Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Mobile's as a tool of social change in Africa

This week is Geek Week on Newsnight and to start things off Paul Mason presented on how Kenyan's have adopted mobile on mass.

An informative film sees Mason travel along the main highway. We saw M-Pesa demonstrated by the Vodafone partner Safaricom which saw Mason being paid by text and him cashing it in. Mason was impressed and said that in a country that has few users of bank accounts it could revolutionise things.

On his travels Mason sees a farmer using his phone to check prices in Nairobi before selling his produce locally. The most impressive for me was when Mason went down into the Masai farmland. Talking to a teacher we discover that she has a phone and that she bought another for the tribesman that looks after her cattle so that she can check on her goats health. She went on to explain that in her region over half the men have phones and they are charged via solar panels. The upside is that thanks to text messages the Massi are starting to learn to read. The downside is that husbands and wifes now row over who has been calling the phone!

The headline is when someone from a University says that the success of mobile is showing people that Kenya is not a basket case. If the phones have been launched so quickly why is the road and water systems such failures after sixty years of aid funded development. Mason demonstrates this with a clip on how the people in the largest shantty town are using flash mob tactics to stop evictions.

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