Syndicate content

kenya mobile phones

Data – The next frontier of Development

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

How is the digital tide taking care of the digital divide? Do you remember the digital divide? At the start of the new millennium, there was global concern that poor countries, especially in Africa, would be twice left out: economically and also technologically. Fortunately, the digital divide never became a global challenge. In fact, it is closing faster than anyone had imagined. In some parts of the developing world there are even budding signs of possible digital overtaking.

Kenya is one of few African countries driving in the fast lane. Over the past decade, it has experienced a sweeping “digital tide”. Today, Kenya will cross the 30 million threshold of active cell phone numbers, up 29,000 from 12 years ago! Almost everyone can now afford to buy a phone, which sell for as little as Ksh 500 (or US$5) on the flourishing second hand market.

Learning from a Kenyan revolution

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

Who would have thought, 20 years ago, that a poor African country would become a powerhouse of global innovation in Information and Communication Technology (ICT)? Definitely not me! As student on a long road trip through Africa in 1990, I often struggled to make expensive calls home to Europe. Making an international call typically involved finding an Indian-African merchant, who was one of the few people with a phone that could connect you to other parts of the world, in theory. In practice, I often waited for at least an hour and, when I was lucky enough to get through, paid the equivalent of what today would be about 600 Shillings per minute.

Now zoom back to today and look at the abundance of mobile devices, even in the poorest parts of Africa, and incredibly low calling rates. This year Kenyans could call the US from their cell phones for as little as 3 Shillings per minute! Something extremely remarkable must have happened. In describing the transformation of the telecom industry over the last 10-15 years in Africa, especially in Kenya, the term “revolution” is not an exaggeration.

Since 2000, the Kenyan ICT sector has grown on average 20 percent each year, outperforming every other sector by a wide margin (the second best performer was hotels and restaurants which grew at 8 percent). The ICT sector has been driving growth in Kenya: without it, instead of the 3.7 percent average growth it achieved, the economy would have seen lackluster growth of 2.8 percent (barely enough to keep up with population growth).