For the cheapest mobile call in Africa, go to Somalia - The East African

For the cheapest mobile call in Africa, go to Somalia

Friday February 12 2016

By MWENDA MICHENI

On arrival at the Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, your mobile phone vibrates then a welcome note hits your mobile screen.

That is common, anyway across the world. But what is not immediately communicated by the different mobile phone providers are the new rates of communicating on mobile, whether via text or calling.

Those rates, a new World Bank report indicates, can be worlds apart.

In Mogadishu, Somalia, the report says, the average cost is $2.53. This is the cheapest in Africa, with Zimbabwean operating charging the highest rates at an average $20.08.

The formulae used to compute the rates is based on a system developed for OECD countries to measure cost of mobile tariff based on 30 outgoing calls a month (on and off-peak) in three minutes, plus 100 text messages.

The factors at play in determining price differences between countries include: Degree of competition, regulation of the sector, taxes applied to telecom services in a country, and the differences between on and off-net calls.

The extent to which the US dollar exchange rate in a particular country is an accurate reflection of the purchasing power parity and also a critical factor.

Little regulation

Somalia that suffered over two decades of war, and currently undergoing some stabilisation, mobile services are in the hands of private operators, with very little regulation. That could explain the good rates, thanks to less government controls and charges plus the benefits of stiff competition as opposed to monopolies.

It is also a very resilient economy that continued to post growth in the informal sector even in the years of serious conflict. According to some economists, Somalia state collapse boosted economic welfare, because the previous government was predatory.

Closely trailing Somalia is Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan and Sudan in that order.

In the case of Ethiopia, a highly populated country whose total population hit 94.1 million in 2013, it could be economies of scales and price controls by the state through public ownership of a sector the government controls tightly.

Kenya, on the other hand, has in the past 20 years gone through several phases to land where it presently is. At first were two companies, later joined by several others. Government has also introduced several measures to make mobile phone more accessible, after the landlines went out of vogue.

But even then, Kenya’s $3.77 is still seen as exorbitant. Taxing of airtime to finance government programme was recently introduced, after other traditional sources of revenues proved not as lucrative.

South Sudan and Sudan, one country until 2011, offer relatively fair rates at $3.33 and $7.85 respectively. In the latter, mobile companies pay a slightly higher rate for technology as infrastructure was still not as developed as its neighbours. Government hold onto the sector could also be a factor in the airtime pricing.

Southern African countries seem to be largely on the middle ground with a few exemptions. The region’s power house, South Africa charges an average $10.23, with Botswana at $9.89, Namibia $9.29, Zambia $11.9, Angola $18.62 and Mozambique charging an average of $11.63.

In the case of Angola, the high cost of living seems to reflect in the cost of telephone calls. On several occasions, the country has been named the most expensive place to live on the continent,

Madagascar, another country struggling to get back to normalcy after a series of coups, isn't cheap when it comes to mobile services. At $18.48, the island nation closely rivals the Mugabe-led Zimbabwe that is Africa’s most expensive place to make a phone call.

Most expensive

On the other side of the continent is North Africa. Here, just like in western Africa, calling rates are mostly on average, with Tunisia, Libya and Egypt being an exception. The three offer the service at between $4.21 and $6.89, with Tunisia, a country that has been striving to extend social services to its population affordably, offering the best rates.

Algeria and Morocco, two economic giant on the continent charge $12.78 and $11.9 respectively, making them the region’s most expensive places to call. Both countries have a tight hold on the media, where mobile phones are often classified because they offer access to Internet.

Calling in Nigeria at $6.16 is a great deal compared to Guinea Bissau’s $14.75 and Burkina Faso’s $14.81.

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