Thoughts from Tanzania

I’ve just returned from our Mobile 360 Series – Africa event in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where I’ve had the opportunity to see the impact of mobile on the Sub-Saharan Africa region. I was once again struck by the power of mobile to transform lives. In Africa, mobile truly is connecting everyone and everything to a better future.

At the end of last year, there were more than 400 million unique mobile subscribers in Sub-Saharan Africa and this is set to grow to more than 500 million by 2020. Clearly, this is phenomenal growth and the main drivers behind this growth are the under-16 age group, which accounts for more than 40% of the population in many countries, and women, who are currently 17 per cent less likely to have a mobile subscription than men.

Across Africa, mobile is transforming “traditional” industries and enabling innovative business models to deliver affordable and sustainable services. Mobile money is a great example of this – there are now 140 live services in 39 countries across the region, accounting for nearly 280 million registered accounts. Utilities are yet another example of this – growing by nearly 40,000 systems per month, mobile-based, pay-as-you-go solar solutions enable access to clean energy solutions and there are now one million systems installed, with 95 per cent of these in sub-Saharan Africa. Along with similar innovation in sectors such as healthcare, agriculture and others – this is just the beginning as we move forward in Africa’s “digital age”.

I was fortunate enough to be able to visit a maternity clinic and a hospital while I was in Tanzania and experienced first-hand how mobile had changed the lives of people through very real examples of mobile technology. Mobile now makes it much easier to register births in Tanzania – this means that each baby born in Tanzania now has a formal identity, something that hasn’t always been the case. This also means that they now have access to a wide range of services and opportunities. Meanwhile, access to information on health issues via mobile means that people attending hospitals are much more knowledgeable than ever before – indeed, I heard from a doctor at the clinic that he felt he had to up his game due to this!

While it is great to be able to see and to talk about the very real-world examples of how mobile technology is helping to advance the Sub-Saharan region, it is important to recognise that there are still challenges for the mobile industry in the region and the way forward will not be easy. The mobile industry in the region is subject to incredible challenges in terms of taxation, spectrum, among others.

For example, in 2015, the mobile sector paid, on average, 35 per cent of its revenues in the form of taxes, regulatory fees and other charges in the 12 Sub-Saharan African countries for which this data is available. The excessive taxation applied to the mobile sector ignores its positive economic contributions and leads to negative affordability and investment impact. Combined with the upfront costs incurred by the industry, including those for the spectrum allocation, the added burden to the mobile industry risks harming its development.

It is these challenges that mean collaboration in the region is so critical. We must all work together – industry, government and the development community – to ensure that we can deliver the full promise of digital inclusion for all. In the current economic climate, it is paramount for governments to foster, not hinder, growth. We look forward to working with all of you as we connect everyone and everything to a better future.