Africa and the Boom in Mobile Phone Subscription

Again I would like to introduce some papers that I found interesting and insightful during writing my thesis.

This time I will introduce the paper “Transforming Recent Gains In The Digital Divide Into Digital Opportunities: Africa And The Boom In Mobile Phone Subscription” from 2006. Based on recent developments it sums up the potential impact of the mobile phone on African society and economy. It was written by Peter A. Kwaku Kyem and Peter Kweku LeMaire (Central Connecticut State University, USA) for an issue of the online available journal “The Electronic Journal of Information Systems in Developing Countries” (EJISDC).

In the following a short summary of the paper:

In the past years mobile phone subscriptions, fixed lines and internet access have increased in Africa quicker than in any other region on earth.  The questions are now if this technological boost can be used for socioeconomic improvements and if, without accompanying measures, it is enough to raise the living standard.

Digital divide:

The gap results from socio-economic differences in the world that in turn affect their access to digital information. The digital divide thus reflects existing economic divisions in the world.“- from Dzidonu, C.K. (2001) – The Socio-Economic Development Implications of the Digital Divide within the context of African Countries

The digital divide was until 2004 decreased and the access to ICTs in developing countries is now catching up with the western world. A substantial task is now, not to focus just on the physical presence of the ICTs, but to have a clear vision of their use.

The mobile phone is unique in Africa, as it serves as the main communication device now and can take many hurdles, which conventional ICTs did not. Therefore it is the main ICT nowadays available (= becoming ubiquitous) and has a high economic potential.

Direct economic benefits:

  • microenterprises
  • outsourcing from developed countries is through ICTs possible
  • market information for rural and poor areas
  • organization and information – substitute for travels and person-to-person communication
  • improved banking services through M-banking

Socio-cultural impacts of mobile phones:

  • belonging to a communication network rahter than to a place
  • strengthen democracy (protests, elections)
  • status symbol
  • mixing of private and public life
  • increased sense of security

Other potential uses and impacts of mobile phones in Africa

  • improved health services
  • improved education
  • e-government

But overall, adoptions of the technology must come with improvements in other infrastructure areas, otherwise there will be no impact. Furthermore governments need to adapt appropriate ICT policies.


Although the paper doesn’t come up with the most surprising answers, it gives a good overview of the potentials of mobile phones in Africa. I think the main conclusions are still valid though a lot has happened in those two years since the paper was written. For the whole paper I may refer to EJISDC.

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Africa and the Boom in Mobile Phone Subscription
was published on 08.12.2008 by Florian Sturm. It files under middle east and north africa, sub saharan africa
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