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Internet in Africa

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Title: Internet in Africa  
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Internet in Africa

Internet users in 2012 as a percentage of a country's population
Africa clearly shows as the largest single area behind the digital divide.
Source: International Telecommunications Union.[1]

The Internet in Africa is limited by a lower penetration rate when compared to the rest of the world. Measurable parameters such as the number of ISP subscriptions, overall number of hosts, IXP-traffic, and overall available bandwidth all indicate that Africa is way behind the "digital divide". Moreover, Africa itself exhibits an inner digital divide, with most Internet activity and infrastructure concentrated in South Africa, Morocco, Egypt as well as smaller economies like Mauritius and Seychelles.

While the telecommunications market in Africa is still in its early stages of development, it is also one of the fastest-growing in the world. In the 2000s, mobile telephone service in Africa has been booming, and mobile telephone use is now substantially more widespread than fixed line telephony. Telecommunication companies in Africa are looking at Broadband Wireless Access technologies as the key to make Internet available to the population at large. Projects are being completed that aim at the realization of Internet backbones that might help cut the cost of bandwidth in African countries.

The International Telecommunication Union has held the first Connect the World meeting in Kigali, Rwanda (in October 2007) as a demonstration that the development of telecommunications in Africa is considered a key intermediate objective for the fulfillment of the Millennium Development Goals.[2]


  • Current situation 1
    • Context 1.1
    • Internet access 1.2
    • Number of hosts 1.3
    • IXP traffic 1.4
    • Regulation 1.5
  • Uses of Internet in Africa 2
  • Evolution and perspectives 3
    • Internet availability 3.1
    • Infrastructure development 3.2
    • Access 3.3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6
    • African online communities 6.1

Current situation

All measurable parameters about Internet in Africa (ISP subscriptions, host number, network traffic, available bandwidth and bandwidth cost) give an essentially homogeneous picture. South Africa is the only African country that has figures similar to those of Europe and North America; it is followed by some smaller, highly touristic economies such as Seychelles and Mauritius, and a few North African countries, most notably Morocco and Egypt. Apart from South Africa, the leading Subsaharan country in telecommunication and Internet development is Kenya.


Internet access point in Kigali, Rwanda

Obstacles to the accessibility of Internet services in Africa include generally low levels of computer literacy in the population, poor infrastructures, and high costs of Internet services. Power availability is also scarce, with vast rural areas that are not connected to power grids as well as frequent black-outs in major urban areas such as Dar es Salaam.[3]

In 2000, Subsaharan Africa as a whole had less fixed telephone lines than Manhattan, and in 2006 Africa contributed to only 2% of the world's overall telephone lines in the world.[3] As a consequence of this general lack of connectivity, most Africa-generated network traffic (something between 70%[4] and 85%[3]) is routed through servers that are located elsewhere (mainly Europe).

Overall bandwidth in Africa is scarce, and its irregular distribution clearly reflects the African "inner digital divide". In 2007, 16 countries in Africa had just one international Internet connection with a capacity of 10 Mbit/s or lower, while South Africa alone had over 800 Mbit/s. The main backbones connecting Africa to the rest of the world via submarine cables, i.e., SAT-2 and SAT-3, provide for a limited bandwidth. In 2007, all these international connections from Africa amounted to roughly 28,000 Mbit/s, while Asia has 800,000 Mbit/s and Europe over 3,000,000 Mbit/s. The total bandwidth available to Africa was less than that available to Norway alone (49,000 Mbit/s).[3]

As a consequence of the scarce overall bandwidth provided by cable connections, a large section of Internet traffic in Africa goes through expensive satellite links.[4] In general, thus, the cost of Internet access (and even more so broadband access) is unaffordable by most of the population.[3] According to the Kenyan ISPs association, high costs are also a consequence of the subjection of African ISPs to European ISPs and the lack of a clear international regulation of inter-ISP cost partition. For example, while ITU has long ratified that the cost of inter-provider telephonic connections must be charged to all involved providers in equal parts, in 2002 the Kenyan ISP association has denounced that all costs of Internet traffic between Europe and Africa are charged to African providers.[5]

