Botswana and A2K: The Diffusion and Civic Application of Mobile Telephony

William 0. Lesitaokana


The advent of mobile telephony has prompted much interest from many scholars across the globe. Amongst the related research are studies from developing countries that focus specifically on the diffusion of mobile phones, user accessibility, and the use of mobile devices to improve human lives (Horst 2006; Chabossou et al. 2008; Duncombe and Boateng 2009; Kreutzer 2009; Sey 2011). According to James (2012), many developing countries have taken significant steps to close the digital divide by ensuring that citizens have access to mobile phones and related services. For instance, in countries such as Jamaica, El Salvador (James 2012), and Thailand (Srinuan, Srinuan, and Bohlin 2012), governments have privatized mobile telephony sectors, liberalized mobile markets to allow for the licensing of mobile operators, and permitted foreign investors to establish mobile telephony networks in their countries. Srinuan, Srinuan and Bohlin (2012) reported that, due to efforts made by both the government and private networks in Thailand, mobile telephony has diffused considerably throughout the country including to areas where fixed telephony has been inadequate. As a result, youth used mobile phones to access the Internet.

An exception to this trend is Sub-Saharan Africa, which continues to be classified as information poor (Gebremichael and Jackson 2006) and as having a serious digital divide (Fuchs and Horak 2008). The concept of the digital divide is referred to as the gap between rich and poor countries with regard to access to and use of information and communication technologies (James 2009). It is the gap that exists between those who have access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) and those who do not. The digital divide is particularly relevant in the contemporary context because ICTs are useful to promote economic growth, deliver public services, and enhance development at various levels: communal, national, or international (Loo and Ngan 2012; Manohar 2005; Srinuan, Srinuan, and Bohlin 2012). Rice (2002, p. 106) refers to the digital divide as inequalities that exist regarding access to and use of the Internet in view of the demographic characteristics of gender, income level, race, and setting. Nonetheless, Gandy (2002) argues that within new media, research about the digital divide should not only focus on inequalities of access but also opportunities to engage information services. Whereas the computer, Internet, fax, and fixed telephones have received much reference in previous studies of the digital divide (Gyamfi 2005; Nwagwu 2006), it has been only recently that the mobile phone has received some attention. In 2005, many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa were still lagging behind with regard to citizens’ access to and use of ICTs (Gyamfi 2005). According to Gyamfi (2005), this was because these countries lacked strategic policies that guided the implementation of approaches for facilitating access to technologies needed for information services. Gebremichael and Jackson (2006, 276) suggest that “while economic factors and various levels of governmental instability have traditionally served as a hindrance to technology adoption in the region, there are several viable possibilities for providing low-cost ICT access in the short term.”

The purpose of this chapter is two-fold. First, it considers the efforts of the Botswana government to facilitate citizens’ access to mobile phones and mobile communication services, while adding to the literature on the diffusion of mobile phones. It is worthwhile to establish the commonalities and varied experiences of citizens regarding the diffusion and access to mobile phones in different countries. Second, this chapter examines citizens’ uses of mobile phones to enhance social lives in order to contribute the case of Botswana to the global literature on mobile phone use. Research from the Global South, where citizens’ access to mobile phones has dramatically increased in the past few years, will help inform on the trends associated with the latest use of the devices. Moreover, previous studies have demonstrated that the socio-economic challenges of mobile phone users in each society influence the impact of the devices. Therefore, it is necessary that related research is extended to many diverse societies with distinct cultures.

