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African mobile market now bigger than US or EU
The World Bank's Tim Kelly, an author of eTransform Africa, said in an interview with blackmoney.com, "Africa's mobile market has expanded to become larger than either the EU or the United States with some 650 million subscribers at the start of 2012. At the same time, Internet bandwidth has grown 20 fold between 2008 and 2012. Modern Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have thus created a platform for the future growth of local businesses in Africa, and a base for increased competitiveness."
For Anne Githulu-Shongwe, CEO of Afroes Transformational Games in Johannesburg, South Africa, that access meant that she designed a series of games designed for public health education through mobile distribution.
Morris Matadi, a former child soldier in Liberia, underwrites an art therapy initiative for other former child soldiers by marketing their art online.
Kelly added, "One of the ways highlighted in the report by which African countries are encouraging the growth of local industry is through the development of Local ICT Development (LID) clusters, such as iHub in Nairobi or ActiveSpace in Cameroon. The technology movement in Africa is being driven by the youth who, through these labs, have the means and foresight to apply new and accessible technologies to solve immediate problems and find useful solutions for common problems."
One of the most important catalysts for that explosive growth is billionaire philanthropist Mohamed "Mo" Ibrahim, who grew the mobile phone company Celtel across a number of African countries before selling it in 2005. In November, his Mo Ibrahim Foundation held an annual forum in Dakar on the future of African youth.
"Africa is the only continent with a significantly growing youth population," the foundation stated. "In less than three generations, 41% of the world’s youth will be African. By 2035, Africa’s labour force will be larger than China’s. How do we ensure that Africa benefits from this imminent demographic dividend? How do we ensure that African youth will compete at the global level not only due to sheer numbers? "
Kelly noted that mobile usage sometimes rivals nutrition as a priority. "In Africa, as in other regions, there is an age divide in the use of ICTs which favours younger populations," he said. "...young people are also taking the lead in developing applications which are locally relevant. The infoDev-support mobile applications lab in Nairobi that serves East Africa is supporting young local entrepreneurs, such as Judith Owigar of Akirachix, or Jamila Abass of mFarm, to realise their dreams. But young mobile phone users are generally not as wealthy as older ones and this can shape their pattern of use. A recent report on mobile usage at the base of the pyramid in Kenya highlights how at least 20 per cent of respondents in an interview survey felt it was necessary to make real sacrifices to recharge their mobile credit. In the majority of cases (>80 per cent), that meant buying less food, at least once a week. New clothes, bus fares, utility bills and even soap were sometimes sacrificed to sustain the all-powerful mobile phone. As one respondent put it, “Better you miss to eat -- at times you miss to eat and you have credit”."
The Ibrahim Foundation has made improving governance in Africa a priority with an annual $5 million leadership prize. Noting that the median age of African leaders is 62 and the median age of the entire continent's population is 20, the foundation encourages more civic engagement by youth.
Kelly said the impact of mobile usage in the Arab Spring is moving southward. "Similar patterns of civic engagement are now emerging in Africa, for instance in Liberia where sentiment monitoring using Twitter was used alongside more formal electoral monitoring in recent elections. The upcoming elections and constitutional referendum in Kenya will provide an significant demonstration of how the use of ICTs for political engagement is being enhanced, driven in part by the desire to avoid the post-election violence that marked the 2008 elections."
There is hope that technology will be deployed to preserve indigenous heritage. Open source software has been written in native languages. Kelly said, "What's important here are local applications and content, developed locally," he said. "The World Bank and infoDev are partnering with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland in developing a series of mobile applications labs and mobile development hubs across the continent. The initial results are very encouraging."
The joint study projected that mobile ICT in Africa will exceed $150 billion in revenue by 2016, more than the entire GDP of Sub-Saharan Africa just ten years ago.