A few weeks ago, while doing some research for my HRSDC client, I came across a report entitledÂ Africa Mobile Fact Book 2008 , which opened my eyes to the rapidly evolving mobile landscape in Africa. This growth has been fueled in large part by the liberalization effort resulting in the formation of independent regulatory bodies and increased competition in the market. Combine this with numerous grassroots efforts to empower the poor (by providing access to knowledge through technology) and you have yourself the beginning of a true revolution, in an area that is typically disregarded in terms of technological growth for obvious reasons (i.e 800 million people going to bed hungry every day).
However, consider these stats:
- The total African mobile subscriber base is roughly 280.7 million people (30% of total)
- The total African mobile subscriber base is expected to reach 561 million (53.5%) by 2012 .
- The mobile penetration rate in South Africa is 84%
- South Africa, Nigeria, Morocco, Egypt, Algeria and Kenya constitute the key mobile markets in Africa in terms of potential growth.
- At least 15 operators have already announced plans of introducing 3G voice and data services (including among others, Tanzania, Kenya and Nigeria)
- SMS is being used in innovative ways such as pricing information for agricultural products, mobile banking (in more developed regions), and human rights abuse notifications.
Mobile Subscribers & Penetration Rates in Africa
Major Mobile Markets in Africa
Put simply, mobile phone devices can now be manufactured at little cost. With the advent of data services, these mobile phones are essentially mini computers. Many Africans could never afford an actual laptop or desktop, however a mobile phone running on a non-profit cellular network is within reach for many.Â Of course, numerous barriers still exist. The main ones being taxation, low-income groups and widespread illiteracy. This is where grassroots efforts to provide low-cost technology to the poor (those that have at least some basic supply of food, water and shelter) come into play. Us in the social media sphere often talk about “individual empowerment” as one of the key elements of the web 2.0 revolution.Â This is where that empowerment has the potential to make a real “life or death” difference. Having done some work with CIDA and various other non-profit organizations working in regions such as Africa, I am quickly learning that social media’s real power and potential lies in the developing world.Â We’re not there yet (the infrastructure needs to be put in place first), however once those basic levels of literacy are reached (through efforts like the Ink-Media computer project), and once mobile phone penetration rates start hitting those high numbers (50% +), then the aggregate “long-tail” of the world’s poor will suddenly have a tremendous, powerful voice.