Technology Leapfrogs

I like this quote from Hacktivate:

We need to stop underestimating people. Don’t expect Africans to be content with boring old SMS and voice for long. Smartphones, droids and even iphones are much higher up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs than we realize, especially if nobody around owns a computers, your schools suck, and the government controls the radio and newspaper. Africans have leapfrogged over landlines. They are now leaping over laptops.

(Desperate housewives, lonely on their isolated farms, also surprised the world by being the early adopters of the strange world of cranks and dials and operators that made up the original telephones of the 19th century)

@bikobiko posted a series of cell phone photos used by Community Health Workers in Malawi. One guy paid 8 bags of rice.

Appfrica Interview on MTN Uganda

Just a quick note to point to an interesting interview with an official of MTN Uganda at:

Appfrica: Interview With MTN’s Erik van Veen – Part 1

These points caught my eye:

(…) revenues per user, are very low in Africa by international standards, and require a low cost operating model if the Operator is to be profitable. If you look at East Africa, new customers joining the mobile category spend about $4 per month – that is not a lot!

(…) I see Asian, especially operators from the sub-continent, playing a bigger role in Africa as they have been able to survive in cut-throat, highly competitive, low tariff environments in their home markets.

(…) And then you have to deal with the cost of doing business in Africa. Infrastructure and productivity remain major hurdles that add costs to the P&L. Our own success, relative to other companies in most African economies, has backfired on mobile operators in Africa, where governments see these as an easy source of tax income. In East Africa, excise tax (read luxury tax) has been institutionalized within the mindset of financial ministerial policy on tax. Uganda has the 2nd highest tax burden on mobile services in the world, Tanzania 3rd. Just think about it – in Uganda we hand over nearly a third of the cost of every call to the government. What a shame!

It is a short sighted initiative that is impeding growth of the ICT industry.

Very interesting read!

Quick side notes:
There was a recent article that Malawi is considering to add (or has already added) a 10% tax on all airtime. I can’t find the Daily Times article online any more (note to myself: make a screenshot next time) See this Daily Times article. (Unfortunately this link is broken in the meantime.)

There’s also White African’s catch phrase to keep in mind.

My BlogCamp Switzerland Talk

As announced on Twitter, I presented a talk on mobile technology in Malawi at today’s BlogCamp in Zurich to share what I’m learning from the African blogs and tweets that I follow on a regular basis.

I started my talk with a short intro on Chiperoni (I am a bridge blogger somewhere between Basel and Blantyre) and why I blog. How much I appreciated Alex Antener’s news stream published on a Polytechnic server during the last Malawi general election. Then pointing to White African’s blog post discussing Twitter’s decision to discontinue its SMS service to the rest of the world. I tried to point out the potential a “Twitter to SMS” service could have for Malawi, where most of the population does not have access to the internet or even a plain old fixed telephone line.

Soyapi Mumba's Blog: The Potential of Twitter in Africa

I described the current situation. And how this is changing with mobile technology. I pointed to Mike McKay’s blog post about a rural area in northern Malawi where villagers climb an ant hill to get a better signal.

In Switzerland we take a lot of things such as the excellent infrastructure we have for granted.

I shared some of my observations from my recent holiday in Blantyre, some data on the pricing models and how public wifi is being introduced in urban areas.

tnm || always with you

Zain Malawi - SMS text messages - Prices

I was a little shaky on the stats side of things, telecommunication regulations, as well as who owns the major cell phone service companies, TNM and Zain. I’ll need to do more research here. I might have got some of my facts mixed up.

I did refer to the new airtime tax that is being introduced.

Examples referred to:

This talk was inspired by White African’s and Soyapi Mumba’s tweet streams. Zikomo kwambiri. Keep on tweeting.

Flickr credits: White African, Hackerfriendly, all other photos are my own.

Big zikomo to Persillie and Mlle A. for reviewing my slides!

I enjoyed presenting very much (note to myself).

Oh and I forgot to mention my chat with a Limbe internet cafe manager during the talk…

Limbe Internet Cafe

Mobile Communication for Rural Health Project

I stumbled across this blog by Josh Nesbit discussing the use of FrontlineSMS, a tool to set up a text-based communications network, in a rural health project in Namitete, Malawi.

Here’s a 7 minute long interview with one of the community health worker. At about 3:00 she starts discussing the advantage of having a cell phone:

And here’s an interview with Alexander Ngalande, a nurse at St. Gabriel’s Hospital in Namitete, regarding his experience with FrontlineSMS:

He now uses SMS to communicate with the community health workers to coordinate his medical visits to remote villages. Previously he required a motorbike to send a message when he would be in attendance.

Examples of text messages being sent:

– A man missed his appointment with a TB officer. A CHW was texted, who reported the man had gone to Zambia for a funeral. The hospital will be notified upon his return.

– An HIV support group met, and decided on new member guidelines. Via SMS, the group leader asked the hospital to print copies for the lot.

– A CHW asked about ferrous sulfate dosages, so he could administer the proper amount to an anemic child.

We take this type of communication between medical staff and patient for granted.

See also this BBC article.