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Really inspiring. Also absolutely essential material for anyone trying to communicate the reality of mobile phone culture in Africa today. (Sian Townsend, Google)

Great editing, combined with priceless on-the-ground footage and perspective, gives a wonderful flavor of some of the entrepreneurial activity spurred on by the arrival of mobile technology. (Ken Banks on

Excellent, excellent documentary. I felt like I was there. This really got me thinking and reflecting - loved the tone, pace and honesty of the production. (Dave Duarte)

Very impressive stuff. (Eric Hersman on


SCREENINGS (not complete)

June 19th, 20th and 26th, 2010: OKTO - Vienna’s public participatory television station.

March 27, 2010: NOW festival, Barcelona, Spain.

November 06, 2009: Capellagården, Vickleby, Sweden.

October 22-24,2009: May You Live in Interesting Times festival in Cardiff, Wales.

August 14-16, 2009: Maker Faire Africa in Accra, Ghana.

July 05, 2009: Zanzibar International Film Festival ZIFF, Stone Town, Tanzania / Zanzibar.

May 8, 2009, 7:30pm: Premiere Screening and Release Party! at the Schikaneder Kino, Vienna Austria.

April 25, 2009: Preview Screening Africa Gathering, London, UK.


Hello Africa is the title of a documentary that illustrates cellphone culture in Africa. It shows images of contemporary Africa with focus on people's lifestyles, popular culture, habits, activities and opinions in the context of mobile technology usage. The movie portraits individuals from all society: teachers, athletes, vendors, watchmen, musicians and many more. They all have in common that they are connected and have unique stories to tell. Contrasts, strong visuals and a cool soundtrack presents this theme and, in a broader sense, aims to raise the awareness of the ICT4D movement.


Hello Africa



Hello Africa Trailer


Just in the past recent years, mobile phone subscriptions have increased in Africa faster than in any other region on earth.

Wherever you travel in Africa you are visually bombarded with commercials from the main telecom operators. Even in the most remote rural areas and places you’ll see the characteristic 'top-up' poster offering you to refill your cellphone with 'airtime' (credits). Houses of shopkeepers are painted in the phone companies colours. Cell towers are erected everywhere providing excellent connection. Virtually everybody you meet owns a phone, plan to get one soon or share it with others. Thanks to affordable prices for handsets and prepaid SIM-cards, almost everybody has reliable access to mobile technology. People can get a message through to friends, relatives, employers and others without travelling long distances.

A range of small businesses has evolved around the mobile industry. Ingenuity and knack for innovation has led to a new line of mobile services that are yet to emerge in more developed countries. One example is a simple monetary transfer service that makes it possible to send money or airtime credits with a normal SMS.

The mobile boom is changing habits, cultural values and social patterns.

The changes are continental in its scope, and it's going fast. We chose to film in one country that could be a representative: Zanzibar, a set of islands in the Indian Ocean - part of Tanzania in East Africa. Zanzibar is considered to be one of the most peaceful, cosmopolitan and atmospheric places in Africa. The official language spoken in Zanzibar and Tanzania is Swahili. This is also widely spoken and recognized in Kenya, Moçambique, Uganda, the Comores Islands and parts of Somalia.


Before leaving Austria we studied reports and papers from various sources describing the situation today: African Mobile Factbook 2008, ICT reports from Ken Banks, the video reports of Ruud Elmendorp, a book and papers form Gary Marsden, and the great blogposts of sociologist Jan Chipchase. These were all great inspirations for us.

One week before we arrived in Zanzibar we attended the MobileActive08 conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, in October 2008. It was an international conference focusing on ICT issues and the use of mobile applications in the developing world. The theme for the conference was ”Unlocking the Potential of Mobile Technology for Social Impact”. The conference drew a big crowd from all corners of the world. We attended seminars during three days, which gave us valuable input we could use later when planning the film.

