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Where are you Africa?: Church and Society in the Mobile Phone Age

Wednesday 22 December 2010, author(s)-editor(s) Castor Goliama

This is an original and innovative study of mobile phones in Africa from a theological perspective. The First and the Second Special Assemblies for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, held in Rome in 1994 and 2009 respectively, made an urgent appeal to the Church in Africa to employ various media forms of social communications for evangelization and the promotion of justice and peace. Evidently, electronic media are now increasingly used for evangelization across Africa. The proliferation of the mobile phone in Africa is a most welcome development to this end. On the basis of a thorough review of the growing literature on the mobile phone and the cultures it inspires, Goliama highlights the ambivalent nature of mobile cultures for the Roman Catholic Church’s evangelization mission in Africa. He argues not only for the continued merits of face-to-face communication for the Church’s pastoral approach in the African context. He points to how this could be enriched by a creative appropriation of the mobile phone as a tool for theological engagement, in its capacity to shape cultures in ways amenable to the construction of a Cell phone Ecclesiology. Such emergent mobile cultural values include the tendency of mobile users to transcend social divides, to promote social interconnectedness, and to privilege the question ’where are you?’.

This informed and well articulated exploration of Cell phone Ecclesiology is thus envisaged to aid the Church in Africa to wrestle more effectively with challenges that diminish human life and promote instead qualities that are life-affirming to all categories of people in the Church and society.

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ISBN 9789956578450 | 268 pages | 229 mm x 152mm | 2010 | Langaa RPCIG, Cameroon | Paperback

5 Book Reviews

  • Where are you Africa?: Church and Society in the Mobile Phone Age 22 December 2010 11:48, author(s)-editor(s) Dr Piet Konings

    This is a well-written and well-documented study that will help the church to respond better to its prophetic mission and to be more relevant to the current African milieu.

    Dr Piet Konings, Sociologist of Development, African Studies Centre, Leiden

  • Where are you Africa?: Church and Society in the Mobile Phone Age 22 December 2010 11:49, author(s)-editor(s) Professor Elias Bongmba

    The author is to be commended for an illuminating discussion of the role of the mobile phone and the Christian tradition in Africa today. The text captures the uses of the cell phone and its problems in a remarkable manner, pointing out the interrelationship between the user, the state, and the religious community. In navigating these relationships, the author places the cell phone in a wider conversation that includes the quest for justice and respect for human dignity in a global context.

    Professor Elias Bongmba, Rice University, USA

  • Where are you Africa?: Church and Society in the Mobile Phone Age 22 December 2010 11:50, author(s)-editor(s) Dr Levi Obijiofor

    This book examines a very important subject that deserves intellectual, academic and research-based exploration. The book is unique because, while there is a plethora of books and articles on the impact of mobile phones on African communities, there is little or nothing on how mobile phones are impacting religious practices in Africa.

    Dr Levi Obijiofor, School of Journalism and Communication, University of Queensland, Australia

  • Where are you Africa?: Church and Society in the Mobile Phone Age 24 March 2011 14:51, author(s)-editor(s) Stephen Keel

    Mobile Ministry: Is it technical or spiritual?

    A book review by W. Stephen Keel- www.kioskevangelism.com

    Speculation regarding best practices for mobile ministry is rampant. Learning from someone on the ground could be the best source of meaningful insight. Castor Goliama, a diocesan priest of Songea, Tanzania has provided me with more insight than I expected to receive. His December 2010, book release, “Where are you Africa? Church and Society in the Mobile Phone Age” is focused on Africa and specifically Tanzania, but it may very well shape the discussion of mobile ministry for remote poor people globally.

    Mobile ministry buffs are almost always techies. They are turned on by gadgets and innovation. The warp speed advances of mobile technology makes looking at the latest model or feature tantalizing. Castor Goliama has issued a call to look at the spiritual realities influenced by this exciting technology. His writings have forced a course correction for at least one technophile, me.

    The major myth that I have been forced to abandon is the idea that the cell phone surge was caused by the economic benefits to cell phone users. Two years ago I read that poor families in India were experiencing 15% increases in household income within the first 30 days of owning a cell phone. I have quoted this statistic many times. While it may be true in India where the government has kept the cost of minutes at or under $.02 USD, tariffs in Tanzania and other African countries have become a tax source where normal tax collection is difficult or impossible. A family earning $1 USD a day may end up spending up to 40% of their household income on 40-cent-per-minute minutes. Rather than benefiting them financially, they are frequently going without food to talk on the phone. Apparently, only about 15% of cell phone users actually use them for commercial purposes.

