Sub-Saharan Africa has experienced a boom in mobile phone users over the past decade. The total number of cell phone subscriptions on the continent increased from just over 11 million in 2000 to 463 million in 2011 and is expected to grow even further. This technology not only affects day-to-day life and communication, but has the potential to boost economic development directly and indirectly.
creating jobs, for instance, mobile phone technology has contributed
towards the reduction of poverty. But more important are its indirect
effects on the economy such as the increased connectivity of firms and
micro-enterprises which increases their access to information and
facilitates the movement of money through mobile transfers. This
contributes to increased productivity and encourages diversification
into new activities which are all good for an economy.
The following statistics show Tanzania has seen an impressive increase in mobile phone use over the last few years:
In 2011, Tanzania had 56 mobile phone subscriptions per 100
inhabitants. This is an almost threefold increase within four years.
Mobile phone access in Tanzania lags behind Senegal (73 subscriptions
per 100 people) and Kenya (65), but is higher than in Mozambique (33)
and Malawi (25), and just above the sub-Saharan Africa average (53).
Other developing regions still have higher mobile phone penetration,
with 69 and 80 subscriptions per 100 people in South Asia and East Asia,
respectively, but the rapid growth in Tanzania suggests that it may
soon catch up.
What is even
more encouraging is that mobile phones are no longer confined to urban
areas, but have helped remote or forgotten rural areas by providing them
with virtual connectivity. Yet more still needs to be done to reduce
inequality, for instance by reducing cost especially for the poorest: In
2010 more than one third of rural households owned a cell phone, up
from a mere 17 per cent in 2007. This brought first-time connectivity to
more than 5 million individuals including at least 2 million poor.
in 2010 only 3 per cent of the poorest quintile owned a phone compared
to 96 per cent in the richest quintile. Indeed, for a poor family,
getting a mobile phone involves financial sacrifices. Handsets are
expensive and airtime and transaction cost are about 10-15 per cent
higher in Tanzania than in Kenya, even if they are lower than in
Uganda. In fact, in 2010-11, average household spending on
communication was higher than on health care.
good news is that with about half of subscribers using their phone to
send or receive money, Tanzanians have been among the fastest users of
mobile money services in the world, just behind Kenya. In agriculture, a
growing number of agricultural information service providers offer
technical advice and market information to farmers through bulk sms,
call centres or specialized apps. In
the health sector, mobile phones have opened up opportunities for
remote diagnosis so that health workers in remote facilities are
supported by medical experts further away via telephone. This can
potentially improve service delivery in light of the understaffing in
rural health centres.
this virtual connectivity opens new possibilities, it will need to be
accompanied by further policy efforts since access to information or
money by themselves are not enough to transform lives. Farmers cannot
easily exploit price differences between markets if rural roads are in
poor condition and transportation costs remain prohibitive.
the poor can take advantage of mobile phone based services also depends
on the education system, which needs to provide students with adequate
literacy and life skills. Even remote diagnosis can only succeed in
improving rural health outcomes if primary facilities are stocked with
essential drugs and medical equipment, and if patients have access to
referral facilities for cases that require higher-level care or
face-to-face medical consultations.