I landed in Accra last night and this morning I awoke to the welcome economics of cell-phone ownership in Africa: if you need to make a basic phone and your own unique number, all you need is twenty U.S. dollars — and that covers the launch costs of a Samsung simple handy and a Sim card from mobil provider. To be sure, the mobile owner in Accra must buy calling units — which can raise the cost of living considerably — but not mobile ownership. To keep a dial-tone with a basic handy in Accra can cost as little as a few dollars a month.
My Samsung handy has a feature I’ve never seen in the U.S: the capacity to accept dual sim cards. Very interesting. No need in the US for this feature but a need in Africa where siblings share phones, even husband and wives might. The dual sim allows one $20 handy to support two separate phone lines, each supported by their own line of credits. And why? Because in Africa, the biggest risk in loaning your phone to your brother is not that he’ll lose your phone or steal it — which might be the worry in the US — in Africa the risk that the friend you loan your phone too will consume all your calling credits — and not replace them! This phone — and now many others in Accra — sport this innovative feature that promotes self-reliance (at least in phone calling units) — among friends and family.
Now whoever says that the innovation system for developing countries is broken may well be correct. But this morning, the dual Sim card feature — whose innovation was driven by African social reality — proved otherwise.