Cell Phones in Africa Part 3

The conclusion to our series.

Talking about cost, here are some interesting stats about cell phones here.

A SMS, known as texto here, is cheaper than a call. That in turn has a different rate depending if I call a Telmob number, or that of another company.

Telmob charges me 10 FCFA for each SMS I sent to a Telmob number, 20 FCFA for a call to another company and 50 FCFA for international calls.

50 FCFA is 10 cents, I wonder if Bell can beat that?  A phone call will set me back 1.5 FCFA per second.  So 90 FCFA per minute for local calls is about 18 cents.  International calls are 150 FCFA per minute.  So I can call Canada for 10 minutes and it will cost me about 2.00$.  I get call display and voice mail for free.

Of course, all companies offer roaming at an astronomical cost.  To be honest, I used my sim card in Paris and nada, rien, zilch.  Could not get in touch with friends to tell them I had finally landed.  So had to buy a local sim card.  I am getting an interesting collection of them.  But there is one company that does it better than all of the cell companies I dealt with in my life – and that is quite a few.

Airtel. It’s the company we love to hate.

Well, their service may not always be the most reliable but they are the only one who has the infrastructure to support BlackBerry, the tablets, Android and others.  Their big advantage is that you can use your sim card no matter where you are in Africa as long as that country is served by Airtel.  No roaming charges.

For instance, this chap who helps me with these articles, Adama, calls his family in Burkina Faso while in business in South Africa using his local Airtel number with no need to add even the country code, 226.  And likewise, his wife in Burkina calls him in South Africa only dialling the 8 digits of his cell number, again, without the country code.  I tested this using my Congo Airtel number… and yes, it does work.  I can call any number in Burkina with my Congo number.  And, by the way, I have not put credits on my Airtel number in about a year, and my number still worked.

Lady, Talking, Phone, clip


In Canada, my number is suspended after six months if my phone is not recharged.  Given that I am in Canada one month out of every 12, it cost me a new sim card every time.  At the modest cost of $40.00.  Here, a sim card is $3.00.  The only drawback is that you have to queue to give the cell phone company tons of info on your little person.

Dollar Clip Art

Oh, I know, I hear you, it is a poor country and you cannot really expect people to pay Canadian fees.  OK, maybe.  But a cell phone is a cell phone, no?  It works on the same technology and apparently, the same infrastructure and thus similar cost of development.  I am sure I will get the eternal and predictable arguments about costs upfront to develop the infrastructure and what not.  I am still not convinced.  Companies here had and still have to develop the infrastructure and yet, the cost to the clients is way more reasonable, even when considering the local wages.


Let’s end on a funny note.  The recharge.  There are two ways to recharge your phone with credits.

Either you buy a recharge card for whatever amount you want from the kids who sell them at every street corner.  There are hundreds of them.  These cards work like an instant winning lottery ticket back home.  You scratch the thin cover and you get the private recharge code.  Enter it in your phone by calling a special number with special signs (#,*) and bingo, you won your recharge!

Or you can recharge using your local credit card.  Which I don’t have, so I rely on the charge cards.  But there is another way that I find absolutely hilarious.  The telephone guy.

So there are these guys (and yes, they are always always always guys!) who walk around with their phones and will transfer credit to your phone, using theirs and obviously, a special connection with your provider to do so.

You pay once you have received your credit, notice of which comes in the form of a texto!  You can also get anyone phone credits.  This is how many people in Ouaga recharge their family members’ phone back in the country side.  Because obviously, not everyone can afford the phone nor the recharge. Family members working in town often provide for their extended family back in the country side.

Instead of a wandering salesman, it’s a wandering phoneman!


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