Social Indicators Research

Mobile Phones in Africa: How Much Do We Really Know?

Posted by AnneryanHeatwole on Sep 17, 2009
Mobile Phones in Africa: How Much Do We Really Know? data sheet 6150 Views
Jeffrey James, Mila Versteeg
Publication Date: 
Jan 2007
Publication Type: 
Journal article

Mobile phones are a crucial mode of communication and welfare enhancement in poor countries, especially those lacking an infrastructure of fixed lines. In recent years much has been written about how mobile telephony in Africa is rapidly reducing the digital divide with developed countries. Yet, when one examines the evidence it is not at all clear what is really happening. In one country, Tanzania, for example, some observers point to the fact that 97% of the population lives under the mobile footprint, while others show that ownership is very limited. These extreme values prompted us to review the situation in Africa as a whole, in an effort to discover what is really going on.

Even though the article is from 2007, the content is still extremely relevant. The authors write: This paper accordingly seeks to clarify the conceptual confusion that underlies the grossly different estimates of the extent to which mobile telephony exists on the continent. To this end we employ a framework that distinguishes between mobile phone subscribers, mobile phone owners, mobile phone users, those who benefit from usage and those who have access to this technology. This classification, we feel, will provide the reader with a better understanding of the state of mobile telephony in Africa and will have important implications for the type of data that are needed, but at present are unavailable. The categories that are identified, moreover, help us better to understand different views as to the extent of the digital divide in mobile phones between Africa and the rest of the world."