By: Ian Houvet – Director, Boxfusion
We live on a mobile planet, and not just in the sense of its revolutions around the sun. In the 21stcentury, mobile phones have moved from being just accessories to essential instruments of communication in managing our daily lives. In evolutionary terms, they have become more like limbs than digital devices.
According to a study conducted by Google Conversion’s Luke Wroblewrski, use of mobile devices has surged in recent years as most other media has declined. Of the 3.5 billion active smartphone users currently on the planet, an average of 3 hours is spent on mobile devices daily. This is only set to increase as the number of mobile users surges to 5 billion people over the next 5 years.
These small devices have the power to impact and shift entire industries. The same study shows that engaging with various media (such as watching videos and streaming radio, music and podcasts) has increased on mobile. So too has online shopping. Even the advertising industry has been affected, with internet advertising having overtaken television advertising since 2016.
While all this takes place on a global stage, Africa is no exception to the rule. In fact, the penetration of smart and feature phones on the continent could see Africa leapfrogging the rest of the planet. It is projected that by 2020 — just two years’ time — there’ will be a 50% mobile penetration rate in Africa, with 535 million unique mobile subscribers and 38% mobile internet penetration. Already, mobile contributes to 7.7% of GDP on the content, and provides 1.1 million jobs.
The rise of mobile in Africa presents an opportunity for those of us playing in the tech space to innovate solutions to the many challenges faced by the continent. With an increasingly youthful population—a generation that has never known a world without mobile—demand for mobile innovation from all sectors, is also set to increase.
No doubt the sector that can leverage mobile most efficiently is the public sector. Across the continent the range of governance issues and challenges can be met through mobile platforms. From providing healthcare (treatment, tests and advice) to those in remote areas, to promoting digital governance (downloading, completing and uploading essential forms, licences etc) to alerting citizens of disasters (like localised flooding, or alerting emergency services to fires). It’s all possible with the swipe of a finger.
Much of this technology already exists, it’s just a case of creating the right apps to leverage it. One example is Boxfusion’s Smartgov For Citizens app, designed and tailored to bring the public sector closer to the electorate through this existing technology.
The Boxfusion Smartgov for Citizens app has been rolled out in several municipalities in South Africa and Ghana, and for some of the exact reasons mentioned above. In Accra it has been tailored for flood reporting by citizens and municipalities alike, while in the City of Ekurhuleni it’s been designed to improve service delivery within the district, allowing citizens to download and complete government forms, report potholes, power outages and more.
This app is just one example of the way mobile phones can be used to great effect on the continent. There are many more ways we can leverage the opportunity mobile growth presents. Mobile should be viewed and treated as a tool to overcome the continent’s unique challenges, through services such as mobile money, online education (downloadable textbooks) and e-farming (digital access to markets for small-scale farmers). These are but a few examples.
When those of us working in the tech space put our minds to it, and our fingers to the screen, there’s nothing stopping us from propelling Africa, and her people, head-first into the digital age by leveraging something as simple as a mobile phone.