During the event we took the opportunity to interview some of the key figures of mobile development. We soon discovered that they were the perfect documentary subjects; many of whom are professional speakers. Basically all we had to do was provide them with some brief instructions, turn on the camera and they did all the talking without interruption from us. In South Africa, we recorded 23 interviews with fascinating people working as developers, activists, NGO field workers, telecom representatives, and more.

This experience jump started our understanding of the assorted possibilities and challenges of mobile and communication technology rising up in developing nations in general, but especially in Africa. The interview sessions were also a "test-run" of the equipment before shooting ”sharp”.

The edited videos from the conference are each 5-minute podcasts and are published weekly on the blog, as well as made available to view on the YouTube channel.

The momentum is going to keep building, the mobile is the future, it is the way forward.

Werner van Staden, MeWe OpenSource.


When we arrived in Zanzibar we set up two bases on the main island Unguja, one in Stone Town and one in Jambiani. We organized our headquarters there and filmed for a period of two full months. Except for some minor field trips to other parts of the island, we mainly travelled back and forth between these two locations, staying around one week at a time at each place.

Stone Town is the cultural and historical heart of Zanzibar. It is truly a cosmopolitan place with a fusion of cultures influenced by Indian, Arabian, and European settlers throughout history. Famous for its spices, the island is sometimes referred to as "Spice Island". Stone Town has been described as ”the most fascinating and atmospheric city south of Sahara” and it was also declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2000. Together with the suburbs, around 200.000 people live there.

In Stone Town it is easy to get lost in the labyrinthic maze that makes up the inner city, while cruising through old forts, grand arab mansions, noisy bazaars and hollering street vendors. From the harbour you spot the typical "dhow boats" sailing on the edge of the horizon and the ferries coming in from Dar Es Salaam. We rented a very modest apartment on Hurumzi street, a busy corner of the city close to the Hindu temple. From here we were within walking distance to every location in the city.

Jambiani is one hour from Stone Town by car, in the direction south-east of Unguja. It is a small but geographically widespread village with around 5.000 inhabitants. The village stretches alongside an amazing, postcard-perfect sand beach. What makes Jambiani special is its neighbouring location with the many tourist bungalows and resorts. People here work mostly with fishing, in the tourist sector, or as shopkeepers. Another interesting fact is about 20 years ago the majority of women, started working with seaweed farming. More information regarding this topic is provided in the the character descriptions below.

We arranged our stay at a beach hotel close to Jambiani and we walked into the village every day by foot on the beach. This daily walk also offered us many spontaneous encounters. In the other direction from Jambiani we could also reach Paje, which is further north, by foot.

We picked these two locations not by coincidence, but because they could offer us with a range of contrasting images we wanted to explore; the street-smarts of the main city compared with the laid-back rural life. The flavors of Islamic traditions blending with commercialized western lifestyle, luxury tourism next door to a simple poor village.


Before we arrived we obtained a filming permit from the ”revolutionary government” of Zanzibar. We had a rough schedule of the main places and people we wanted to film, but 90% of our material is the result of spontaneous meetings while on location. People helped to connect us with other people constantly. We normally just headed straight into the village or city and started asking questions to random people that we met. One thing would lead to another. This method worked out very well for us. We always carried our equipment with us so that we never missed an opportunity. We grabbed moments on the fly as they appeared to us.

Every day we captured plenty of street life and general ambiance, daily life situations, as much the the memory cards of our recording equipment could hold. After the initial first weeks, we decided we should focus on a few main characters that we had established a good connection with, and who we believed had the most intriguing stories to tell.

Some of the best interviews we filmed transpired after we had set up our camera somewhere and suddenly someone would take on the role as a co-director and arrange ‘actors’ to perform in front of our camera.