The data presented throughout the chapter was obtained using two sets of qualitative, in-depth semi-structured interviews. Semi-structured interviews are those that are undertaken in a flexible manner and, thus, are interactive conversations between the researcher and an informant (Byrne 2004). Silverman (2006) also notes that semi-structured interviews involve asking questions, sharing ideas, and recording the conversations. Addressing the first objective, the first set of interviews involved a total of seven officials working in the mobile telephony sector in Botswana and one representative from each of the following local mobile telephone service providers: beMobile, Mascom, and Orange. Their selection to participate in this study was based on their knowledge and experiences they gained while working in the mobile telephony sector. To contact these, formal requests were first sent to their workplaces through their superiors, and then after they agreed to participate in the study they were visited and interviewed at their workplaces. To address the second objective, interviews were conducted with a total of 28 randomly selected young people aged between 18 and 35 from the cities of Francistown and Gaborone in Botswana. The two places are Botswana’s main cities, and it is here where the mobile telephony signal is adequate and where many people using mobile phones can be found. The young people who participated in this study were recruited from colleges and universities through poster advertisements and were then randomly selected for interviews. Interviews with these sought to solicit information regarding their accessibility, adoption, and use of mobile phones for civic, social, and economic purposes. All interviews were audio recorded and later transcribed for analysis.

Mobile phone application—a global overview

Cloggin (2009), Middleton (2008), and Christensen and Prax (2012) acknowledge that both the significance and consumption of mobile phones have surpassed that of landline telephones. For instance, mobile phone users have access to important applications through which they can perform multimedia activities, networking, and information exchange as part of their contemporary lifestyles. The mobile phone is also useful as a gaming device (Christensen and Prax 2012) and as a personal device that provides users with access to mobile media (Watkins, Hjorth, and Koskinen 2012) and online public services (Duncombe and Boateng 2009; Kushchu and Kuscu 2003). This is because mobile phones, especially smartphones, converge ICT and multimedia features that include audio and video recording devices, FM radio, telephone, camera, watch, calculator, the Internet, social network applications, caller ID, and digital games (Christensen and Prax 2012).

There is a large set of literature discussing the role of mobile phones in different countries. In Malaysia (Karim et al. 2009) and Pakistan (Kamran 2010), the mobile phone is considered an additional communication tool that facilitates mobile connection with families, friends, and classmates through emails and online social networks among college students. The students made significant use of mobile phones because the devices offered them access to mobile Internet from anywhere as long as network coverage was accessible. In addition, access to the Internet on their mobile phones was affordable and easily manageable, especially when acquired through a prepaid subscription.

In India, a study by Watkins, Kitner, and Mehta (2012) indicates that mobile phones afforded users opportunities to exchange information and consume services that were previously inaccessible in the region (although it was considered that both income and digital literacy implicated the adoption of mobile phones, especially smartphones among rural participants in India). For example, the radio reporters in rural locations who were provided with Nokia N97 handsets as part of the above-mentioned study used the devices to facilitate production of new programming and innovative engagements in their community' radio station. This included recording audio interviews for the radio programs using the Nokia N97 phones. As a result of their innovative approach, two advantages of adopting smartphones for use in community' radio stations were explored in that study. First, the reporters who participated in that study mentioned that the quality of audio recorded on the Nokia N97 was much better than the previous audio recorded on the community radio station’s consumer audio equipment. Second, the villagers, including youth who were interviewed for the radio broadcasts, concurred that unlike earlier recordings, which were done with microphones and tape recorders, the use of the Nokia N97 made them feel more at ease to participate in radio programs. This is because with smartphone devices villagers were not compelled to travel to the radio station and could telephonically reach the studio personal.

The use of mobile phones in civic, social, and economic matters has also been recorded in the literature. For instance, in a study conducted in Sub-Saharan Africa, Duncombe and Boateng (2009) describe how the financial institutions in the region had made use of the high uptake of mobile phones and introduced mobile banking to the poor who did not previously have access to banking services. Some of these mobile banking services, which are also commonly used by young adults, include access to financial information and the ability to make mobile payments and monetary transfers. Also, in Finland, Helsinki City Transport offers mobile payment services for tram and subway tickets, through which customers send text messages to service numbers to order one-hour SMS tickets (Mallat, Rossi and Tuunainen 2004). According to Mallat et al. (2004), this service has been declared significant in two closely related ways. On the part of customers, it has helped increase access to tickets for travel on subway. It has also reduced the problem of people travelling without a ticket, thus increasing financial returns for Helsinki City Transport.

