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March 6, 2016

HUMAN PROGRESS: What Cell Phones Reveal About the Failures of Government-Run Telecommunications.

Almost all African countries had state-owned and state-run telecommunications monopolies until recently. Some, including Kenya and Zambia, still retain a monopoly on the provision of landline services. No wonder, therefore, that the number of fixed telephone lines in Africa peaked in 2009 at 4 lines per 100 people. In Tanzania, there is just one landline per 100 people. The vast majority of Africans, in other words, never had reliable means of calling a doctor or a loved one.

The rise of the cell phone changed all that. In 2014, 84 percent of Africans had a cell phone. In addition to massively improved communications, cell phones enabled Africans to side-step another problem plaguing people in poor countries—limited banking opportunities (especially in the far-flung rural areas). Users of cell phone services, like Kenya’s M-Pesa, can deposit, withdraw and transfer money, and pay for goods and services, without ever having to visit a bank or access a bank account on a computer.

The private sector has also been instrumental to mitigating the negative effects of African governments’ failure to provide their people with adequate education and drinking water.

Yes, but it’s more moral when the government tries and fails to do these things than when the private sector succeeds. Because greed!