Mobile phones in the sub-Saharan are the best and most important example of the benefits to the region of technological “leapfrog,” the move to the “latest and greatest” technologies without having to pass through older ones. Yet even mobile communications are not untethered from the legacy of African techno-backwardness. Electricity — often ignored by enthusiasts for Africa’s potential to “leap” past traditional barriers — remains a key limit on the expansion of mobile telephony, especially in the most remote and poor geographic areas.
The problem of electrification has bedeviled most African governments, who have failed either to democratize this critical technology or attract sufficient private capital to endow their countries without sufficient power. In a frank and revealing admission that electricity stands in the way of great mobile communications as much as any factor, an alliance of mobile phone companies in Uganda are targeting the electricity problem with a bold new plan.
The move is welcome. Mobile operators, while benefiting from innovations in communications technologies, now should set their sights on harvesting novel power solutions for the benefit of “cell” stations in remote areas where “grid” electricity is either unreliable or unavailable.
And the so Africans move forward.