Internet access

Internet users by region
  2005 2010 2014a
Africa       2%             10%             19%      
Americas 36% 49% 65%
Arab States 8% 26% 41%
Asia and Pacific 9% 23% 32%
Commonwealth of
Independent States
Europe 46% 67% 75%
a Estimate.
Source: International Telecommunications Union.[6]

According to 2011 estimates, about 13.5% of the African population has Internet access.[7] While Africa accounts for 15.0% of the world's population, only 6.2% of the World's Internet subscribers are Africans.[8] Africans who have access to broadband connections are estimated to be in percentage of 1% or lower.[4][9] In September 2007, African broadband subscribers were 1,097,200, with a major part of these subscriptions from large companies or institutions.[9]

Internet access is also irregularly distributed, with 2/3 of overall online activity in Africa being generated in South Africa (which only accounts for 5% of the continent's population).[8] Most of the remaining 1/3 is in Morocco and Egypt.[3] The largest percentage of Internet subscribers are found in small economies such as Seychelles, where as much as 37% of the population has Internet access (while in South Africa this value is 11% and in Egypt it is 8%).[3]

It has been noted, anyway, that data on Internet subscribers only partially reflect the actual number of Internet users in Africa, and the impact of the network on African daily life and culture.[10][11] For example, cybercafes and Internet kiosks are common in the urban areas of many African countries. There are also other informal means to "access" the Internet; for example, couriers that print e-mail message and deliver them by hand to recipients in remote locations, or radio stations that broadcast information taken from the Internet.[10]

Number of hosts

The picture provided by the figures for the number of network hosts is coherent with those above. At the end of 2007:

  • about 1.8 million hosts were in Africa, versus over 120 million in Europe, 67 million in Asia and 27 million in South America;
  • Africa as a whole had fewer hosts than Finland alone;
  • relatively developed Nigeria, despite its 155 million inhabitants, had one third of the hosts found in Liechtenstein with its 35,000 inhabitants; and
  • the largest number of African hosts (almost 90%) were in just three countries, South Africa, Morocco, and Egypt.[12]

The table below lists the number of hosts for African countries with more than 1000 hosts in 2007 and 2013. These countries collectively account for 99% of Africa's overall hosts. The last column for each year provides the "host density" measured as the number of hosts per 1000 inhabitants; for comparison, consider that the average host density in the world was 43 hosts per 1000 inhabitants in 2007 and 72 hosts per 1000 inhabitants in 2013.[12][13]

  June 2013[13] December 2007[12]
Nation Hosts
(of Africa's
(per 1000
(of Africa's
(per 1000
South Africa 4835 80 96 1197 65 25
Morocco 279 5 9 273 15 9
Egypt 204 3 4 175 10 2
Mozambique 92 2 4 23 1 1
Libya 79 1 12
Namibia 78 1 37 7 0 3
Kenya 73 1 2 24 1 1
Ghana 60 1 2 24 1 1
Mauritius 51 1 42 10 1 8
Zimbabwe 47 1 4 18 1 2
Madagascar 43 1 21 11 1 1
Angola 37 1 2 6 0 0
Uganda 33 1 1 1 0 0
Réunion 33 1 39
Tanzania 27 0 1 21 1 1
Côte d'Ivoire 25 0 1 6 0 0
Zambia 17 0 1 8 0 1
Lesotho 11 0 5
Cameroon 10 0 1
Botswana 8 0 4 6 0 4
Rwanda 4 0 0 2 0 0
Malawi 3 0 0
Congo, DR 3 0 0 2 0 0
Swaziland 3 0 2 3 0 2
Congo, RO 3 0 1
Nigeria 2 0 0 2 0 0
Burkina Faso 2 0 0
Gambia 2 0 1
São Tomé and
2 0 10 1 0 8
Eritrea 1 0 0 1 0 0
Sierra Leone 1 0 0
Benin 1 0 0
Togo 1 0 0
Africa (total) 6027 100 6 1830 100 2

