The text message was short and to the point: “My name is Mohammed Sokor, writing to you from Dagahaley refugee camp in Dadaab. Dear Sir, there is an alarming issue here. People are given too few kilogrammes of food. You must help.”
The arrival of that text made two worlds collide. The sender was a refugee in a drought-plagued camp in Kenya. The recipient was sitting in the London office of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), in the comfort of the industrialised world where hunger and poverty are a distant problem.
In terms of sheer initiative, Mohammed’s direct appeal has to be a first. Using nothing more extravagant than a mobile phone he showed that the gulf between the “haves” and the “have-nots” is much smaller than many of us would imagine. He shattered the stereotypical image of the faceless anonymous victim of yet another African disaster and gave a voice and a name to the tragedy unfolding in the Horn of Africa.
This part of the article makes me wonder about the use of those $100 laptops that are being developed for the developing world. Mobile phones are an easier, more useful device than a laptop will ever be in countries with a poorly developed infrastructure.
It may seem strange that someone so short of food can afford a mobile phone but one of the great ironies of modern Africa is that mobile phones are necessities, not luxuries. They are often cheap and used far more widely than most would imagine. For traders they are the primary tool of commerce, and for the many millions – like Mohammed – who make up the African diaspora, they are the thread that binds scattered communities together.