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CARRYING MULTIPLE PHONES: EXTRAVAGANCE VS. PRACTICALITY

Why is it that several people in DRC tend to carry two, three or even five different telephones? The reason is simple and complex at the same time.

From the simple perspective, carrying several phones has its full meaning and practicality in a environment where mobile telecommunications networks are not always that reliable. That means each phone serves as a backup to the others, should there be no reception or should you receive the the-subscriber-you-are-calling-is-currently-unavailable response. And God knows how despondent you can feel when that life-saving call isn’t just going through.

Yet, it often turns out that you either reach the person when changing networks i.e. using another phone or by calling them on their other mobile. That explains why, from a practical vantage point, having two or three phones tries and keeps you seamlessly connected.

From a complex perspective, however, there are other people who carry two-thousand US dollar’s worth of phones. While these phones definitely serve the purpose of communication practicality, it is quite hard to explain why they have to be the most expensive and the latest available. But a closer analysis of the situation seems to indicate that, much like an expensive watch or designer clothes are an expression of status, phones have also become tools of extravagance. They are a whole mode of expression, a deliberate external message aimed at signposting others to one’s wealth and social status.

I have several times met with Congolese political officials and other business people that carry the latest BlackBerry not because they wanted an instant access to their emails, but because it was one of the most ostentatious manners to express their social status.

There are also people who never like carrying several phones, but ended up having two after their employer gave them an official one.

Incidentally, I myself am no exception to the rule. I carry three phones….one official from my employer and two private ones.

With Chinese selling affordable, multiple-SIM, phones; it seems more and more people have switched to such devices.

So, the culture of multiple phones is either a matter of practicality or showiness. Or both.

Anyway, there is a saying in Lingala, a lingua franca spoken across the DRC that reads: “Mwasi, mwasi nde nzoto! Mobali, mobali nde appareil! Translated into English, the saying means “A woman is all about the curved plumpness of her shapes while a man is all about the phone he carries!

I am quite certain this culture is not specific to the DRC, but is quite widespread in Africa and maybe beyond Africa.

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