Technology follows a different path in Africa as in the West, due to poverty. The mobile phone has become the most widely used tool of communication, with still-expensive computers lagging behind. According to a report published by the French Institute of Foreign Affairs (IFRI), there were 246 million mobile line users in 2008. (…) The growth rate of the mobile market and the Internet in Africa is two times bigger as the global average.
The mobile phone technology is creatively used by health programmes, weather forecasts, to control the price of goods and to access banking services.
A tool of prevention and medical assistance
The AIDS epidemic in Africa is still dramatic, with many HIV-positive people not having access to any kind of treatment. Cell Life is an initiative developed together by the University of Cape Town and the Peninsula University of Technology with the aim of improving the lives of the people infected with the HIV, with the help of the mobile phone technology in South Africa.
The areas worst affected by the HIV suffer from a lack of qualified health professionals. Cell Life uses mobile telephones to put in contact professionals and patients so they can communicate information about the treatments. Each doctor or nurse can thus give advise remotely to about 20 patients. There are other diseases that can be equally fought off in this way: This system of health care through mobile communication has helped to impede the propagation of Typhoid epidemic in Uganda too.
Widely accessible weather forecasts
The initiative ‘Weather forecasts for everyone’ was launched in June 2009. In Africa there is an important lack of weather stations and monitoring, so the weather forecast coverage is 8 times lower than the minimum recommended by the World Meteorological Organization. There is a sense of urgency in solving this problem: The climate change affects directly the daily life of farmers, who need accurate weather information in order to prepare themselves against potential problems. The project ‘Weather forecasts for everyone’ counts with the help of the World Humanitarian Forum, Ericsson, the World Meteorological Organization and the Telecom Zain. They will install more than 5000 meteorological autonomous stations and transmit the data collected with the help of mobile telephones. The initial deployment has already started and is concentrated in the areas of the South of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
A useful way of managing prices in the agricultural market
The cellphone allows farmers to know the prices of agricultural products firsthand and avoid middle men by selling directly to the consumer. Mobile phones help also increase revenues while reducing the final price for the consumers. In Kenya this service is provided in the cereals market by the DrumNet network.
In the rural regions of Africa, access to traditional banking is heavily limited. This means that a big number of people can only use cash as a method of payment, which not only is less convenient but also limits their business opportunities. Mobile phones help change this reality by offering the users a way to access banking services through mobile networks.
More specifically, mobile banking allows the users to make bill payments, transfers, deposits and withdrawals. These orders are done by SMS, with PIN codes to authenticate the transaction authors.
In the cases of Congo and Zambia, customers can use their cellphones to pay their bills. The customer opens an account with Celpay and then can make payments by sending SMS to Celpay, which in turn transfers the money to the merchant’s account.