Africans are showing the way to the rest of the world as to how efficiently one can leverage the mobile platform. Their mobile phone adoption curve is nothing short of an awe-inspiring story. In just over a decade, the continent has become the world's second-most connected region by mobile subscriptions, while witnessing the fastest growth in mobile subscribers in the world, according to Informa Telecoms.
Mobile phone users in Africa are now almost eight times higher than in 2000, reaching about 700 million. Lightning-quick smartphone adoption in huge mobile phone markets – like Nigeria and Kenya – is already heralding significant changes in the lives of the continent's tech-savvy youth, ushering in revolutions in a myriad of sectors.
The first significant change has been the information revolution that sweeps across the continent. The impact of Internet access via mobile devices on the continent has been a game changer. Also, access to social networks has given local youth a platform for self-expression and civic participation in ways that are having significant impact on elections, governance and accountability.
Twitter, Facebook and crisis-mapping technologies, such as Ushahidi, have helped mobilise communities and improve government responsiveness to the plight of young people, avers a CNN report.
With mobile devices lowering information barriers across Africa, youngsters are getting empowered by banding themselves into influential youth online communities and demanding better governance.
Mobile phones are also revolutionising financial services in Africa. Mobile technology has played a crucial role in promoting financial inclusion in sub-Saharan Africa, where not many households have access to formal financial services, points out a recent report by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
Mobile phone-based money transfer, financing and microfinancing service, M-Pesa, is a phenomenal success in Kenya – a pioneer in the field of mobile payments with over 18 million active users. Mobile devices have ensured that anyone can own a phone – to make calls, send SMSes and, using ingenious payment systems, transfer mobile money to other phone users. Half of Kenya's GDP now rests on mobile money, and M-Pesa alone reportedly handles $20-million a day in transactions.
In East Africa, mobile banking has leapfrogged traditional banking, enabling previously unbanked consumers to receive remittances and also to send money to their loved ones. Mobile phone banking services are especially prevalent in Kenya, with penetration rates also relatively high in Uganda and Tanzania. The other countries with high mobile money account penetration rates are the Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Rwanda and South Africa. Already, 80 per cent of the world's mobile money transactions are happening in East Africa, driven by Kenya, the epicentre of mobile innovation, states CNN.
Other mobile-based services are also flourishing in Africa. There are ways for consumers to check whether a medicine is authentic and hasn't expired (mPedigree); for farmers to find out where they can get the best price for their produce (Farmerline); for people to do real-time live mapping of disasters or elections (Ushahidi); and for communities to communicate with each other (Mxit and FrontlineSMS).
In Africa's largest mobile phone market with over 120 million subscribers, Nigeria, a start-up company, Paga is quickly dominating the country's nascent mobile payments scene, growing by an estimated 847 per cent in its first full year of operation.
Mobile phones are revolutionising Africa's retail sector as well. Mobile commerce is helping build the continent's retail sector by connecting young, tech-savvy consumers in far-flung areas with urban goods. Innovative retail programmes which are just taking off in Western markets, such as shopping online and picking up goods at centralised locations are quickly taking center stage in countries like South Africa.
Even more importantly, mobile phones are birthing revolutions in critical sectors of the economy, such as education, healthcare and agriculture. The impact digital books can have on improving literacy rates and enabling young people to improve their skill sets would serve as a boon for the state of education and literacy on the continent. Organisations such as Worldreader and Binu are improving access to digital content on the continent by connecting millions of young Africans with e-books on their mobile devices.
Similarly, access to healthcare tips and medical service providers through services, such as MAMA, are helping to improve maternal health, while access to agricultural tips, real-time market prices and weather information through services, such as Esoko, are transforming the lives of small farmers who make up about 65 per cent of the continent's workforce.
Right from m-commerce to m-health, mobile phones are transforming the lives of Africans in more ways than one. Mobile experiences are redefining existing industries, helping the continent narrow the digital divide and helping its young people lead the charge in the adoption of mobile technology solutions globally.