Indeed, the mobile phone has in some cases become the only device that has made the Internet accessible to citizens in many economically developing countries. Watkins, Kitner, and Mehta (2012, 695) note that the “mobile and the smartphone are supplanting the personal computer as the standard online access point.” During their Internet consumption on their mobile phones, users are open to a world of opportunities through which they can enhance their day-to-day living. In particular, the above-mentioned studies indicated the role of mobile phones in enhancing the social lives of their users in countries such as Malaysia, Pakistan, India, and some parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Despite the success of mobile phones in general, Botswana remains classified among developing nations in Sub-Saharan Africa where both access and use of ICTs such as telephone landlines, the Internet, and computers remain a challenge (Sebusang and Masupe 2003; Nkwe 2012). Other factors associated with these challenges, which also characterize citizens in many developing countries, include poverty, gender inequality, costs of ICTs, and a lack of skills to use ICT devices (Paterson 2007; Nkwe 2012; Oladokun and Aina 2011).

Basic education is provided free to all youth in public schools in Botswana. Despite acquiring basic education and with the exception of mobile phones, many people in Botswana, including youth, do not have access to ICTs. Although in some cases young people in Botswana are introduced to computers in secondary schools, they only have limited access to ICTs in the form of computers and the Internet in colleges and universities and sometimes in workplaces countrywide. In fact, many people outside of these places do not have an opportunity to use computers nor to access the Internet. Other limited access to ICTs, especially computers and the Internet in Botswana is possible at the Post Offices in large villages countrywide.

This scenario of limited access to computers and the Internet demonstrates to some degree the digital divide in Botswana. However, considering that mobile phones are widely accessible to many people countrywide, it is therefore necessary to establish if and how the introduction and consumption of the devices have helped to bridge this gap. Furthermore, it is therefore worthwhile to critically consider how despite these challenges, Botswana has been able to initiate and facilitate mobile telephony diffusion and how citizens subsequently adopted and use mobile phones in their everyday lives to enhance their social lives.

The history and diffusion of mobile telephony in Botswana

The rise in literacy levels among the people in Botswana over the first three decades after Botswana’s independence in 1966 significantly propelled demands to expand information and communication systems across the country (Rantao 1996). The Botswana Telecommunications Cooperation (BTC) was established as a quasi-governmental organization in 1980 to facilitate and manage telecommunication services within the country (Botswana Telecommunications Corporation n.d.). The services under the BTC included provision of telephone landlines and fax, and the establishment of information and communication infrastructure, which facilitated telephonic communication locally, regionally, and internationally. Mobile telephony was first introduced in Botswana in 1998 after the development of a telecommunications policy that provided recommendations for the licensing of private network operators to lessen the monopoly of the BTC, which provided fixed telephones countrywide. The first two of the current three network operators to be licensed were Mascom Wireless and Vista Cellular (rebranded Orange Botswana). Both these networks have been operating mainly from Gaborone, the capital city, from which they have spread their coverage to other towns and large villages across the country. After realizing that fixed landlines were not able to withstand fierce competition from mobile operators, in 2008 BTC' introduced BTC? beMobile, the third and latest mobile network operator in Botswana. Following this, competition for subscribers intensified so much that each local network operator was forced to extend its transmission network to many villages.

Once mobile telephony was introduced in Botswana in 1998, the process of diffusing mobile telephony throughout the country started off slowly (Lesitaokana 2014). The participants in this study pointed out three explicit reasons for this. After being licensed, Mascom and Orange first took their markets to larger populated areas, such as towns and large villages, which strategically guaranteed them quick business. Thus, their transmission signals were restricted to those places. Despite this, a large part of the population which lived in these towns and large villages were unemployed and did not have money to purchase mobile phones and related services. Consequently, many people considered the expense of acquiring a mobile phone device and mobile telephony services costly, whereas fixed landline telephones provided by the BTC were comparatively cheaper. Also, potential subscribers were reluctant to adopt mobile phones because fixed landline telephoneservices and public pay phones, which were installed by the BTC in various public places across the country such as in shopping centers, public clinics, and hospitals, were a guaranteed alternative.

