Friday, September 28, 2007

Flashing as an "African" Invention

Another "how to write about africa" piece:

Africa invented AIDS. Now, Africa has invented another Condition - a social one this time, not a biological one. It's called "flashing!" While the rest of the non-Western world is consolidating on their hi-tech innovations: (Korea: KIA; China: Chery Motors; Iran: Nuclear Weapons; India: IT Outsourcing, etc), Africa is inventing ingenious ways to manage (without attempting to solve the underlying problem) its POVERTY.

Welcome to Flashing.

Initially the Reuters article (below) was going to get me pissed off. How dare anyone say that such a no-brainer as "flashing/beeping" sprang up only in the poverty-stricken mental ghetto that is the typical african mind.

But when I remember an encounter with BE (British-Nigerian novelist, poet and creative writing teacher) last year at the lobby of Sofitel (Ikoyi), I have no choice than to smile, even if ruefully, and dispose of my irritations.

BE came in to Nigeria for a reading tour organised by the British Council. She was given a mobile phone by the BC to use while in Naija. The phone apparently contained an old sim card, one that must have been in use by someone before it was given to BE.

So, it would happen that every now and then someone (a friend/acquantaince/creditor/lover/stalker/etc of one or more of the previous owner(s) of the SIM) would "flash" the line. BE had apparently been "picking" (more like trying to pick) the call. Poor BE. There she would be, chanting "hello" endlessly like a one-dollar CD on a skipping-scratching binge, perhaps even long after the "flasher" had forgotten about the flashing. Poor BE.

So, finally, one evening, as we sat at the lobby of her hotel, another flasher flashed. BE picked, and helloed. Silence. She gave voice to her exasperation.

I realised that she had been getting herself worked up over mere flashing. I explained (more like tried to explain) to her what flashing meant. It's a way of staying in touch. An e-card that says:

Thinking of you.
I'm around (I'am downstairs; I'am at your gate; I'm nearby)
Where's my money
Hope you haven't forgotten what I told you
I'm bored
Call me now
blah blah blah

BE didn't get "it".
Why would anyone flash instead of simply making a genuine call?
It's called African Culture (and includes other phenomena like African Time/Nigerian Time)
I didn't get why BE wasn't getting it.
Flashing is normal, abi?

Now I know why.

Scientists/sociologists have finally recognised it as an African Disorder. Like sickle cell that afflicts only the black race, Flashing as a habit is imprinted only upon African DNA.

So, we can't get angry at the Yahoo News article, can we?

They're not lying about us...

Read the Article:

Phone credit low? Africans go for "beeping"
KHARTOUM (Reuters) -

If you are in Sudan it is a 'missed call'. In Ethiopia it is a 'miskin' or a 'pitiful' call. In other parts of Africa it is a case of 'flashing', 'beeping' or in French-speaking areas 'bipage'.

Wherever you are, it is one of the fastest-growing phenomena in the continent's booming mobile telephone markets -- and it's a headache for mobile operators who are trying to figure out how to make some money out of it.

You beep someone when you call them up on their mobile phone -- setting its display screen briefly flashing -- then hang up half a second later, before they have had a chance to answer. Your friend -- you hope -- sees your name and number on their list of 'Missed Calls' and calls you back at his or her expense.

It is a tactic born out of ingenuity and necessity, say analysts who have tracked an explosion in miskin calls by cash-strapped cellphone users from Cape Town to Cairo.

"Its roots are as a strategy to save money," said Jonathan Donner, an India-based researcher for Microsoft who is due to publish a paper on "The Rules of Beeping" in the high-brow online Journal of Computer Mediated Communication in October.

Donner first came across beeping in Rwanda, then tracked it across the continent and beyond, to south and southeast Asia. Studies quoted in his paper estimate between 20 to more than 30 percent of the calls made in Africa are just split-second flashes -- empty appeals across the cellular network.

The beeping boom is being driven by a sharp rise in mobile phone use across the continent.

Africa had an estimated 192.5 million mobile phone users in 2006, up from just 25.3 million in 2001, according to figures from the U.N.'s International Telecommunication Union. Customers may have enough money for the one-off purchase of a handset, but very little ready cash to spend on phone cards for the prepaid accounts that dominate the market.

Africa's mobile phone companies say the practice has become so widespread they have had to step in to prevent their circuits being swamped by second-long calls.

"We have about 355 million calls across the whole network every day," said Faisal Ijaz Khan, chief marketing officer for the Sudanese arm of Kuwaiti mobile phone operator Zain (formerly MTC). "And then there are another 130 million missed calls every day. There are a lot of missed calls in Africa."


Zain is responding to the demand by drawing up plans for a "Call-me-back" service in Sudan, letting customers send open requests in the form of a very basic signal to friends for a phone call.

The main advantage for the company is that the requests will be diverted from the main network and pushed through using a much cheaper technology (USSD or Unstructured Supplementary Service Data).

A handful of similar schemes are springing up across Africa, says Informa principal analyst Devine Kofiloto. "It is widespread. It is a concern for operators in African countries, whose networks become congested depending on the time of day with calls they cannot bill for.

"They try to discourage the practice by introducing services where customers can send a limited number of 'call-back' request either free of charge or for a minimum fee."

There are plenty of other reasons why mobile operators are keen to cut down on the practice. One is it annoys customers, pestered by repeated missed calls.

A second is that 'flashes' eat into one of mobile phone companies' favorite performance indicators -- ARPU or average revenue per user. Miscalls earn very little in themselves - and don't always persuade the target to ring back.

Orange Senegal, Kofiloto said, lets customers send a 'Rappelle moi' ('Call me back') when their phone credit drops below $0.10. With Safaricom Kenya, it is a "Flashback 130" (limited to five a day -- and with the admonishment 'Stop Flashing! Ask Nicely'). Vodacom DR Congo's 'Rappelez moi SVP' service costs $0.01 a message.

Read the rest of the article here


aloted said...

hehehehehe..I think its funny that ur friend BE didnt get it..wats not to get? LOL
Flashing can be annoying sometimes though...

femme said...

i read this article a while ago and ended up feeling the same way.
flashing may have been born out of neccesity but many people who can affored to call , flash.
like you say i dont get why they dont get it.
its like we are speaking another language.
there are rules to flashing and not everyone is to be flashed. when friends flash, there is complete communication beyond the scope of 'outsiders'.
but i see how strange it is too.

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