Information and stories about Africa.

eradicating_malariaEvery minute, a child dies from malaria. 90 percent of the deaths from malaria occur in the poorest African countries. Malaria is a preventable, treatable disease, yet more than half of the world’s population continues to be at risk.

Malaria has long been established as a poverty-related disease. Poverty is both a cause and effect of this potentially lethal disease: poorer people can often not afford preventive measures, and the contraction of disease leads to further economic loss. Consequentially, a substantial investment of time and resources into finding a solution is necessary to interrupt this vicious cycle.

The most successful method to combat the problem has been vector control- that is, to eradicate the mosquito transfer agent. Traditionally, the efforts have been to implement better preventative measures, primarily through insecticides, which are both expensive as well as environmentally harmful.

A more modern approach to the problem is to employ biotechnology to eliminate the mosquito vector more economically and effectively. This encompasses targeting the mosquito at a subcellular level by using a cytotoxic agent- that is a chemical that disrupts the mosquito’s cellular machinery.

Of these methods, the use of silver nanoparticles is becoming increasingly popular as nanotechnology advances. Silver nanoparticles are miniscule, nanoscale pieces of silver, which is highly toxic at cellular levels. This toxicity is being explored in its usages as antimicrobial and pesticidal agent.

Silver nanoparticles are traditionally synthesized using laboratory-grade reagents, which tend to be expensive and not readily available. Many researchers are now looking to phytosynthesis as an answer. The process of phyto-synthesis manipulates the ability of plants to carry out reactions to use in chemical synthesis. For instance, the phytosynthesis reaction of plants can be alternatively used to reduce silver ions to silver atoms.

Recent endeavors to utilize the phytosynthesis capabilities of plants have centered on the use of plant waste products to maximize productivity and minimize cost. In a recent study, researchers used the husk of coconut plant- abundant in the tropical regions plagued by malaria. They used the husk of coconut, which is a waste product from the fruit, to synthesize silver nanoparticles from silver nitrate. The synthesis eliminated the use of a synthetic reagent, and achieved successful results.

The nanoparticles produced were then used by the researchers to treat larval Culex quinquefasciatus, a species of mosquitos found in sub-tropical regions which is similar to the malaria mosquito in its transmission mechanism. The nanoparticles were observed to have significant larvicidal effect on the mosquito.

The study indicates the great potential of phytosynthetic methods to produce cheap and effective insecticides. By using plants indigenous to the tropical areas where malaria is most prevalent, the insecticidal measures of prevention can be made more accessible to the people. The use of waste products of coconut in the process is considerably cost-effective and eco-friendly.

Although the implementation of these innovative techniques may be some way in the future, ingenuity in research offers promising new horizons for a better, healthier world. To borrow Einstein’s words, it is time our technology caught up with our humanity.

– Atifah Safi

Sources: WHO 1, WHO 2, Science Direct
Photo: Flickr

EthiopiaEthiopia is the second most populous country in Africa, with 94.1 million people. Poverty has long been an issue for Ethiopia, and while many remain under Ethiopia’s poverty line of earning $1.25 a day or less, the nation has made great strides in the past 10 years to reduce poverty and improve health.

Ethiopia’s economy has been thriving in the recent past. Between 2004 and 2011, the economy grew at a rate of 10.6 percent per year. Ethiopia increased exports in order to help it account for this economic growth, and that has led to more prosperity throughout the country.

This decrease in poverty can also be attributed to strides in agriculture. In 2005, Ethiopia introduced new agricultural practices which resulted in increased production. As The World Bank states, this agricultural growth has allowed for a 4 percent reduction in poverty each year. The use of fertilizer, along with high food prices and good weather, has given poor farmers with access to markets a higher income.

