In a few short years, the proliferation of mobile phone networks has transformed overall communications in sub-Saharan Africa. The phenomenon has also allowed Africans to skip the landline stage of development and move straight into the digital age.
This is according to Derick Roberts, CEO of TruTeq Devices, which recently launched its own range of ruggedised cellular phones which, he says, are expected to notch up “considerable sales” in southern Africa.
These days cell phones are far more common in Africa, perhaps almost pervasive. In 2002, approximately 10% of the population owned a mobile phone in Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Ghana.
However, since then, cell phone ownership has grown rapidly.
“Today cell phones are as common in South Africa and Nigeria as they are in the US. But smartphones – those units that can access the internet and applications – are not as widely used,” Roberts says. “But if we observe the latest statistics we will note that ownership of smartphones is on an upward trajectory in several countries, including reaching a 34% penetration in South Africa.”
Cell phones have different uses for different people. At the moment, sending text messages and taking pictures, or video, are the most commonplace activities among mobile users.
In a few nations, such as Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, mobile banking is also relatively common. But it has a long way to go before it is anywhere near developed countries.
Other activities, such as trawling for political news and current affairs – and accessing social media platforms – are high on the agenda. Getting health and consumer information and looking for a job are searched less frequently.
Since 2002, cell phone ownership has exploded in the countries where trends are available. In 2002, only 8% of Ghanaians said they owned a mobile phone, while that figure stands at 83% today. This is a 10-fold growth.
Similar growth in mobile penetration is seen in a number of other African countries, including Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Senegal.
This data comes from research work from a Pew Research Center survey in seven sub-Saharan African nations.
In 2002 only 5% of Ugandans owned a cell phone, now 60% own one. Ghana has gone from 14% to 83%, Senegal from 15% to 69%, Nigeria from 27% to 62% and Kenya from 15%-67%.