    Fr. Goliama shows us that people endure this economic hardship for a more valuable benefit, the knowledge that their family members are safe. This is a penetrating insight. The rural poor are not wallowing in the latest tantalizing tweet. They are probing for comfort that their loved ones are OK.

    The title of this book provides signature insight. The rural poor do not have the luxury of indulging in social niceties. The standard question, “How are you?” takes too many expensive minutes to answer. It has been replaced with the far more efficient question, “Where are you?” The answer provides instant insights to a family member tracking the well being of a daughter or wife. When minutes are astronomically expensive, users resort to ring code to communicate. 1 rings from mom means, “Call me now.” 2 rings may mean, “I am fine.”

    The need to examine ministry standards in the light of regional realities is truly underscored by this important book. Western media producers frequently attempt to sensitize themselves to potential cultural mistakes in the content they produce. While this is a dearly needed discipline for media production, spiritual mobile ministry, according to Fr. Goliama, is influenced by a far more significant question. How are people actually using their phones and how can the church influence these use patterns to build the kingdom of God?

    I have been working for several years to promote mobile ministry, largely from the comfort and security of my wonderful home in Virginia. Despite repeated trips to countries that I would serve, I had to read this book to learn something that is not immediately obvious. I and most of my fellow techies have been impressed by the shocking growth of mobile phone subscriptions in very poor countries. I have occasionally wondered how these poor people could afford even the least expensive cell phone. Fr. Goliama unraveled the obvious truth. They can not afford cell phones and they do not own cell phones. The ratio of cell phones to cell phone subscriptions in Tanzania is 1 to 60. One person owns a cell phone and 60 people use their cards to access that one phone.

    As world planners anticipate smart phones for the majority of the earth’s population in a very few years, a vast sea of people are pinging each other with unanswered rings. This begs an answer to the question, how can the church use mobile technology to reach these people?

    Goliama has done us a great service. The first part of the book explores in depth communications and cultural relationships prior to the cell phone. The historical role of radio, hand or solar-powered media players and outdoor movie sessions is discussed in depth. The middle part of the book focuses on how the phone is being used and how it is redefining personal relationships and political activism. Viral musical ringtones have actually influenced elections. The book concludes with a look at theological implications manifested in the brave new mobile world. It is decidedly Roman Catholic theology with an emphasis on social responsibility as contributing members of communities as opposed to our being individuals seeking our best possible personal rewards on earth and in heaven. It also seeks to ask hard questions about the very nature of “church”.

    What am I doing differently having read this book?

    I am changing my perspective. While I remain interested in the proliferation of inexpensive bandwidth and the portability of file formats between cell phone models, I am now praying for spiritual insight into how what happens on the phone actually builds the kingdom. I want to leverage the ways that phones are actually being used. One speculation has arisen from my prayers for insight. I am now interested in seeing indigenous evangelists being given cell phones instead of bicycles. While he could use a bicycle to get out to meet people, a phone could bring as many as 60 people to him. He can provide them with a chance to know that their family is safe and tell them about the safety to be found under the shadow of the wing of the most high God. I will be testing that idea on a pastor from Kenya this evening.

    My hope is that “Where are you Africa? Church and Society in the Mobile Phone Age” will make me a more profitable servant as I meditate on the lessons I have learned from reading it. Could it be possible that your vision of mobile ministry could be expanded too?

  • Mobile Ministry: Is it technical or spiritual? 29 March 2011 13:12, author(s)-editor(s) W. Stephen Keel

    Speculation regarding best practices for mobile ministry is rampant. Learning from someone on the ground could be the best source of meaningful insight. Castor Goliama, a diocesan priest of Songea, Tanzania has provided me with more insight than I expected to receive. His December 2010, book release, “Where are you Africa? Church and Society in the Mobile Phone Age” is focused on Africa and specifically Tanzania, but it may very well shape the discussion of mobile ministry for remote poor people globally.

