How mobile technology is transforming Africa

English: Motorola V66 mobile phone

English: Motorola V66 mobile phone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mobile phone numbers are likely to reach 1 billion in Africa by 2015. How is mobile technology transforming peoples’ lives?

Education

Despite Africa containing many of the world’s fastest growing economies and a burgeoning middle class, it still lacks behind in educational standards. As mobile uptake increases, and a flood of cheaper smartphones enter the continent offering Internet access, there is a tremendous opportunity to allow the mobile phone to facilitate educational training. In Nigeria, a country with well below average educational standards, UNESCO recently launched an SMS educational toll aimed at providing primary school teachers with regular updates on educational content. The scheme in Nigeria follows successful initiatives in other parts of the developing world that have opened up mobile learning to those in rural areas as well as women, who can be excluded from traditional forms of education.

Empowerment of women

It is potentially an unexpected benefit resulting from the exponential uptake of mobile devices in the developing world, but mobile phones have definitely helped the most marginalised in society which often include women. The move towards mobile money has opened up financial services to women, who can receive payments directly to their mobile phone, and has resulted in increased independence and a feeling of empowerment. From a healthare perspective, the mobile device can act as an excellent tool to disseminate information from malaria SMS warnings to maternal healthcare and advice. The mobile device is allowing women greater control over their lives.

Employment and payment

Mobile devices can act as tools of education and training for workers in hard to reach places without the costs of more traditional face-to-face training methods. There is no substitute for personal training but the mobile device is a step in the right direction.

Recent reports from the Democratic Republic of Congo also highlighted the fact that mobile banking has led to government workers getting paid on time as well as the amount owed to them. In a system where corruption is endemic, this is no mean feet. Workers get exactly what is owed to them, avoiding the traditional cash pay packet and superiors syphoning off ‘tips’

Transport

Mobility data is created when someone uses their phone for a call or a text. A user is then registered to the nearest cell tower and their movement is ascertained when they move form tower to tower. Use of this data is often known as crowd sourcing, and governments are now exploring the possibilities of using this data to update city’s transport systems. For example, the giant mobile operator, Orange, recently released tracking data on its phone users in Ivory Coast and researchers from IBM have started to use this data to update Ivory Coast’s transport system and cut travel times in the country’s largest city, Abidjan.

Personal finance

The African continent counts 15 of the top 20 countries in the world by mobile money usage. Mobile money is often associated with Safaricom’s hugely successful M-PESA service, which operates in several countries including Kenya, Tanzania and more recently, India. Access to a mobile phone is ubiquitous in many parts of Africa, and the mobile money service has empowered huge swathes of people by allowing them to pay bills, for goods and services, and transfer money from cities to rural areas at the touch of a mobile keypad button. In addition, the service has facilitated savings programmes protecting vulnerable families during times of hardship. Mobile money has helped governments and organisations reach the previously “unbanked”, who are often the most vulnerable in society but are able to access mobile phones.

A lack of entrenched banking services, minimal fees associated with the service, the huge geographical distances that separate city workers from rural families, and the fact that the vast majority of people own a mobile phone in Africa have all led to the huge uptake of mobile money services on the continent.

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Lagos vies with Nairobi to become region’s tech hub

Lagos Island and part of Lagos Harbour, taken ...

Lagos Island and part of Lagos Harbour, taken from close to Victoria Island, looking north-west (NB this is not Ikoyi Bay as wrongly labelled elsewhere) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The bustling, metropolitan city of Lagos in Nigeria has an ever growing population of some 8m people and is the country’s economic powerhouse making a significant contribution to its overall GDP. The port city is a city of islands connected by ferries and highways and is the capital of Lagos State. The standard of living is relatively high compared to many cities in Africa and, despite problems such as pollution and gridlocked city traffic, people flock to Lagos from far and wide in Africa with an estimated 30,000 people arriving everyday.

Lagos aspires to be, alongside Accra, Cape Town and Nairobi one of the continent’s tech powerhouses. Indeed, May’s three day Mobile Web West Africa event sold out its Lagos conference, bringing together companies, startups, inspiring investors and developers. The three-day event was the background to the emerging economic and inspired power of the region, and is a statement of intent to be at the centre of mobile innovation.

There are countless examples of centres of innovation cropping up in Lagos. Co Creation Hub is a collaborative work space for young entrepreneurs and is dedicated to accelerating the application of technology for economic prosperity. Individuals converge in one space to share ideas. They even have the chance to meet VCs and angels looking for promising investments. However, such meetup hubs compete with others around the continent. Nairobi has the iHub, a similar space, supported by companies like Google, Intel and Samsung. Nairobi has also recently begun construction of the much discussed Konza City, or ‘Silicon Savannah’ as it is often called. This is a project to build Africa’s most modern city with technology and innovation at the centre and will potentially be a blueprint for further African cities.

In Nigeria, mobile is also being used to reach the poorest and help economic and social prosperity. A mobile SMS educational tool has recently launched aimed at providing primary school teachers with regular updates on educational content to assist with classroom teaching. Launched by UNESCO, the technology will be available to anyone in Nigeria and will send teachers messages with educational information and advice once a day. The project should reach thousands of teachers across the country, who were previously out of reach and simply lacked the resources to teach effectively. Mobile SMS is a step in the right direction.

In Nigeria, and many of the major cities in Africa, there is a sense that anything is possible and the continent is ripe for investment and full of opportunity. A lack of traditional infrastructure is helping drive entrepreneurship, in mobile especially, and suggest that Africa will be the continent of the 21st century.

Mobile educational tool launched in Nigeria

English: Children at school in Nigeria

English: Children at school in Nigeria (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A mobile SMS educational tool has recently launched in Nigeria aimed at providing primary school teachers with regular updates on educational content to assist with classroom teaching. Nigeria has one of the largest mobile phone markets in the world but also contains some of the world’s poorest people with high occurrences of illiteracy in both adults and children. Mobile learning should help combat this.

The scheme, to be delivered by UNESCO (the UN Educational,  Scientific, and Cultural Organisation) follows successful initiatives in other parts of the developing world that have opened up mobile learning to both those in rural areas as well as women, who can be excluded from traditional forms of education.

The technology will be available to anyone in Nigeria and will send teachers messages with educational content and advice once a day. The project should reach thousands of teachers across the country.

The use of mobile learning in Nigeria is being piloted as the uptake of mobile devices is high and there is both a lack of government funding and traditional infrastructure to aid teachers. Additionally, the scheme is relatively cheap to administer and offers an alternative to one to one teaching. It has made it possible to reach teachers, who often work in poor conditions, and who were, practically speaking, unreachable a few years ago.