Ethiopia also instituted the Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP). The World Food Program writes that there are 7.4 million people participating in the PSNP. The program works to end chronic food insecurity through transfers of food or cash (or a combination of both).The PNSP asks that those who are able-bodied in the households who receive their help participate in activities which will help them have more resilient livelihoods and less chance of food insecurity. These activities include building community infrastructure, such as building schools, roads, and hospitals, and rehabilitating land and water resources. The PSNP has helped 1.5 million people who were in poverty to be lifted out of poverty.

Economic growth, an increase in agricultural production, and programs such as the Productive Safety Net Program have paid off. From 2000 to 2011, poverty in Ethiopia declined from 44 percent to 30 percent. As the World Bank says, this “translates to a 33 percent reduction in the share of people living in poverty”.

This decrease in poverty has helped the health of Ethiopians as well. From 2010 to 2015, the level of child mortality has been lowered by two-thirds. The average lifespan has also increased by about an year annually from 2005 to 2011, making an Ethiopian’s lifespan 63. Malnutrition rates have come down as well. 75 percent of the population was malnourished in Ethiopia in 1990, while today it has fallen to 35 percent.

Since 2004, four million Ethiopians have been able to rise above the poverty line. However, there is still work to be done. 25 million people in Ethiopia are still suffering from poverty. The World Bank suggests that in order for the trend of a decrease in poverty to remain, ongoing efforts to promote self-employment have to continue. Firms have to enter Ethiopia, and urban migration has to be encouraged.

Ashrita Rau

Sources: The WFP, World Bank 1, World Bank 2, The Sudan Tribune, Voice of America, BBC

How World Rowing Is Changing Poverty

Clean water is a very important part of people’s lives. However, for many poorer nations and communities around the world, access to clean water is limited. Some people have to travel for several miles just to find drinkable water. Many individual people and organizations have tackled this problem, but there is no singular solution to having clean water.

In 2011, World Rowing, the international organization, for rowing began a project with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to give to disadvantaged people the vital thing that makes the sport of rowing possible: water. The alliance began as a way to educate people about the importance of clean, fresh water, not just for humans but also for the environment.

WWF and World Rowing further developed this movement to find an area where water was endangered the most by various threats to water security. Some such threats include the effects of pollution, industry, agriculture, flooding, damming, hydropower, other ecosystems and human consumption. The resulting location was the lower water basin of the Kafue River in Zambia. This basin is a key area for economic resources, but it is also an important home to wetland wildlife and the main source of clean water for locals.

The issue at hand is how to reconcile the importance of the water basin with the harmful environmental effects. If people were to stop using it for industrial and agricultural purposes, the area would lose a large portion of its economic support, which could throw more people into poverty. However, if industry pollution and pesticides continue to contaminate the water, then there will be no safe drinking water.

The project has two goals that, if reached, can help end water insecurity and poverty. The first is to create a world-class water research center at the Kafue River Center. The center will team up with universities and researchers from around the world. Here they can study the effects of pollution, various ways to clean water, the balance of industry and wildlife and much more. The results found here will be open to the public, so that all water sources can benefit from the research.

The center’s second task is to provide a meeting place for all the people involved with this water project and other similar projects around the world.

While the project will do work to clean up the water in the Kafue Basin and provide cleaner water for the people, the research done at this center will help the world. It is a local project with a potentially global impact that can help solve the issue of water resources and poverty by finding a balance for all of the uses of water. The research here will hopefully solve the problems of water usage and water access, problems that keep people in poverty. It will be a balance that can provide sustainability and allow people to bring themselves out of poverty.

Katherine Hewitt

Sources: World Rowing, World News
Photo: International Water Security Network


Construction has begun on the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project, which will become Africa’s largest wind power farm. It is estimated to be finished by 2017 and the farm will produce a fifth of Kenya’s total energy. Additionally, Kenya Power has signed a contract to purchase energy from the farm for the next 20 years. The 40,000-acre farm has 365 turbines and will take advantage of a low-level jet stream known as the “Turkana Corridor Winds,” which blow year round.

