I chose Africa because itÕs the continent with the lowest cell-phone penetration but the fastest sales growth. By yearend, Africa will have 261 million cellular subscriptions, more than 10 times the number in 2001. The penetration rate is approaching 28%, according to market watcher Informa Telecoms & Media in London. Everyone knows AfricaÕs legion of problems: overpopulation, tribal conflict, AIDS, malaria, dreadful infrastructure, corruption–and much more. Yet growth for the continent as a whole may well hit a 25-year high of 7% this year. Could cell phones help Africa to finally emerge from poverty?
The nearly unanimous answer from interviews with several dozen low-income Kenyans and Ugandans was: yes. Time and again, people eagerly told me stories of how ownership of a cell phone had helped them earn more money or eased the burden of existence in places where even short trips can be a time-consuming ordeal. Here are some of the people I met and the stories they told: