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Africa cell phone boom beneficial -- but schools, roads, power, water remain critical needs
Date:8/9/2010

The fast-growing use of cell phones in Africa where many people lack the basic human necessities has made headlines worldwide the past few years. The surprising boom has led to widespread speculation that cell phones could potentially transform the impoverished continent.

But new research by economists Isaac M. Mbiti and Jenny C. Aker has found that cell phones while a useful and powerful tool for many people in Africa cannot drive economic development on their own.

Mbiti, at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and Aker, at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., say that while there is evidence of positive micro-economic impacts, so far there's limited evidence that mobile phones have led to macro-economic improvements in African countries.

No magic bullet

Cell phones only can do so much, say the researchers. Many Africans still struggle in poverty and continue to lack reliable electricity, clean drinking water, education or access to roads.

"It's really great for a farmer to find out the price of beans in the market," says Mbiti, who has seen the impact of the cell phone boom firsthand while conducting research in his native Kenya. "But if a farmer can't get the beans to market because there is no road, the information doesn't really help. Cell phones can't replace things you need from development, like roads and running water."

Mbiti and Aker will publish their findings in the article "Mobile Phones and Economic Development in Africa" in the Journal of Economic Perspectives. The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Global Development, an independent nonprofit policy research organization, has published a working version of the paper online. For links to additional information and the working paper see www.smuresearch.com.

Needed: Infrastructure, policies, research

To really have an impact, say Mbiti and Aker, the cell ph
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Contact: Margaret Allen
mallen@smu.edu
214-768-7664
Southern Methodist University
Source:Eurekalert

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