Regarding the powerful wind speeds and the energy potential, Carlo Van Wageningen, director of the Lake Turkana Wind Project, states, “On average, we obtain 11.8 metres per second. Now, if you make a comparison with onshore wind farms in Europe, you’re looking at a good wind site being about 7.5 to 8 metres a second at best.”

Investors from the European Union have financed the USD $690 million project with the African Development Bank. The program is a milestone in a broader global effort to maximize Africa’s wind power production. Wind power has taken off already in many African countries, such as Morocco, Sudan and South Africa. More than two thirds of Africa’s total population does not have access to electricity. These efforts aim to provide universal access for impoverished Africans living in both urban and rural areas.

In January, a transmission line failure caused a power outage that left over half the country without electricity for four hours. It is absolutely necessary for a country of 4 million people to have a more reliable and accessible source of energy. While power interruptions are becoming increasingly less common, these blackouts can have severe implications for families living in poverty.

The wind farm’s completion is coming at a crucial time for the country. Approximately 80,000 South Sudanese have taken refuge in Kenya to escape their civil war. This massive migration has greatly increased the need for electricity, both for native Kenyans and for refugee camps. Less than 25 percent of Kenyans have access to electricity, but it is estimated that the farm’s energy will provide the majority of the population with access to electricity.

Additionally, the farm will provide temporary construction work for almost 2,500 Kenyans and will employ 200 full-time upon completion.

The outlook for the future is quite promising as well. Eight African countries have the most wind energy potential among developing world nations. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that sub-Saharan Africa alone could produce twice the energy that Africa as a continent currently consumes.

The IEA estimates that by 2040, wind power capacity in sub-Saharan Africa will increase by 12 gigawatts. There are one billion watts per gigawatt and a single LED light bulb requires approximately 15 watts. For a continent that is so severely energy-deprived, a seemingly basic amenity like a light bulb can make a monumental impact.

The Borgen Project

Sources: QZ, AFKInsider, CNBC
Photo: Flickr

Nearly 620 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are living without electricity, with Nigeria, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo having some of the highest rates of power-less citizens. Lack of electricity, especially reliable electricity, has hindered development and has forced residents to continue to rely on outdated means of heating and cooking.

However, in recent years Africa has entered into the largest and most rapid expansion of reliable, and often renewable, energy sources in the history of the continent. As the power grid expands, so do the opportunities for residents of sub-Saharan Africa.

Here are just some of the ways access to reliable electricity is changing sub-Saharan Africa for the better:

1. Electricity is decreasing reliance on costly biomass fuel sources
Nearly three billion people worldwide rely on burning wood, charcoal and other costly and inefficient biomass fuels for power and energy. Burning biomass is not only inefficient, it is also unsustainable. Many arid regions in sub-Saharan Africa lack much forested land, and cutting down trees for fuel is wiping out what remains. Electrically-provided means of heating and cooking is more efficient, possibly cheaper and ultimately far more environmentally sustainable.

2. Electricity removes an obsolete and hazardous method of cooking and heating
Lower respiratory tract infections are the second leading cause of childhood deaths in Africa, second only to pneumonia. Burning biomass fuels for heating and cooking releases potentially harmful fumes and contributes significantly to respiratory problems in children and seniors. Using electricity as an alternative to burning biomass fuels removes an unnecessary health hazard from everyday life in the region.

3. Electricity is allowing people to connect and conduct business at much greater distances
More Africans have mobile phones than have toilets in their home, and the expansion of the electrical grid is giving previously unconnected regions access to a global community. Electricity lets distant relatives communicate by phone, businesses conduct international affairs and people around the world connect to one another via the internet.

4. Electricity is opening the door to a massive boom in new business
The growing establishment of reliable and sufficient electricity across sub-Saharan Africa is throwing the doors wide open for economic expansion. New businesses can move into previously undeveloped regions, bringing in new goods for consumers, paying jobs and revenue that circulates throughout the community. With electrical access, individuals can seek out entrepreneurial opportunities with the ability to grow and expand beyond their immediate locale.

