Africa Cellphone Benefits Need Support

DALLAS, Aug. 9 (UPI) — The explosive growth of cellphone use in Africa isn’t enough to drive the continent’s economic growth without accompanying infrastructure, economic experts say.

Researchers at Southern Methodist University say that while there is evidence of positive short-term impacts, so far there’s limited evidence mobile phones have led to large-scale improvements in African countries, a university release says.

Cellphones can do only so much, the researchers say, as long as many Africans still struggle in poverty and still 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,” said SMU economist Isaac Mbiti, who has seen the impact of the cellphone boom firsthand 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. Cellphones can’t replace things you need from development, like roads and running water.”

Mobile phone coverage has jumped from 10 percent of the population in 1999 to 60 percent in 2008 despite the extreme poverty of many Africans, Mbiti’s research found.

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