Home > ICT4D Statistics, m4d > Mobile Phone Use in West Africa: Gambian Statistics

Mobile Phone Use in West Africa: Gambian Statistics

This entry reports findings from a survey of nearly 400 mobile phone users in The Gambia conducted by Fatim Badjie, who recently participated in Manchester’s MSc in ICTs for Development.

Its findings fall into six main areas:

Ownership and Costs: 83% of phone users owned their mobile; roughly 70% said that it was cheap to use a mobile.

Mobile Usage: 82% said the most-used facility on their phone was calls; 12% said it was texting; 3% said it was Internet browsing.  Overall, 38% said the service they enjoyed most was texting; 15% said Internet browsing; 8% said conference calls; 5% said video calls.  47% share their mobile with other people, sharing with an average of 3.1 other people.  That means, overall, the average mobile is used by 2.5 people (i.e. shared with 1.5 other people).  On average, users said they used their mobiles 28 times per day, and two-thirds use their mobile at least 10 times per day.

Availability and Issues: roughly 60% of users said they always had a signal and that services were available even in “inconvenient” locations (though of course Gambia is a small country).  Only 30% reported the mobile was always effective for communication and roughly one third reported they felt mobile use had become a burden to them – mostly financially but also socially or personally.  For the 55% of users who wanted improvements, these almost all related to getting 100% network coverage in the country, or wanting cheaper prices.

Impacts and Benefits: 78% felt they benefited from having a mobile particularly due to low cost of calls.  31% felt having a mobile helped them to make or get money, for example through calls from customers to go and collect money owing or, more often, calling family/friends for money (“money calls”).  58% thus felt they had come to depend on their mobile, and 78% said they could not see themselves living without one.

In terms of male-female differences:

– No real difference in rates of ownership, rates and scope of phone sharing, difficulties experienced, or dependency on mobiles.

– Slight tendency for women to have been using fixed lines rather than telecentres as a prior means of communication.

– Women use mobiles a little more than men on average per day (28.6 vs. 26.6 times).

– Less use of mobiles for Internet browsing by women than men; more use of phones for texting.

– More men (38%) than women (24%) said the mobile helped them get money and resources, though women used phones proportionately more for “money calls” than men.

My commentary would be that, overall, this is a reminder of how mature the mobile market is getting in Africa with very high rates of ownership, very high rates of usage, and signs of movement beyond basic calls/SMS: at least 15% going online via their mobiles, at least 13% using video/conference calls.  With roughly one-third saying they use mobiles to make or get money, it looks like quite a valuable financial tool: so embedded that nearly fourth-fifths of users couldn’t imagine life without it, including some who see mobiles as a “necessary burden”.

ITU estimates for 2009 (the year prior to the survey) there were 84 mobile subscriptions per 100 population in The Gambia.  Even allowing for calculations to convert from subscription data to actual ownership and use (see earlier blog entry), this means phone users were by far the bulk of the Gambian population during this survey (so skews compared to the overall population will be present but probably limited).  Given the rates of sharing reported it means that access to a mobile is virtually universal (though it must also mean that many people share their phone with others who already have one).

Noting exclusion from the survey of women (and men) who don’t use mobiles, there was relatively little difference in ownership and usage patterns between men and women.  Is that, too, a sign of market maturity?

Finally, a reminder that, even in a small country there can be significant locational differences and that “market maturity” has a rural—urban axis.  Users were surveyed in seven different parts of The Gambia but the table below compares some of the key findings for those surveyed in the capital, Banjul, and those surveyed in Bansang, a small town three-quarters of the way up-country.

  Banjul (urban) Bansang (rural)
Ownership 100% 32%
Cheap to use? 66% 84%
Access Internet via mobile 17% 0%
Use SMS texting 69% 4%
Share your mobile? 24% 86%
Average uses per day 39.8 6.7
Available in inconvenient locations? 75% 12%
Main problem (of those reporting a problem) Cost (87%) Network availability (98%)
Help you to get money/resources? 28% 40%
Calls for money 14% 44%
Live without mobile? 52% 20%

The data show some not unexpected differences.  In the rural location, there was much less ownership of mobiles and much more sharing; much less use of non-call services and generally much less daily use of the mobile.  Network availability is more of an issue in the rural area, but the mobile seems to be more useful for getting money and far fewer users in the rural area can imagine life without it.

You can access the results of the survey by clicking here: they also include more Gambia-specific questions about operators, services, and awareness of institutions.  Note the breakdown-by-location is very lengthy, and not provided in this document.

  1. Finn Kaare
    31 January 2011 at 10:52 am

    Dear Sirs,
    a very interesting survey.
    1. However, are the any information about how the Phones are charged?
    It is intresting to know if this is done by PV, fuel powered generators, local grid, or national grid ?
    2. If this information are aviable, are there differences in rural areas, small towns and larger built up areas?

    • Richard Heeks
      31 January 2011 at 2:23 pm

      Finn – unfortunately that wasn’t one of the questions asked; all I can note is that the issue of power and charging doesn’t seem to have emerged even from questions about difficulties/improvements.

  2. Matt
    31 January 2011 at 4:42 pm

    I recently returned from a trip to the Gambia. One of the very interesting things that I saw and learned was that almost everyone with a phone has at least two, or maybe three or four each on a different network. In fact certain phones could carry two or three different SIM cards. I was told that this was for two reasons, first no network had true national coverage, and most importantly, cross-network calls were so expensive.

    I imagine in urban areas people charged phones using the mains electricity, in more rural areas I think solar or fuel generators are used, and in fact car batteries are often used. In many towns and villages you see shops offering ‘charging services’ either for phones, or for the car batteries.

    • 16 February 2011 at 8:28 pm

      From my research in rural South Africa, another reason for people having more than one SIM card is to manage and separate calls from spouse and family, other partners and business. People are treated with suspicion if they are either seen swapping Sim cards or are not available when they are called. This of course presupposes good coverage.

      In Dutywa, in the Transkei SA, people charge their phones using a variety of mains and charging services on the street with banks of car batteries. There was not a lot of evidence of solar, wind or river turbine power creation that I observed.

  3. 29 May 2011 at 9:27 am

    Nice job. I was looking for information on mobile phone usage in nigeria and i came across your article this is a good job bcos all the info i came across on the internet are relative to BRIC, usa, japan and india. although i did not get info about nigeria from ur blog but i tinx ur info is useful gambia is close to nigeria in economics and politics.

  1. 31 January 2011 at 1:59 pm
  2. 1 February 2011 at 11:23 am
  3. 1 February 2011 at 11:28 am
  4. 14 March 2011 at 5:37 pm

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