Consequently, the Botswana Government took it upon itself to facilitate the installation of network technologies, while the local network operators focused on increasing access to mobile telephony products and services and extending signal coverage to many underserved communities. For instance, in 2006 the then Minister of Communications, Science and Technology (MCST)1 liberalized the mobile telephony market by introducing new developments such as allowing the self-provision of transmission equipment by network operators, permitting local network operators to find their own international gateways, and also providing value-added services. Indeed, these developments by the Minister of MCST favored the network operators as they started to expand their businesses and offer more mobile telephony services to their subscribers, including wireless and mobile Internet and international roaming. Through their international gateway licenses, the local network operators managed to establish interconnection agreements with other international mobile network operators, and this simplified the transmission of international calls made within the interconnected mobile networks. Additionally, by building their own transmission networks, both Mascom and Orange were able to extend their transmission signals to many other places in Botswana and consequently gained more subscribers from those places. Moreover, once the local network operators started to provide mobile Internet and more opportunities for mobile phone use, mobile phone subscription increased further. The licensing of BTC beMobile, the third mobile network operator in Botswana in 2008, also boosted the uptake of mobile phones and related services, since the three mobile operators (Mascom, Orange and BTC beMobile) competed for subscribers.

These advances were also facilitated through the Maitlamo 2 policy of 2007. Among others, the policy recommended that citizens in remote, rural, and urban communities be provided with affordable access to computers and the Internet. Referring to the government’s efforts in this regard the former Minister of Ministry of Transport and Communications through which telecommunications and postal services falls under, noted:

Despite facing budgetary constraints, our government has committed itself to ensuring that by 20163 [fifty years after Botswana’s independence in 1966], the whole population of Botswana is widely connected. We want to provide telecommunications [including mobile communication] in all towns, large and small villages countrywide so that by the target year no one would be left out.

(Hon. Nonojlto Molejhi, interview)

As evidence to the viewpoint suggested by the MTC Minister, the Botswana Government engaged with the local network operators to make continuous efforts to install transmission infrastructure in many parts of Botswana, with plans to advance transmission signals countrywide, thus, also promoting the adoption of mobile phones in those places.

Undoubtedly, the efforts of the Botswana Government and mobile operators to facilitate the diffusion of mobile telephony countrywide produced significant results. As indicated in the 2012 annual report of the Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA),4 the total number of mobile phone subscribers across Botswana’s network operators increased dramatically from 332,264 in March 2002 to 2,953,116 by March 2012 in a population of around 2.1 million (Botswana Telecommunications Authority 2012). Also, by March 2012, the market share among the three operators stood at 54 percent for Mascom, 35 percent for Orange, and 11 percent for BTC beMobile (Botswana Telecommunications Authority 2012). The high number of subscribers for Mascom is a result of its demonstrated higher level of commitment through the Nteletsa project to extending its transmission networks to many large and some small villages across Botswana in comparison to Orange and BTC beMobile. Moreover, the low number of subscribers for BTC beMobile has been caused by it being the latest entrant into the Botswana mobile telephony market.

The public's access to mobile phone enabled services

As researchers have pointed out, ICTs are useful to promote economies, deliver public services, and enhance development at community, national, or international levels (Manohar 2005; Srinuan, Srinuan, and Bohlin 2012; Loo and Ngan 2012). However, Kaba et al. (2009) decry failures by many developing countries to efficiently utilize new technologies. In the case of Botswana, the mobile telephone service providers (Mascom, Orange, and BTC beMobile) endeavor to extend transmission signals to many parts of the country. They also sell mobile phone handsets and provide opportunities for mobile phone enabled services that users could take advantage of to maximize the functionality of mobile phones in their lives.

