Fragile economies, poor infrastructure, and political instability have made it difficult to introduce new technologies into Africa, with one major exception: cell phones. With few computers or land lines available, these phones are used for a wide range of applications, including digital payments and banking. They’re also used to access online applications such as Ushahidi, a mapping platform that can monitor outbreaks of violence (see TR35, September/October 2010). International telecommunications companies such as Vodafone are trying to expand rapidly throughout Africa, because it’s one of the last places in the world with a large supply of potential customers who don’t already own a cell phone (see “Going from Calls to Connections”).
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