Harry Leech is currently in Tanzania producing a project for the Simon Cumbers Media Fund on the support Ireland gives to Tanzania farmers. This is the second of his many posts.
20th September 2010
While Dodoma in the centre of the country is Tanzania’s new capital, Dar es Salaam is the country’s largest city and the economic centre of the country. Taxi is the quickest way for a visitor to traverse the city, but you’ll need your haggling hat on. A lot of Irish businesses could take a leaf out of the Tanzanian taxi drivers’ book; think big, but whatever you do make the sale as long as you’re covering your costs.
After trying to get my Irish Nokia unlocked at a reputable shop in the city centre so that I could use a local sim-card and being thwarted by the technology gremlins, I invested in a local Samsung phone and a Tanzanian Sim for 46,000 Tanzanian shillings (about €25.)
As phones go it’s extremely basic, but it works. It has none of the features that we’ve come to expect from mobile phones back home; no camera, no MP3 player, no video recorder, no Apps. As revolutionary as it may sound, this phone makes phone calls and sends text messages. That’s pretty much it.
While there is a wide range of phones on offer in the shop, including some models we have at home, this Samsung and some basic Nokia’s are the market leaders. Due to their affordability and the low price of a Tanzanian sim (about €0.60) mobile phone penetration in Dar and in the country as a whole is quite high.
It might surprise people at home to think of mobile phone penetration being an important component of a countries development, but unlike Ireland where there was a reasonably functioning phone system in place before the widespread availability of mobiles, in Tanzania as in many parts of the developing world, due to mobile technology people are now able to communicate effectively by phone for the first time.
It’s only a small part of the overall picture but the commercial benefits are obvious; it would be hard to imagine how we could do business in Ireland nowadays without being able to contact someone by either a landline or a mobile. If you’re a small business owner or live in a rural part of the Africa however, that’s what you’ve faced until very recently.
I heard a story this evening from an ex-pat about a local entrepreneur who used to buy fish from some local fishermen and sell the produce around local hotels and restaurants, with no prior idea of what they wanted or needed.
Now that he has a mobile phone he rings the businesses and finds out what they need before he buys from the fishermen. He gets to sell more and his customers get more of what they need, not what they have to settle for. Whether it’s a true story or a fable, it’s symbolic of how technology can help change lives in the developing world and how development is a complex issue. Just as there is no one cause for poverty, there is no one solution.
Please Note: The views and opinions expressed in blogs under the Simon Cumbers Media Fund are those of the journalist and / or their interviewees. They do not necessarily reflect the views of Irish Aid, the Department of Foreign Affairs or the Irish Government.