Smart phones and mobile internet plans of faster speeds and larger download limits have changed the way many of us live our lives. The convenience provided by apps like Uber, Uber Eats and their competitors has changed how we travel and eat. Apps like Tinder have changed how we date, for better or for worse. And more people are logging on to social media apps like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat to share the interesting and not so interesting moments of their lives. The changes brought to our society through these innovative mobile apps are however nothing more than superficial additions to an already blessed life. What is far more interesting and ground-breaking is how smart phones and mobile internet is being used globally to drive innovation and create a more competitive and level playing field between the developed and developing world.
Sub-Saharan Africa is a particularly interesting case. Once a prosperous region of the world, Sub-Saharan Africa was ravaged by the European colonial expansion of the 18th and 19th centuries and was left scarred by ill-thought out borders post World War 2. More recently, disease and localised wars have ravaged the population and infrastructure leaving the region underdeveloped and unstable. These instabilities have caused Sub-Saharan Africa to be overlooked by risk averse investors until quite recently. China, which requires copious amounts of raw resources to fuel its growth, has struck a series of deals with many countries in the region and has provided swathes of aid in the form of infrastructure and financial capital.
This aid and development has kickstarted economic growth in the region which has seen many countries of modest wealth become mining powerhouses and has seen a very small middle class become the fastest growing in the world. With newly found expendable income, mobile phone ownership has skyrocketed to 270 million contracts a level that is expected to reach 500 million by the year 2020. How the middle class are using their new phones and data packages is even more interesting than the incredible growth in connectivity that’s been seen in recent years.
This Video by PBS reports on how mobile phone penetration is spurring innovation in Kenya.
The reason the region is seeing such a drastic increase in mobile phone penetration and mobile broadband use has been determined to be the fact that users show a marked preference for their mobile phones for practises traditionally completed on a laptop or desktop computer. In a sign of how mobile-positioned the market is, over half of all mobile money services in the world are in the region. “Mobile is also a vital tool in delivering digital and financial inclusion in Sub-Saharan Africa,” GSM Association stated in a report investigating mobile penetration in Africa. The report found that the region has more than 280 million registered mobile money accounts. The ubiquity of mobile internet is being leveraged to deliver services to approach the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in areas such as Health and Education.
A video produced in Africa for the New China TV channel explores the mobile money market in Africa.
China has acted as a catalyst, and growth in this area of the world is exploding. Places which were once isolated by a lack of infrastructure are now connected to the rest of the world. They have access to finances to take risk and innovate, health advice is a Google search away and access to educational information is rapidly increasing. The roadblocks to economic advancement are being chipped away as innovative business practise and government approaches to solve issues arising from isolation level the playing field for the once disadvantaged countries of Sub-Saharan Africa. Only the future knows what’s next for the region and how technology will further improve the standards of living for these countries. The Chinese economy was once referred to as the sleeping dragon, I think it has well and truly woken bringing with it the developing economies of Africa something that has been neglected by the West for time memorable.