“Cellphones are in the deepest rural areas in Africa,” says Saadhna Panday, of South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council. “More people have access to a cellphone than a land line.”
The way people use and care for their mobile phones is different than in the wealthy, BlackBerry-addicted West. Here, people send text messages to friends, but also use their cells to do banking and organize political rallies. In areas with no TV, farmers use phones to get agricultural news and weather reports. (The Kenya Agricultural Commodity Exchange, for instance, sends text messages with up-to-date market prices.) In townships, entrepreneurs will set up cellphone booths, where passers-by can use airtime for a slightly inflated price.
In all these ways, says Panday, cellphones have increased networking among Africans and have lessened the global “digital divide” between haves and have nots.”
Stephanie Hanes, a correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, reports on how Namibia’s plucky fix-it industry can handle all manner of disaster with your phone.