Interestingly, upon realizing the potential of mobile phones to deliver social and public services, many government departments and private businesses in Botswana have introduced mobile phone enabled services, which are considerably useful to many mobile phone users countrywide. For instance, from time to time the Department of Road Transport and Safety (DRTS) under the MTC in Botswana sends text messages to owners of motor vehicles to remind them about the expiry dates of their vehicle licensing and the need to re-register their cars annually before the due dates. Likewise, the Department of National Disaster Management under the Office of the President in Botswana often sends text messages to mobile phone users in Botswana warning them about expected weather disasters such as heavy rains and possible floods during the rainy seasons. Similarly, doctors in private clinics and hospitals connect with their patients through the use of mobile phones, and from time to time they send them text messages about their next visits and appointments. In addition, the Ministry of Tertiary' Education, Research, Science, and Technology (MTRST) has also embarked on sending text messages to secondary' school students in Botswana informing them about examination results and sponsorship opportunities for tertiary' education. Also, the universities and colleges in Botswana sometimes send text messages to young people informing them about admission and registration issues. As the participants in the study concurred, the need to access these services continues to be a significant motivation for adopting mobile phone devices, particularly for those who did not already own such a device.

Moreover, the local commercial banks in Botswana, such as Barclays Bank Botswana, First National Bank Botswana (FNBB), Standard Chartered, Capital Bank, Bank of Baroda, and the Botswana Building Society (BBS) have also taken advantage of mobile telephony and strategically introduced online and mobile banking services. Through mobile banking services, mobile phone users who have bank accounts in local banks can transfer money in and out of their accounts on their mobile phones without having to go to the bank. FNBB has also introduced E-wallet5 services to assist mobile phone subscribers who do not have bank accounts, thus, prompting many young people who want to use this service to adopt mobile phone devices. The local mobile network operators have also introduced mobile money services that are possible through the use of mobile phones. These include Mascom MyZaka and Orange Money.' In view of this, a representative from one of the local network operators mentioned, “With mobile phones, there is so much that subscribers can do. Mobile money and online banking are some of those services provided by Mascom which demonstrate the convenience of owning a mobile phone.”

In addition to adopting mobile phones to undertake mobile enabled services, young people have also bought for themselves smartphone devices that afford them opportunities for accessing the Internet and undertaking online social networking with their family, relatives, and friends in Botswana and in the Diaspora. The most popular social networks include Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Messenger, and Linkedln, most of which are accessible on smartphones.

Through the availability of mobile enabled services, many mobile phone users in Botswana are provided with information and access to social and economic services. In addition, ownership of mobile phones and the use of mobile devices continue to increase nationwide among youth and adults. Perhaps, this is due to the ubiquity of mobile phones and devices and their user friendliness. As is the case in Botswana, the introduction of mobile enabled services makes it possible for citizens, who do not have other means of communication such as the internet and expensive landline calls, to access these services. Thus, whereas diffusion of mobile phones boosts national wide coverage of network signals and uptake of mobile devices, the introduction of mobile enabled services has been a significant incentive that has yielded an increase in the use of mobile phone among citizens of Botswana.

Mobile phone applications to enhance social lives

Generally, the accessibility of mobile phones has helped transform the lives of the people in Botswana in three distinct ways. First, and as stated above, there is certainty that with mobile phones users have access to advanced mobile communication through voice calls, SMS, emails, and social networks such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and Skype. Young people interviewed in this study concurred that mobile phones afford them opportunities to link up with their parents through text messages and calls to relate issues that are difficult to discuss face-to-face. This is widely common in situations that require young adults in Botswana to discuss matters of manhood and womanhood with their adult relatives, such as sexual relationships, parenting, and marriage. For other young people, especially students who left their family and friends in their home villages to either take up employment or attend colleges and universities in towns and major villages in Botswana, the mobile phone serves as a communication link between them.

