Posted by: Home Strange Home | January 30, 2011

Africa, the phone’s for you

Mobile phone usage is undergoing a truly extraordinary boom in Africa – north, south, east, and west.  In the past five years, the number of mobile users across the continent has grown from 130 million in 2000 to 333 million in 2005.  Put differently, whereas only 12% of Africans had a mobile phone in 2000, by 2005 it was 41% (compare this to 71% in the developed world).

Looking at the statistics for some individual countries can make your jaw drop. In Tunisia for example, the number of mobile subscribers in 2000 was 1 per 100 inhabitants; by 2009, it had risen to 95.  In Kenya, the statistics are 0/100 in 2000 to 49/100 in 2009. When travelling myself in West Africa, I was struck by the ubiquitousness of the Orange Telecom logo, even in the dustiest and remotest of towns.

But the issue remains that the cost of having a mobile phone remains exorbitantly high relative to people’s incomes in many African countries.  In Uganda, for example, the cost of mobile access represents 60% of the gross national income (GNI) per capita, making it way beyond the reach of the majority of the population.  The world average for the relative cost of  mobile access is 7.6% of GNI per capita.  In Africa, the average is nearly three times as much at 23.2%. The costs are driven up by factors related to poor infrastructure and insufficient competition.

Source: Alternatives Economiques; ITU (the UN agency for information and communications technologies).

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