Another Mobile Revolution

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Observer tells us how technology many in the West would regard as woefully outdated is revolutionizing life across an entire continent:

It may seem unlikely, given its track record in technological development, but Africa is at the centre of a mobile revolution. In the west, we have been adapting mobile phones to be more like our computers: the smartphone could be described as a PC for your pocket. In Africa, where a billion people use only 4% of the world's electricity, many cannot afford to charge a computer, let alone buy one. This has led phone users and developers to be more resourceful, and African mobiles are being used to do things that the developed world is only now beginning to pick up on.

The most dramatic example of this is mobile banking. Four years ago, in neighbouring Kenya, the mobile network Safaricom introduced a service called M-Pesa which allows users to store money on their mobiles. If you want to pay a utilities bill or send money to a friend, you simply dispatch the amount by text and the recipient converts it into cash at their local M-Pesa office. It is cheap, easy to use and, for millions of Africans unable to access a bank account or afford the hefty charges of using one, nothing short of revolutionary.
The article goes on to describe how mobile phones are also being used to help farmers improve their productivity, as well as the difficulties many in Africa face in implementing the technology:
There are other, more fundamental challenges. Unreliable network coverage in remote areas of Uganda is a significant problem. Keeping smartphones charged in villages that don't have electricity is another. Some ingenious solutions have been devised [such as coupling small generators to bicycles --ed], but low battery power remains a constant headache.
It is notable both that technology and innovative approaches to the problems people face in Africa are doing much more than decades of Western aid to improve life there; and that poor government continues to endanger even this degree of improvement.

-- CAV

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