Not too long into our production we bumped into some minor issues. On the one hand people were very welcoming and curious about our film, loved to talk, share their stories freely and often just "show off" a bit. On the other hand we encountered equally just as many that were suspicious of the camera and would absolutely refuse to be taped. When we asked people about their desire not to be filmed, be received different explanations. The most common explanations were that some people believed it is against Islamic tradition to be filmed, others thought that we would sell their pictures for a large profit back home. Another explanation given was in regard to a government issued televised warning aired a few years ago telling people that it was not OK for westerners to film areas that would give Zanzibar or Africa a poor representation in the west. So we had to negotiate and explain many times before shooting. Our film permit often came in handy.

Another cultural barrier was the language. Most people know basic english, but far from enough to have a conversation on different topics. We bypassed this problem by hiring local translators and by taking a private Swahili class ourselves. We even were able to specialize the class to fit the needs of our project. Knowing the basics of Swahili made a great difference when making a first contact with people.

Except for a few issues, things went very smoothly. We focused on consistently going to the same areas most of the time, so that our faces became familiar. Pretty soon the had rumor spread and the purpose of our mission was known.


Before 2001, the year the first cell tower was erected in Zanzibar, people had very limited means of communicating with each other from a distance. Today, the situation is completely the opposite. Cell towers from main operators cover the whole island and people communicate all the time with their mobile phones. It is difficult to imagine how it once was before.

There are plenty of aspects about the ongoing changes that could be covered in a documentary, but the purpose of this fillm is not to elaborate and draw conclusions. The purpose is to catch the vibe, the know, show what's going on right now. A snapshot of the Zanzibarian zeitgeist.

The movie reveals, perhaps not surprisingly, that mobile phones are being used for much more than simple chatting. People watch comedy shows from TV, share knowledge, make music, do business, use the mobile as a miniature sound-system at parties, share information with each other. For many people, the phone is the main media hub, especially since personal home computers are a very rare commodity here.

This is also one reason why the recent development of the mobile phone in lesser developed countries is so interesting, because the PC was once predicted to ”bridge the digital divide” between developed and underdeveloped countries. But the effects of the PC has turned out to be very modest. The widespread use of mobiles is instead considered to have more potential in bridging this divide.

So what we wanted to do was to capture the moments when people grab their phone, the way they interact with it, what special tricks, music, habits, gadgets, accessories, slang, they employ in their everyday lives. What wishes, opinions, complaints they have. What brands, colours, shapes of the phones they prefer.

Hopefully the audience will be surprised to see that people in Zanzibar have pretty much the same social habits as ourselves when it comes to mobile telephony. They also like cool phones, collect gadgets and dig the latest mp3 tunes...


Tagline: Mobile revolution comes to paradise island.

We'd like to give the viewer a good feeling about the mobile phone culture in Zanzibar and Africa. A sense of excitement, like a road trip or a roller-coaster ride. Use of editorial content is very limited and there's no any voice-over naration. Non-linear editing, impressions not explanations, sparking curiousity about the mobile movement.

Our ride comes with great music sampled from the Zanzibarian soundscape; phone chatter, Swahili Sheng (street slang), Zenji Fleva rap beats, telecommunication noise, scooter honks and city ambiance. Music and noise mix with visual keys:

People and lifestyle > dresscodes / clothes / accessories / games / sports / leisure / ...

Elements and nature > water / dhows / sealife / seaweed / beach culture / ...

Cultural patterns > airtime vouchers / telecom commercials / brands / typography / ...

Nightlife ambience > clubs / dancing / drinking / drums / movement /...

Tech > celltowers / phone gadgetry / internet cafés / fundis /...

The ride make short stops to tune in the main characters we want to present: the bicycle champ, the Massai watchmen, the Zanzibits students, the African drum band... all of them representatives of African society. We get to know the importance mobile phones have to them.

Keywords: communication, connection, contrasts, creativity.

Length: 42 min 15 sec.