IXP traffic

An indirect measure that is sometimes used to assess the penetration of Internet technology in a given area is the overall amount of data traffic at Internet exchange points (IXPs). On African IXPs, traffic can be measured in kbit/s (kilobits per second) or Mbit/s (megabits per second), while in the rest of the world it is typically in the order of magnitude of Gbit/s (gigabits per second). The main IXP of Johannesburg, JINX (which is also the largest IXP in Africa) has about 6.5 Gbit/s traffic (in Sep 2012).[14]

IXP traffic, anyway, is only a measure of local network traffic (mainly e-mail), while most of African generated traffic is routed through other continents, and most web contents created in Africa are hosted on Web servers located elsewhere.[9] Additionally, measurable data do not consider private peering, i.e., inter-ISP traffic that does not go through IXPs. For example, the main academic network in South Africa, TENET, has 10 Gbit/s private peering with ISP Internet Solutions both in Johannesburg and Cape Town.[9]


The privatization of the telecommunication market, as well as the regulation of the competition in this market, are in an early stage of development in many Africa countries. Kenya and Botswana have started a privatization process for Telkom Kenya and Botswana Telecommunications Corporation (BTC), respectively.[3] The mobile telephony market is generally more open and dynamic, and even more so is the Internet market.[3]

The table below depicts the percentage of African countries where telecommunications markets (fixed line telephony, mobile telephony, Internet) are monopolistic, partially competitive, or fully competitive, either de iure or de facto (data refer to 2007).[3]

Monopolistic 10% 9% 55%
Partially competitive 12% 41% 23%
Fully competitive 69% 43% 25%

The regulation of network businesses and the establishment of authorities to control them is widely recognised as a relevant objective by most African governments. A model for such regulation is provided by Morocco; after an authority was established in 1998, and Meditel entered the market in 1999 to compete with the main incumbent Maroc Telecom, the situation has been quickly developing.[3] Based on such experiences and on the directions provided by ITU, most African countries now have local Internet authorities and are defining local regulation of the Internet market. In 2007, 83% of African countries had their own authority for Internet services and data traffic.[3]

Uses of Internet in Africa

It is widely recognized that increased availability of Internet technology in Africa would provide several key benefits. Specifically, some of the major issues of the continent might be tackled by applications of this technology, as demonstrated by some initiatives that have already been started and that proved successful. For example, organizations such as RANET (RAdio and interNET for The communication of Hydro-Meteorological and Climate-Related Information) and the ACMAD (African Centre of Meteorological Application for Development) use Internet to develop reliable weather models for Sahel and other areas in Africa, with dramatic benefits for local agricultures.[10]

Internet-based telemedicine and distance education could improve quality of life in the most remote rural areas of Africa.[15] The availability of information on the network could benefit education in general, counterbalancing the general lack of local libraries.[10] It has also been suggested that e-Government applications could indirectly alleviate widespread political issues such as authoritarianism and corruption, and they would definitely help bridge the gap between the institutions and remote rural areas. Most Web 2.0 applications developed in Africa insofar have actually been created by governments.[3]

African economy might also benefit from broadband availability, for example as a consequence of the applicability of e-commerce and outsourcing business models that have long proved effective in Europe and North America.[3]

Evolution and perspectives

Internet availability

The African telecommunication market is growing at a faster rate than in the rest of the world.[12] In the 2000s this has especially been true for the mobile telephony market, that between 2004 and 2007 grew three times as fast as the world's average.[16] In 2005, over 5 billion USD have been invested in Africa in telecommunication infrastructures.[4]

Internet in Africa is now growing even faster than mobile telephony. Between 2000 and 2008, Internet subscriptions have grown by 1030.2%, versus the world's average of 290.6%.[8]

