Saturday, June 07, 2014

Africa - the mobile continent

Africa is a mobile only continent. Phones were never meant to be tethered to the wall like a goat. Mobile is their natural state and everywhere you go in Africa, you see people with $10 mobiles. There’s kiosks everywhere, that offer phone charging, airtime, money transfer, recycling and repair. We have a lot to learn from Africa in this regard.
Mobile is lifeline
Why Africa? Mobile is far more important to the poor than the rich. It’s a lifeline to work, money transfer, running a small business, communications with family, medical advice, vetinary advice, market prices and increasingly knowledge and education.
Sustainable success
There is a strong relationship between internet access and economic growth. In a donor-dependent continent where agents of virtue, often compound, rather than solve problems, the ubiquitous use of mobile is one of Africa’s great sustainable successes. It’s cheap, compelling and continues to grow as it’s so damn useful. Small businesses can thrive, money managed and progress made in people’s lives.
Mobiles & literacy
Last year in Namibia I participated in a discussion about mobiles and literacy. Cornelia Koku Muganda, from Tanzania, explained why mobiles were pushing a ride in basic literacy. Every child in Africa WANTS to read and write, as they want to TXT and read TXTS. We now know that this constant writing leads to better literacy, a fuller phonetic understanding of the language and more social skills. There’s even phonics apps to txt in local languages. School is not cool but mobiles are as cool as it comes.
Mobiles & education
I’ve always been rather sceptical about m-learning in the developed world but in the developing world necessity is the mother of mobile learning, with Dr Maths through Mxit, Wikipedia Zero, even SMS requests for SMS delivery of Wikipedia in Kenya. There’s a vibrant, home grown m-learning industry emerging.
Political transparency
Africa has its share of problems, with cronyism and corruption but remember that eth Arab Spring happened largely in Africa and young people across the continent are finding their voices leading to gains in transparency and political action.
Leapfrogged landlines
They have leapfrogged the landline infrastructure and with 635m mobile subscriptions rising to 930 million by 2019. $10 simple phones, often with FM radio and torches are still dominant but $50 smartphones have hit the market. Samsung are the market leader but cheaper Chinese phones are gaining ground. (Note that Apple has only 3% share of the smartphone market.) This will make a huge difference as internet access in Africa is largely through mobiles. 70% of internet use is via mobile. According to a World Bank study, An astonishing 1 in 5 would forgo basic necessities, such as food, for extra airtime, it’s that valuable a commodity.

This is a good news story from Africa, something simple and sustainable that has emerged across the whole continent. This is something that Africans use with other Africans to improve their lives. For Africa, the future is mobile. It’s powerful, personal and portable; perfect in a continent of huge distances with huge problems and huge demand. Scalable internet access offers a cheap infrastructure with access to free content. (This is a sort of summary of a contribution made to BBC Radio Scotland this morning). 


Brian Mulligan said...

Donald, do you think that broadband is an issue with mobile in Africa? Much good content is being developed in the form of short videos. Will these be accessible to learners on mobile in Africa?

Donald Clark said...

I agree Brian, broadband is THE issue Brian. But demand will drive supply. The key issue is deregulation of the telco markets. The countris with state controlled or state corrupted telcos have proportionally less broadband. In addition, the backbones down the coast and into the interiors need to be financed. Governments are addressing this. I spoke at a session attend by the ICT ministers from several African nations and the problem was well understood as were the solutions. It's now down to political will and finance. This is why I'm arguing for infracstructure not devices. They already have cheap $50 smartphones, what they need is cheap internet access.