A guide reads his phone message as the crowd watches the dhow race at the 2010 Lamu Culture Festival. (Photo/ Flickr/ Xiaojun Deng)

Mobile Phone ‘Addiction’ In Africa Is Serious Business, Like Going To The Office

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WE know it already – we are addicted to our phones. More than half of phone users in five African countries check their phones within five minutes of waking up, a new survey by Deloitte shows.

Consumer attachment to mobile devices is high across the countries surveyed – Kenya and Uganda are highest at 71% of mobile owners checking their phones first thing upon waking up. Zimbabwe was third at 70%, and Nigeria at 63%.

South Africa comes up last, with 61% of phone owners glancing at their phones just as they open their eyes.

That 61% is more than six in ten, so we could say “phone addiction” is still high. But what sets South Africa apart is that among the five, it is by far the wealthiest country per capita.

South Africa has a per capita GDP of about $10,700. Nigeria is second at $2,500, followed by Kenya at $1,600, Uganda at $1,400 and then Zimbabwe at $500.

The data shows a strong negative correlation (co-efficient -0.79) between per capita GDP and phone addiction. In other words, the wealthier your country is, the less likely you are to grasp for your phone first thing in the morning.

Granted, these averages mask inequality within countries, and the five countries are obviously not representative of all of Africa.

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Presumably, mobile phones would be more affordable in wealthier countries, where people have more to spend.

The tendency to check your phone when you wake up is probably a habit to see what you missed, such as to check your messages, or go on news apps or social media to see what is going on in your world today.

But the negative correlation suggests that if you come by your phone “easily”, if it isn’t a big deal in your society, at least against the average wealth of the country, then you may not be as addicted to it.


But a phone – and especially a smartphone – is a precious thing in a set-up where it is more than a frivolous toy.

The so-called informal economy represents about three-quarters of non-agricultural employment, and about 72% of total employment in sub-Saharan Africa. About 93% of new jobs created in Africa during the 1990s were in the informal economy.

It came at the back of two trends that converged at the time: a population boom, and a shrinking formal sector.

As economies slowed and debt obligations began to bite, governments aggressively cut public jobs and sold off state enterprises, privatising as much as they could and offload loss-making enterprises.

Informal self-employment and casual work is thus now the norm in places like Kenya and Uganda; in Zimbabwe, the downward spiral of the economy over the past 15 years is said to be creating “a generation that may never know what formal employment is all about”.

It means that people using platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp to do business – take orders, buy and sell goods, advertise their services and so on.

It could be that apart from being a mere communication device, their phones are their “offices”, and checking the phone may in a way be equivalent to putting on your suit and heading for the office. So you could say phone addiction is a business decision.

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