Ethiopia: Simpler Phone, Smarter Choice?

The World Mobile Congress gets underway in Barcelona on Monday and one highlight is the reported relaunch of the Nokia 3310. In parts of Africa, simpler phones are coveted because they are robust and cheap.

Melaketsehay Melese, a 33 year old resident of Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, is known among friends and colleagues for being tech savvy. With his two jobs, as graphic designer and computer programmer, he’s familiar with all the latest gadgets. He’s often to be seen browsing the internet with his wide-screen tablet. But onlookers gasp in astonishment when they see his mobile phone.

Unlike his friends and colleagues, he didn’t opt for a slim, stylish and lightweight smartphone. His bulky device doesn’t even seem to belong to a well-known brand. It has basic functions of a phone – you can make calls and send texts. It also takes two SIM cards.


For metropolitan professionals in Addis Ababa like Melese, mobile phones are generally not only a means of communication. They are also a status symbol. A smartphone shows you have arrived. But despite the peer pressure, Melese is sticking with his so-called feature phone, also known as dumb phone. His reasons are simple.

“It can work for many days without charge. It has better battery life. It is durable and can survive a fall,” he told DW. In Ethiopia, the phone network is patchy and there are also frequent power outages. Under such circumstances, simpler devices can be more reliable. “Even with those two hurdles, the device enables you to communicate with others,” Melese said.

In rural Ethiopia, where power interruption and network problems are more common than in the cities, it took little time for feature phones to become popular. Even farmers who do not have electricity in their village are eager to buy the phones. Once they have charged up their feature phones in a nearby town, they can use them for two to three weeks.

These mobile phones can also be a source of electric light after dark. The built-in radios also perform well and some feature phones can even access the internet.

In addition to these benefits, they are also relatively cheap. According to mobile phone dealers, these devices generally have a price tag of between 400 birr (17 euros, $18) and 600 birr (25 euros). The best models only cost around 1,000 birr (40 euros).

Read more aboutEthiopia: simpler phone, smarter choice?” on Deutsche Welle (DW)
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