Cell Phones Worth Killing for in Africa

Mae : Wireless Mobility Blog
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Cell Phones Worth Killing for in Africa

Here’s somewhat of an “off the beaten path” story that caught my eye this morning: four teenagers in Africa stabbed and killed a 52-year-old man (Quinin Boutel) while robbing him of his cellphone and taking the shoes from his girlfriend (Debra Fleishman).

According to a report on iafrica.com, the attack occurred in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape. The teenagers (three girls and one boy) ranged in age from 13 to 14.

“The boy allegedly stabbed Boutel who died on the scene,” the report says. “The children then allegedly took Boutel's cellphone, and Fleisman's shoes.” Fleishman wasn’t hurt, and later identified the teens who were taken into custody and face court on Friday.

While this may seem like just another robbery story, to me it indicates a larger trend: cell phones are now valuable enough in Africa to be considered not only worth stealing, but worth killing over.

I say that because in the past week alone, two articles appeared in African publications examining the growing popularity of cell phones in Africa, and how providers can make cellular service more affordable for Africans.

A report on Mail&Guardian notes that cell phone penetration in Africa “hovers at just 15 percent and growth,” making the region ripe for growth among providers “with a stomach for risk.”

That risk lies in the fact the many of Africa’s residents live in rural areas and have limited financial resources for purchasing cell phones and cellular services. So, while there are many potential customers, the challenge is how to make the technology and its benefits affordable.

“Experts say operators need to keep hunting for niftier ways to make calls affordable and to turn poor country dwellers into makers of calls as well as receivers,” the Mail&Guardian report says.

But, despite the cost, Africans are moving into the modern world, at least when it comes to cell phones.

Another report, this time on South Africa-based MyADSL, quotes a GSM Association spokesperson as saying that cell phone usage in Africa is growing faster than in any other region—it’s now up to 152 million users, from 63 million in 2004.

“Just a decade ago, more than half of the African population had never used a telephone,” the MyADSL report says. “Today, upwards of 15 percent of the total population actually owns his or her personal means of voice communication and 70 percent have access to it, and that figure increases virtually by the minute.”

I haven’t seen a lot of talk in the press outside Africa about this topic, which probably means providers and manufacturers for the most part are not yet willing to explore this mostly untapped market. It will be interesting to see how high the adoption rate must get before Africa becomes a more appealing market.

In the meantime, let us hope no-one else loses their life over a cell phone.