SXSW 2013: Africa is exploding with development, mobile only and radio is their ‘killer app’

Africa-globe

At South by Southwest this week there was a session relevant to BBG publishers, “The 1Bn Mobile Bullet Train Called Africa” lead by Toby Shapshak of Stuff Magazine and Gareth Knight of Tech4Africa.

Knight kicked off the discussion declaring the start importance of mobile in Africa. “More people have a cellphone than have access to electricity,” he said.

The duo cited this plus necessity and utility as the core reasons mobile in Africa is crucial to the continent’s development citing innovative efforts in health (from doctors sharing information to prescription drug authenticity verification), to disaster and conflict reporting tools like Ushahidi, to farmers using SMS to get information on market prices for food and weather.

One of the most innovative uses of mobile in African countries is the development of M-Pesa as a means for exchanging money and banking. They said that 80% of the world’s mobile money currently goes through Africa, far leading the western world which is still trying to figure out a standard for mobile money. They relayed a humorous anecdote about a friend who was asked for a bribe at the airport, who after telling the briber that he didn’t have any cash, he said “you can sent it to me by M-Pesa.”

Throughout the presentation they underscored that utility value is critical to any African mobile ventures.  Speed and critical, timely  information underpin this and are the core values we need to always keep in perspective at the BBG when developing products for these countries. They also pointed out that as many African mobile phones have FM transmitters in them, for mobile, radio is still the ‘killer phone app’ in Africa — another area that the BBG entities have unique value for these audiences.

Their final takeaways were:

  • Africa is a mobile-only continent.
  • Africa has skipped the desktop Internet experience and will dive straight into the mobile web Internet.
  • There’s currently more than 750 million SIM cards in Africa (many people carry more than one) and that rate is growing at 25% annually.
  • Almost all interactions are focused on solving day-to-day problems, which Western nations often take for granted.
  • They encouraged the audience to think about the continent as a ‘Maslow Hierarchy of Needs’ for technology.

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