Mobile revolution hits the continent

Daniel Flynn

Daniel Flynn

From banking to education and even organised crime, mobile phones are revolutionising the lives of ordinary Africans as foreign phone companies scramble for a share of the world's fastest growing market.

Having shunned Africa in the 1990s, companies are now lured by cheaper technology, stronger economic growth and the success of pioneer firms such as South Africa's MTN.

In the mid-1990s there were more phones in New York city than the whole of Africa. This year, the African continent passed the milestone of 200million cellphone users - just two years after reaching the 100million mark.

Nigeria's former Communications Minister David Mark - now president of the country's senate - once quipped that the telephone was not for the poor. But those days are long gone and the change for many Africans has been dramatic.

"A cellphone is a source of pride, a status symbol ... for people who used to be completely margina-lised," said Solange Konan, manager of a cocoa farmers' cooperative in the Ivory Coast.

African farmers once faced long journeys, braving potholed roads and bandits, to check export prices for their goods, but now they just phone the port to ensure they get a fair price.

"It is the greatest invention of the century," Konan said. - Reuters