Fatoumata learns how to charge her mobile phone battery on her motorcycle in Segou, Mali.
Mali, like many African countries, has better mobile phone coverage than it does landline networks, and most people own a mobile phone. However, small villages have no electricity, leaving mobile phone owners to have to come up with ingenious makeshift ways to charge their phone batteries. Our Observer has an original solution.
"The problem in Mali is not lack of coverage, it's lack of electricity in homes"
Boukari Nonate is a blogger and French and Bambara teacher in Mali.
In Mali, everyone has a mobile phone. The two main network operators cover the whole of the territory. The fact that there are telephones in every village has profoundly changed people’s lives. Villagers sometimes had to go from village to village all day, covering up to 20 villages, to let friends and relatives know about a wedding, a birth or a death – that’s no longer necessary. Instead of paying half a litre of gas for 350 CFA francs [0.53 euros], people in the village chip in to share the 200 francs [0.30] to buy phone minutes. It’s cheaper, and that way people can communicate with relatives as well as those in surrounding towns and villages. Grandparents no longer have to worry because they don’t hear from their youngest grandchild gone to work or study in France or in Ivory Coast.
Also, the spread of mobile phones in Mali has been an enormous time-saver for farmers. Shepherds are careful to check what fields they can bring their animals to, to make sure they’re not eating somebody else’s crop. After the harvest, no need to bring your crop to every market to see where you’ll get the best price for it – a telephone call will do.
The problem in Mali is not the lack of coverage; it’s the lack of electricity in homes. Generators in villages are extremely rare. There are some solar panels but they are not enough to meet everybody’s needs. So many Malians have no way of recharging their phone battery.
So we have come up with an original solution. Since virtually every Malian family owns a scooter or motorcycle to get around, it makes sense for them to use their scooter battery to charge our phones. I’ve been going from village to village to show a simple way to plug their mobile phones into “Jakarta”, the most common model of motorcycle in the country. All you have to is connect your phone to the charger, as if you were plugging it into an electric socket. Then you use crocodile clips to connect the plug to the “plus” and “minus” of the battery located under the motorcycle seat. The phone charges much faster than with a solar panel. But be careful not to start the motorcycle while the phone is plugged in or the battery will explode!”
Photos courtesy of Boukari Konate.