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Cellphones on the Serengeti Add to ...

A travel-related column called Yoder & Sons is a first-hand account of the adventures of a Wall Street Journal reporter and his teenaged son as they set off on a six-month journey to trace the history of civilization. One instalment I discovered on MarketWatch seems a bit tone-deaf but is nonetheless a fascinating insight into Africa's development: Our travellers bemoan the ubiquity of wireless communication.

Of course, they see things through the eyes of tourists, and cellphones and other wireless devices intrude upon their enjoyment of the wilder aspects of Africa. So they impose a ban on their use, except in cases of trip-planning or emails home. Fair enough - but what's missing here is the fact that the spread of wireless communication in Africa is seen as a boon for the continent's development, for doctors, business people and farmers.

The authors fail to marvel at this aspect, but their observations nonetheless say a lot about how far Africa has come, and likely where it is headed. As I noted in an earlier article, some investors see Africa as the next big development story - sort of a China and India in the making.

Our travellers say: "We were camped in the middle of the Serengeti after a day of seeing antelopes right and left, lions lazily gnawing on a zebra carcass, elephants devouring thorn bushes, a rhino in the bushes and monkeys chattering at us from their trees - and he seemed to still have good cell reception.

"Next day, as the sun set over our campsite on the rim of Ngorongoro crater, it was the same story - good reception. Somehow, we get cell reception in the middle of nowhere in Africa that's as good as, or better, than we do at our house in urban California."

They sound a little disappointed. But they shouldn't be.

Follow on Twitter: @dberman_ROB


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