Africa’s Growing Mobile Market

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

Harare, Zimbabwe – Africa is the fastest growing mobile market, according to a new report released by the industry group GSMA, or Groupe Speciale Mobile Association. 

The report titled, Africa Mobile Observatory 2011, states that for each of the past five years, the number of subscribers across Africa has grown by almost 20 percent and is expected to reach 738 million by the end of next year. It further stated that voice service is predominant but the use of data service is increasing steadily.

Nigeria now has the most mobile subscribers in Africa, with 93m connections. This represents 16% of the continent’s total. SA, with its more developed infrastructure, leads the way in terms of broadband penetration, at 6%, followed by Morocco at 2,8%.

The mobile ecosystem in Africa generates about US$56bn or 3,5% of total GDP, with mobile operators alone contributing US$49bn. The report says the mobile industry contributes $15bn in government revenues

“In releasing its report, GSMA called on African governments to allocate more mobile broadband spectrum and cut taxes on mobile operators to further spur expansion. Citing studies by the World Bank and others, GSMA says that in developing countries, for every 10 percent increase in mobile penetration there is a 0.81 percent increase in GDP,” reported the Associated Press.

“The mobile industry in Africa is booming and a catalyst for immense growth, but there is scope for far greater development,” said Peter Lyons, a GSMA policy expert.

According to the Associated Press, Africa has been described as the Silicon Valley of cell phones because of the innovative ways they are used on the continent.

“Cell phone networks have been set up to help health care workers in remote villages consult with doctors in cities. Researchers have used cell phone technology to track animals for wildlife studies. Africans use cell phones to make payments across borders,” it reported.

The benefits that mobile services have already brought to hundreds of millions of Africans can be extended to those who have yet to connect. By so doing, the African continent can continue to bring not only communication services, but also improved financial services, healthcare and education to its people and drive an increase in the economic wealth and development.

Zimbabwe: Seeing Beyond Politics

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

Harare, Zimbabwe – Zimbabwe’s trajectory since it attained independence from British colonial rule in 1980, and more critically its development over the past decade has been defined by politics as if that is the only factor of life that matters.

The political approach to shaping our nation has obviously scored some successes, markedly the massive investments made into the social sector during the early years of our independence. Despite that there have been setbacks in recent years, we are still reaping benefits from this investment, albeit, many of our talented people have opted to seek greener pastures in far shores.

Looking at the trajectory of Zimbabwe, however, it’s not far fetched to say that seeing politics as the be all and end all of everything will not necessarily fulfill all our aspirations as a people. Given the self-serving nature of politics, it is time that the citizenry begins to adopt a new attitude and see that there is a greater life outside the realm of the political.

Like Godots, politicians are often not in a position to come and deliver, and with their sugar-coated words, they always manage to hoodwink us into waiting for promises that are never deliver. Politicians and politics in general feeds off keeping us hoodwinking to never ending cycles of plastic promises, campaign rallies, empty speeches and grand state rigmaroles that are all much ado about nothing and barely move our lives and livelihoods an inch. It has already been argued that politics being one of the highest paying opportunities attracts a lot of people, especially the crooks.

AS Zimbabweans, it is time that people should offer up solutions themselves, rather than calling on political leaders to provide them. The circus that politicians have subjected us to over the past three decades has induced a sense of  helplessness among the citizens. As citizens, we need to take our power back and begin to be the change that we want to see.

Throughout the world, innovation – which in essence can push the boundaries of being – has never been known to be a function of politics. If we are going to be able to unleash our extraordinary potential, and spark a dynamic that will influence a shift, it is essential that we look more and more inside ourselves to unlock the talent that we have which the politicians are only putting to waste. Getting the old idea that politicians are our saviours must therefore be a constant aspiration of every Zimbabwean today and forevermore.

The good fortune that we assume must come from politicians must emerge from within ourselves; the challenges that politicians have created for us must serve as a basis for our self-renewal.

Achievement is built when conditions are difficult. Achievement is built when the direction of the economy is uncertain, and when there’s no guarantee of success. Indeed, there will be obstacles, excuses, distractions, frustrations and disappointments that will push back against our desire to fashion a new perspective but we must not give up for the sake of our children and their children’s children.

Letter to Africa: Why African Pessimism Now Sucks?

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

Harare, Zimbabwe – One of the toxic after-effects of colonialism in Africa coupled with the failings of its post-colonial leadership is that it gave rise to a language and psychology of self-deprecation among Africans themselves.

