In Parts Of Africa, Cell Phones Are Everywhere And Landlines Barely Exist
Cell phones are bringing parts of Africa into the digital age, allowing some regions to bypass landline development altogether.
New surveys from the Pew Research Center show that the majority of people in Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria and South Africa owned cell phones in 2014.
Though most people surveyed in those sub-Saharan countries still do not own smartphones, Pew says the widespread adoption of basic cell phones provides a “communication lifeline,” connecting people like never before.
According to Pew’s research, which surveyed about 1,000 people in each nation, 89 percent of people now own a smartphone or basic cell phone in South Africa and Nigeria, 83 percent in Senegal and Ghana, 82 percent in Kenya, 73 percent in Tanzania and 65 percent in Uganda.
Here’s a map showing the geographical spread of Pew’s data on cell phone use in these seven countries. Click the pins to see stats for each:
Pew notes huge increases since 2002, when only about 10 percent of people had cell phones in Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Ghana. In South Africa, 33 percent owned cell phones in 2002.
In the United States, 89 percent of people currently own a cell phone, and 64 percent of them own a smartphone.
Most people surveyed — a median of 80 percent across all seven sub-Saharan African countries — said they use their phones to send text messages. Only about half take pictures or video with their phones, while 30 percent use them to make or receive payments, 21 percent get political news, 19 percent use them to access social networks, 17 percent use them to get health information and 14 percent use them to look for jobs.
Pew noted that Africans who understand at least some English were more likely to own a cell phone or smartphone.
As a point of comparison, practically none of the people surveyed have access to landline telephones in their home: Only 2 percent said they did. In the United States, 60 percent of people still have a working landline in their home, according to Pew. That basically lines up with a National Center for Health Statistics study from last year, which found that 41 percent of U.S. homes were “wireless only.”
Pew has studied cell phone use in Africa for years. It ran surveys in 2002, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014, though data wasn’t consistently available for each country.
Jacob Poushter, a research associate at Pew, told The Huffington Post that a few factors go into selecting countries: The research group likes to have a geographical spread, meaning that countries aren’t clustered in one area; and they like to poll the same locations over the course of years to see how their data changes.
Based on the data in Pew’s previous studies, it’s clear that cell phone use has long been on the rise across sub-Saharan Africa. Even in 2012, CNN noted that more people in Africa had a cell phone than access to electricity. And last year, PBS explained how widespread cell phone use was encouraging entrepreneurship in countries like Kenya, where many people use phones to conduct business transactions.
Of course, while widespread communication could hardly be considered a bad thing, there’s another story about phones in Africa that shouldn’t go ignored: Many of the most important materials in phones and other electronics — gold, tin, tantalum and tungsten — come from mines in Congo. The rush to capitalize on these materials, worth trillions in total, spurred rebels to take control of the mines and perpetuate violence against men, women and children.
A report from 2014 indicated that many mines are no longer controlled by armed rebel groups, at least in part due to 2010 legislation in the U.S. requiring companies to be transparent about the source of their materials.
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