When you write down your telephone or mobile phone number, especially in international set-up, you will most likely be asked to indicate your country code.
If you are Kenyan this will be +254.
Other countries have their own codes and missing one number can lead you to make a very expensive international phone call.
Say you omit the 2 and type down +54 you will end up calling someone in Argentina.
But how did these telephone dialling codes come into existence?
Just like with currency and number plates, country dialling codes have gone through an evolution to give us the list that we currently use today.
According to the International Telecommunications Union website, two technical committees were created in 1924 to standardise technical and operational questions of international long-distance telephony and telegraphy.
In 1956, these two technical committees were merged to become the International Telegraph and Telephone Consultative Committee (CCITT), which was later renamed ITU-T.
It is this international body that first assigned telephone codes to countries.
In 1960, in what was referred to as the Red Book, was a list of codes assigned to European countries then.
According to the World Telephone Numbering Guide, codes 00 to 19 were special codes with special routings or semi-automatic services.
The codes went up to 99. The countries assigned were European territory, including countries in the Middle East, Asia and North Africa as follows.
The CCITT developed a Blue Book in which dialling codes were arranged according to world zones. The world was divided into regions that had specific prefixes before the country dialling codes. According to the World Telephone Numbering Guide:
- World Zone 1 – covered North and Central America which used +1,
- World Zone 2 – Africa, in which Kenya +254, falls. The Northern African countries that had first been assigned European codes were reassigned +2… numbers at this time.
- World Zone 3 and 4 – Europe. Europe was assigned two numbers as a high number of countries required two digit country codes.
- World Zone 5 - South America
- World Zone 6- Oceania and Australia
- World Zone 7- the then USSR
- World Zone 8- Eastern Asia
- World Zone 9- Western Asia and the Middle East. Here, countries such as Lebanon and Jordan that had been listed and assigned in the Red Book were reassigned +9 dial codes.
Since the development of the world zones, codes have been changing and updated following changes in countries’ names, state of independence from their colonisers and other political changes such as the merging or splitting of countries and states.
Examples of this include:
+229 - Benin when its name changed from Dahomey upon 1975 independence from France.
+291 - Eritrea got a new code after it seceded from Ethiopia in 1993.
+37 - East Germany was deleted following the German reunification after the Cold War, the numbers are under country code +49 as of mid-1991.
In Kenya, the codes are further divided depending on the cities or towns, especially when using landline telephones.
Here is a list of some area codes according to CountryCodes.Org: