When the year 1999 turned over to 2000, there were only around a hundred thousand telephone lines in Nigeria, all of them landlines, and almost all of them run by the state owned telecom company. Over the course of about a decade, this situation changed dramatically, with the number of people having access to telephone communications exploding in an almost unheard of boom: there are now over 100 million mobile phone lines active in Nigeria.
Across Africa we see that this situation is not unique to Nigeria. Everywhere it is possible for them to grow, huge mobile networks bloom out of the limitless desire for people to be interconnected. In Rwanda the mobile phone user base increased upwards of 50% in the year 2010 alone, and in Kenya the mobile provider Safaricom dealt with the growing pains of its user base growing over 500 times larger between 2000 and 2010.
The Changing Face of Africa
The birth of these massive mobile networks into areas which so desperately needed them has brought with it numerous developments for how the mobile users of Africa lead their lives. These devices have not only enabled them to keep in touch with each other better, they have also impacted the way they interact with essential services and in many cases helped to alleviated otherwise over taxed services.
Mobile banking has become massively popular in Kenya, along with Sudan and Gabon. These services allow individuals to easily complete a number of simple banking tasks without having to physically go to the bank – a welcome relief in countries where banks have struggled to keep up with increasing demands on their services, often resulting in congested banks, long wait times, and inadequate services. Mobile banking empowers its users to more effectively manage their money, as well as providing an incredible convenience in locations where banks may be extremely far away geographically or inaccessible due to overcrowding.
Mobile Activism Brings Africa to the Global Stage
Many countries across Africa have long been the stage for unspeakable atrocities against human rights. Today these tragedies and horrible events still occur, yet the power of mobile technology has allowed activists to bring irrefutable evidence of these occurrences to global attentions. In 2011, the world saw great unrest across Northern Africa, widely reported as never before from hundreds of angles by mobile users present at the conflict. The event, now remembered as the Arab Spring, brought the world’s attention to the capability for mobile phones to document and report events practically in real-time as they occur, bringing captivating images to shocked viewers everywhere.
The Arab Spring might be the most substantial example of the way mobile phone activism is effecting Africa, but it is far from the only one. Mobile technology allows activists to monitor important details in rural areas, like water quality, report on the health of isolated populations, or monitor animal populations.
Mobile devices have also been put to use to hold governments accountable and help the democratic process. Following violent elections in Kenya, mobile reporting was used to document incidents of violence as they occurred and bring their attention to the world at large. Now mobile phones are used to increase transparency in elections, helping to create a smoother and more reliable democratic practice.
Mobile Phones for Disaster Relief
Rural and undeveloped areas are the most at risk locations in the event of a disaster of any kind. Managing damages, injuries, and creating relief efforts is significantly complicated by rural locations lacking infrastructure. In this regard, mobile devices have proven themselves to be one of the most essential parts of a disaster relief toolkit, not only in Africa but in disaster stricken regions across the globe.
Mobile devices have proven their merit in organizing disaster relief efforts, helping to keep organizations and individuals in communication, to get supplies where they are needed, and to monitor the situation as it occurs. Refugee camps use mobile phones to create databases of the refugees, enabling them to reconnect with people they have lost contact with, as well as providing the camp organizers with the ability to provide better service for camp residents.
An Evolving Landscape
We will surely see the impact of mobile technology get stronger across Africa as time goes on. Already mobile networks have proven to be great agents of change across the continent. Most mobile users in Africa are currently using low-end Nokia phones, which lack many of the features of sophisticated modern smart phones. Yet as smart phones become cheaper and more available, Africans are rapidly adopting them. There can be little doubt that the increased possibilities of the smart phone will bring with it new vistas of opportunity for users.
How will these changes further impact the many nations of Africa? Only the future will tell. Share your thoughts below in the comments.