Number of Africans with cell phones now equals population of US

4 billion cell phone usersThe New York Times reports there are now as many Africans with cell phones as there are people in America. This is something that we are very aware of at GlobalGiving. In fact, my biggest project over the next 6 months is to figure out how to make GlobalGiving more SMS-accessible for those 300 million Africans who have cell phones, but not necessarily electricity or running water.

There are over 4 billion people with cell phones in the world today.  Others, like TxtEagle founded by Nathan Eagle, have already started exploring how Africans with basic $20 mobile phones can be put to work. In the US, the Extraordinaries distribute an iphone app with the same goal in mind – crowd-sourcing simple tasks to anyone with 5 minutes of free time and a valuable skill, such as translating text from Swahili.

Why would there be a big demand for swahili translators? Because some day people in Africa might want to send text messages about their lives to others.

I met with the FrontlineSMS guys recently to see if they might help GlobalGiving get those SMS text messages from people in African villages directly onto our GlobalGiving project pages. If you have ideas on how we can do this, or want to help us test various approaches, please let me know by commenting.

Marc Maxmeister

Marc Maxmeister is a PhD neuroscientist who helps coordinate the GlobalGiving Storytelling project, an experiment to provide all organizations with a richer, more complex view of the communities they serve. His title reflects our focus on learning from experiments. He was formerly a Peace Corps Volunteer in The Gambia (1999-2001) and did a Fulbright research project around the impact of computers and the Internet on rural education in West Africa. He loves to teach, and has taught graduate-level Neuroscience at Kenyatta University in Kenya and Python to middle school students in London, UK. He blogs at and is the author of several books, including Ebola: Local voices, hard facts (2014).


Marc Maxson

about 6 years ago

Caveat: The fine print on this statistic is the number of Africans who have purchased a SIM card. We know that in some countries a large fraction of the population purchases SIM cards with 2 or more networks because that is cheaper than calling across networks. So maybe the number is only 200 million people - but that's still a sizable group - approaching the number in America with cell phones.

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about 6 years ago

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