Many of our friends in the UK have smart phones and we’ve seen quite a few in Kenya too. But for the most part, it’s simple handsets and pay as you go here.
Mobile phones are part and parcel of the fabric of society and the main way to get things done effectively. Some people have been disappointed by our tales of the ubiquity of mobile phones, saddened that the First World obsession with technology (and all its environmental baggage) has extended its tentacles into the African continent. However the fact remains that the mobile phone has transformed life in Kenya and probably in most of Africa too. Landlines have been bypassed to all intents and purposes as the necessary infrastructure proves too expensive for many local people.
In the towns, most people have a phone but they don’t always have credit on it. So they flash call one another in the hope that the recipient will have credit and can call them back. If you do have credit, then it is normal practice to send some to someone else if they need it. The poorer families might have one phone between them or can use a neighbour’s phone as a contact number. For people without electricity, there are kiosks offering a mobile phone charging service for a small fee thereby solving a problem and creating a small business opportunity.
The various phone networks also offer money transfer services. It’s a brilliant and effective idea. There are kiosks all over the place which has also meant employment for numerous people as agents. We use it all the time. You go to a kiosk, hand over cash which is then loaded onto your phone. Once that’s done you can send money to someone in need or even do things like pay your electricity bill, with a small charge (a matter of pence) for the service. The recipient of the money can also go to a designated agent and turn it back into cash if they so wish.
Finally, the mobile phone has meant the difference between life and death for some of our more rural and isolated CBR clients. Patrick, our field worker has often been called in the middle of the night when a child with Spina Bifida has a blocked shunt. In these situations time is of the essence and it is only because of mobile phones that we have been able to reach these children and get them to hospital in time.
So a humble handset achieves a huge amount here in Kenya.