How Africa's mobile revolution is disrupting the continent

A technician scanning the eye of a woman with a smartphone application in rural Kenya.

Story highlights

  • Access to social networks has given youth a platform for civic participation, Nmachi Jidenma writes
  • Mobile experiences are re-creating existing industries, helping the continent narrow the digital divide, she says
  • Mobile phones are birthing revolutions in critical sectors such as education, healthcare and agriculture

Africa's mobile phone adoption curve has been impressive.

In a little over a decade, the continent has become the world's second most connected region by mobile subscriptions, has witnessed the fastest growth in mobile subscribers in the world and is on track to hit one billion mobile subscriptions by 2015, according to Informa Telecoms.

Rapid smartphone adoption in large mobile phone markets like Nigeria and Kenya is already quickly birthing significant changes in the lives of the continent's tech savvy youth, ushering in revolutions in a myriad of sectors.

The first significant revolution has been the swift ushering of the information revolution on the continent. The impact of Internet access via mobile devices on the continent has been a game changer on the continent.

Nmachi Jidenma

Access to social networks has given youth a platform for self-expression and civic participation in ways that are having real impact on elections, governance and accountability.

Twitter, Facebook and crisis mapping technologies such as Ushahidi have helped mobilize communities and improve government responsiveness to the plight of young people.

As smartphones lower information barriers across Africa, young people are empowering themselves by self organizing into influential youth online communities and demanding better leadership.

Mobile phones are revolutionizing financial services in Africa. Much has been written about M-PESA's runaway success in Kenya -- a true global success story in the field of mobile payments with over 18 million active users.

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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.

In Africa's largest mobile phone market with over 120 million subscribers, Nigeria, a startup company, Paga is quickly dominating the country's nascent mobile payments scene, growing by an estimated 847% in its first full year of operation.

The company's potential scale is massive given the number of mobile subscribers in Africa's second largest economy. Increased access to financial markets is enabling capital accumulation through savings and affordable credit and is playing a leading role in helping reduce poverty.

Mobile phones are revolutionizing Africa's retail sector. Mobile commerce is helping build the continent's retail sector by connecting young, tech savvy consumers in far-flung areas with urban goods.

In many parts of Africa, organized retail penetration remains low and informal channels dominate the vast majority of retail transactions.

Innovative retail programs which are just taking off in Western markets, such as shopping online and picking up goods at centralized locations are quickly taking center stage in countries like South Africa.

Mobile commerce is accelerating Africa's retail future by leapfrogging the need for capital-intensive mall infrastructure and hastening the establishment of strong logistic networks and demand fulfillment centers.

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 skillsets would serve as a boon for the state of education and literacy on the continent.

Organizations 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.

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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 smallholder farmers who still make up about 65% of the continent's workforce.

From m-commerce to m-health, mobile phones are transforming the lives of Africans in revolutionary ways.

Mobile experiences are re-creating 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.

READ MORE:

The real mobile revolution: Africa's smartphone future

Africa not just a mobile-first continent -- it's mobile only

Smart cabs and social games: Africa's mobile tech startups

Seven ways mobile phones have changed lives in Africa