Mobile devices impact on East Africa’s social economic development

January 16, 2015

Today,  African countries are already realizing mobile devices positively impact the socio-economic development around the continent. To be precise, studies show that having sufficient mobile broadband penetration can add as much as 0.5% to GDP growth in high-income countries like Finland, Australia, US and others and 0.13% in low-income countries in regions like Africa. And, as mobile connectivity spreads, access to critical government services, business resources, educational materials and health care services have greatly improved.Living in East Africa, I have been fortunate to see firsthand the transformative power that mobile connectivity has had for people all over the region. Despite that, there remains a great deal to be done especially as the continent strive to achieve equitable growth for all people living in Africa and regions like East Africa.

Let’s take Tanzania as an example. Tanzania’s average annual growth rate is 7%. About 35% of the country’s estimated 48 million people live in urban areas and a large percentage of those are already engaged in knowledge-based industries. However, there are more than half the country people living in rural parts of the country whose living standard and livelihoods could be enhanced. A key tool to increasing impact is to increase access to information and basic services and one of the most effective ways to do so is to increase mobile broadband coverage and penetration.Telecom experts have been arguing in the recent months that the Governments in East African region like Tanzania can assist this coverage and penetration increase by making the 700MHz band and the extended 850MHz frequency bands are suitable for achieving wide-area coverage in urban and rural environments. I had a privilege of meeting with an academic and several representatives from the mobile industry in the region last year.

At the meeting, an academic whom I cannot name here for privacy reasons, introduced research he had undertaken that shows benefits derived by Tanzanians engaged in small-scale fishing and agriculture which includes access to timely weather information, market information, as well as communication with other fishermen in Lake Tanganyika, Indian Ocean and Lake Victoria and with their families.In Tanzania and many other parts of East Africa, the majority of rural populations are supported by traditional livelihoods such as fishing and farming and there is no doubt those communities can greatly benefit from the increased access to information brought about by mobile devices. The ability to use mobile devices to retrieve reliable, real-time data on weather conditions and to access market prices as well as educational resources empowers rural communities to achieve greater productivity and maximize household revenues.Such benefits have helped narrow the gap between urban and rural communities in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and other parts of Africa like Egypt and South Africa and has strengthened economic opportunities and improved lives on individual, community and national level.

 

Contador Harrison