Format: HD 1280x720


Bicycle champ

We met a very sympathic guy, Juma Lukondya, who introduced himself to us as the ”bicycle champ of Zanzibar”. We noticed him in Jambiani, he stood out from most others because he was wearing a t-shirt with ”WIEN ENERGIE” on it. He lives in a big house that he takes care of for an Austrian woman, a professional biker who coaches a bike team in Vienna. She sponsors Juma with training equipment and racing bikes from Europe. Every day of the week Juma performs heavy training routines and rides his bike across the island for 6 hours. Juma tells us the advantages of having a phone, namely, to keep in touch with his family on the mainland and receive information about upcoming competitions from his trainer. Jumas personality is steady as a rock, yet very calm and humble.

Herman the musician

In Stone Town we met a really cool guy called Herman. He works in a souvenir shop. We became curious about him when we saw him singing along to a song he was playing on his fancy Nokia. The song sounded like a typical Bongo Flava-track from the radio, but as it turned out it was his own production. He told us that he saves money from his dayjob so he can pay for studio time. We accompanied him to the studio while he made a recording of a lovesong. A professional audio mastering technician supervises the recording and when everybody's happy with the song, it gets converted to a mp3 and transferred to Herman's phone. A music video in Dar Es Salaam are in Herman's future plans.


A bit north from Jambiani is the village Paje. We had a really remarkable encounter with traditional Maasai working as watchmen at the beach hotels there. Maasais are natives, many of them come from Arusha in northern mainland Tanzania, but they live all over East Africa. All Maasai we have met so far, without exception, are the biggest fans of mobile phones. We got together with the group for a day and interviewed Faraja, the senior Maasai of the group. Filming them was an absolute joy since they loved the camera and were eager to talk about everything. We have great material of them chatting, dancing to mobile tunes, discussing telecom operators, fooling around, and enjoying a traditional game of Bao.


We visited a multimedia school in Stone Town for young students. Zanzibits is a project initiated by a dutch NGO. The students are between 18-22. The aim for the school is to give young students from a poor background an introduction to computers. The education is very practically oriented, not only do students become familiar with technology, but learn to present themselves and prepare for upcoming job interviews. They learn to build their personal websites, to edit movie projects, and some basic programming and presentation software. We did personal interviews with almost every student, asking them about their skills, their opinions about new technology, cellphones and their future plans.


Just on the beachshore along Jambiani you will notice come peculiur woodpieces floating in the water, like carriers from the movie ”Waterworld” or weird marine animals. These small vessels are boats of local fishermen. When the wind is good and the tide is right, fishermen sail out to sea a few hours and catch fish of assorted sizes and sorts. We joined Captain Mohammed and his crew; they took us out for a day on the sea. First they showed us how they build the special fishtraps they use in different sizes. Unfortunately as we set sail the sky literally fell down on us; a flood of rain like we have never experienced before, and we had to jump overboard. We talked later with Mohammed to understand how they use their mobile phones in their profession. They told us they use it a lot, for example, to get the best market prices. If the price is not right in Zanzibar, they can take it to the market in Dar Es Salaam.

Wedding ceremony

During our stay in Jambiani we were invited to two local wedding ceremonies.

The first wedding was a traditional Muslim wedding. Customs in certain traditional Muslim ceremonies state that the bride has to stay in the house for 7 days after the wedding and normally westerners are not allowed in the house. We had a gift with us - a traditional Kanga dress- so we were allowed into the bride's chamber, also with our cameras. The room was cramped and extremely hot. A small film team was there too, DV and lightning equipment was rigged up to capture every moment of the bride's joyous day. After presenting the bride with our gift, we were offered a traditional dinner with the relatives and families outside, a spiced rice meal called Pilau. The dish is served from a big plate which you eat directly from with your hands, sitting together in small groups on the ground outdoors. We also had the company of livestock, goats and chickens running around.

