Taking on big business with SMS messaging and mobile boycott

On 19 September 2003, a number of mobile phone subscribers in Nigeria switched off their mobile phones in protest against the perceived corporate failings and excesses of the GSM phone companies. The calls for the boycott were spread by a viral SMS that read, "Let's force GSM tariffs down. Join a mass protest: Switch off your GSM phone on Friday 19th 2003. They will lose millions. It worked in the US and Argentina. Spread this text".

The one-day boycott was organized by the National Association of GSM Subscribers of Nigeria and the Consumers Rights Project, with the sole objective of obliging them to reduce tariffs which were considered unreasonably high. Deolu Ogunbanjo, who heads the National Association of Telecommunications Subscribers, claimed that close to 80% of cellphone users had joined the protest.

The boycott was preceded by a poll conducted on the website of a local newspaper which showed a groundswell of support. Out of 2,595 people polled, 2,328 - or almost 90% - said they would join the action, while 216 said they opposed it. By the end of the week sections of the media reported substantial support for the boycott in the southeast and southwest, where the bulk of subscribers lived. (SA’s Sunday Times) http://www.balancingact-africa.com/news/back/balancing-act_175.html.

Commenting on the boycott, Ebenezer Obadare argues that the success of the campaign, run largely through SMS, signifies the emergence of a new outlet for protest, and a new way for civil society to engage against the state. Ebenezer Obadare in The Great GSM (cell phone) Boycott: Civil Society, Big Business and the State in Nigeria Dark Roast Occasional Paper Series No. 18 (2004).