Africa calling

Abid dropped science with his status message recently. His FB update told us that there wre more mobile phones than toilets in sub-Saharan Africa, according to statistics he had just encountered.

I’m sure his mind was blown, as was yours just now.

But you do get over the initial shock and horror that come from realising the implications of this information. OMG. How uneven development has been in Africa —the rich get all the mobile phones they need, but the poor can’t even get a toilet!

Soon you remember that this is facebook which, contrary to Timothy Kalyegira’s expectations, is a playground and not a forum for intellectual discussions of pertinent social issues.

And statistics are great playthings. Pliable and squishy and bendy and twisty; you can shape them into anything. It wasn’t long before Abid’s commenters were talking about the advantage of having more phones than toilets. One of them being that there is less chance of dropping your cell in the loo.

I am a member of the narrow-minded, conceited self-centered, privileged ivory-tower economy-elite minority class and have forgotten entirely what my poop looks like because I haven’t been to anything that couldn’t flush it out of sight and smell seconds after it was ejected in a decade.

But I believe there could be one thing I share in common with all users of mobile phones in sub-Saharan Africa. All several million of us… well, half the several million of us. We get tired when the other half complains that we didn’t take their calls.

You guys, they are mobile phones. That means we can’t pick them up every single time they ring. They are mobile, which means they move into places where one cannot take calls. Places like in transit while driving, in church, in office meetings, in bedrooms at night while their owners are asleep etc.

But I can no longer say I could not take a call because I was in the loo.

That’s statistically unlikely.



  1. What do you mean ‘I couldn’t answer ‘cos I was in the loo’?! It’s, ‘I couldn’t answer ‘cos I was on the iPad…(in the loo)’

  2. I’m thinking this shouldn’t be so OMG or anything. Whereas, forexample, in an average secondary school in Uganda, about 10 latrines are used by all the 1000 students, the same communal spirit can not be extended to phones. That statistic is just like saying there are more mobile phones than houses in Africa. Of course there have to be!

  3. Jo, we considered that also, but left it alone because the truth is there really is a bad shortage of hygiene and sanitation facilities in sub-Saharan Africa. A third of us.

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