5. Electricity is becoming more affordable as more people realize its value
Until recently, the demand for electricity had been low, but not for lack of interest. Electricity is one of the most highly subsidized utilities in Africa, yet still beyond what many can afford. However, the recent booming of the energy sector has created a ripple effect, driving down utility rates while growing in demand. This in turn encourages more expansion.

Access to reliable and affordable electricity in sub-Saharan Africa is creating a feedback loop of positive growth, improving the quality of life for residents and establishing the potential for dramatic economic growth and a bright future.

Gina Lehner

Sources: World Energy Outlook, Health Impacts of Burning Fuelwood
Photo: Ask

Yaya Touré, who plays midfielder for the UK club football team Manchester City, is used to scoring goals on the pitch. Now he is instead talking about scoring big goals for humanity by working to end extreme poverty.

Touré, who has partnered with the One Campaign, an international non-profit agency which works to fight extreme poverty and preventable diseases in Africa, recently stated in a self-written article regarding development efforts in Africa, “If we work together and play by the rules, humanity can score the great global goals of ending hunger and extreme poverty and building sustainable communities. “

He has also expressed his hopes that Africa can one day become, “The young, dynamic and driving continent it should be, no longer relegated to the subs bench – and help make a better world for us all,” and that he believes, “There has never been more to play for.”

Tourè, who is a citizen of the Ivory Coast and was raised in this sub-Saharan nation, recalls how he channeled all of his energy into education and sport as a young child. His knowledge and personal experiences within a developing region has provided him with a unique perspective about which methods of development will prove most effective within Africa.

He argues that for example, governments within Africa must give women who are smallholder farmers the ability to receive bank loans and property rights. This advancement would not only further promote gender equality, but would also help over 100 million people out of extreme poverty and hunger. Touré also believes that both boys and girls must have equal access to primary and secondary education facilities, which must provide opportunities to learn numeracy, literacy, and IT skills.

With 70% of African workers earning a living from agricultural practices, he argues that the governments of Africa must invest within the agriculture industry in order to both produce larger quantities of food resources and encourage sustainable practices. Touré, who also serves as a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Environmental Protection Agency, has joined many other African celebrities in calling upon African leaders and the international community to invest more resources across the continent to smallholder farmers.

He explains in his article that a youth football team requires potential and resources; even if you have the best talent available, they will not develop without the necessary support, training, and resources. Touré compares this situation to the youth of Africa; there is a capacity to build a team with unlimited capacity. He wishes, “For all the young men and women of Africa to have a decent chance of meeting their potential in life. But, for them to be the engine of global progress, they themselves need fuel: for their stomachs, and for their minds.

Touré argues that the rapid growth of Africa’s population, which is estimated to reach two billion people by 2040, must be met with strong efforts by the international community to eradicate hunger and extreme poverty. He has expressed his faith in the potential of the youth of Africa, and believes that, “Unleashed and supported in the right way, these young people could act like rocket fuel to turbocharge African and global prosperity.

James Thornton

Sources: The Guardian, Malawi Nyasa Times, Think Eat Save
Photo: Flickr

Shimba Technologies, a mobile software developer based in Nairobi, is continuing to expand the reach and availability of its all-in-one healthcare app, MedAfrica, in an effort to expand access to online health services for all Africans.

Launched in November 2011, MedAfrica was recognized as a Top 10 mobile app in’s app competition in Silicon Valley. The app had more than 70,000 users by March 2012, and currently sees more than one thousand downloads every day. Intended to provide access to health information among Africa’s most vulnerable people, MedAfrica provides access to consultation with certified medical practitioners, scheduling with local medical facilities, drug services, and symptoms monitoring.

“Our mission is to increase access to health related content and services to save lives and build a healthy population, our target being to reach every household in Africa”, said Jackline Cheruiyot, MedAfrica team leader at Shimba Technologies. “If the current pace of adoption in Kenya is any indication, such a target is no pipe dream.”