Forget the images constantly flighted in the world’s media. Forget the negative stories that Westerners are often accused of writing about the continent. Among many Africans, the recurrent story of Africa is that Africans and Africa will always fail.

Africans themselves are at the vanguard of demeaning and denigrating their own selfhood, injecting doses of pessimism into their psyche. They appear stuck in what Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie describes as the “danger of a single story.”

Now, the danger of a single story exists because its perspective of the world exists in a single frame to the exclusion of all other frames that can help to make the story whole. That single frame becomes the defining factor of how to interpret and react to people and experiences. Any detail that does not confirm to the dictates of the single story is conveniently ignored.

Undoubtedly, African still has much work to do; self-serving leaders at all levels of our societies on the continent have certainly not helped matters. Indeed, throughout our history, we’ve suffered pain and heartache from war, state brutality, corruption, crime, injustice, poverty, sickness, and the death of loved ones. Ever so many terrible things have happened in our continent, resulting in great sorrow, many tears and a sense of hopelessness. All these factors combined have given to the rise of rueful tales of doom and gloom.

As Africans, we’ve internalized these tales of gloom so much and melancholic conclusions that nothing good will ever come out of Africa. Listening to some Africans speak about their homeland, you’d think that we on one hell of an edge of any abyss. That we’re so hopeless and misdirected and lacking a vision to steer ourselves progressively into the future.

It is not surprising; as we are so stuck with the single story model of Africa, it is only natural that we’re so obsessed about harping on about the dysfunctional nature of the Africa state and society.

Many Africans openly ridicule their continent without proffering any alternatives or committing their lives to a new way of living that will propel their motherland to a new plane. They enthusiastically cackle at the demise of their motherland. You’d think that from their spew of putrid rhetoric that the continent is on a deathbed but nothing could be futher from the truth.

Then there’s another class of Africa that is so obsessed with  only putting out highly polished images of the continent. They’re determined to whitewash all the evil, to sweep it under the rug, so to speak, and only show a beautiful face to the world. But such Africans are also hostage to the danger of a single story.

What gives rise to African pessimism is empirically verifiable, some have argued. But our struggle, as we go forward, is to begin redefining our perspective of the continent. There’s so much to the continent that merely seeing it through the lens of despair only tells a quarter of the story. Africans need to abandon the idea of being eternal victims whether to history or their present circumstances. A new future and possibilities can be opened up if we begin to transform the way we perceive ourselves. We have to be courageous to step out of the stereotypes that have forever hung over our heads like heavy loads.

Africa’s Quest for a Green Revolt

EARLY in the morning, Mary Kanyaire, 33, collects water and firewood, and then prepares a meal for her two school-going children before she heads out to the fields, approximately 3 kilometers away from her homestead.

Alone, under the hot sun, she weeds groundnuts in a sandy field with a hoe. Although she knows she will not get a good yield, she strives on, buckets of sweat pouring down her face. Continue reading

AIDS funding falls likely to increase burden on care providers

The dip in funding levels for HIV and AIDS programmes will undoubtedly put paid years of progress in the response to the epidemic in sub Saharan Africa. Reduced funding will not only cause more deaths, but also in more offloading of responsibility to poor and marginalized communities. Persons in need of care will increasingly have to resort to already over-burdened community and home based care providers, mainly women and girls.

Given that the financial drawback for AIDS programmes is occurring at a time when two million people are still dying each year in sub-Saharan Africa due to the disease, the consequences for will be drastic particularly at community and familial levels.

“The donor turn-around will not make the patients in need of life-saving treatment go away. On the contrary, it is likely to increase the numbers of people in urgent need of care and will negatively impact their family, community and the health care system. In the end, the cost of inaction will be far higher than that of action,” states a recent report by Medecins Sans Frontieres titled, “No Time to Quit: HIV/AIDS Treatment Gap Widening in Africa.” Continue reading

In Zimbabwe, Subsistence Farmers Face Water Woes

At a public borehole in Zviyambe, a village in the backyard of Zimbabwe, approximately 250 kilometres away from Harare, the capital city, butterflies, goats, cattle and human beings mix and mingle in edenic fashion all in search of the precious liquid: water. Under a blazing sun, Sekai Mabika (not her real name) and her sister take turns to fill up buckets with water all the while shooing the goats away while the butterflies flutter hither and thither sipping at the water spilled to the ground and the cattle standby for their turn to drink water.

