"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


something we can do for Cote d'Ivoire

Like many of you, I've been feeling very helpless about the situation in Cote d'Ivoire. Then I saw @SenamBeheton's tweet:
This is a fantastic idea, and one where ordinary people around the world can get involved. Many Ivoirians, especially those in Abidjan, have been afraid to leave their homes for a few days now, and most shops in the city are closed, meaning that people can't buy top up cards for their mobile phones. Also, many Ivoirians haven't been able to work for several days, meaning that even if they could find top up cards, they wouldn't be able to afford them. Orange, MTN, and Moov could provide a huge public service (and get lots of positive publicity) by opening up their networks to allow free SMSing during this crisis. I would gladly donate to a fund to help cover the costs of doing so - and I bet I'm not the only one.

Here's information on how to contact the corporate offices of Orange, MTN, and Moov. I'm using corporate offices at the highest level because it may be hard to reach the offices in Cote d'Ivoire right now. If you have any other suggestions, please note them in the comments below.
  • Orange is part of France Telecom. Contact their Corporate Social Responsibility office by filling out the form here.
  • MTN Group is based in South Africa and only provides phone numbers and physical addresses. This is why Skype exists; spend the 20 cents and call them on +27 11 912 3000 or +27 11 912 4123.
  • Moov is based in the UAE and its operations are under the Etisalat trade name. Fill out their online feedback form here.
Here's some possible text for your email or phone conversation. Feel free to copy and paste as needed:
I am writing/calling to ask that [Company Name] provide free SMS services to customers in Cote d'Ivoire during the country's ongoing crisis. Due to violence in Abidjan and in rural areas, customers are unable to top up their mobile phone accounts and have lost touch with family members. They cannot share information about where violence is occurring, or reach out for help from the United Nations and humanitarian agencies. By providing free SMS services, [Company Name] would almost certainly save lives. Please take this opportunity to help the people of Cote d'Ivoire in their time of need.
Let's do this, guys. We can spread the word and bring pressure on these companies to provide this service. It won't stop the Ivoirian crisis, but it will provide a critical service for those who need it most.

UPDATE: A couple of commenters point out that SMS services have been turned off in Cote d'Ivoire for several weeks per Gbagbo's orders. I don't see any reason that the phone companies could not override that order, but perhaps I'm wrong. At any rate, asking for free airtime and for the companies to do all they can to get the SMS networks running is also worth our while.


Blogger Emily Tanner said...

I was wondering if (obviously not in this crisis but for future crises) there might be way to set up a system to donate money for this kind of thing...I would be happy to directly donate to cell providers if I know its going to offset the cost of providing service to people during a crisis.

Monday, April 04, 2011 9:40:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Emily, I agree. That would be a great thing to mention in your letters to the companies. It would be a great CSR move for them if there were something more permanent and structured.

Monday, April 04, 2011 9:42:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was wondering if you were aware that Mr Gbagbo had banned since several weeks all SMS message service?. Also, had this offensive not started, we would now have no internet either. Just for your info.

Monday, April 04, 2011 9:44:00 AM

Blogger Unknown said...

As anonymous correctly points out, SMS are still banned as per Gbagbo's decree.

So we could instead e.g. lobby for a certain number of free minutes for everyone in Abidjan if this can be implemented. I would indeed be more than happy to contribute money to a fund to pay for this.

Monday, April 04, 2011 9:51:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Great point - can the phone companies also override the SMS ban at this point?

Monday, April 04, 2011 10:54:00 AM

Blogger Kira said...

TexasInAfrica, IF this idea doesn't work with the operators, how can you recharge someone's phone from abroad?Does anyone know?The need for medics etc - it's vital that people have enough credit to call out ... Had such an emergency last night, friends family member needing urgent attention having received a bullet - now recovering after surgery!

Monday, April 04, 2011 11:04:00 AM

Anonymous Senam Beheton said...

SMS ban override unlikely because operators will be afraid of reprisal by Gbagbo forces in fog of war. Giving 10 minutes a day for everyday offices are closed is helpful. In the meantime we could organize an online campaign to fund "phone credit bank" if offensive takes too long.

Monday, April 04, 2011 11:20:00 AM

Anonymous Urbanregor said...

All good comments and ideas. The other big issue is electricity! Batteries need to be recharged at some point, and the longer the crisis draws out, the harder this is to do. Just trying to think practically, not rain on anyone's parade.

Monday, April 04, 2011 11:32:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for this suggestion on contacting these companies for free credits.

Monday, April 04, 2011 12:09:00 PM

Blogger Unknown said...


I think MOOV doesn't offer such a service, but you can currently top up someone's MTN credit via http://bit.ly/i4hrFE

You should generally also be able to help out Orange customers with that link and alternatively this one http://bit.ly/eJmSqf but unfortunately that's not working at the moment as they've got technical problems.

Monday, April 04, 2011 5:16:00 PM

Blogger Kim said...

The Etisalat site won't work for me - every time I try to submit the letter it tells me there has been some error. How annoying.

Monday, April 04, 2011 11:31:00 PM

Blogger Unknown said...

@Kim: Reminds me I hadn't done this yet. Get the same issue, some insufficiently descriptive error message. Perhaps they require the phone number entered to be a customer's number. Tried to navigate their site to find alternative means, but it's become so slow I've given up.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011 4:32:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is great but would also love more coverage on the rapidly changing events in Cote d'Ivoire - the massacre in Duekoue, the implications of French and UN action to force Gbagbo out, and the fact that this is a hugely underfunded, neglected humanitarian crisis. We need more attention to Cote d'Ivoire right now and more good discussion about what can be done to end this crisis.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011 6:24:00 PM


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