Atlantic: How cellphone minutes map wealth in Ivory Coast

There’s good reason to believe in a connection between airtime purchases and wealth. Mobile service providers throughout Africa allow their customers to transfer minutes between one another. In Côte d’Ivoire, such transfers are especially easy. The result is that airtime is used as currency in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Egypt, and other countries. Airtime goes beyond being a proxy for wealth. In a sense, it is wealth.

The Atlantic reports that, in Ivory Coast, the use of cell phones can be used as a proxy to map wealth:

There’s good reason to believe in a connection between airtime purchases and wealth. Mobile service providers throughout Africa allow their customers to transfer minutes between one another. In Côte d’Ivoire, such transfers are especially easy. The result is that airtime is used as currency in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Egypt, and other countries. Airtime goes beyond being a proxy for wealth. In a sense, it is wealth.

Here’s a link to the study done by some Belgian researchers and, below, a map of their findings.

cellphones Ivory CoastIt’s kinda cool, but perhaps also not too surprising. The map basically shows more cellphone use in urban areas and on main roads used for commerce. I wonder if this map would look the same if all you did was chart the amount of people or road traffic.

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Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.