The mobile phone is now having a significant impact on the economic development of African countries thanks to new services put in place for trade, health and agriculture. To adapt to these new needs, telecom operators, helped by market players, are developing innovative technological solutions. Some 70% of Africans now have access to mobile telephony. And if there is one area where the continent is ahead in this area, it is in the offer of innovative services offered to users. Services developed by operators which respond in particular to the needs of populations in terms of trade, finance, health, education, but also in the field of agriculture or in administrative procedures. These services make it possible to exchange information when it is sometimes difficult to get around, when certain inhabitants are isolated, when infrastructure, frequent transport, doctors are lacking, or when it often takes a day of walking to be able to accomplish formalities in the “nearest” sub-prefecture. As a result, the telephone is no longer just a tool for making or receiving calls but also – telecom operators have understood this – a means of accessing these services and supporting growing economic sectors. And for that no need for a smartphone or state-of-the-art applications: a basic phone from which you can send SMS is enough.
The multi-use mobile
The most developed service today is mobile payment. In Kenya – a model cited as an example – it is widespread among 70% of subscribers. Another figure, Orange Money registers nine million customers in Africa and 60 million euros exchanged each week. On a continent where the banking rate is very low – on average 15%, with some countries closer to 5% -, this device makes it possible to prepay, transfer, pay your bills, fill up with gas, keep, lend money. E-money has become the second payment method in many countries. “Convenient when cash transfers from the city to the village are made, for example, via bus drivers with all the risks that this entails”, notes Fabrice André, Quality and CSR Director of the Africa-Middle Zone Orient for Orange. 3% can be raised on each transaction. Of course, the mobile can also be a tool used by governments with populations – serving as an identity card, medical record …
Health precisely, it is towards this sector that mobile is also turning more and more. It is still difficult to quantify the extent of it, but “there are opportunities there to improve the health of populations by giving access to information at the times necessary for maternal and infant monitoring, allowing a mother to ask a question, reducing mortality rate of pregnant women, etc. The goal is to give as many people as possible access to health services, “continues Fabrice André. For example, you can send photos to get a diagnosis from doctors in the capital. Africa being the continent with the fewest doctors in the world. The possibilities for services are increasing in number. And then “mobile money”, he recalls, allows you to put money aside to finance your health, even if it is one or two dollars a day, “it is a tool that will invent a new health system ”. For agriculture, Africa’s leading economic sector, it has been thought about how the mobile could make it more efficient with information services on market prices, where are the nearest foodstuffs, to which markets a farmer has an interest in selling. Just as it allows you to benefit from weather services and know what good seeds you can use and when you have to irrigate your field. A sensor is therefore connected in the ground. Globally, the mobile revolutionizes the way of trading, ensuring “a fluidity of the markets, making it possible to negotiate by SMS the price of the raw materials between traders and individuals; with mobile, fishermen are directly connected with merchants and the latter with more distant customers “, explains Jean-Michel Huet, associate director within the firm BearingPoint and author of studies on the impact of mobile in African economies .
The new uses of the mobile thus make it possible to make up for the deficit in infrastructure, personnel, public services and to facilitate the exchange of information, services, money. But to make up for these shortcomings, is this not a substitute for the investments necessary for there to be more infrastructure? “Mobile telephony does not replace investments by states. It takes ten or twenty years to train doctors. Jean-Michel Huet also recognizes that the main obstacle to mobile development remains the shortages of electricity, necessary to recharge the batteries, although those with photovoltaic cells could become widespread.
“Our mission is to invest locally in the development of countries, to build on the lungs of growth. The more Africa has potential, the more we will win, “continues Fabrice André. “Every two years, we start a dialogue with all the stakeholders, to find out their expectations, it brings up for us medium-term business subjects and indications to guide our investments. “This prompts the operator to go beyond the framework of its historic profession, to integrate the needs of developing sectors, and to develop new technological solutions, to redeploy. “We can call this the mobile for development, we are thinking about how we can invest, better cover certain areas, we are looking at how mobile can accelerate developing sectors. Last indicator, a 10% increase in mobile penetration in a country leads to a 0.7% gain in GDP.
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