The second wedding we attended, was also a traditional one, but this time it was between an elderly Danish woman and a local man from Jambiani. These types of weddings are not so uncommon here, and left us with mixed feelings. Finding the wedding was easy since the whole village seemed to be gathered on the beach, chanting and shouting on the way to the beach house were the wedding was to take place. We joined in with the festivities, documenting everything, as well as many others who were filming and recording with their mobiles. We feature one of the participants, Mustafa, in more depth.

Jana Si Leo (= Yesterday is not Today)

Ngoma or Dumbaki is the name for the traditional drum music band playing in East Africa and Zanzibar. Sometimes there can be as many as 10 people playing different instruments on stage. We met the most hired band in Jambiani, Jana Si Leo. We became good friends with the band leader, Haji. Haji organizes the concerts and also plays the violin. Haji is very determined and disciplined; he has a firm grasp on the band. When the band plays, they play nonstop without breaks, the music just continues on and on. If a band member is not playing to his standard he simply takes the instrument away from him. The concerts also involve an erotic dance/play between a man and woman. One of the concerts we recorded with them was a mix session between the band and turntable DJ Kweli. We were enjoying the show which included rare mixes of Depeche Mode, Eric Prydz and mainstream techno beats blended together with the African drum band. Haji's hopes for the future is to arrange bigger concerts in Stone Town and buy better instruments for his band.

Seaweed women

Jambiani was the first village in Tanzania that started with seaweed farming. The practice began almost 20 years ago and the harvesting was and is still done almost exclusively by women. This was once one of the only ways for women to earn their own money, giving them a greater independence in the household. Jambiani is considered a good place to farm since the weather and environmental conditions are optimal. Seaweed can be used for the Pharma industry, cosmetics, plastics and a variety of other uses. Sadly, the profit does not make it back to the community. Two main companies run the show, a Tanzanian state and a Japanese company.

We wanted to see how the farming is done so we went out with a group of women and got excellent shots of the harvesting. We interviewed one of the managers and received interesting information about the current situation, the history, the possible future of seaweed farming and what role mobile phones could play here.

Primary school

We arranged for a private course in Swahili at the Jambiani Primary school. The school is located in the exact center of the village and teaches about 1.200 pupils. For one month, three days per week, we attended school classes; sitting on benches made for 7-year old kids. Mr Faridi was our tutor and mentor- he unlocked the code of Swahili for us. Mr. Faridi even arranged a special class about mobile phones for us. We met and discussed with other teachers as well regarding their views on the possibilities and challenges of mobile phones.

More scenes & characters, in brief ...

Every major city has its nightlife, so we were certain to explore and capture the after hours scene in Stone Town, including its shady bars and the characters they attract... We cover the small business that deals with phones, the vendors and repair shops (fundis) ... We visit a local kitchen in Jambiani, feature the chef and his customers ... We meet up wih Issa, a film producer for marriage videos around Zanzibar ... We chat with a construction engineer from Dar Es Salaam, he is building a giant bungalow for Germans. Please request the raw material if you want to have our full impression.


We have reflected on various methods for capturing user needs that have been used for interactive systems design. The review led to the decision that an ethnographic approach in combination with methods borrowed from the more recent contextual inquiry approach [1] would best fit the context and requirements of our research setting.

Ethnography has a long tradition especially in the field of anthropology, where researchers used it as a method for gathering data about human societies through field work [2]. Only lately it has also become a popular research method among human-computer interaction researchers to inform or evaluate the design of interactive products [3]. One of the four principles that characterize ethnography is that it takes place in natural settings. An essential part of an ethnographic study is that the researchers have to live together with the people they observe over a long period of time. This assures to reduce the influence of their presence on the results. Data is recorded by taking notes or using a video camera. Only after the field work has ended the data is interpreted in a team setting.

Contextual inquiry is the first step of a contextual design process. It foresees the inclusion of users in the design process at various stages [4]. In the requirements collection stage data is gathered using contextual interviews, which are interviews conducted in the field, e.g. at the users' workplace. After the field sessions the interviews are discussed in a group to produce a so-called affinity diagram. At the bottom level the affinity diagram consists of many post-it notes, each depicting a particular observation that was captured during the interview. At the top level the diagram will eventually reveal ideas for specific applications.

