Technology translations between China and Ghana : the case of low-end phone design

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As night falls in a small village in Kpone-Katamanso District, about 38 kilometers from Ghana’s capital, Accra, only half of the households will be lit up. Because Kelly’s house does not have electricity, she must turn on the flashlight of her phone to cook dinner. Kelly is using a Tecno feature phone that costs less than US$10. Its battery can last for three to five days after she charges it at her neighbor’s house. While Kelly is preparing the dinner, her mother sits by the door, listening to the radio, an important means of both information and entertainment in the local community. In December 2019, I visited Kelly and her village with my local informant, Michael. This is an impoverished village where roads are unpaved, half of the households are unelectrified, television sets are rare, but mobile phones are ubiquitous. Except for some young people who have smartphones, most villagers are using cheap feature phones like Kelly’s, the so-called “keypad phones” in Ghana or “dumbphones” in the West. In Kelly’s village, the most popular phone brands are Tecno and itel, both from a Shenzhen-based company called Transsion Holdings (hereafter Transsion). Since setting foot in Africa in 2007, Transsion has surged from almost nowhere to become the largest mobile phone vendor there, capturing 52.5 percent of its market share in 2019. In Africa, Transsion phones are known for their affordable prices and locally tailored features, including dual SIM cards, long battery life, and cameras optimized for darker skin tones.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCritiquing Communication Innovation : New Media in a Multipolar World
EditorsRolien HOYNG, Gladys Pak Lei CHONG
Place of PublicationMichigan
PublisherMichigan State University Press
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)9781609176983, 9781628954661, 9781628964608
ISBN (Print)9781611864298
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameUS–China Relations in the Age of Globalization
PublisherMichigan State University Press

Bibliographical note

This chapter is a partial reprint of "Designed for the Bottom of the Pyramid: A Case Study of a Chinese Phone Brand in Africa," Miao Lu, Chinese Journal of Communication, April 2020,


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