According to the World Health Organization, 37 percent of Africans currently reside in urban areas, meaning the majority of people live in rural areas lacking substantially developed social infrastructure. While the proportion of urban residents is expected to increase to 53 percent by 2030, the vast majority of city-dwellers in sub-Saharan Africa live in slums, where access to health services is lacking and the high population density increases the spread of communicable disease.

“A significant share of ill health in slums stems from poor access to sanitation and clean drinking water. In 2000, 30-50% of African urban dwellers lacked a safe water supply”, writes Brodie Ramin, a Professor of Health at the University of Ottowa. “Flooded areas and ditches, latrines and septic tanks are key reservoirs that perpetuate cholera, malaria, dengue and yellow fever in urban areas. Infectious disease outbreaks are also precipitated by the high population density found in these areas, with overcrowding triggering epidemic-prone infections like pertussis and influenza.”

As of 2009, per-capita spending on health services in Africa was $83, less than two percent of average spending in high-income countries. With health spending generally stagnant throughout the region, the availability of online health services will become more and more significant for Africans living in moderate to extreme poverty. Between 2000 and 2012, the number of Internet users throughout Africa grew more than 3,600 percent to 167 million. Self-diagnosis of noncommunicable disease (such as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and stroke) will become increasingly possible as Internet access pervades urban populations.

“Affordable access [to Internet] is no longer a luxury”, said connectivity advocate Steve Song in an interview with Africa in Fact magazine. “It is a tide that raises all ships. It creates efficiencies at every level from the rural farmer to the large corporation…It can enable better healthcare, better education, better services all round. And perhaps most importantly, it opens the doors to innovation, to new ideas and new opportunities for everyone.”

Increased access to online healthcare products like MedAfrica can also remove the need for low-income people to physically attend medical facilities and pay for in-person consultation, activities which carry high opportunity costs with respect to time and wages. The more quickly and effectively a person can access medical advice or diagnoses, the more time and money they can invest in activities that generate income for themselves, their families, and their communities.

As access to services like MedAfrica becomes more ubiquitous, healthcare in Africa will continue to become increasingly efficient. Medical facilities will be better able to focus resources on non-preventable disease, and people in urban populations will be better equipped to confront the medical conditions that pervade their communities. The WHO estimates that improvements to healthcare access could increase the life expectancy of at-risk Africans up to ten years, a prerequisite for economic growth and an indicator of increasingly friendly conditions for private investment. These improvements are auspicious for potential American investment in African healthcare markets as well as at-risk African people as a whole.

Zach VeShancey

Sources: African Business Review, MedAfrica, All Countries, WHO, UN, NCBI
Photo: Flickr

Nigeria has recently overtaken South Africa as the largest economy on its continent. In spite of its upward trajectory Nigeria still has much further to go. Boko Haram, an Islamist militant organization, has for years terrorized Nigerians by attacking officials, civilians and public institutions. Since 2009 Boko Haram has killed more than ten thousand people and displaced 1.5 million.

The organization was founded by Mohammed Yusef in 2002 in Maiduguri, in the northeastern state of Borno, to transform Nigeria into an Islamic state ruled through sharia law. Back then however, its goals did not include violent insurgency. Rather the group sought to galvanize Nigeria’s northern Muslim population against the alleged corruption in the southern government and to challenge the regional economic disparities between the Christian South and Muslim north.

When Boko Haram protested a motorbike helmet law in 2009 they became targets of armed police brutality which then sparked revolts in many of the Northern provinces. This led to military suppression of the protests, which killed 800 and led to the capture and eventual extrajudicial killing of Yusef and other sect leaders. From there, the violence began and the grouped splintered under its fragmented leadership.

