Credit and Cell Phone calls in Africa

The third in our series of Technology in Africa by our talented Anonymous blogger!


So now you have all the stats and many facts about cell phone companies in Burkina. Hopefully you’re not bored stiff, but just in case –  let’s move to a more ‘fun‘ aspect of cell phone (yes, I’m saying that sarcastically), the cost structure for the users.

Dollar Clip Art

I always say that I wish I had the same package in Canada as I have here.  In Canada, I need to either pay for a package with a contract, or pay a monthly fee without a contract.  Either way, I pay.  Regardless of my usage.

Frankly, a cheap monthly plan with a limited number of minutes per month between 9 and 5 is about as useful as a hole in the head to me.  It does not take many phone calls to go over the limit and bang, I have a lovely  bill at the end of the month.  On the other hand, having unlimited call and text is not perfect for my needs, which includes getting in touch with a child in another country.  And I am not constantly on my phone!

But here in Africa, I pay as I go.  I buy a recharge card for 5,000 FCFA, which is about 12$ Canadian, and it lasts me a month or a week, depending on my use.

But, all companies offer free credit bonuses! That means fairly regularly, all three main companies available here will offer a 100% free credit with any recharge.

Now, pay attention.  It does not mean that you have 10,000 FCFA worth of credit in your phone  to call whomever you want for 5000 FCFA.  Nope.  That would be paradise and too good to be true.  It means that you have the initial 5,000 FCFA credit to call whomever you want, and then another 5,000F CFA credit to call any, in my case, Telmob user. (Telmob is the company I use. Want a recap – check out my last post HERE)

So my credit last longer because every time I call another Telmob number, it is debited from my Telmob bonus.  Confused yet? It’s similar to the ‘MyFive’ plans in Canada

Lady, Talking, Phone, clip

For example,  right now, after having recharged my phone three weeks ago for 7,000 FCFA, I still have close to 3,000 FCFA of credit and over 5,400 FCFA of bonus credit (the bonuses can carry over between promotions.)  The bonus will expire on Sept 14, so it’s time to call my friends on Telmob to use it, or I will lose it.

Well, except that there is a slight problem.  I never know who is with Telmob.  You see, the beauty of having your friends saved in your contact list means that when you call, you don’t really check if the number is a Telmob or belongs to one of the other companies.  Once upon a time, when there were fewer numbers and cell phones in Africa, you could tell by the phone number’s first two digits.  But now, with the proliferation of numbers, you can no longer do so with certainty. Using the bonus credit can be hit or miss at times.

Bonuses and Two Phones

Last week, my Masseur was home (I have a very bad back these days and he works miracles!) and I asked him, as he emptied his pockets and prepared to work, why he had two phones. One wasyour basic phone, nothing fancy and the other one wasa smart phone, also known as the intelligent phone, a French translation for the English word ‘smart’.

In any event, in the last article I mentioned that many Burkinabè have two phones.  Well, my masseur explained that it is to take advantage of the bonuses offered by the companies.  This has been confirmed by friends since then.   I have seen this over and over, here and in Senegal where I lived before.  You go for lunch with friends and they have two phones on the table… weird!

Alternatively, people may own a phone with two sim cards, allowing you to have two numbers with different providers to take advantage of their bonuses.  Sometimes, one is the professional phone, and the other the personal one.

Not only do most Africans have cellphones – many of them have two!

How do you put more credit on your phone?

So, since pretty much every phone I have seen (and that is a great many) is essentially a ‘pay as you go,’  the issue becomes, how to make sure you don’t run out of credit?  Technically, you shouldn’t run out of credit if you’re proactive. It’s easy to check the state of your credit,  you just have to dial *101#. Which I admit I often forget to do.

If you run out of credit, the call will drop right then and there.   And I get a message on my screen, something about my credit not being sufficient for the call, or the sms I am trying to send.  Frustrating, but it is my own fault.  I would have just had the prescience to call *101# and bingo, I would know if it were time or not to recharge.

The company also is kind enough to let me know how much that phone call has just cost me after each call.  So, I can either work out the debit as I go… or call *101# to get my balance. Easier.  But credit no credit, I still can get calls because I don’t pay for receiving calls.  Just when I make them.  That was a welcome novelty for me!


Stay tuned for the conclusion of technology in Africa next week.


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