4 examples for innovative mobile phone use in Africa

8/29/2007 | Christian Kreutz

According to the latest statistics from the New York Times and the World Bank, the African continent is lagging behind in mobile phone subscribers and Internet users. However, African countries have one of the highest quota of mobile phone subscribers. The rate of subscribers varies a lot --between 724 in South Africa to 32 in Rwanda per 1. 000 inhabitants. But what do these figures say when so little is known about the creative use of mobile phones? Let alone the business sprung up through a single mobile phone in a village.

Recently, some interesting published blog posts and articles showed the innovative use of mobile phones and their "communication breakthrough" for economical boost and social change.

Mobile reporters in Africa Ben, from Voices of Africa, has already hinted me about this initiative, while White African has also posted about it. Mobile reporters can now potentially report from all corners of Africa. The project is a cooperation between skoeps.com (a Dutch mobile reporting portal) and the Africa Interactive Media Foundation. Most articles have a "blogging character," deliver intriguing stories, and report about all kinds of topics. Mobile phones are used to write the articles by using an additional keyboard, to film material, and lastly to send from every GPRS available. It is amazing to see how mobile phones are used to film interviews, give the impressions through photos, and write stories. One example is Kenya: Clean water is luxury for slums.

**Mobile financing in Zimbabwe **The pioneering concept of mobile financing came first from Kenya. But for awhile now, Mukuru.com has been bridging the diaspora with its friends and family in Zimbabwe. Under scarce circumstances in Zimbabwe, Mukuru.com allows to transfer money over mobile phones. For instance, gas fuelling can be paid over the Internet from anywhere to anybody with a mobile phone in Zimbabwe, then the petrol station owner gets his money back through vouchers. "Africans in general have pioneered the use of cellphones to transfer value by using airtime as a virtual currency."

Rwanda health sector Mobile phones to tackle HIV in Rwanda. An interesting citation of how mobile phones can be used for reliable data transfer in the health sector.

Healthcare facilities often lack the appropriate supplies, reliable Internet connections, and have a limited ability to track patients or the spread of HIV across the country. With Phones-for-Health, health workers in the field can use software on their mobile phones to submit critical health information directly into central computer systems, allowing health officials and service providers to view, analyse and respond to this vital data immediately writes Manasee Wagh in Biotech360.

Critical health data and information can be delivered throughout the country in no other way more efficient than this. From the New York Times, "In Rwanda, the system started being used to track H.I.V./AIDS patients two years ago and now connects 75 percent of the country’s 340 clinics, covering a total of 32,000 patients." All Africa and Herald Tribune also wrote about it. Starting in Rwanda in 2008, the project shall be extended to six more countries.

**West Africa Agric Trade Network **This network, also called TradeNet, is a sophisticated market information system for efficient trading. It connects sellers and buyers over the mobile phone via sms with necessary information about prices and crops, and offers new markets in four different languages.

"Users can request prices which are provided in real-time on the network from many market enumerators that are active throughout 380 markets spread across the continent." (Mobile Africa)

This gives farmers a better income while production is more orientated on demand. The Economist talks already of a Pan-African market based on mobile phones, and first hand experiences can be seen by Prince Deh from GINKS, who did a video interview about the usage for that portal. Ethan Zuckermann discusses in his post the further research being done to forecast prices and needs for commodities.