Africans Innovating Cell Phone Uses

There’s a great article in the Berkshire Eagle’s business section about the innovative ways in which Africans are using cell phone and cell phone technology. Usage varies from fishermen out at sea calling in to find the most profitable ports for their fish to wildlife agents and park rangers using them as tracking devises by slinging these phones round the necks of elephants, to people renting out time for others to make calls. The market for cell phones in Africa is great and the usage is growing. Africa is currently the fastest growing cell phone market in the world

Out of a population of 906, an estimated 101 million Africans are wired and the number is rising. There are a number of reasons for this growth which mainly stem from the existence of incredibly incompetent and dysfunctional state owned telecommunication monopolies. For those living in Africa and in need of a phone, this usually means that phone service is very expensive, unreliable and those requiring a new or additional line could even have to wait months simply to get hookup to a phone. What really bugged me were the telecoms workers who would make illegal connections for making international calls but the monthly bill would go to the account where the illegal hookup was done. If you were the unlucky one to have had your phone line tapped, you got the bill. As you might guess, customer satisfaction was not very high.

So when the various governments started deregulating the industry and loosening restrictions to allow competition, a number of companies that saw opportunity stepped in. Due to the costs and the practicality of laying down new lines, these companies chose to set up cell phone infrastructures rather than landlines. And the rest is history. Now to compete in the African markets, as in any developing countries, these cell phone companies had to adjust their business models to work in this environment. For example, rather than expect folks to signup for an account and pay their monthly bill by check what they have done is to sell prepaid phone cards and so they generate their revenues that way. After adjusting their business models appropriately in the new competitive environment, the number of customers grew substantially… and is still growing.

Reading the article and seeing how innovative these folks are makes you realize the potential that Africa has if only they are in an environment that enables them to conduct business in an open and fair manner. OF course there are a myriad of other issues such as globalization, WTO, quota and tariffs, subsidies that affect Africans, however, what I am trying to point out here is that the African governments and the leaders through greed and selfishness, corruption, politics, tribalism and nepotism have been a major factor in why Africa had failed in the past. I also think that as the current generation of leadership begins to vacate the seats of power, that later generations, as long as they too have not been corrupted, will signal a turning point for Africa. And I think we are already starting to see some of that… I hope…

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