NYT article: ‘Cellphones Catapult Rural Africa to 21st Century’

Posted on August 26, 2005  /  2 Comments

[By SHARON LaFRANIERE, New York Times, Aug.25.05]

This NYT article looks at Africa’s mobile boom, stating that it has taken the industry by surprise; common wisdom was that Africans are not big telecom users. But ‘it turned out that Africans had never been big phone users because nobody had given them the chance.’ Today, one in eleven Africans (roughly 9%) is a mobile subscriber.

LIRNEasia recently conducted a survey (of over 3000 respondents) of the use of telecom by the ‘poor’ in 11 localities spread over India and Sri Lanka, to find that 19% were mobile users.

It appears that many Africans are taking to mobiles to enhance their micro-entrepreneurial activities. This contrasts to findings of the LIRNEasia survey, where 11% of mobile users do so to undertake business or make business enquiries, while the majority of users do so for what can be termed ‘relationship maintenance’, or simply, keeping in touch with family and friends.

See full article

see details of LIRNEasia study on telecom use by the poor


  1. i don’t know if you commented on it but ‘the economist’ july 7th
    edition had these (less
    is more
    , calling
    an end to poverty
    ) on the
    theme mobile phones and development .

  2. In South Africa, mobile phones are being turned into convenient mobile banking tool.
    Extract below:

    Mobile technology has already revolutionised communications in the world’s poorest continent, bringing phones to millions of poor and isolated people who had never before made a call.

    Now cell phones are serving as a bank in your pocket, providing virtual accounts for South Africans excluded from the financial mainstream by exorbitant charges and branch networks clustered in wealthy white suburbs.

    “I used to keep my money in an envelope stuffed under my mattress,” said Mpanza, a community worker in the Johannesburg township of Soweto. “With most banks you need lots of papers, but with this one, all you need is a cell phone.”

    Open to anyone with a phone, mobile banking has proved a hit with people such as Mpanza in South Africa’s townships and villages, and looks set to spread quickly across Africa.

    Account holders use text messages, or SMS, to pay for goods, transfer money to friends and family and top up the credit on their pre-pay phones. Bosses can pay salaries direct into cellular accounts and customers can deposit cash at Post Offices and some bank branches.

    More available here.