The table below summarizes figures for the number of Internet subscription in Africa from 2000 to 2008, based on estimates made in 2008.[8]

in 2000

in 2008



Algeria 33770 50 3500 69 10
Angola 12531 30 100 233 1
Benin 8295 15 150 900 2
Botswana 1842 15 80 433 4
Burkina Faso 15265 10 80 700 1
Burundi 8691 3 60 1900 1
Camerun 18468 20 370 1750 2
Cape Verde 427 8 37 362 9
Central African
4435 1 13 767 1
Chad 10111 1 60 5900 1
Comoros 732 1 21 1300 3
Congo 3903 1 70 13900 2
DR Congo 66514 1 230 45980 1
Côte d'Ivoire 18373 40 300 650 2
Djibouti 506 1 11 685 2
Egypt 81713 450 8620 1815 10
Equatorial Guinea 616 1 8 1500 1
Eritrea 5028 5 120 2300 2
Ethiopia 78254 10 291 2810 1
Gabon 1486 15 81 440 5
Gambia 1735 4 100 2405 6
Ghana 23383 30 650 2066 3
Guinea 10211 8 50 525 1
Guinea Bissau 1503 1 37 2366 2
Kenya 37954 200 3000 1400 8
Lesotho 2128 4 70 1650 3
Liberia 3335 1 1 100 1
Libya 6174 10 260 2500 4
Madagascar 20043 30 110 266 1
Malawi 13932 15 139 830 1
Mali 12324 18 100 431 1
Mauritania 3365 5 30 500 1
Mauritius 1274 87 340 291 27
Morocco 34343 100 7300 7200 21
Mozambique 21285 30 200 566 1
Namibia 2089 30 100 233 5
Niger 13273 5 40 703 1
Nigeria 168803 200 10000 4900 7
Rwanda 10186 5 150 2900 1
São Tomé and
206 6 23 253 11
Senegal 12853 40 820 1950 6
Seychelles 82 6 32 433 39
Sierra Leone 6295 5 13 160 1
Somalia 9559 1 98 48900 1
South Africa 43786 2400 5100 112 22
Sudan 40218 30 1500 4900 4
Swaziland 1128 10 42 320 4
Tanzania 40213 115 400 248 1
Togo 5859 100 320 220 5
Tunisia 10383 100 1722 1622 17
Uganda 31368 40 2000 4900 6
Zambia 11669 20 500 2400 4
Zimbabwe 12382 50 1351 2602 11
Africa (total) 985726 4514 51022 1030 5

Infrastructure development

A number of projects have been started that aim at bringing more bandwidth to Africa, in order to cut down costs for both operators and end users. At least three projects for an underseas backbone in the Indian Ocean have been started. EASSy (East African Submarine cable System), sponsored by the World Bank and the Development Bank of Southern Africa, is a cable system that will connect Mtunzini (South Africa) and Port Sudan (Sudan), with branches to several countries on the eastern coast of Africa. The Kenyan government has started a similar project named TEAMS (The East Africa Marine System), with the collaboration of Etisalat.[17] A third project, SEACOM, is completely African-owned.[18] SEACOM bandwidth has already been sold to several customers, including the South African network TENET.[19]

In South Africa, the SANReN network, with a 500 Gbit/s core, has been designed to become the fastest academic network in the world; the universities of Witwatersrand and Johannesburg are already using a bandwidth of 10 Gbit/s provided by this network.


With bandwidth becoming more available and less costly, the first to benefit will be institutions and companies that already have Internet access. In order for the network to reach a larger part of the population, solutions are needed for the last mile problem, i.e., to make bandwidth available to the final user. To be feasible for Africa, last mile solutions must be found that take into account the limited penetration of fixed telephony lines, especially in rural areas. Of about 400.000 rural communities that are estimated to exist in Africa, less than 3% have PSTN access. Note that providing network access to rural communities is one of Millennium Goals defined by the World Summit on the Information Society.

