Emerging markets

Two per cent.

I had two meetings today with media people, and both of them quoted that figure – the proportion of Tanzanians with access to the internet. They were exaggerating, surely?

Apparently not: recent research found that indeed, a mere 2.5% of Tanzanians had access to the internet. I’m not sure how “access” is defined: ITU figures from 2011 say that about 11% are classed as “internet users” – those who’ve gone online in the past 12 months. Either way, it’s a fairly insignificant minority. What’s incredible is how those 2.5% with (I assume) regular access get online, as the graphic pinched from howwemadeitinafrica.com shows:

So, while I – the supposed communications professional – am stubbornly resisting iphones and anything with a touchscreen, nearly 80% of online Tanzanians are going on the web while on the move.

This bodes well, no doubt, for technology developers, apps creators, advertisers, etc. – Tanzanians are clearly embracing the mobile web and there’s a huge market out there to be tapped. Meanwhile, the rest of the population are using their phones for everything else: The basic model that even the poorest can afford here has an inbuilt torch – seriously useful in a place where many have no electricity or even if you do, power cuts are common and street lighting non-existent. Others use their phones to listen to the radio.

Listening to the football scores on the radio

And, on a project visit to a rural community in the west of Tanzania, I’d been photographing the people and their animals while we talked to them. When we finally left and walked away towards the car again, I suddenly heard the click of a camera shutter behind me. A little boy from the village had run after us to take a picture with his mobile phone – revenge at last. (By now, this has happened a few times: people I’ve been photographing get their own back with their phones. I like their style.)

Everywhere you go in this country, the biggest billboards, the most aggressive advertising is done by Airtel, Vodacom, Tigo, et al. And so far, people seem prepared to spend their money: On average, says one analyst, it is estimated that mobile phone users spend 15% of their income on phone credit. And that’s before most of them have got online and become addicted to facebook etc…

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