Stories

Choosing your own future through basic cell phones

Kampala, Uganda Technology November 8 @ 5:35am

Rachael Kabeene, who lives in Kansanga in Uganda’s capital Kampala, has about 200,000 Ugandan shillings ($78) left after paying the school fees. After her neighbor passes away, she wants to buy the land from his children. But it costs one million shillings ($390), and Kabeene still wants to purchase a new iron roof. Should she try to increase her savings more quickly by betting, or save in order to meet her financial goals?

The decision that Kabeene makes could have dire consequences for her and her family. Luckily though it’s not a real-life scenario, but a choice that Kabeene is given in a “Wanjii Game” (“Wanjii” translates into “what” in local Ugandan language Luganda). Across Uganda, Malawi, Madagascar, Ghana, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Zambia, people are now playing these games, designed to entertain, on their basic mobile phones without needing internet access. Developed by an NGO working in east Africa, Wanjii Games repurpose interactive voice response (IVR) technology, which has been around since about the 1970s, and which you might engage with if you call a credit card company. Callers phone the 3-2-1 Service, a toll-free hotline, and are presented with a scenario similar to that in a choose-your-own-adventure book of the 80s, a format on which the games are based. The plots are centred around financial literacy, sex education, farming techniques, and trafficking. Through the buttons on their phone, callers make a decision. Just one wrong choice could end the game. If they are to play the game again they are presented with a different story.
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