Most studies on this subject identify Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) technologies such as WiMAX as the most promising solution for the end user's Internet access in Africa.[3] These technologies can also benefit from the wide availability of the mobile telephony network. Even in smaller countries like Seychelles, most Internet users already access the network via the GSM network.[3] Providers that have 3G licenses will be able to provide WiMAX services.[3]

Some experimentation is already being conducted in a few countries. In Kenya, the Digital Village Scheme project aims at providing government services in rural areas via wireless access. In Nigeria, Horizon Wireless is running a broadband (3.5 GHz) wireless network. Since 2007, MTN Rwanda has been working to provide broadband wireless access in Kigali.[3] In Algeria, the Icosnet ISP and Aperto Networks have been collaborating for a business WiMAX solution. The South African authority ICASA has already assigned WiMAX licences to several providers, and Neotel is implementing WiMAX-based last mile solutions in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban.[20]

See also


  1. ^ "Percentage of Individuals using the Internet 2000-2012", International Telecommunications Union (Geneva), June 2013, retrieved 22 June 2013
  2. ^ ITU (2010)
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r ITU (2007)
  4. ^ a b c d Waters (2007)
  5. ^ BBC News (2002)
  6. ^ ICT Facts and Figures 2005, 2010, 2014, Telecommunication Development Bureau, International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Retrieved 24 May 2015.
  7. ^ Internet World Statistics [16](2011)
  8. ^ a b c d Internet World Stats (2011)
  9. ^ a b c d Pingdom (2008)
  10. ^ a b c d Cornu (2005)
  11. ^ Oyelaran-Oyeyinka and Nyaki Adeya (2002)
  12. ^ a b c d Livraghi (2008)
  13. ^ a b Livraghi (2014)
  14. ^
  15. ^ Albert Butare (Rwanda Minister of Telecommunications), quoted in Waters (2007)
  16. ^ Hamadoun Touré, International Telecommunication Union, quoted in Waters (2007)
  17. ^ Balancing Act (2008b)
  18. ^ MyBroadband (2007)
  19. ^ Andrew Alston, quoted in Pingdom (2008)
  20. ^ Balancing (2008b)
  • Jean-Michel Cornu (2005), How people use the Internet today in Africa, UNESCO, [17]
  • Giancarlo Livraghi (2008), Dati sull'Internet in Africa, [18] (Italian)
  • Giancarlo Livraghi (2014), Dati sull'Internet in Africa, [19] (Italian)
  • Darren Waters (2007), Africa waiting for net revolution. «BBC News» October 29, [20]
  • Balancing Act (2005), South Africa's MTN Spends USD60-70M on 3G Launch, «Balancing Act» nr. 264, [21]
  • Balancing Act (2008), Private Investors Sign Up for Stake in TEAMS cable project in Kenya, «Balancing Act» n. 398, [22]
  • Balancing Act (2008b), Mobile Internet Take-up Is Speeding the Take-up of IPv6 in Africa, «Balancing Act» n. 406, [23]
  • BBC News (2002), The Great African Internet Robbery, April 15, [24]
  • ITU (2007), Telecommunications/ICT Markets and Trends in Africa, [25]
  • ITU (2010), Connect the World, [26]
  • Internet World Stats (2008), African Internet Usage and Population Stats [27]
  • MyBroadband (2007), Is SEACOM Racing Past EASSy?, [28]
  • Banji Oyelaran-Oyeyinka and Catherine Nyaki Adeya (2002), Internet Access in Africa: An Empirical Exploration, May, United Nations University, [29]
  • Pingdom (2008), Africa's Internet is Still Very Far Behind, March, [30]

External links

  • Internet in Africa at Columbia University
  • African office of the Internet Society
  • Balancing Act, telecommunications, internet and broadcast in Africa
  • Computers and internet in Africa at DMOZ
  • TENET, the main academic network in Africa

African online communities

  • Kenyan Pundit, Kenyan blog server
  • Mentalacrobatics, Kenyan blog server
  • Mashada, Kenyan forum
  • Urban Legend Kampala, Ugandan blog server
  • Kenyayote, Kenyan leading Campus blog server
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