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Mobile Phones

Looking at Africa’s mobile revolution from a human perspective

We hear about Africa’s mobile revolution almost daily, use the stats to support arguments and better understand potential markets. Potential investors and marketeers can thrive on this, though, we often overlook the change happening on the ground.

iHub and Research Solutions Africa recently released a report based on six months of research attempting to demonstrate the positive impact of mobile phones in Kenya’s rural communities. Although it was completed by the end of 2012, the infoDev commissioned research has been brought back, showing the stories behind the statistics.

Together with the report, the research brought about these four inspiring follow-up tales that tend to bring about better understanding and insight. As the report refers to the so-called Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP), these videos show us the social and economic empowerment of mobile phones of Kenyans living on less than US$2.50 a day. According to 2012 Research ICT Africa data, more than 60% of Kenya’s BoP are engaged with their mobile phones.

Although statistics might help determine the chances of an investor putting down his money, the big differences are made on the ground where entrepreneurs (everyday people willing to adapt) are given a helpful nudge in the right direction in simple yet significant ways.

From marketing a clothing store to making deliveries more efficient, it’s amazing seeing how well these devices improve people’s lives.


The first of the series we are introduced to Priscilla “Punda” who had used her donkey cart to carry and then supply water to the people in the Ndonyo market for the past 12 years. Her mobile phone acts as the bridge between her and her customers in this competitive market: “My phone makes me reachable, and thus is a means of earning income, since without it most people would be making orders through my competitors.”


Elias bought his phone from a friend for US$12 in order to get in touch with his loved ones and potential work from afar. He notes that whenever he gets the chance, he’ll buy more airtime so that he can get more contacts for work.


George says that the first thing he bought himself when he got his salary was his mobile phone. A business investment at that. He’s able to contact many of his clients to help him successfully run his secondhand clothing store. Moreover, he says that customers can use mobile money transfer to pay for their clothes. He uses Facebook to advertise. (e.g “You have fancy tops for sale at stall A8.”)

Kerimi and Kimani

The last video interviews Daniel Kerimi and Robert Kimani. Kerimi sells furniture and he says that “all businesses need phones.” It let’s people “get work, call people [they] need to speak to, and receive money,” using services like M-Pesa. Both also note that they had to use their savings to buy their new phones.

CNN also did an article on how mobile phones are changing the lives of Africans in a variety of sectors, from health and disaster management to entertainment and agriculture. Given this, it’s clear that mobile phones have become a source of power through collaboration and communication which are sometimes better understood via individual and specific stories rather than numbers and percentages.

Author Bio

Jacques Coetzee
Jacques grew up in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Keen to take over the world, one word at a time, he has always been interested in both politics and development and studied International Relations (BA) at Stellenbosch University. With an interest in innovation and social change, he seeks to tell the... More

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