Informal employment

Fixing broken phones

The mobile-phone revolution has provided livelihood opportunities to many Zambians. Repairing gadgets and selling accessories such as phone chargers and batteries is mostly done by young people.

Emmanuel Chate is a local entrepreneur in Ndola, a town in northern Zambia. He studied electrical engineering and now owns two phone-accessory shops. His staff sell and repair relevant equipment. Typical damages include broken LCDs, defective charging systems, flawed software, impaired audio systems and locked security systems.

Nchimunya Mwewa knows how to fix these problems. He is 32 years old, has a formal education and works at one of Chate’s shops. He studied information systems at Ndola’s NIEC Business College. “After graduating with an A++ in maintenance and repair certificate in computers, I found myself on the streets,” he says. “Chate trained me in mobile phone repairing.”

Anthony Kalumba, aged 27, is another youth with college education who has benefited from Chate’s training in mobile phone repairing. Kalumba, who initially trained in electronic systems at the Northern Technical College in Ndola, was sponsored by the African Development Bank (ADB) to do technical courses. “There were twenty-five of us who ventured into phone and radio repairing with help of the ADB,” Kalumba explains.

Most members of Chate’s staff, however, do not have a formal education. He has taught more than 50 youths the basics of mobile-phone repairing. Many used to repair radios in the past. “The components are similar,” Chate explains. Generally speaking, mobile-phone repairing is mostly done by people who lack formal training in electronics or information technology.

Chate is not satisfied with this state of affaires, however. He maintains that “training of mobile-phone repairers should be standardised”. Moreover, he wants the government to provide youths with loans so they can start businesses of their own. Given that all electronic gadgets contain toxic substances, he also demands that training courses must tackle issues of safety and the environment. Today, almost 14 % of the 17 million Zambians own smartphones.


Humphrey Nkonde is a journalist and media researcher based in Ndola, Zambia.


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