Africa Business News “Mobile phones help kill poverty”

Farmer and cattleman David Bai Kamara of Port Loko District in the Northern part of Sierra Leone hardly travels out of his local town these days. Indeed for the past four years he has only traveled to Freetown once to meet up with a buyer who was very happy with the goods and services his business get from Mr. David Bai Kamara.
This change of life style for Mr. David Bai Kamara and millions of other farmers across Africa can be traced back to the access and affordability to get a mobile phone in most parts of Africa today.
According to a recent report issued by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), mobile phones have spawned a wealth of micro-enterprises, offering work to people with little education and few resources. Further down the road, mobile phones has cut the chain of middle-men involved in the agriculture and fishing business, as local producers now have direct access to their buyers. Another example is the selling of airtime on the street and refurbishing of handsets.
The key successful use of mobile phone is affordability, the UN report argues, a lesson not learnt by many African States. “India has shown us the way in making it as cheap as possible so everyone can gain access to this kind of equipment,” says the UNCTAD Secretary General Supachai Panitchpakdi.
Reacting to the report and its findings, Agriculture and Food Expert Dr Sally Amish said that for many years now we have said that “mobile phone helps kill poverty even in Western Societies.”
The report points out that the economic benefits of mobile phones, whose use in Least Developed Countries far outstrips technologies such as the internet or fixed-line phones, go well beyond access to information. So, the report argues, governments must design responsive policies to ensure that the benefits reach the broadest number in the most effective way.
Penetration in developed countries is over 100% with many people having more than one report, while in developing countries the subscription rate is now 58 % per 100 people, and rising rapidly, with the rate in the poorest Least Developed Countries (LDCs) like Sierra Leone up at 25 from only 2 per 100 a few years ago, the UNCTAD figures show.
At the end of 2008, almost half the rural population in LDCs was not covered by mobile signals. But another report just out say that mobile subscription grew by 51% in West Africa to reach 82 million in the first quarter of 2008, up from the 48 million recorded in 2006.
The report put mobile usage or and penetration at 30% of the population of 251 million persons in the sub-region. It also put fixed lines connections at less than four million.
Research conducted by Awoko Business News Desk has showed that Nigeria has the biggest mobile phone market in the sub-region, accounting for 57% of usage. Ghana has some 17 million subscribers whilst others like Ivory Coast, 10% , Senegal, five% , Mali, 3%, Burkina Faso, 2%, Guinea, 2% and others, including Sierra Leone, 11% .
Thecla Mbongue, a Research Analyst with Informa Telecoms and Media, said since 2005, the fixed line segment had been revived by the introduction of fixed wireless networks. Mbongue predicted that the future of traditional wired networks in the sub-region would mainly reside in fixed broad band access.
Many experts believe that Nigeria will continue to dominate the West Africa-sub-region, in fact, Ronald Moore of Barclays Partnership in South Africa told Awoko Business News that “as far as they are concern at Barclays, Nigeria is a major global player in the mobile phone business because of its size and spending power.”
On Nigeria’s dominance, Thecla Mbongue said that the country’s high growth in mobile telephony resulted from a low fixed line density. She emphasized the impact of the unified licensing regime introduced in early 2006 in the country and which is the first converged licensing of West and Central Africa.
In the Central Africa region, the report also indicated that mobile subscriptions grew at 41% to reach 16 million penetration rates of 16 % and less than one million fixed lines.
With nearly seven million subscriptions in the first quarter of 2008, DR Congo emerged as the leader in the region and the 12th largest market in Africa, the report said.
It forecasted a growth figure of 160 million in the West and Central Africa region by 2012 and identified key growth factors to include investments, affordability and regulation.
In another development, Ghana with some 17 million subscribers will next month allow mobile phone customers to switch network operators but keep their numbers, a move that will increase competition and quality of service.
Authoritative sources within the industry has disclosed to Awoko Business that the move, which is being rolled out in many African countries, is aimed at facilitating the tracking of numbers and providing permanent number ownership.
By Awoko Business News Desk