Telecommunications companies in Kenya are extremely profitable. Just the other day Safaricom announced record profits for the past year, making it the most profitable company in all of East AND Central Africa. As astonishing as the announcement is, I’m not surprised (I come from the United States, where many corporations are among the largest “economies” in the world). The part that really gets me is the ridiculous marketing slogans these companies choose to brainwash the masses into buying their crap. While Safaricom is the “big man on campus,” Celtel is also very popular in Kenya (and equally ridiculous).
Celtel: “Making Life Better”
How a mobile phone company makes life better for anyone other than a few corporate big wigs, I don’t know. And don’t say, “communication,” because, in a country where 50 percent of the population is under the poverty line, I think Kenyans actually need things like nutritious food, clean water, and a safe place to sleep. Maybe my life is better because I can communicate with my family and friends in the United States, but I already have my basic needs met. The last time I looked at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs I didn’t see a cell phone anywhere on there. Even if I concede that communication is important to human beings, it’s not like Celtel is giving phones and service away for free…
Safaricom: “The Better Option”
Ironically, Safaricom is actually no ‘better’ than Celtel (unless you’re looking at profits). As the companies compete Safaricom’s prices have been dropping, and it is now possible to buy 20 shillings worth of Safaricom credit, or “airtime,” for your phone (the previous minimum was 50). Congratulations, Safaricom! You have now found a way to turn Nairobi’s VAST slums into a source of income for your empire. Forty percent of working-age Kenyans unemployed, yet now, even someone living in the equivalent of a cardboard box in Kibera (the second-largest slum in Africa) can afford to chat mindlessly on the phone… but where will the money for their family’s food, water, rent, school fees, medicine, etc come from?
I guess the companies are just learning from their role models in the West where there is no room for serious consideration of environmental or social welfare issues. Still, I don’t know which is worse: the fact that these companies use dishonest tactics, or that people actually fall for these schemes. For better or worse, Kenyans are hooked. Safaricom’s announcement also mentioned that their subscriber base increased to 10.2 million in 2007; that’s one third of Kenya’s population. Combined with Celtel and a few other smaller providers there must be around 15 million subscribers.
The joke’s on you, so keep on talking, Kenyans! The telecommunications companies are laughing… all the way to the bank!