Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Cell phone usage is common here as one can tell on every Kampala street and country lane.  This is confirmed by the recent survey by the Uganda National Bureau of Statistics mentioned in the post below and reported in the Daily Monitor.  The survey found household cell phone usage at 87% for urban Ugandans and 53% of those living in rural areas.  These numbers are eye-popping when contrasted with electricity use which is 53% among urban households, just 5% among rural ones.  And note that the great majority of people in Uganda - 80% - live in the countryside.

My cell phone that I use in Uganda purchased new for $30.00.  It is not a smart phone but it handles texts and has an alarm.  Very reliable and handy.
"Send money across all (phone) networks" this booth says.
 In this developing country, cell phones have come to play an important role and not just for making calls.  The country, I was surprised to learn, uses cell phones in novel ways.  For example, individuals area able and frequently do send money via cell phones.  Here is how it works.  The cell phone companies have small offices virtually everywhere.  At one of these offices an individual deposits the money to be transferred along with a small fee. A message is sent to the cell phone of the person who is receiving the funds who then goes to her nearest cell phone office to collect the cash.  Since Uganda operates as a cash economy without bank checks and credit cards, transferring money this way fills an important role.  Moreover, cell phones are now being used a Ugandan to pay bills for electricity, phones and other services.  So the cell phone companies are beginning to act like banks allowing individuals to transfer money and pay bills.

Sign advertising "pay your electric bill" by phone.
There is something else about the way cell phones work here that is quite different from the U.S. First, one buys a cell phone and then buys airtime.  This is done primarily through cards that cost from 1000 Uganda Shillings (25 cents) to 10,000 Shillings ($2.50) or more. One loads this airtime by entering a coded numbers on the card into the phone.  Because the cell phone companies have small entrepreneurs selling cards virtually everywhere, these cards are easy to find.

Economic development happens in an organic and mostly unplanned way.  In Uganda and other developing countries, the wired infra-structure for phones has been largely skipped as the country has moved rapidly to cell phones avoiding LAN lines.  I was surprised how Uganda has adopted telecommunications technology.  Their creativity is something to admire.

1 comment:

  1. I don't understand where the towers are located....but I am not surprised by the economic elements of the cell phone.