According to Sekai, she makes three trips everyday to fetch water at the public borehole, approximately four kilometers away from her homestead.

“It’s a painful trip, but it has to be done otherwise we will have no drinking water at home. All our homestead wells are dry,” she says, wiping sweat from her brow. “And, tomorrow, I have to do this again.”

The mid-afternoon sun, hot like a possessed devil, casts a shadow across her face as she balances the bucketful of water on her head and walks towards her homestead, her sister trailing her. Throughout the day the sun blasts across the landscape in this area literally skyrocketing daytime temperatures, and in the process, wilting young crops and drying up water sources, making subsistence farming very difficult. Continue reading

101 for Campaigning for Human Rights in Africa

WHAT does it mean to campaign for internationally recognized human rights in sub Saharan which is chock-filled with rampant human violations? Does it mean that because governments in the region violate human rights willy-nilly, there should be no concerted effort to engage in a campaign for their recognition.

It is not enough to feel outrage when we learn of the number of children exploited sexually or at work, of refugees or of those suffering from hunger. We must react, each one of us to the best of our abilities. It is not just a matter of looking at what government is doing – Federico Mayor, former UNESCO Director-General

Human rights are often misunderstood and can sometimes be seen as abstract ideals with not much practical relevance for real people. And there is no doubt that the rampant abuse of human rights in Africa only serves to worsen the inequalities and vulnerabilities of individuals and communities.

The promotion of social justice and the culture of peace in Africa is of paramount importance but doing the job can be quite a risky business. And, of course, not so many people are willing to put their lives on the line. It’s understandable.

There are many stories of people who have disappeared in the night never to be seen again, of daylight murders, of state impunity that fill the majority of the citizens of the continent with terror. Continue reading

Help Me Raise A Voice For Africa’s Pregnant Women

pregnant_womanWHILE governments in sub-Saharan Africa continue to dole out money on military hardware, teargas canisters and baton sticks etc., pregnant women in the region are dying in droves due to lack of proper healthcare. Paradoxically, women and girls are the main caregivers for the sick in the absence of proper health systems. Yet when they need care the most during pregnancy it is not available, a scenario made worse by gender inequities that put the lives of women and girls at risk.

The statistics are downright shocking. In sub Saharan Africa, 1 in 16 women is likely to die as a consequence of pregnancy and childbirth, according to a recently published report titled “Measure of Commitment: Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Risk Index for Sub-Saharan Africa”.

For many women in the region, particularly in underserved remote and rural areas, getting pregnant is akin to a death sentence.

“Pregnancy is dangerous business in Sub Saharan Africa where a woman is 100 times more likely to die from pregnancy related complication than in a developed country,” states the report. Continue reading

The Morality of Water

waterandsanitationPoverty, inequality and unequal power relationships are the main cause of the current global water and sanitation crisis, according to a paper titled “The human right to water and sanitation: benefits and limitations” which is contained in a UN report: The Right to Water – Current Situation and Future Challenges.

Despite the gravity of the situation, water and sanitation rarely make the headlines in the news media. The financial and human cost of the crisis is humongous.

“The global damage caused by diseases and productivity losses related to unclean water and poor sanitation is estimated at a staggering US 170 billion dollars per year with developing countries’ economies bearing the brunt of this burden. Sub-Saharan Africa alone loses 5 % of GDP or US 28,4 billion per year, a figure that exceeded total aid flow and debt relief into the region in 2003,” states the report.

Such a hemorrhage is clearly unacceptable, and for Sub-Saharan Africa it is clear that lack of access to water and sanitation is not only about health and development; it is an economic imperative. Continue reading

What Obama Means to Africa

Nothing could be more symbolic of Africa’s support for US President-elect Barack Obama than Kenya’s declaration of Nov. 5 as a national holiday in recognition of Obama’s ascendancy to power. But, if Africans expect Obama to dish out handouts, as some commentators in the continent have intimated, then they are clearly mistaken.

From the far flung villages of Kenya (the homeland of Obama’s father) to the cash strapped streets of Zimbabwe, Obama’s electoral victory wafted through the continent like a breath of fresh air, ushering in a new dialogue about identity, democracy and politics.

Because Obama is African by ancestry, it was always predictable that Africans would greatly celebrate his electoral win. However, it is nothing short of foolhardiness for African people to expect Obama to work miracles that will resolve the continent’s ills.

If anything, for Africa, Obama’s win must be strictly seen for what is: it’s merely symbolic. And in politics symbols do matter. Continue reading