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Tuesday, 23 January, 2001, 20:05 GMT
Uganda's 'beeping' nuisance
Mobile phone ringing
Not such sweet music for cost-conscious phone users
By Anna Borzello in Kampala

Uganda's mobile phone revolution began in the mid-90s with Celtel - which provided an elite service used mainly by politicians and rich businessmen.

All that changed when the South African firm - MTN - came on the market.

Mobile phones were suddenly affordable and available - and there are now more than 150,000 users in Uganda.

Unfortunately, this phone explosion has created a social nusiance: The Beeper.

When someone dials a mobile phone, their number flashes up on the recipient's screen. Beeping exploits this situation.

No avoiding curiosity

The phone rings. You rush to answer it. The phone goes dead. Seeing the number, and wondering who called. You ring back at your own expense. The beeper himself is not charged a penny for his initial call.

Mobile phone
People can not resist making the call
Beeping only works because people are naturally curious. As one taxi driver put it: "What if it's a customer - or the woman of my dreams?"

Occasionally the caller is a poorer friend or relative with access to a phone, but no money to make a call. No one objects to them.

Irritating requests

More often than not, however, beepers are someone you do not particularly want to speak to, asking for something you do not particularly want to give them.

This is normally cash.

Men also complain that girlfriends are another nuisance, beeping their lovers to say nothing but hello - all paid for by the men's valuable telephone units.

It looks, however, as if a backlash might be in the offing. Eric Van Veen, general manager for MTN's sales and marketing told me beeping had become socially unacceptable over the past few months.

Increasingly, the beeped are not bothering to call back, working on the assumption that if the call was that important the person making it would be willing to pay.

MTN subscribers also beep in South Africa, Swaziland and Rwanda - with Cameroonians particularly big time offenders.

Uganda, however, remains the champion - a fact that may sadly say more about the poverty of most Ugandans - than the state of their manners.

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See also:

04 Sep 00 | Africa
Mobile phone frenzy hits Cameroon
17 Jan 01 | Business
Nigeria kicks off telecoms auction
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