Mobile devices are the leading communication devices for the rural population in Zimbabwe with 84% of households in this group having at least one household member with a mobile phone.
This information was presented in the recently published 2014 Information Communication Technology Households Survey from the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZIMSTAT).
The document was the result of a national survey conducted on behalf of the telecommunications regulator, POTRAZ, and despite being overshadowed by more regular updates that only offer updates on local telecommunications, the Household Survey has provided a unique overview of national trends in Zimbabwe’s communications.
You can access the complete survey by following this link.
According to the survey, the radio, which has traditionally been the primary source of communications and information delivery in rural Zimbabwe, was identified in 57% of rural households while the proportion of households with access to a TV device at home stood at 31 percent.
These numbers still trail urban area totals, where the proportion of households with access to a radio at home was recorded at approximately 68 percent and the proportion of homes that have at least one household member with a mobile phone was about 97 percent. The proportion of urban households with access to a TV device at home stood at 69%.
The reality of rural communication and its opportunity
These numbers on mobile proliferation in rural Zimbabwe are hardly surprising since they echo other statistics on the country’s growing mobile penetration rate while contextualising the phone’s importance as the primary communication device in both urban and rural areas.
The Zimbabwe’s mobile revolution has largely been driven by the absence of communication alternatives across all national demographics but that need has always been accentuated in the rural setting.
Facilities for communication and investment in related infrastructure has largely been concentrated in urban areas where the country’s service providers are confident of a return on investment based on greater commercial activity and the consequent disposable income levels among people there.
For the rural community, this, however, means limited options for services which are already an afterthought in urban areas like fixed voice lines, internet service options like wifi hotspots and public facilities for sending and receiving communication like the internet cafe. The best option for communication services is the mobile phone with its low access barriers.
Even though it started off as a just device for voice communication it now acts as a multipurpose tool that doubles as a bank and provides rural households with features like basic radio or news and information via SMS updates.
That shows how valuable a phone can be but at the same time, it also highlights how there is still so much more that can be done to improve the delivery of information in rural Zimbabwe. The key lies in making internet services more ubiquitous in those areas.
A more aggressive internet rollout strategy for rural Zimbabwe could open the door to possibilities around the use of the mobile phones for dynamic communication and the eventual adoption of mobile communication for improving service delivery in areas like education , health and even entertainment.
So far, the enabling of such a dream has been supported by efforts from POTRAZ that include infrastructure investment in outlying areas through the controversial Universal Services Fund and a strong reliance on the national postal system as the main service centres for broadband service deployment in rural areas.
These efforts are, however, thinly spread, something that circles back to the issue of a limited return on investment for the operators that are supposed to be leading the charge on anything related to this field.
Perhaps it’s time for the State to start considering new ways of encouraging investment in the same rural areas that see the huge benefit of mobile technology, but are yet to experience the even greater benefit that comes from broadband services.
The number that should inspire such investments in that direction is that 84%. A conversion of this density of rural mobile users into internet users would have a huge impact on not only information exchange but the emergence of new markets and online enterprise opportunities.
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