Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"Africans have cell phones? Who do they call?"

So much in life is about our perceptions and understandings, and it takes a fairly wide variety of images to get a passibly correct idea about anything. Here's one picture from the multifaceted gem called Africa: Cell Phones.

Cell phones are transforming fairly large swaths of Africa - the western coast and particularly Kenya and newly Tanzania (the large red blob on the eastern part of Africa) are seeing massive widespread growth in cell phone coverage. (some) Rural towns without drinking water and sanitation have cell phone towers at the public school. Cell phones in Kenya do a good deal more than we make use of them in the US - they do their banking, job hunting, and find out market prices via cell phone. When I was at ATHGO last summer, our policy proposal dealt with using cell phones to increase political literacy, democracy, and participation - informing people of legislation that would affect them and giving them a forum to voice their opinions.

I found this short video today at Bill Easterly's blog where Kenyan businsswoman June Arunga discusses how some of the stereotypes we have of African poverty can stand in the way of the kind of investments that would help people lift themselves out. She was speaking at the Aid Watch conference at NYU.

June Arunga on Western Attitudes Towards Business in Africa from LF on Vimeo.

Again, this is one image of many. I'm not claiming cell phones will save the world. But it's a part, and it's a part less-understood.

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