Digital transformation as viewed from the phones in our hands

Starting from the 14th day of May to the 17th, people from around the world, but primarily from Africa will gather here in Kigali for yet another Transform Africa Summit. This year’s event will run under the theme, “Boosting Africa’s Digital Economy.”

Over 4,000 participants will interact during the summit trying to demystify, assess and come up with solutions aimed at guiding Africa’s digital journey.

For many of the development stages, Africa has found itself disadvantaged in one way or another and has had to play catch up with the rest of the world.

When it comes to digital solutions, Africa as a continent may have been late to get out of the blocks but the pace at which it has caught up with the rest of the world and even led in some instances has been nothing but phenomenal. The best way to view this transformation is by looking at the phones we now hold in our hands.

If I was writing this story a few years ago, I would probably use the word telephone or go for the later fancy smart phone. In case you hadn’t noticed, we have transitioned from telephones to smart phones and now to phones that we are actually better off just calling gadgets as we look around for a more suitable descriptor.

These things that we use to make calls and speak to people far away were once just called telephones and were basically used for – you guessed it right – telephoning other people. Those were the days when they had to be hooked to a wire in order to work.

Later on the wire was made useless with the invention of the mobile phone. If this wasn’t the best thing to happen to Africa in recent years then I don’t know what was.

For now people could buy and use telephones, now called mobile phones without having to wait for the government to connect them to a land line. All they needed was a phone with a battery and a sim card and they were good to go.

The adaption of the mobile phones took off pretty fast making the landlines quite obsolete. The cost of getting connected to a mobile phone dropped so drastically that the first providers seemed like a cartel for getting away with what they charged back them. Anyone remember the infamous service fee?

From here we moved into the era of the smart phone. It was deemed smart because with the internet, it was able to do much more than calling. You now didn’t need a watch, calendar or even a map once you had a smart phone in your hands.

You could just log onto the internet and execute almost any task with ease. At the beginning smart phones were a thing for CEOs and other busy bodies. They cost an arm and a leg. Some still have price tags that make you doubt whether you really need two kidneys.

The basic feature phones survived extinction when Africans, or Kenyans to be precise, gave us a Mobile Money solution in Mpesa.

These small phones that we gave all sorts of funny names like Katorch, Kabiriti, Kabambe, Karashyaramye and others survived being condemned to history the moment financial power was placed on the sim cards. With their longer lasting batteries and a level of immunity from phone snatchers, they became the go to type of phone for those in the Mobile Money business.

Today’s phones are not just smart, they are a huge financial vessel allowing you to keep, move, borrow and receive money.

While smart phones opened up the world of computing, the mobile money revolution opened up a new world of financial services at the palm of your hands. Different sectors like banks have been forced to plug into this ecosystem in order to guarantee their own survival.

As I write this today, a sim card may be very cheap to acquire but it carries so much value that if a thief snatched your phone today, you would offer them a hug if they agreed to hand over your sim card and just take the phone itself.

That sim card is not just for communicating but also for transacting business and more importantly it is your primary digital identity. Even your email address and so many online services are anchored on the phone number that you possess today. With so much becoming digitalised, the real transformation keeps happening right there in your hands.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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