Mobile phone subscriptions are now almost eight times higher in Africa than in 2000, reaching about 700 million.
According to a report by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), mobile technology has played a crucial role in promoting financial inclusion in sub-Saharan Africa, where less than 20 per cent of households have access to formal financial services.
The liberalisation of the communications sector in many African countries has also enabled leading global telecom providers to expand their brands and compete for market share. Their strategies have included partnering with smaller manufacturers to develop more affordable mobile devices.
Mobile phone banking services are especially prevalent in Kenya, with penetration rates also relatively high in Uganda and Tanzania. The other countries with high mobile money account penetration rates are the Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Rwanda and South Africa.
Regulatory reforms and liberalisation have also benefited local mobile operators, with countries such as Ghana, Nigeria and Tanzania having more than five local operators.
Growing competition for the mobile market has also led to a drop in the price of handsets — some smartphones retail for as little as $25 — and the cost of broadband connections.
The report said sub-Sahara Africa’s greatest development challenge is to move from an economic growth path based on commodity exports to a more sustainable industrial and services path. The mobile technology revolution can support and underpin this economic diversification.