Africa: Fighting Corruption with Mobile Phones
Jenny C. Aker et al. | Center for Global Development | July 2010
Once the plaything of the yuppie generation, mobile phones are conquering Africa: Today, nearly 60 percent of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa have access to the technology. The period 2002 through 2007 witnessed a yearly growth of 49 percent in subscriptions, even though the countries in the region count among the world’s poorest. This phenomenon bears enormous economic potential and may well impact the political development in Africa significantly.
In view of the highly corrupt governments in many African states, mobile phone technology represents something akin to a poor man’s web 2.0. Up to now, it has come into play largely in the context of electoral results and political unrest. Users tell each other about attempts at fraud or violent incidents that they have observed first hand and forward this information to central bureaucracies or foreign NGOs. In Kenya, for example, a software program called „Ushahidi“ (Swahili for testimony) was developed precisely for this purpose. It allows users to combine google maps, images, and text messages in their reporting on crises or incidents of the abuse of power. It helps them coordinate their responses as well. In general, Africans prefer talking on the phone to sending text messages, even though the latter come at one seventh the cost of placing a call. Much of this is due to the low literacy rates in Africa, though the mobile phone revolution is beginning to remedy this situation as well: Studies have shown that mobile phone users score 30 percent higher on tests. Part of the reason for this is that in areas where no newspapers are available, users increasingly rely on text messages in order to communicate across vast distances.
By rapidly improving the citizen's ability to communicate, mobile phones are forcing African governments to pay more and more heed to the principles of good governance. Mobile phones allow users to voice their discontent as voters who feel excluded from the political process and harassed by corrupt officials. They are affording Africans the means of employing “crowdsourcing” to bring about political change. Though still in its infancy, this development is one that bears great potential for improving the daily lives of many Africans.
This summary was prepared by the Atlantic Community editorial team from "Mobile Phones and Economic Development in Africa" published here by the Center for Global Development