Interview: Peering into Ghana’s mobile future with Mac-Jordan Degadjor

Mac-Jordan Degadjor is a Ghanaian social media entrepreneur and rising star among global tech bloggers. The 26-year-old recently spoke about the positive effects of social media at the TEDxYouthInspire conference in Ghana’s capital city of Accra and was spotlighted in the Christian Science Monitor’s “Thirty Ideas from People Under 30.” We asked Mac-Jordan to explain why mobile tech advancements are important for Ghana’s economic and social growth.

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Why is Ghana ready for a mobile technology boom? Are investors looking to Ghana as a market ready to advance with mobile?
Anytime I’m asked if Ghana is ready for the mobile technology boom, my answer is always YES. In Ghana, there are two major organizations providing locals with the business and technology skills they need to leverage ideas into successful mobile web companies: Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology and Mobile Web Ghana.

New opportunities are showing up that make it possible for low-income economies to leapfrog other countries by adopting technologies that are suitable to their specific circumstances. I’m happy to say that Ghana is taking that bold step in adopting new mobile technologies. Take a critical look at the continent: Africa has more than 110 million Internet users, a number that is poised to grow by 2400 percent in this decade alone.

What about Ghana’s market makes it ready for mobile phone technology? How are smartphones being introduced into the market? Can bandwidth improvements keep up with the technology?

African governments are aggressively developing broadband and information/communications (ICT) policies in order to properly regulate the industry while allowing the market to work its magic. In Ghana, mobile penetration currently stands at 85.5 percent, which means that out of a population of about 25 million, there are 20 million subscribers to at least one of the country’s five active mobile networks (MTN, Vodafone, TiGO, Airtel and Expresso). These days, smartphones are being used in all areas. By 2013, Africa will have 11 undersea cables (including one in Ghana by Glo Mobile), which is likely to result in increased bandwidth and reduced cost to consumers.

From banking to agriculture, mobile technology plays a vital role in the life of the average Ghanaian. Here are two examples of how mobile or smartphones are being used in Ghana:

Esoko is an agricultural market information platform managed on the web and delivered via mobile technology in Ghana and other parts of Africa. Individuals, agri-business, and government agencies use Esoko to collect and send out market data using simple text messaging. By way of SMS, the Esoko platform provides automatic and personalized price alerts to farmers in rural areas.

The Grameen Foundation is also developing and distributing mobile phone-based applications to help the poor better manage their health, through such programs as the Mobile Technology for Community Health (MOTECH) initiative.

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How are younger people in Ghana helping to push mobile advancements? As a younger person, why is tech growth so important to you and your circles?

Mobile technology is the future for Africa. In Ghana, the only way to access the Internet among the younger generation is via mobile and smartphones.

The greatest opportunity for growth will come from technological innovation and the adoption of new technologies in service sectors, such as banking, insurance, health, education and agriculture. These growths in technology are very important to me and my networks because they help shape the socioeconomic aspect of our lives and bridge the gap between people in Ghana and those in other parts of the world.

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Can you describe some of the apps that could come from tech innovations that would help people in Ghana?

The catalog of mobile applications in Ghana seems to be growing by the day. We have a host of programs including mobile banking, SMS alerts for farmers and agri-business, chat functions, stock market updates and photo-sharing platforms.

When it comes to mobile apps from Africa, there’s been mention of Ushahidi, iCow and Mocality from Kenya, and Ummeli and TXTALert from South Africa. In Ghana, app providers like Nkyea, Esoko, ShopAfrica53, NandiMobile, iWallet – Dream Oval, Retail Tower and Streemio have gained a lot of popularity.

Can you describe the benefits, if any, to government transparency and democracy that mobile tech can bring to Ghana (e.g. promoting accountability, coordinating political events, and inspiring social activism)?

Universal access to affordable information is one area in which mobile technology will be of great importance in Ghana. There is widespread consensus that ICTs offer one solution to this problem, with mobile phones showing particular promise already.

In Ghana, smartphones are more affordable than computers. They require less infrastructure, do not demand much technological knowledge (users do not even have to be literate), and are very durable. With increased use of mobile phones in Ghana, citizen participation in all social aspects of life will be monitored and reported.

As a citizen journalist, the mobile phone serves as a great tool in my reporting and social activism. Bloggers in Ghana will use their mobile phones to monitor and report on the December elections later this year. This will be first time citizens have the chance to play a participatory role in the elections.

Read more from Mac-Jordan Degadjor on his blog or follow him on Twitter. Mac-Jordan also writes for the Venture Capital for Africa blog.