And, yes, people are huge users of social media like Facebook and to some extent Instagram. Nigerians in particular are very active on Twitter. Besides business people, many others do not have a laptop. In urban areas, a lot of people have smartphones, especially young people, and if they don’t have one, they desperately want one.
What kind of role does tech play in many of these developing African countries?
A lot of people in more-rural areas cannot afford TVs, and even if they can, in many areas electricity is highly unreliable, so mobile phones are a major source of news.
Phone credit is expensive and calls across providers cost extra. Some people have created an ingenious system called “flashing” — they call you and hang up so you dial them back and pick up the tab. I thought I was getting prank calls before I caught on.
WhatsApp groups are the new water cooler conversations where gossip and public announcements are shared via groups. West Africans move around a lot, so WhatsApp allows them a free way to stay in touch with family members living in other countries.
Mobile money — using a mobile phone to transfer payments — is also mainstream in many places and is a lifesaver for people who don’t have the option of bank transfers.
What tech is most important for you to do your job there?
Internet connectivity, by whatever means possible. Phone networks are often so bad that I make most of my calls using WhatsApp. People are really into it, so sources are more inclined to respond to messages on that platform than emails or regular phone calls. Business people and aid workers like Skype.
My iPhone saves me every day because I’m constantly moving around so I need an all-in-one device to access social networks, email, text, take photos, and use WhatsApp and my recording app. I recently dropped my phone in a toilet in Nigeria but managed to grab it quickly enough to salvage the hours of recordings I’d done with war victims before the device finally died. The nearest Apple store is thousands of miles away, and it was a company phone, so replacing it was stressful and involved stops in three continents.
How do you overcome connectivity issues?
Both cell and internet networks can be elusive, but…