resulting in them being ubiquitous across the continent.
Below is an infographic showing the use of mobile phones in Africa:
Another reason for the great use of mobile phones in Africa is the frequent occurrence of power shortages that lead to blackouts. This directly led to more Africans adopting the use of mobile phones, since they do not need to be plugged in all the time. This has created a unique environment where mobile technology has been adapted for a wide range of usages, from lowering information barriers, to improving access to financial and health services, to boosting commerce, and bringing people together.
Below are some examples of how mobile phones have revolutionized communications and transformed the lives of Africans for the better:
M-PESA is a mobile money transfer service launched in 2007 by Safaricom, Kenya’s largest mobile operator, together with Vodafone. After five years, M-PESA is providing services to 15 million Kenyans, which is more than a third of the population of the country. According to a survey by the Gates Foundation and the World Bank, more than half of adults use mobile money in Kenya and Gabon,
The success of M-PESA in Kenya is inspiring similar initiatives across the entire continent. Mobile Banking is now extremely popular in Africa, especially since governments struggle to extend banking services to large numbers of the population, resulting to only one in five adults owning bank accounts across sub-Saharan Africa. Many Africans now use mobile money to pay their bills, buy goods, and make payments to individuals. Another popular use for mobile banking is for remittances from relatives living in other countries.
Nokia capitalized on the growing popularity of mobile communications and social networking in South Africa to launch MoMaths, a mathematics teaching tool that targets users of the instant messaging platform Mxit. Mxit is South Africa’s most popular social media platform, with more than 10 million active users in the country.
The potential for transforming Africa’s educational system using mobile technology is massive, as mobile phones are cheaper to own and easier to run than PCs, and they are gaining ground as tools for delivering teaching content. This facilitation of education through social networking and mobile networks will help reduce the number of African children who are not able to receive any formal education.
This article will be continued in the second part of this series titled: How the Mobile Phone Revolutionized Africa (Part 2): Disaster Management, Agriculture, & Health.