The Mobile Revolution in Africa
"The cell phone is the single most transformative technology for development."~Jeffrey Sachs
Is the internet useful in developing countries? It has the potential. Farmers COULD learn new techniques to conserve land and water or to plant drought resistant crops. Doctors COULD discover new methods to save the lives of their patients. Yet, with high illiteracy rates, is the internet a practical solution to communication issues in the Sahel?
At the same time, mobile phones have penetrated into the most remote villages here in Burkina and the same is true across Africa. The UN's International Telecommunication Union approximates that 90% of the world's population now have access to a mobile network. The technology, with recent lowered telecommunication fees, is revolutionizing how people share information and news. Can call services be used to connect farmers directly to their markets? Can doctors use cellphones, not laptops, to access vital, life saving information?
CEO of the World Wide Web Foundation, Steve Bratt, believes that their latest voice browser project will help make the connection to illiterate farmers and village doctors. The service would use new technology to verbally answer inquiries by villagers, allowing the villagers to gain access to information that would otherwise need to be read and researched.
The World Wide Web Foundation is also setting up projects to help fund local Mobile Entrepeneurs (with help from Vodaphone) who are using mobile technology to help develop their communities in Africa. For more on World Wide Web Foundation projects, see here.
Further, banking in Kenya is getting a mobile face-lift called M-PESA. Using SMS service (much like Sap Sap here in Burkina), people can wire prepaid credit to others via their cellphone and SIM card. The credit can then be turned directly into cash via a local stores that are authorized distirbuters (or cash back into credit). The service is thought to have connect to 40% of adults in Kenya. M-PESA was even featured in the Freakonimcs blog.
In Bangladesh, the BBC is partnering with local mobile providers to launch a learn-to-speak-English language service. Mobile users will receive lessons via text and be able to call and practice English through the service for the cost of a cup of tea.
South Africa is also getting into the beat with their projects to provide video on mobile phones to aid in monitoring malnutrition and health.
Mobile phones are a revolution in Africa, literally. Twitter and Facebook (via mobile updates) have helped fuel a movement that is bringing down autocratic governments via massive protests in Tunisia and Egypt.
Check back with the IT Committee to see what new and exciting projects are happening here in Burkina and around the continent.