Magazine article The Futurist

Connectivity and Accountability in Africa: Mobile Phones Aren't Just for Talking: They Are Tools for Political Reform

Magazine article The Futurist

Connectivity and Accountability in Africa: Mobile Phones Aren't Just for Talking: They Are Tools for Political Reform

Article excerpt

Internet access has exploded across Africa in the past decade. Web-accessible mobile phones, Internet cafes, and Internet-connected laptops all see steady and solid increases in numbers of users year by year. We at Accender Africa welcome this growth: In it, we see the continent's best hope for reforming its political systems and elevating its people's standards of living.

How might Internet access improve living standards? The key is governance. To help reduce poverty in Africa--that's the ultimate goal. And the best route to achieve it is by improving governance.

Our idea is to use new media to promote transparency, which we hope will encourage good governance. The technologies will serve as resources for building better government policies.

Our organization is today working extensively in Nigeria, where the number of citizens with Internet access has grown 300-fold--from 80,000 in 2000 to 24 million in 2008. Mobile-phone usage's growth is even more impressive: Today there are more than 63 million mobile-phone subscribers across Nigeria.

Text messaging is one of the most common uses of mobile phones in Nigeria. Services are not like those you'll find in the United States, where the cost of text messaging based on the existing revenue models of the cell phone makes access difficult for low-income people. In Nigeria and across Africa, access by low-income people is easier, thanks to more economical financing models and the form of use.

While U.S. mobile phones may provide more services, they are more expensive and thus less accessible. In Nigeria and many other African countries, the Black-Berry has a feature called the BBM messaging service, which is free.

Computer-based Web access for the average African remains costly, but you are seeing increasing use of cybercafes. It's one of the most common ways for low-income people to access e-mail and text messaging.

With their comparatively greater share of Internet access, middle-class populations in many African countries are in a strong position to watch their governments and governmental expenditures. They will be the ones who would be most likely to lead changes in these societies.

By using the Web, they can harness the power of social media to work for transparency, accountability, and better governance--to access records on public spending projects on infrastructure and development, to find out how public money is being spent in their communities, to hold their government accountable, and to advocate for better governance and more responsible spending. Better government infrastructure and development projects will ultimately lead to substantial reductions in abject poverty. …

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