Today, the elusive Abubaker Shekau leads Boko Haram’s insurgency against the Nigerian government in Borno. Shekau holds almost superhuman status; allegedly killed at least three times by the Nigerian military, videos of the enigmatic leader still continue to surface. According to The Council on Foreign Relations, “Nigerian officials and many experts are convinced that Shekau has become a brand adopted by leaders of different factions of Boko Haram, and that the men in the videos are actually look-alikes.”
Last year Shekau’s organization claimed responsibility for the kidnappings of 200 girls from a public secondary school in Chibok, Borno State, in north east Nigeria. Smaller attacks on other schools and universities preceded this tragedy and highlight one of Boko Haram’s most common targets: education. The name ‘Boko Haram’ roughly translates to ‘Western Education is Forbidden.’

Through strong arm tactics, Boko Haram has made education in northeastern Nigeria all but impossible. In the wake of the kidnappings, most secondary schools in Borno have closed. This move is particularly advantageous for Boko Haram. Closing schools leaves boys more vulnerable to its recruitment methods and perpetuates poverty. Likewise, out of school girls are more likely to be married as teens. In total, 10 million children out of a population of 160 million are not attending school. This figure represents the largest number of out of school children in the world.

However, Boko Haram is not entirely responsible for the dismal state of education. The Nigerian government has done little to improve its country’s education system. Although it is the largest economy on the continent, Nigeria spends less on education than almost every other African country. Common practice dictates that government spending on education should represent 6 percent of a country’s GDP and 20 percent of its budget. In comparison, Nigeria spends only 1.5 percent of its GDP and 6 percent of its budget on education. Despite meager spending, Nigeria’s budget could allow for three times its investment in education.

With nearly a third of the population between the ages of 10 and 24, a stronger spending in education could radically improve life in Nigeria. However, with schools closing throughout the country, the Nigeria must also focus on rooting out Boko Haram and providing better security for its students. If done in tandem, Nigeria will experience the undeniable benefits of an widespread effective education system.

Andrew Logan

Sources: Al Jazeera 1, Al Jazeera 2, The Brookings Institute, Council on Foreign Relations, The Economist, The Guardian
Photo: Flickr

Internet Plays Crucial Role in African Job Development - TBP
The economies of African nations are growing at levels never before seen, but so is the continent’s youth population. As a result, job creation is at a critical point.

For Africa to maintain its current growth trajectory, it’s estimated that 400 million people under 25 will need viable employment by 2050.

Unemployment isn’t a concern solely in Africa, however, as the U.N. reported in 2014 that global unemployment hit over 201 million people, with a large percentage of these people being women and children.

With rising levels of unemployment, the Internet is starting to play a large role in helping create jobs, especially for populations in Africa. One organization, the Rockefeller Foundation, started its own initiative to jumpstart employment opportunities in certain African nations.

The foundation launched its Digital Jobs Africa program in 2013, with the goal of creating sustainable jobs focused on information communications technology for the youth in Africa.

Specifically, the foundation wanted to have a positive effect on at least one million lives in Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria and South Africa.

Digital Jobs Africa emphasizes three pathways used in its approach: generating digital jobs in assorted sectors by building promising business environments, prioritizing the hiring of youth in the private sector, and partnering with organizations that provide job training to help make sure the youth have the necessary skills for these jobs.

In starting Digital Jobs Africa, the foundation partnered with the World Bank Group. Since doing so, the two organizations have done lots of work to boost digital job creation opportunities in Africa.

The Rockefeller Foundation and the World Bank Group focus on the Internet because of the impact it can have on the traditional ways of working.

Using the Internet in the workforce creates new opportunities; it therefore has the ability to change lives for the better in both developed and developing nations.

By using the Internet, employers can extend jobs and reach talent on any corner of the globe. People can also work from anywhere.

This strategy is a business model referred to as online outsourcing, or online work.

The World Bank Group was the first organization to take a deeper look into online outsourcing, as it carried out the first comprehensive study having to do with this particular business model. It was called “The Global Opportunity in Online Outsourcing.”

