Reading #3

The following article is by Nick Wachira. It appeared in the January 2, 2003 issue of Wired News.

Wireless in Kenya Takes a Village

“. . . Wireless technology has had a tremendous effect on people’s lives in Kenya,” said Joseph. . . . And the success story is not limited to this East African country. It’s a growing economic phenomenon that sheds light on how emerging technology might spread across Africa in the coming years.

. . . [M]arketing cell phones, which cost around $100, has not been taken lightly in a region where more than half the population lives on less than $2 a day.

Two words have revolutionized the spread of cell-phone usage in Africa: community access.

While most people here cannot afford a cell phone, this has not prevented thousands of poor villagers from transforming their friends and families into walking communications nodes. This setup is deeply rooted in the traditional African communal mode of living, which many urban dwellers haven’t abandoned.

Francis Nyamnjoh, an associate professor in the sociology department at the University of Botswana, says African cell-phone operators are finding they can mine profits from these communal setups and, at the same time, transform telecommunications services into mass-market products.

“Although connectivity in Africa is the lowest compared to other regions of the world, the continent’s sociality, interconnectedness, interdependence and conviviality make it possible for others to access the Internet and its opportunities without necessarily being connected themselves,” Nyamnjoh said.

He says in many situations it takes a only single individual to own a cell phone or computer for whole groups of communities to benefit.

. . . Nyamnjoh attributes the explosion of cell-phone usage to the privatization of telcos [cellular telephone companies] across Africa. This has attracted massive private capital investment in the telecommunications industry.

This community access model is also proving to be a rainmaker for cell-phone carriers. Recent research by Merrill Lynch indicates that the average monthly revenue per cell-phone user in Nigeria is much higher than that of South Africa and the United States. Nigeria’s economy is six times smaller than that of South Africa and 1,000 times smaller than that of the United States. This suggests that the economic and social value of a cell phone in countries like Nigeria is much higher than it is in Western nations. . . .

(To read the complete article, see http://www.wired.com/news/wireless/0,1382,57010,00.html)

  1. The owners of cell phone companies in Africa are not inventors, but they are entrepreneurs taking the risk of bringing an innovation to the market. The invention of microprocessor technology makes cell phone communication possible. What particularly African innovation of that technology makes it possible for people living on less than $2/day to use cell phones?
  2. Why does the author think that “the economic and social value of a cell phone” in a poor country like Nigeria is much greater than its value in richer western nations?

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