Second, due to their multimodal features, mobile phones provide many people in Botswana access to mobile services such as mobile money, mobile news, and FM radio. For example, many participants interviewed in this study confirmed that they had registered for mobile banking with the local commercial banks. As these participants explained, since they carry their mobile phones with them all the time, they can easily undertake their monetary transactions without having to go to the bank. As a result, many people in Botswana have bank accounts with the local commercial banks such as First National, Botswana Building Society, Barclays, Standard, and Stanbic Banks, even though they spend much of their livelihoods in rural areas where banking facilities are not available. In addition, others who dwell in towns and large villages but often travel to the countryside or settlements where there are no banks during weekends and school vacations can also use their mobile phones to make financial transactions. Advantageously for mobile phone users in Botswana, mobile banking does not require the use of the Internet, suggesting that everyone in Botswana who has all of the following can register for and use such a service: a bank account at any of the local commercial banks, a basic mobile phone handset, and a subscription to any of the local networks. Other participants in the study pointed out that they use their mobile phones to access news headlines and blurbs through services such as Mascom MyNeivs7 on a weekly basis. Moreover, young people who use FM-ready mobile phone handsets are able to access radio broadcasts from local radio stations while in transit. Mobile phone users in Botswana also use FM radio features on their mobile phones to access music broadcasts from the local radio stations especially during the night and at times when they are bored (Lesitaokana 2013). In addition, the participants mentioned that they also access MP3 music and play it while on the go on their handsets.

Third, many locals have access to public services which were previously impossible to access without mobile phones. A number of participants in this study confirmed that they have benefited significantly from this development, citing that it has improved their lives. For instance, two adults praised the mobile phone for its ability to link them up with the Department of Road Transport and Safety (DRTS) annually with regard to renewal of their drivers’ licenses and car registration. Below are extracts from separate interviews I conducted with them during which I asked them to comment on the significance of the mobile phone to relay information about public services:

Since the DRTS introduced text-messaging services to their clients, I rest assured knowing that they will contact me when the due date for my car registration arrives. As far as I can remember, this has been going on over the past three years.

(Katlo, 48, male, Gaborone)

Just this year, DRTS contacted me through my mobile phone reminding me that I should go to their offices to renew my driver’s license.

(Gaone, female, 43, Francistoum)

In another related example, Tau, a 23-year-old who lives in the large village of Mochudi, about 40 kilometers from Gaborone, had this to say.

Last year, after I applied for a new passport, I received a text message from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship in Gaborone that it was ready for collection. Since I do not have a fixed telephone line, they had promised to contact me on my mobile, and so they did.

(Tau, 25, male, Gaborone)

For Katlo, Gaone, and Tau, the mobile phone provided an assuring link between them and government departments. Specifically for Katlo and Gaone, text messages from DRTS served as reminders that helped them to avoid penalties associated with non-renewal of drivers’ licenses and car registration. For Tau, the infonnation from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship was helpful for him since he did not have to be under any pressure to frequently travel long distances between his home village and Gaborone to find out if his passport application had been processed. Moreover, college and university students indicated that the mobile phone became significantly relevant during their search for college and university sponsorships with the Ministry ofEducation and Skills Development (MOESD). At that time, once they submitted their applications for sponsorships, including their mobile contact details, the mobile phone served as a convenient link between them and the ministry officials.

According to many of these young people, before they started attending colleges and university in Gaborone, they lived in their home villages far away from the places where they could access national services such as infonnation for college and university scholarships. Prior to adopting and using the mobile phone for communication, these youth would be required to travel long distances to visit offices where they were provided with services, and this was often expensive for some of them. Therefore, communication through the mobile phone, which often included text messages and calls about the decisions taken by the MOESD regarding sponsorship offers, was considerably convenient.

Further discussion and conclusion

This chapter provides the starting point to demonstrate how in Botswana, which in 2005 was categorized as an “information-poor” country, the government and local network operators have facilitated diffusion and access to mobile phones and mobile enabled services, thereby laying the foundation for increased access to mobile enabled services for its citizens. Local network operators continue to sell mobile phone products, extend mobile phone signals, and provide mobile enabled services throughout the country, and, as a result of this increased access to mobile telephony, citizens have adopted mobile phones. The Botswana government has also licensed privately owned network operators (Mascom and Orange) and BTC beMobile, which extended their services countrywide due to competition for subscribers. Furthermore, despite its status as a developing country, the Botswana Government through the MTC committed itself to establishing the necessary infrastructure in order to provide access to telecommunications services to many under-served communities in Botswana by 2016. Even though more empirical studies are yet to be undertaken to establish whether this has been achieved, indications are that significant milestones regarding this goal have been achieved. For instance, the significant increase in the number of subscribers reported by BOCKA, and evidences that almost every household has at least one member connected through a mobile phone. This endorses the viewpoints of Donner (2008) who proposed that it is the responsibility of governments in developing countries to promote the diffusion of mobile telephony.

