I have written before that mobile phones are the first technology to be more quickly adopted in the developing world than in the places we usually associate with technology. There are lots of reasons for that, including that owning and operating one is not expensive and saves a person time and money. But that is not my story.

Dayle and I each have a phone here in Ghana with a network called MTN. We have a prepaid account, do not pay for incoming calls, and probably spend about $10 each per month on the phone, often less. Each mobile network has its own color and they each paint houses and buildings along the road in their color as advertisement.

Buidings painted in the colors of mobile phone networks

Buidings painted in the colors of mobile phone networks

To make a little money on the side, MTN sells custom ringtones. So, when I am making a call, instead of hearing a dialing tone (which would be wasted time, right?) I hear an advertisement for a ringtone with the option to push a certain key to download it for a small fee. Free enterprise at work, no story there. It is the ringtones themselves that caught my attention, even though have I not purchased one. The most frequent offerings are recorded songs by Ghanaian Gospel artists. They have a clear Christian message. So, while waiting for my call to connect, I am often treated to a few lines of song like

  • These are the days of Elijah, or
  • I pledge allegiance to the Lamb

And now you know what kind of songs and message MTN thinks its Ghanaian customers want. I’ll bet that they are right.

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Cell phones and colors

On Saturday the 12th while in Ghana, I traveled from Accra to Tamale by road.  In keeping with the rainy season, the sky was laden with low-hanging grey clouds that pressed their gloom down on us.  To keep us from falling into depression, we were treated to a visual shock treatment in the form of the colors of the cell phone companies.

As advertisement, each cell company offers to paint your house or business in its color for free, provided you let it add its logo.  MTN’s color is yellow. Vodacom’s is red.  Tigo’s is blue and Zain’s are purple and green.

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It seemed that every other building beside the road was painted Vodacom’s neurotransmitter red or MTN’s smiley yellow with a few of Zain’s mood-enhancing greens or purples for variety.  It seems that Tigo’ s painting program is a lot less active.  Perhaps it is just as well.  We did not need more “blue”.

Sometimes the Vodacom, MTN and Zain colors would be right next to each (see one of the photos on the right)  as if we needed to be on two or three anti-depressants at once.  In one rural village, the yellow and red buildings were contrastively interspersed between the earth browns of traditional mud-walled houses.

As an adjunct treatment, taxis are required to have each of their four fenders painted a deep yellow.  There were quite a few taxis in most towns; often awaiting clients in front of a building painted in cheery MTN yellow or wake-up Vodacom red.

In Congo the same thing is happening to the point that it seems that there is a race on to see which company can paint more of the buildings in town its colors.

In addition, cell phone towers are everywhere.  So many that the Ghana government suspended cell phone tower construction temporarily while it studied the matter.  In one place one tower rose out of a little papaya orchard, like a misplaced tree of the wrong species.

The dreary day was dealt a deadly blow.  I arrived in Tamale in great spirits.  My apologies to the makers of Prozac.

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