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Cellphones and Freedom in Freetown

June 24, 2010

Notice the africell adverts painted all over the buildings

By Joy Bailey.

At the end of the 20th century, air conditioning was named as the number one invention that changed the world. For sure, as I melted in the markets of Bo,  I wish that were true. But I would argue that the most important invention, at least the one that has brought about the most revolutionary change in the 21st century is the cell phone. In Freetown, most of the population doesn’t have electricity or running water, let alone something so luxurious as air conditioning. But everyone, from the smallest primary school student to the most elderly has intimate knowledge of Africell, Vodaphone, and MTN– they “Top Up” at stands and for 2,000 Leones ($.75) you’ve got 100 units of talk/ operation time.

No matter where you live or your monthly salary,  cell phones enable their users to stay connected to each other, to share information– to me this is freedom.And it’s not just Sierra Leone(Salone), cell phones have virtually eliminated the digital divide. People that would never think of purchasing a computer for their home in the US, have 3-4 smartphones in a household and have access to the world (wide web).

As someone that has been disconnected for the past week—T-mobile is no Africell—I know a bit about the importance of staying connected. I’ve been fortunate enough on this trip to understand the importance of the things that connect us to one another. For me these would be:

  • Education—through gaining and spreading knowledge, we’re able to travel far and wide—even if it’s just in our minds.
  • Sports—I am NOT a big sports fan but this World Cup has led me to celebrate and wallow with people of all walks of life. I where my Africa United football jersey proudly.
  • History—We are all from Africa, all we have to do now is trace our line back here. I went to Sierra Leone because I had friends that gave me a place to stay for free. Now I’m here, I find out that most African Americans from Georgia (ME!!) and South Carolina came from Salone—people were taken from rice fields here and sent to rice plantations on the Sea Islands and in the Carolinas.

All of these things help us to form communities  and create our own culture. These are our families—blood or not. It’s the family you make wherever you are.

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Joy Bailey-Bryant

About The Author

Joy Bailey-Bryant is Managing Director, US at Lord Cultural Resources.

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