12 Things You Didn’t Know About How Africans Use The Internet

By Peter Pedroncelli AFKI Original Published: June 9, 2017, 8:29 am

Understanding how Africans use the internet remains the subject of many research studies, with new data emerging regarding stats and trends.

The continent is becoming an important market for numerous internet-based businesses, while social media platforms are attracting more African users than ever before.

With faster internet speeds and a growing appetite for connectivity on the continent, online trends are changing and the internet is shaping the way Africans work and play.

Here are the 12 things you didn’t know about how Africans use the internet.

Sources: WeAreSocial, WorldBank, Orinoco, Opera.

People get online at an internet cafe in Nairobi. Photo: Wikipedia

Low penetration but growing

Of the 1.2 billion people on the African continent, approximately 362 million use the internet in some way. That works out to a 29 percent internet penetration rate, which is less than other parts of the world, but recent growth is positive at an increase of four percent since January 2016.

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Three men using their mobile devices to connect to the internet. Photo: Getty/timeshighereducation

Mobile is king

With 81 percent of the total African population using a mobile device, it makes sense that the vast majority of internet traffic from Africa is accessed via mobile devices as opposed to a computer or tablet. The latest figures in Nigeria confirm that around 91 percent of Nigerian internet traffic is accessed via mobile, and many other African countries follow a similar pattern.

Africans use Twitter

Twitter is a popular social media platform in Africa. Photo: blackhistorymonth2014.com

Social media is popular in Africa

Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are consistently attracting African users, with 170 million active social media users already on numerous platforms, while there has been annual growth of over 47 percent in African social media users over the last couple of years.

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Brands are excited about a growing market for connected products and services thanks to increases in data usage. Photo: mtn.co.rw

Biggest data users

In a study conducted by Opera, it was determined that Ghanaians, Kenyans, Seychellois and Mauritians are the highest data users on the continent with an average usage of over 160MB/month.


Some of the matatus offering free WiFi courtesy of Safaricom with their Vuma Online branding (image: cio.co.ke)

Free WiFi is a growing trend

Internet access is considered a basic right, but access to that right remains limited in Africa. One of the major trends that is changing this, however, is the increasing availability of free WiFi in public places throughout Africa, with more and more transport hubs, shops, restaurants and other areas where people gather enabled with free WiFi.

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South African students access the internet at one of the free Wi-Fi hotspots in Tshwane, South Africa. Photo: rekordcenturion

South Africans spend more time online than most

In terms of the average amount of time spent on the internet each day, South Africans spend almost five hours on desktop and three hours on mobile each day, ranking eighth among countries globally in terms of time spent, and the highest ranked in Africa.

For those who can’t be at the game, following via the internet keeps them connected to their favorite teams and players. Photo: Thinkstock

Sports fans love the internet

The internet is used for many purposes in Africa, but one of the major attractions for Africans to spend time online is to keep updated on sports events. Whether following the latest news or getting live sports commentary and stats, using the internet to access sports content is popular in Africa.

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Data over voice calls and texts

Mobile penetration in Africa is high, with many Africans using smartphones. These people often use their phones to access the internet, relying on being connected to make calls and send messages via apps such as WhatsApp instead of voice calls or texts, relying on their internet data rather than mobile networks to communicate with friends and family.

MTN Cameroon launches mobile app development contest. Photo: camer.be

App development gaining momentum

The proliferation of smartphones across Africa, combined with increases in internet access and speeds, has been the ideal breeding ground for apps to be used and developed within African countries, as local developers aim to make apps to cater for the needs of their fellow Africans.

Nigerian YouTube personality Ikenna Azuike is popular online. Photo: Huffington Post

Nigerian YouTube personality Ikenna Azuike is popular online. Photo: Huffington Post

Faster speeds and YouTube personalities

As internet speeds on the continent have continued to improve, YouTube has become increasingly popular, giving rise to numerous YouTube personalities from Africa such as South Africa’s Caspar Lee, Tameen Youness in Egypt and Nigeria’s Ikenna Azuike.


Netflix has identified Africa as an important market. Photo: techweez.com

Video streaming on the rise

Another of the developments that come with faster internet speeds is video-on-demand, and with a growing middle class across the continent, more consumers are giving the likes of Netflix, Showmax and iflix reason to fight for market share. Visits to streaming video websites on Opera Mini in Africa have increased by 36 percent since 2012.

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Hostesses take a selfie during the African Footballer of the Year Award in Abuja, Nigeria, Jan. 7, 2016. Photo: Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty

Nigeria has the most internet users

As Africa’s most populous nation, with around 182 million people in the country, Nigeria is the African state with the highest number of internet users on the continent, with 91.88 million people connected to the web, or around half of the population.

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