donderdag 7 oktober 2010

Wisselcolumn 5: Mobile phones in Ghana

about picking, flashing and hiding under the table

Door: Lieke Stoffelsma
As in many developing countries, traditional media continue to play a dominant role in Ghana. The use of computers and access to internet is very limited. In 2002, only 1,37 computers per 100 inhabitants were available and in 2009 only 4% of the population had internet at home (more info). However, the use of mobile phones in Ghana shows a different development. Ghana has exceeded the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of mobile phone penetration level, five years ahead of the 2015 deadline set by the United Nations. Mobile phone use is one of the highest growing communication sectors in Africa (more info) . Six mobile phone operators have to compete in the Ghanaian market which has a population of about 24 million and it is obvious that they will do anything to get new customers. One of the most striking marketing tools used in the country is the painting of people’s houses and walls in the colour of the telecom operators.
House painted in Vodafone Red
Taking advantage of the poverty of Ghanaians by painting their houses is much cheaper than using official channels such as bill boards. For many Ghanaians the branding of their houses seems like a good deal; the painting of houses is done for free and people receive a small payment, depending on the visibility of the house. It is unclear how the distribution of painting works; sometimes half of the village houses are painted yellow (MTN) and the other half in red (Vodafone). The (sometimes illegal) branding of houses as it is done in Ghana has led to a public debate and in June 2010 the Minister of Communications has finally charged telecom operators to stop painting houses. Unfortunately, the marks left throughout the country are indelible for the coming decades.
House painted in MTN Yellow
In addition to painting houses, the mobile telecom operators are currently the biggest spenders on media sponsorships and branding in Ghana. Many radio and television programmes, including news, talk shows, sports programmes, reality shows, soap operas, are branded by one mobile phone operator or the other. While you are listening to MTN radio, your MTN DJ will play your favourite MTN songs while you can win MTN laptops and other Prizes.
Since internet facilities are often limited, the easiest way to communicate with Ghanaians is by mobile telephone. As the MTN slogan puts it, mobile telephones are ‘Everywhere you go’. The influence of mobile telephones on daily life is overwhelming and impossible to ignore. Therefore, the only way to survive as a foreign visitor is to go with the mobile flow and adjust to the local system.
First, buy a local sim card which you can “top up” with credits sold at every street corner in the country. The system is easy; local cell phone numbers do not need registration, cost about one euro and do not expire as long as they are being used. Be aware that Ghanaians will use short phone conversations just to exchange greetings. It is normal to keep these chats very brief; “Hello, how is it? I am fine, and how are you too? Fine thanks, bye bye!”
You should also know that it is quite common that the person on the other line will hang up before you have answered the call. This system is also known as “flashing”. When you are flashed, it means that you have to return the call, and pay for the costs. In addition, if someone tells you “he is not picking” it means that the person on the other line is not answering because either the phone is switched off or the network is down.
Don’t be surprised to receive several spam messages per day from your telecom provider. The usually read something like “It’s tiGO Sunday! Get FREE subscription & downloads!” Very annoying, but nothing you can do about it.
And last but not least; it is very rude NOT to pick up your phone! The chance that a Ghanaian phone is switched off is extremely low, so don’t be surprised to see people chatting away whilst they are hiding under the table during a meeting. 

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