Despite all of the news today in the industry, I'm writing a blog for the weekend. This is my summer vacation turned market research thanks to Timothy Kontire Maloi at the Ilkeliani Tented Camp and his friend Ole Tome. If you are ever in East Africa, you should look them up. They live near the main gate of the Masai Mara in western Kenya. Timothy manages the camp, and Ole is building his own nearby. They are amazing hosts.

I took an unlocked GSM phone with me on vacation. I planned to use it in Europe on my way home from Africa. In Africa, I planned to use the integrated MP3 player during long road trips across the country on our quest to find lions and leopards. When there is limited access to electricity, one truly appreciates having a single, integrated device with one charger. There was only one electrical outlet
available to guests at the Ilkeliani Camp. We all had to share.

Things in Africa have changed since my last visit. When I was there 10 years ago, the Masai were not speaking English or interacting with tourists. They were herding/minding goats and cows, drinking the blood from cows, and hunting male lions – no one messes with the females – to prove themselves as warriors. There were – and still are – living in stick (or dung) huts with no electricity or running water. They wore (and still do) red cloths (blankets to us) along with sandals and beautiful beaded jewelry.

Now, they have added Nokia cell phones to the mix. After their herds, the cell phone may be the most expensive thing that they own. They all had Nokia candybar-style, black-and-white text screen phones.

Everyone had the same model. They were using voice and SMS services.

In a place where a pair of shoes and a $10 Timex are a luxury, people are spending money for cell phones.

Masai Warriors at Ikelani Using Cell Phones

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"Kennedy" on his Cell Phone

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Phone Carried on Belt with Knife

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Timothy told me that the Masai spend, on average, 4 Kenyan Shillings per day. Timothy uses the phone to run the camp and has a bill closer to US $100 each month. He said the cost per minute is about 30 shillings, but they tally by the second – not the minute.

A SIM card costs about one US dollar. I hadn't considered buying a SIM card or using my cell phone while in Africa. It just never occurred to me – and, in fact, I was looking forward to being "offline" for a few weeks. I was listening to music on my Sony Walkman 810 when I bumped into Timothy who wanted to check it out. He sent one of his "warriors" to this shop to get me a couple of SIM cards – one from Celtel and the other from Safari (Vodafone) along with some scratch cards.

Shop Where We Purchased the SIM Card and Scratch Card
(That's our guide/driver on his cell phone)

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Advertisement for the Scratch Card

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I saw only one cell tower in the town. With no buildings and so fewer users, it made sense. Reception was very clear. Timothy recommended Celtel for the park, but Safari for the airport (grass strip 20 km away).

As we drove around the country, we saw quite a few advertisements for the service. Interesting, the ads actually are practical in that they are paint for buildings. Reminds me of barns in Iowa with ads for tobacco.

CelTel Ad

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Closed Scratch Card Shop

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Safari Ad (painted building)

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They don't yet have ring tones, games, video, etc. on their cell phones. Timothy does have Internet access for his computer though at dial-up speeds. A lot of people talk about the fact that access to the Internet may be through a cell phone for much of the world's population. It's easy to imagine here where people own cell phones, but live in mud huts with no electricity. Charging is an issue. I've heard stories of car batteries being used. Other than the price of a single, here is a market where one can imagine music being purchased over-the-air. They have no retail outlets for music – just basic supplies (groceries and beads), butchers, and mechanics. There is a lot of Coca Cola and Fanta being sold as well.

As it turned out, it was a lot of fun and helpful to have a cell phone. Timothy called us to check in to see how we were doing. On our last game drive, he called to let us know we could spend an extra two hours looking for a cheetah because our flight was delayed. In Tanzania, we called home. Somehow, we spent 20 minutes calling our friends and family from the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro on a $5 scratch card. And, I could call my friends in Europe to let them know we were going to miss our connecting flight because an aborted takeoff by Air India was blocking the runway. There are lots of good reasons to have a cell phone when you are traveling.

An unrelated note, this is what is cool in Africa besides cell phones.

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