Television Ontario, a major Canadian broadcaster, had me on a show called Agenda last night, discussing how wireless telephony is transforming the lives of ordinary Africans and speeding the pace of development, at least in conflict-free parts of the sub-Saharan. I was joined on the program by some interesting guests, including the incomparable George Ayittey, the political economist from Ghana. In the scant time I was allowed on camera, I hit my usual hobby horses about cell phones in Africa. I criticized the cartels that impose high prices. I highlighted the trend toward inequality among Africans and the deepening of the rural-urban divide. Finally, I said that donors were missing an opportunity to help civil society and government tackle the challenge of the private-sector-led telephony. Private companies are essential to expanding cell-phone services but there are stubborn market failures, such as the high cost of service. These can only be addressed by an alliance of citizens and government reformers. Despite these complaints, I underscored how cell phones are vastly improving the quality of life in Africa and, perhaps most significantly, strengthening links between Africans living in Europe and America with those at home. Most Africans, even those living in rural areas, are now only a cheap phone call away from favored loved ones in rich societies. Out of these phone calls come hopes and plans, reassurances and inspiration.
To see me prattle on about this topic,go to Agenda’s site, where the whole broadcast can be viewed.