Correlation, Causation And Mobile Phones In Africa
By Mike Masnick, Thu Mar 10 02:15:00 GMT 2005

A new study is out saying that mobile phone penetration in African nations is an indicator of greater economic growth. Or, should that be that greater economic growth is an indicator of mobile phone penetration?

Technology can obviously be of great importance in building up the economies of developing nations -- with mobile phone service being an obvious technology to pursue. After all, it can help solve both communication problems and information problems -- and is relatively easy to put in place (at least compared to stringing wires everywhere). However, it's important to remember mobile phone service, by itself, is not the answer.

Nations are not poor just because they don't have mobile phones, and just dumping mobile phones into a country will not solve its economic problems without other steps being taken. While it comes as absolutely no surprise that African nations with greater mobile phone use were growing economically as well, that doesn't mean that mobile phones lead to economic growth. It could just as easily be the other way around -- or that both are the result of some other factors.

This isn't to lessen the importance of building better communications and information infrastructure in these countries. Getting them set up with mobile access can clearly be a big help to many people throughout Africa. However, what's most important is making sure that these systems are part of a larger plan to get at the real issues that have kept people in these nations in poverty for so long -- whether its war, famine, social issues or one of a large list of difficult issues that has troubled this part of the world. Simply chalking up better economic growth to a better communications infrastructure opens these countries up to spending quite a bit of money on setting up a mobile network infrastructure, only to find that other problems the nations are facing make those networks a useless waste of money. Having mobile service is clearly a good thing -- but it needs to be a part of a larger, more comprehensive economic development plan.