We decided on a mixed approach using methods from ethnography and contextual inquiry, since our field study complied with the four principles of ethnography, albeit we were not following individuals over an extended period of time, but rather conducting interviews with many different users (mobile phone users in our case). We also documented demographic data of people that we interviewed on video and in an additional spreadsheet. The affinity diagram, which is described in the contextual inquiry approach, also promised to be a helpful method for interpreting the data collected in the field.


It's worth mentioning a few words about our film equipment. The entire movie was shot on a Nikon D90. It's the first DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera in the world that shoot HD video. Theoretically this could mean that our documentary is the first one ever to be shot with this type of camera, since we bought it one week before departure, the day it was relesed in stores in Europe.

The choice of the D90 has given us several advantages instead of choosing a standard HD or DV camera:

• On standard video cameras you can't switch the lens, whereas on the D90 you can mount any Nikon compatible lens. So we could choose for any given situation a lense that would fit the scenery. Macro, fisheye, teleobjektiv, etc.

• The D90 films with 24 fps (frames per second) instead of 25 fps, the former has been the standard for celluloid film and the latter is standard for digital video, thus giving the video a more 'cinematic' feel.

• DSLR lenses gives the filmmaker the opportunity to choose a depth of focus. Normally a DV cam lens makes the image totally flat without any depth, limiting artistic choice.

• For us maybe the biggest advantage of having a lightweight and portable equipment like we had, is the freedom of movement it provides and that it is much easier to get close to people in any given situation. The camera have the looks of a normal still photo camera rather than a bulky film camera, so people are not so easily intimidated.

• All film- and audiomaterial is stored on SD memory cards, which we transferred to a hard disk every night after filming. So we didn't have to mess with any tapes or discs. Backup was fast and easy to do on the fly.

All complementary photos were taken with a Nikon D70.

With our tripod and the special 'gorilla-pod' we got steady shots from unusual angles.

The audio has been captured with the widely acclaimed H2 Zoom recorder. This is a proffessional studio recorder, very small and lightweight. It has the possibility to record in Dolby Surround in 4 separate channels.


All released material is published under a Creative Commons license (CC-BY-NC-SA). This means that all of the raw material, including the final edit of the film is available to anyone to watch, sample and share for free, but can not be used for commercial purposes. The finished movie will also be provided as a free download online from our website, various web communities and online video providers such as YouTube, Facebook, etc.

The documentary will also be published and sold to the public on a limited DVD edition produced by UZI Magazine. The first 200 DVD covers have already been produced locally by a tailor in Stone Town. The covers are made from recycled Kangas cloth, a typical dress for women, it comes with inscriptions of proverbs in the Swahili language.


[1] Beyer and Holtzblatt, Contextual Design, In Interactions, Vol. 6(1), ACM Press, Jan./Feb. 1999.

[2] Simonsen and Kensing, Using Ethnography in Contextual Design, In Communications of ACM, Vol. 40(7), ACM Press, Jul. 1997.

[3] Hughes, King, Rodden, and Andersen, The Role of Ethnography in Interactive Systems Design, In Interactions, Vol. 2(2), ACM Press, Apr. 1995.

[4] Holtzblatt, Contextual Design: A Customer-Centered Approach to Systems Design, Morgan Kaufmann, 1st ed., 1997.


Martin Konzett – Producer, idea, camera

Anders Bolin – Director, editor, audio

Martin Tomitsch – Consultant.

This film is a cooperation between (Austrian Network for Information and Communication Technologies for Development) a NGO based in Austria, and UZI Magazine.

UZI is a Swedish independent documentary label founded in 2003 and releases titles on DVD. Circulation is normally between 500-1000 copies. Themes evolve around urban popular culture. URL:

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