mobile africa

07.05.2015

Though smartphones are scarce in Africa, mobile communication prevails

Photo | Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action

In Spain, eight out of 10 phones are smart, according to the latest report, ‘La Sociedad de la Información en España’, from the Fundación Telefónica. This data makes us the leading country of the European Union in the use of smartphones. Although statistics are no longer necessary: you only have to look around to realize we spend much of the day with our phones in our hands.

A little farther south across the Mediterranean, the situation is quite different. Another report, by the Pew Research Center, clearly shows the market reality in Africa: there, only six out of 10 phones have ‘smart’ features. And this only takes into account the continent’s average: in countries like Uganda and Tanzania the proportion does not even reach one unit per dozen devices. Yes, the use of mobile phones is generally as widespread as in many other countries around the world.

Few Own Smartphones in Africa, But Cell Phones Common

The ways the phones are used also vary. Only 19% of the owners access social networks from their devices, while taking pictures and making videos are the most widespread activities. An average of 53% of respondents claimed to have used phones for these purposes last year.

Payments via mobile phone are also very popular, especially in the east of the continent, where services like M-Pesa and MTN Mobile Money have become well-known. This trend has been already been documented in the GSMA’s latest report, which shows that sub-Saharan Africa is the area of the world where the most people have signed up for a service to make transactions with their device (a total of 98.3% of accounts opened globally). In fact, it is a question of necessity: access to a physical bank is impossible in many of these areas.

Texting, Taking Pictures and Videos Most Common Use of Cell Phones in Africa

The most popular activity, however, is sending text messages. 80% of mobile phone owners say they are doing it regularly. Despite being a somewhat outdated form of communication, its widespread accessibility makes it perfectly suited to most of the population.

To benefit from mHealth, for example, you do not need internet on a phone. The Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA) has used SMS as a tool to launch an awareness campaign. They SMS messages to inform mothers of the centers where their children can get tested or attend lectures about the risks of unprotected sex.

Another example is UNICEF, which is promoting RapidPro, an open source platform launched in 2014. It serves as a basis for organizations and institutions around the world to develop applications that collect, analyze and manage health data collected through text messages.

So perhaps we should keep in mind that, just because a country is not suitable for smartphones, doesn’t mean its citizens can’t take advantage of the benefits of the simplest devices.