Sunday, 27 November 2016

How Chinese Phones Are Improving People’s Lives In Zambia

A mobile money transaction
By Paul Shalala 

Jane Malembeka is a 73 year old grandmother of Chief Malembeka’s area in the rural part of Zambia’s Copperbelt Province.

For over 50 years now, she has been practising peasant farming on a small holding which is not even on title.

She lives in an area were land is vested in the hands of the traditional leader and it can be taken away from her anytime the chief decides otherwise.

However, Mrs Malembeka is one of the many Zambians who are loyal to the traditional establishment and she has never had problems over her ownership of land she inherited from her father.

In Masaiti District, there are no banks or financial institutions were the old lady can borrow money to pay for her agricultural activities or buy food for the many orphans and grand children she keeps in her house.

She has no businesses which can earn her income on a weekly or monthly basis.

Her only hope for survival is her children who are all based in Zambia’s capital Lusaka.

An MTN Mobile Money stand
At the end of each month, she receives money through mobile money transfer.

Thanks to her cheap Chinese phone which she bought at K500 ($50) from a local shop, she now makes transactions on the phone.

Once each of her three children – a lady and two men, send her money, she walks three kilometres to a kantemba (grass thatched shop) where she presents the Short Message Services (SMSs) and withdraws her money.

“These mobile transactions have really saved some of us who live in rural areas. We have no banks or other companies which can lend us money. Look, am from withdrawing K2,000 ($200) which my children have sent me, all because of this small mobile phone. Things are better now,” said Mrs Malembeka, with smiles on her face.

Mrs Malembeka is just one of millions of Zambians in the rural areas who benefit from the benefits that digital technology has brought to the nation since mobile phones were introduced over a decade ago.

According to the Bank of Zambia, about three million Zambians use mobile money transactions using phones.

The central bank says the largest players in the sector are Airtel Money, MTN Money, Zoona and SwiftCash.

A Zoona stand
Zoona, which has the most widespread network of mobile money shops in all of Zambia’s 10 provinces, boasts of handling 200,000 transactions on a monthly basis.

“At present, Zoona’s MSE customers process in excess of 200,000 transactions valued at USD 15 million per month,” reads a statement on the company’s website.

For those who live in urban areas, the cheap Chinese phones are also of great help.

Using these locally sold phones, Zambians are now able to pay for their utility bills, make bank transactions and even buy mobile phone airtime.

“These days I no longer go to the bank to transfer money to mum at the village or pay for DSTV. All I do is go to my phone and make the transaction,” said Mulotwa Sichalwe, an engineer of Kitwe District.

To others, phones have brought them relief in their educational endeavours.

16 year old John Tonga is a Grade 12 pupil in rural Lufwanyama District.

With lack of well stocked libraries in the area, John relies on the internet for research.

“I use my phone to study especially history and sciences. I find a wide range of information on the internet for my assignments. When writing essays, I easily find resources online which broaden my understanding of history,” said John, while holding his C8 phone.
Swift Cash is run by ZamPost

Chinese phones have really penetrated the Zambian market due to their low cost of maintenance and cheap prices.

Despite their irritatingly loud ringing tones, these phones have increased the penetration of mobile phones in rural communities.

According to recent statistics by the Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority, about 10 million Zambians have access to mobile phones.

This is out of the country’s estimated total population of 15 million.

The increase in phones has also come with the increase in news delivery and news consumption.

People who were previously isolated from the rest of the nation due to lack of phone, radio or TV signals are now up to date with the latest news.

Just at the click of a button, people in the rural part of the country are now able to watch live TV on their Huawei or Tecno phones.

These two Chinese phone brands offer TV services which have become popular especially among young phone owners.

A Shoprite advertisement
Apart from live streaming, phone owners can now download phone apps such WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube and be part of the global conversation.

They can also read about the latest global news and trends on their mobile phones and compete with their counterparts in the urban areas.

All in all, Chinese phones have made the rural part of Zambia interconnected with the rest of the nation and the world.

People who missed out of many things are now more knowledgeable thanks to digital technology.

This has made rural Zambia become an integral part of the rest of the country.

For example, farmers like Mrs Malembeka are now able to follow the price changes of products such as maize (corn), cotton and sunflower using an SMS system which the Zambia National Farmers Union uses to update their members countrywide.

In this way, the old lady cannot send her products to the market when the price has dropped and she will continue monitoring her mobile phone until when she receives an SMS showing that the price has risen and she can now make a bit of money.

Chinese phones have come to stay and as long as the income gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen in Zambia, these phones will continue helping the rural poor.