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Mobile Communications

Viewpoint: The impact of mobile on rural Africa

This is a contributed piece by Bob Collymore, CEO of Safaricom Ltd., a Kenyan Mobile Service Provider

When I was growing up, we used to be told that ‘if you want to hide information from someone, you put it in a book’. We can all agree that this saying no longer applies, because access to information has moved from the privilege of the few to the universal right of everyone. 

The story of the mobile phone’s transformative impact in Africa can be easily hidden behind the numbers; for instance, the GSM Association says there are over 330 million unique mobile subscribers in Sub-Saharan Africa, equivalent to 38% of the region’s total population. More people in Africa have access to a mobile phone than a toothbrush, or clean water.

The story that is untold about this USD49 billion industry is the transformative impact of the mobile phone on lives on a daily basis.

I often like to illustrate this effect through the story of Manguni, a small town along the Kenyan coast that was revolutionized by a single base station. Prior to Safaricom setting up our station in the area, Manguni was known for frequent human and wildlife conflict that often resulted in elephants that would visit the area being harmed or killed by residents who wanted to protect their homes.

Following the arrival of our base station, residents can now call the Kenya Wildlife Service officers whenever attacks occur and get the animal safely removed without much incident. The movement of the animals can be tracked by the community who now has a means to inform each other of the movements of the animals.

As an additional benefit, as our base station heralded the arrival of electricity for the first time to the village, a number of enterprising young adults have created a communal mobile charging station to ensure that residents remain connected to each other and the world. Manguni, meet Facebook.

Further afield in Northern Kenya, a different kind of transformative journey is taking place in Daadab, home to one of the world’s biggest populations of refugees. For some of the over 300,000 residents, the camp is the only home they have known for two generations.

With mobile connectivity, children in the camp can now access a mobile-based education programme. The curriculum is available to 13 schools through our Instant Network Schools programme, providing over 18,000 young refugees between the ages of seven and 20 years (many for the first time in their lives) with educative content.

Beyond the macro-economic benefits, these are some of the stories that inspire the push for increased mobile connectivity for many African mobile operators. As more international fibre links continue to land on the continent, these stories of transformation illustrate how mobile networks continue to be the critical link between the new interconnected Africa and the rest of the world.

For operators like Safaricom, this means we must continue to invest heavily in building the best networks to connect regions that had never before had a reliable connection to the outside world.

This is why I was excited to recently participate in the launch of our 4G Network – the most advanced of its kind in sub Saharan Africa – which for me is the beginning of a new era of transformational connectivity.

With 4G, we hope to open up a new world of possibilities to not only our customers but also to our partners in the Financial Services sector, education and medical services, among others.

4G will lay the basis for the continued growth of our economies, which are already seeing the fruits of embracing a technology-centric mindset. Enhanced mobile connectivity will buoy the already growing innovation ecosystem across the continent that is quickly becoming world famous and has seen the creation of solutions that are custom-fit for our subscriber’s needs.

In order to truly democratize data, we must commit to invest in the technologies that have the power to Transform Lives.

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