The use of mobile phones in Africa is growing at an ex potential rate. In the past 10 years mobile phone use in Sub-Saharan Africa has increased from 72,000 to a forecast of 25.5 million this year. Now the technology is being used in social justice campaigns, public health and fighting crime.
Fahamu/Pambazuka News along with GCAP (The Global Call to Action Against Poverty) have now lunched another SMS campaign in Africa – GCAP SMS which calls for the cancellation of Africa’s debt and an end to poverty on the continent. There are some 100 organisations involved in the campaign.
The SMS campaign was launched in June 2005 just prior to the Day of the African Child with the aim of
Distributing key snippets of information about the main issues the campaign was dealing with and informing people about campaign progress and key events;
Soliciting responses from the public at large or from subscribers to the SMS list by establishing a number for people to send messages to and creating a website where the messages could be posted along with news about the GCAP campaign
Another part of the GCAP SMS campaign are the "Africa Snaps" Ads (to view ads) shown on TV. The snapping fingers ads, highlight the awful statistic that one African child dies every 3 seconds from extreme hunger. The "Snap Ads" feature the mobile number of the campaign and so far in the countries (Kenya, South Africa and Ghana with Nigeria and Senegal soon to follow) where the ads have been shown, the response from the public has been tremendous.
A third aspect of the campaign has been the involvement and support of African media icons, civil society leaders and musicians in the adverts as well as participating in a series of concerts across the continent. (Download gcap_sms_celeb_list.doc) The African Standing Tall concert held in Accra on September 3rd was watched by 700,000 people in Ghana alone.
"The Accra concert was staged as a White Band activity around the eve of the 10th UN Millennium Assembly in New York, attracting over 300,000 people to the Independence Square during a marathon 15-hour concert. The show combined performances by some of Africa’s best-known musicians with GCAP political messaging. Metro TV telecast it live within Ghana to an estimated audience of a million and by Silverbird TV in Nigeria to over 10 million people. The concert video has just been released by Creative Storm and scheduled to be broadcast in 11 African countries to over 40 million people, in the next few weeks" . Fahamu Report.
The GCAP SMS has a number of useful functions. The use of SMS technology as a tool for advocacy and activism. The content of the messages provide a useful guide in knowing what African think about issues such as debt cancellation and fair trade and which issues they consider a priority to the future development of their countries and the continent.
There is still much work to be done in the campaign. One further development under construction is the development of an alert service which will allow Fahamu to send subscribers regular updates and information on the campaign. Another possible use is SMS as a way of mobilising large numbers of people at short notice to respond to an event or action.
SMS technology is also being used in the area of public health. In South Africa, two schemes are already in place. The first is a scheme to remind TB patients to take their medicine which must be taken at the consistently and regularly. The second enables HIV/AIDS counselors, clinic staff and doctors to communicate using SMS.
"Visiting clients’ homes, therapeutic counselors scroll through a series of menus to report on side effects, monitor adherence and provide detailed social information…" Wired."…Home-based carers (therapeutic counsellors) collect medical and socio-economic data from patients in their care through the use of applications on their cellular phones. This data is relayed over a GSM network to the central database where it is securely stored. Staff, including doctors, nurses and administration personnel, can access the data via a secure Internet connection."
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, mobile phones are being used to monitor child rights violations. In 2001 a Golden Misabiko, a journalist in the DRC was arrested and imprisoned. Amnesty International immediately sent out an alert to its members and the Dutch section then sent out a further 8,000 SMS messages. Within 48 hours they were able to send a fax to the authorities in the DRC with thousands of signatures. Misabiko was released 6 months later.