    Mobile ministry buffs are almost always techies. They are turned on by gadgets and innovation. The warp speed advances of mobile technology makes looking at the latest model or feature tantalizing. Castor Goliama has issued a call to look at the spiritual realities influenced by this exciting technology. His writings have forced a course correction for at least one technophile, me.
    The major myth that I have been forced to abandon is the idea that the cell phone surge was caused by the economic benefits to cell phone users. Two years ago I read that poor families in India were experiencing 15% increases in household income within the first 30 days of owning a cell phone. I have quoted this statistic many times. While it may be true in India where the government has kept the cost of minutes at or under $.02 USD, tariffs in Tanzania and other African countries have become a tax source where normal tax collection is difficult or impossible. A family earning $1 USD a day may end up spending up to 40% of their household income on 40-cent-per-minute minutes. Rather than benefiting them financially, they are frequently going without food to talk on the phone. Apparently, only about 15% of cell phone users actually use them for commercial purposes.

    Fr. Goliama shows us that people endure this economic hardship for a more valuable benefit, the knowledge that their family members are safe. This is a penetrating insight. The rural poor are not wallowing in the latest tantalizing tweet. They are probing for comfort that their loved ones are OK. 

    The title of this book provides signature insight. The rural poor do not have the luxury of indulging in social niceties. The standard question, “How are you?” takes too many expensive minutes to answer. It has been replaced with the far more efficient question, “Where are you?” The answer provides instant insights to a family member tracking the well being of a daughter or wife. When minutes are astronomically expensive, users resort to ring code to communicate. 1 rings from mom means, “Call me now.” 2 rings may mean, “I am fine.”

    The need to examine ministry standards in the light of regional realities is truly underscored by this important book. Western media producers frequently attempt to sensitize themselves to potential cultural mistakes in the content they produce. While this is a dearly needed discipline for media production, spiritual mobile ministry, according to Fr. Goliama, is influenced by a far more significant question. How are people actually using their phones and how can the church influence these use patterns to build the kingdom of God?

    I have been working for several years to promote mobile ministry, largely from the comfort and security of my wonderful home in Virginia. Despite repeated trips to countries that I would serve, I had to read this book to learn something that is not immediately obvious. I and most of my fellow techies have been impressed by the shocking growth of mobile phone subscriptions in very poor countries. I have occasionally wondered how these poor people could afford even the least expensive cell phone. Fr. Goliama unraveled the obvious truth. They can not afford cell phones and they do not own cell phones. The ratio of cell phones to cell phone subscriptions in Tanzania is 1 to 60. One person owns a cell phone and 60 people use their cards to access that one phone.

    As world planners anticipate smart phones for the majority of the earth’s population in a very few years, a vast sea of people are pinging each other with unanswered rings. This begs an answer to the question, how can the church use mobile technology to reach these people?

    Goliama has done us a great service. The first part of the book explores in depth communications and cultural relationships prior to the cell phone. The historical role of radio, hand or solar-powered media players and outdoor movie sessions is discussed in depth. The middle part of the book focuses on how the phone is being used and how it is redefining personal relationships and political activism. Viral musical ringtones have actually influenced elections. The book concludes with a look at theological implications manifested in the brave new mobile world. It is decidedly Roman Catholic theology with an emphasis on social responsibility as contributing members of communities as opposed to our being individuals seeking our best possible personal rewards on earth and in heaven. It also seeks to ask hard questions about the very nature of “church”.

    What am I doing differently having read this book? 

    I am changing my perspective. While I remain interested in the proliferation of inexpensive bandwidth and the portability of file formats between cell phone models, I am now praying for spiritual insight into how what happens on the phone actually builds the kingdom. I want to leverage the ways that phones are actually being used. One speculation has arisen from my prayers for insight. I am now interested in seeing indigenous evangelists being given cell phones instead of bicycles. While he could use a bicycle to get out to meet people, a phone could bring as many as 60 people to him. He can provide them with a chance to know that their family is safe and tell them about the safety to be found under the shadow of the wing of the most high God. I will be testing that idea on a pastor from Kenya this evening.

    My hope is that “Where are you Africa? Church and Society in the Mobile Phone Age” will make me a more profitable servant as I meditate on the lessons I have learned from reading it. Could it be possible that your vision of mobile ministry could be expanded too?

    A book review by W. Stephen Keel- www.kioskevangelism.com