The results of the study, which the World Bank Group did in partnership with Dalberg Consulting and with support from The Rockefeller Foundation, were released in June.

The group wanted to help connect governments, companies and people to online outsourcing, which it did by completing the study.

The study was released side-by-side with a web-based toolkit that can, according to the World Bank Group’s website, “diagnose the feasibility for establishing the online outsourcing industry in developing countries, in order to increase access to employment and income-generation opportunities.”

In the study, the group analyzed experiences people had with online outsourcing in different parts of the world and how it could impact job creation, economic growth and social inclusion.

In doing so, the World Bank Group recommended policy ideas for developing countries to allow them to use online outsourcing as leverage for promoting inclusive growth. It also explained what possible tasks could be available through the business model and which skills were necessary to be successful.

The influence of online outsourcing is expected to grow, as estimates say that by 2020 the market size could hit between $15-$25 billion and have the potential to employ 30 million registered workers.

So how can companies and workers benefit from online outsourcing?

For starters, it gives employers wider access to specific skill sets and faster hiring. It also allows for productivity around the clock, as companies can have workers all over the world.

For those seeking digital jobs, online outsourcing gives them international job opportunities and a flexible work atmosphere.

In terms of societal impact, online outsourcing has the ability to push social change for women.

In India, for example, women who take care of children and elderly family members can make money while at home by having an online job. In Egypt, women can use online outsourcing instead of having to go to workplaces dominated by men.

But online outsourcing isn’t a lucrative alternative to the traditional ways of working just because of flexibility – it could also be the more profitable option.

One aspect of the study conducted by the World Bank Group found that in Kenya, Nigeria and India, full-time online workers earned a salary equal to or greater than their counterparts in a traditional workforce.

Not only can online outsourcing lead to higher wages, but through its flexibility, inclusiveness and innovation, it also has the ability to reach women and youth. This is proof that the Internet can boost economic growth and drive social inclusion.

– Matt Wotus

Sources: The Rockefeller Foundation, The World Bank
Photo: The Guardian

One of the greatest challenges facing developing nations in Africa is connectivity, connectivity to reliable sources of electricity, infrastructure and the world around them. But on the other hand, there are more people in Africa with cell phones than there are with toilets in their homes. And this fact, say some creative individuals, is the key to tackling poverty in Africa.

In 2009, the Grameen Foundation, an organization working to connect the world’s poor with vital knowledge resources, launched a program called the Community Knowledge Worker initiative. The initiative was designed to create a bridge between rural farmers and agricultural experts via a mobile phone connection. Oftentimes, these experts were other members of the local community who shared their knowledge with their peers.

Access to a mobile phone grants a rural farmer access to information resources beyond what they could find without. Not only can local farmers share tips and tricks, but even the most rural farmer can quickly Google pest treatments or look up the current market value of their crops.

Other people are utilizing programs like Mobile Midwife, a mobile-based program that helps connect midwives and patients. The program allows midwives to track appointments, access patient records and even schedule voicemail messages to be send out to patients each week.

Zoona, a social enterprise mobile banking company in Zambia, specializes in managing transactions for Africans without a bank account. In a country where roughly 85 percent of the population has never entered a bank, companies like Zoona stimulate greater money flow in a community by encouraging individuals to carry out transactions and by encouraging savings investments.

However, the boons of the smartphone revolution aren’t just material or economic. With more and more Africans utilizing smartphones, social networking sites are gaining ground quickly, connecting people from all across the continent. The growth in social media activity has been so rapid that social media giant Facebook has recently announced plans to open a headquarters in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Mobile phones open up a world of possibilities, even in the most rural and impoverished areas. Access to vast amounts of information, secure banking and social connectedness are changing the face of Africa and are giving poor nations a strong platform for growth.

– Gina Lehner

Sources: The Huffington Post, Grameen Foundation, AFK Insider
Photo: Flickr