Africa is not the continent most people think of first when it comes to technological investments and cutting-edge technology. It’s not an early adopter, and has always been more of a laggard, caught in legacy waves while the rest of the world welcomes advanced waves of new and better technologies. Mobile telecommunication infrastructure, however, has not been the usual story in Africa.
For example, the number of unique subscribers (number of mobile, voice, data connections) in 2015 for the sub-Saharan of Africa was 386 million, equaling a penetration rate of 43 percent. The compound annual growth rate for mobile subscribers is 3.9 percent -- exactly the same as the rest of the world
Considering that the Internet wave didn’t hit Africa until around 2010, it’s commendable how the continent has managed to latch on to the web and increase its availability, reach, and penetration, which is now on par with the rest of the world.
Let’s check out how mobile technology has brought Africa closer to the rest of the world.
Mobile technologies help Africa make global news
Some African nations are infamous for being hotbeds of fake pharmaceutical products. It’s nothing short of amazing how a simple tech-solution, with mobile technology at its core, is swiftly helping Africa quash the free flow of counterfeit medicines.
Bright Simons, a Ghanian doctoral student, came up with the idea of putting a unique code on scratch cards that came on pharma product packaging. Buyers just need to text message the code to a number to verify whether the purchased medicine is genuine or fake.
Several African nations have adopted this methodology, and are reaping the benefits. For the first time in several decades, the continent is making the right moves in the medicine and pharma product and research space. Not surprisingly, Asian countries have also begun to adopt the same methodology.
There are other mobile-empowered health solutions and tools that are gathering momentum in Africa. For instance, Impilo, a mobile-based service that enables anyone to find health-care services 24/7 simply by using their cellphone. It’s active on a large scale in South Africa and has impressed many with its depth and scope.
Enabling an unprecedented surge in agricultural exports
Agriculture continues to be the most important sector for the African economy. Additionally, agriculture is seen as Africa’s most dependable vehicle of poverty elimination and financial growth. But the sector had witnessed a four-decades long period of steady decline -- until mobile technologies stepped up and reversed the trend.
Entrepreneurs and businesses have leveraged mobile technology and infrastructure to create intuitive tools and platforms for the millions of independent farmers on the continent to get connected to organized markets.
- WeFarm, a Kenyan platform allowing small scale and disconnected farmers to become linked up on a platform so they can indulge themselves in a scientific exchange of ideas, information, concerns. It has mustered up 8.5 million interactions, and is now growing to more geographies. Rural farmers can send their questions via SMS and receive quick answers from registered users.
- Modisar offers an easy farm-management application to farmers in African countries. It won the Seedstars World Gaborone 2015 award. It’s one of the newer farm-management applications that is purely based on mobile technology.
These mobile-enabled processes, platforms, and tools in Africa are offering tangible and substantial benefits to African farmers, and setting the right examples in the global context, particularly for Asian countries with similar challenges. Plus, these have enabled Africa to become globally recognized in terms of agriculture, hence making it an important player in the exports markets for the Asia Pacific region.
New-wave of entertainment and thought exchange
A wonderful aspect about the proliferation of mobile technology in any geography is that it ensures the speedy onset of the second wave, namely the Internet. Africa has been no exception to the rule, and has been increasing its spread on the global map in terms of web services consumption. Not only has this opened a gateway to the world of entertainment, digital content, and scientific thought-exchange, but it has also created a channel for Africans to connect with and reach out to the whole world.
To put things in perspective, Nigeria’s mobile music industry has expanded from humble roots into a multimillion dollar industry. Services like AfriNolly (delivering African movies to mobile phones) and Kulahappy (a mobile only entertainment channel from Kenya) are furthering the growth of noteworthy content creation on the African continent.
Listening to local and international radio stations, participating in voting in television reality shows, sharing digital content, engaging in social media exchanges -- all of this is becoming increasingly regular in growing African nations. Mobile-only entertainment channels have also sprung up, helping African digital content producers become relevant for the global entertainment consumption market.
Knocking down walls
Mobile technologies, in due course, bring down all the walls that are erected by non-democratic regimes. This is why oppressive countries like Cuba do not allow their residents to access the Internet, because they want their citizens to remain ignorant and dependent on them. North Korea is perhaps the worst country for this type of behavior. And remember how in January 2011, Egypt crippled its mobile-communication network to slow down the wave that had been surging against Mubarak’s rule?
In 2014, however, mobile technology became a savior and a channel of expression for harassed Kenyan citizens. They were able to send text messages reporting cases of violence during the elections, letting the rest of the world know of the atrocities happening in the country. On the whole, mobile technologies have helped bring a sense of circumspection to otherwise uncontrollable political elements that disrupt elections.
A new era of empowerment
Apart from bringing a culture of openness to electoral processes, public policy making, and international relationship management, mobile technologies have empowered millions of ordinary citizens in Africa’s remotest locations, bringing them into the potential epicenter of the next wave of social emancipation.
Mobile technologies are the real superstars that have helped Africans from all walks of life to feel, behave, and benefit as global citizens.
Photo credit: David Dennis, Wikipedia