Written over three decades, Africa 2.0: Inside a Continent’s Communications Revolution by Russell Southwood could well be an ethnographic book. Southwood takes us through the journey of Africa since 1986 when all of sub-Saharan Africa had fewer phone lines than Manhattan in New York. If someone in Africa wanted a fixed-line telephone connection in 1986, it used to take a minimum of two years. By 2019, more than 45 percent of Africa’s population had mobile phones, and more than 25 percent had internet on their phones.
The book is also a subset story of India 1.0 or the Indian subcontinent and its growth through mobile. I say this because the parallels between the growth of mobile phones in Africa almost mirror the story in India. One of these parallels is the state of the telecom sector pre- and post-economic liberalization.
Even the marketing strategies adopted by the private providers are similar. Private companies sold very low-priced prepaid vouchers in their quest to capture every last consumer. In India, the size of the voucher was as small as 10. The late Irrfan Khan, a legendary actor, became the ambassador for Hutch’s 10-rupee recharge in India.