As part of a UN programme for tackling poverty in rural Africa, 79 villages across 10 African countries will be hooked up to cellular networks. Around half a million people, described by the UN as “the poorest of the poor”, are expected to make mobile calls soon. The connections will help improve healthcare and education, as well as boost the local economy. A study conducted in 2005 study show that an increase of 10 mobile phones per 100 people could increase GDP growth by 0.6%. Connectivity helps in empowerment of the rural poor. The plan to extend the mobile network to people that would not normally be considered a priority for mobile phone firms is part of the UN Millennium Villages programme. The present initiative, a collaboration between the Earth Institute at New York’s Columbia University and the UN, started in 2004. The first Millennium Village was started in Sauri, Kenya, and there are now 79 in countries including Mali, Uganda, Senegal and Ethiopia. The Millennium Villages are “located in hunger ‘hotspots’ where chronic hunger is widespread, often accompanied by a high prence of disease, lack of access to medical care, and a severe lack of infrastructure. Building the mobile infrastructure would lead to improvements to healthcare, such as an emergency phone number. Ken Banks of Kiwanja.net, an organisation that helps promote innovative uses for mobiles in developing countries, believes that the arrival of mobiles would also spur new businesses. Ericsson will install a 2G network, able to handle voice calls as well as data downloads of around 200 kilobits per second (kbps).
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