The rise of mobile phones and the African digital economy


Communication is deeply rooted in the human psyche. It is an integral part of our lives and we can never think of voluntarily living in isolation and interacting or exchanging information with others.

In the days before the emergence of modern technology, passing information to someone halfway around the world was not only a costly and rewarding task, but also a time-consuming task. Take an example: written communication. The letter can spend weeks or months on its way to the recipient, depending on the means of transport available.

From that moment on, communication began to evolve through a series of disruptive technologies that helped speed up the transmission and access of information to people.

Since its introduction in Africa in the 2000s, mobile technology has revolutionized the African continent. Not only can you communicate with virtually anyone, almost anywhere in the world, but you also have access to financial services, entertainment, shopping, and social media interactions.

A 2007/8 survey of ICT access and use in Africa found that internet access was surprisingly low and computers were not visible on the continent. With rapid advancement over a decade later, mobile phones are now an important entry point for internet use in many emerging markets, including Africa.

Smartphone adoption continues to grow rapidly in the region, especially among young people, as affordable devices become available. They respond quickly to social, economic and political issues across the continent and beyond.

To that end, a recent report from GSMA Intelligence found that 477 million people (45% of the population) in sub-Saharan Africa will be subscribed to mobile services in 2019, through 2025. About half of the population is expected to subscribe to mobile services. subscribe to mobile services.

Impact on COVID-19 and its digital connectivity

On the contrary, the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us to understand the value of the connectivity that the Internet offers. It also emphasizes the importance of the mobile Internet in facilitating access to education, work, health care, social networks, products and services.

More importantly, being able to stay in touch with loved ones and others is done mentally and socially, especially during the time of the blockade and the social distancing protocols implemented to verify the spread of the virus. , And helped maintain financial well-being.

While still booming, the pandemic underscores the need for a robust and comprehensive digital economy that can only be strengthened through fast and stable access to the internet.

Understanding this has provided the mobile industry in sub-Saharan Africa with the opportunity to connect individuals, businesses and customers and deliver a variety of digital services during a pandemic. However, the GSMA further reports that the digital divide still exists, as some 800 million people in the region are not yet connected to the mobile internet.

In 2019, the penetration rate of mobile internet users was 23% in the SSA region. One of the reasons for this low percentage is the imbalance in Internet adoption in some African countries.

For example, countries like Kenya and Nigeria have high mobile internet penetration, but countries like South Sudan have yet to make significant progress towards mass mobile internet adoption. Therefore, the digital divide must be eliminated.

Low broadband penetration, high smartphone costs compared to average income levels, high data costs and limited digital skills among rural and illiterate populations in Africa are some of the major barriers to mobile internet adoption. .

A world titled “Poverty Reduction in Mobile Broadband in Africa: Evidence from Nigeria” to ensure that all households in low- and middle-income countries benefit from the current digital revolution sweeping the world Banking and GSMA research recommends that the government In these countries, the following must be done:

Put in place policy frameworks that support the expansion of mobile broadband connections, especially in rural and remote communities

Remove barriers to the use of mobile internet, such as affordability and digital skills, to ensure that underserved groups (women, people with disabilities, etc.) benefit fully from digital technology. Promote complementary policies to maximize the benefits of digital connectivity, such as the development of sophisticated public services and infrastructure.

According to the GSMA, in 2019, mobile technologies and services generated 9% of GDP in sub-Saharan Africa, with a combined contribution of around $ 155 billion in economic value. In addition to taxing contributions to the public sector, the mobile ecosystem also facilitates job creation.

In light of this, governments must implement policies that facilitate access to connectivity and invest in building a more resilient digital infrastructure for the future after COVID.

Rise in mobile money

Mobile money is hailed as an innovative tool to foster inclusion in low-resource environments. What does the concept of mobile money mean?

It is an electronic payment platform that allows you to transfer money between mobile phone devices. This technology is installed on the SIM card of an ordinary device or smartphone, so that users, especially those who do not have a bank account, can send money quickly at low cost without logging in. to a traditional banking system.

With the ever-increasing number of digital payments and broader financial services, mobile operators in Sub-Saharan Africa can take advantage of the digital payments ecosystem to extend their services beyond connectivity. Provides a platform.

For example, M-Pesa in Kenya, a mobile money transfer service, accounts for just over a third of the revenue generated by Safaricom, Kenya’s largest mobile network operator. This illustrates the potential market for digital financial services for businesses. Other operators can get clues by partnering with financial technology companies to provide digital financial services to their subscribers.

Since 2010, Africa’s digital advancements have been profound, providing a great opportunity for the African continent to boycott many regulatory hurdles to bypass traditional stages of development and bring about broader change. ..

Additionally, recent reports from IFC and Google describe Africa’s internet economy as “largely resilient” during the COVID-19 crisis. If this resilience is maintained, we can expect further rapid growth in the continent’s digital economy.

CFA is co-founder of, an innovation registration platform, and, a social enterprise that supports innovation in Africa.

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