Indeed, some of the accomplishments regarding the diffusion of mobile telephony in Botswana are analogous to those that have taken place in other developing countries, such as Vietnam (Hwang, Gho, and Viet Long 2009), El Salvador, and Jamaica (James 2012). Considering that Botswana, like the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa, is an information-poor country, what has been achieved by both the government and the local network operators so far has generated an impetus on the majority of citizens to adopt and use mobile phones. For those who did not have the devices, these services have encouraged ownership of mobile phones, so that they can avail themselves of these services. As for those who already own mobile phones, the availability of mobile enabled services in Botswana encourages them to continue adopting new mobile phone devices (smartphones) that function efficiently to perform these services. Significantly then, the Botswana situation is an example for other developing countries that if diffusion of mobile phones is adequately facilitated, access to mobile phones and mobile enabled services, citizens will undoubtedly adopt and use mobile phones in large numbers.

The chapter has also shown a nuanced demonstration of the uses of mobile phones by citizens of Botswana to improve their social lives, thus bridging the digital divide. As is the case with citizens in some developing countries such as Ghana (Sey 2011), South Africa (Kreutzer 2009), India (Biancini 2011; Watkins, Kitner, and Mehta 2012), and Pakistan (Ahmed and Qazi 2011), the challenges of poverty and the digital divide have led many people in Botswana to depend mainly on mobile phones to access mobile Internet and social services from their government. Indeed, because of the lack of technical resources and infrastructure to reach the people and provide them with services, both the government and private companies have sought mobile communication technologies as alternatives due to their wide penetration, ubiquity, and multi-modality. In this regard, the mobile device is convenient for local use because it allows access to information, online news, online public services, and online social networks. It is also a tool that helps to enhance students’ opportunities for learning and processing information services, such as mobile and online banking. Using the example of Botswana, it is clear that mobile telephony has the potential to economically transform the citizens in developing countries by providing them with opportunities for accessing government services and global information through the Internet and also promoting self-entrepreneurship. Clearly then, because the mobile phone is a low-cost device that is easily accessible, portable, and comes with multimedia features, such as the Internet and text-messaging services, it is well suited to bridge the digital divide in developing countries, such as Botswana.

This study has also revealed that mobile telephony has spread across Botswana. It is therefore worth noting that more in-depth research should be carried out far from urban areas, such as in rural areas and settlements in Botswana, to explore the extent to which citizens put the devices to use. Conceivably, such a study would consider how access to mobile phone and mobile phone services has helped to better the lives of citizens in those places.


  • 1 MCST used to be the Botswana Government ministry under which all telecommunications including mobile telephony falls. It was dissolved into two ministries in 2008, one being the Ministry of Transport and Communications (MTC); the other is the Ministry' of Infrastructure, Science and Technology' (MIST).
  • 2 Maitlamo translates to “Commitment."
  • 3 Vision 2016 was the long-term vision for Botswana. This marked 50 years since Botswana’s independence from Britain. It proposed that by' 2016 Botswana would be a prosperous, educated and informed nation.
  • 4 BOCRA is a quasi-govemmental corporation that regulates the communications sector, including mobile communication in Botswana.
  • 5 When FNBB customers send money to non-FNBB customers using e-wallet services, an SMS (short messaging services) code will be sent to the recipient’s mobile phone. The recipient will then use the SMS code as a PIN to withdraw money from any FNBB ATM.
  • 6 Mascom MyZaka is a mobile money service provided by’ Mascom networks and Orange Money is for Orange networks.
  • 7 MyNews is a mobile enabled service that allows complete access to several local online newspapers in Botswana. Mascom prepaid customers should first register and pay for this service for them to access these newspapers.


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