In the past decade or so, there were over 12 conflicts/wars on the African continent but as of today, there is almost none with more nations embracing democracy as a system of government. This change has been sped up by technological advancements like smartphones and internet facilities which have afforded us the opportunity to connect with other global citizens on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, YouTube among others. I’ll be using Nigeria as a major case study and that is not to say I won’t mention other countries.
It’s important to talk a bit on how the social media space has shaped the way Nigerians react to public decisions. Prior to May 29 1999 and most definitely the social media era, many people were afraid to voice our their opinions. This was largely due to the perception of the military leaders as opposed to free speech and expression. But with restoration of democracy, these rights began to return but still only a few people could afford to go to the media houses to register their opinions on important matters. This all changed with the advent of the social media era. More and more Nigerians and indeed African accounts were opened. At the end of last year, we had over 100 million Africans on Facebook alone with Nigerians alone accounting for over 12 million of those accounts. From various publications, the voting population of Nigeria is about 50 million and a large portion of these people are on either on Facebook and twitter. There is also the BlackBerry user group in Nigeria which cannot be ignored.. There are millions BlackBerry users in Nigeria and with the BBM (BlackBerry messenger) now being a cross platform application, more people are connecting with each other on a daily basis and still on the social messenger platforms, WhatsApp now has over 700 million users worldwide with millions of users in Nigeria. We see many Nigerians taking advantage of the Google platforms and most notably YouTube.
Internet penetration in % across the world as at 2010
Internet penetration in % across the world as at 2012
Source: International Telecommunications Union
For anyone who followed or subscribed to any of these parities/candidates this past election, you may have been alarmed at the number of messages posted per minute by politicians and their followers especially on twitter and according to internet live stats, there are over 500 million tweets per day and this represents about 200 billion tweets in a year. Nigeria ranks number 3 in Africa when it comes to active twitter users and number 35 on Facebook globally. There is therefore little wonder Nigerian politicians and businesses have come to embrace the internet as a campaign tool. There is also another crucial reason, the average Nigerian user on the major social networks is between the ages of 18 and 24. 66% are male while 34% are female. If you’re then familiar with the Nigerian constitution, this represents an active voter bloc that can prove to be a decider in a well conducted elections.
Across the continent from the Arab spring which started in Tunisia to transitions across West Africa, technology was at the heart of it all. It is estimated that there are about 1 billion people living in Africa with mobile subscription said to have exceeded 800 million users.
In the same report, it was noted that as of 2014, only about 21.3% of the entire population had access to internet facilities and when compared to the rest of the world, the African continent still ranks low. This is an area investors (local and international) should focus on.
In spite of the massive technology investments into the African market, there still remain challenges like infrastructure which has affected the way consumers are billed. It costs about $38/£24/7,500 Naira to get an unlimited access to the internet per month in the UK and while it may cost higher across other developed nations as seen in the chart above, this is due to the data rate and eventual throughput enjoyed by customers. But using the UK for example, if it costs that amount per month for an average consumer who streams live video/audio and downloads heavily with a very low downtime, you can imagine what it would cost to get an equivalent service in many African countries. In Nigeria for example, it costs an average of 15,000 Naira/$75/£48 per month and on this plan you cannot still have the luxury of streaming live events regularly. Let me note at this point that speeds are gradually improving while costs remain high. Many of the broadband providers in Europe and America also provide TV and phone options. With about £70/21,500Naira/$108 per month in the UK for example, you could get a get a good deal package on TV, Phone and broadband from a provider. So let’s say you want an equivalent of the full package I described with “extensive” internet usage options. For the sake of writing this, I would say you may need at least 70-100 GB of data which may cost you around 25,000 Naira/£81/$125.
Multi choice (DSTV) which is the leading cable has just jerked up its cost to about 16,000 Naira/$80/£52. The cost of acquiring a landline service could cost anywhere between 10,000 Naira and 20,000 Naira as it all depends on the package and the provider but let’s go with the minimum for the sake of this report. Now you see that what costs an average SKY/BT/Virgin user in Britain about £70/21,500Naira/$108 monthly would cost a user in Nigeria about 51,000 Naira/£166/$256. This is about the story across the continent. As you may know wages on the continent are not very good when compared with those of workers in Europe, American and some parts of Asia for example. Please click here for a breakdown of minimum wages across the world.
So the reason the internet usage/appreciation level is still very low among Africans when compared with their counterparts in other parts of the world is that the services are too expensive for an average person to afford. The services are there but simply unaffordable.
To balance up the equation though, governments across Africa ought to invest more in infrastructure like power and security. Multiple taxation could be a major problem as well. The provider would have no choice but to pass part of the cost to the consumer.
Countries with better leaderships have citizens who are well informed and so there is a direct proportionality between internet penetration and good governance. It costs the average Nigeria and by extension an African over double the cost of getting a reliable internet service when put side by side their counterparts in Europe and America and this means productivity will be half what it is in Europe and America.
In Nigeria for example, people predicted the outcome even before results were officially announced as citizens took to social media platforms to publish result in their respective polling units so as to avoid manipulations. In Kenya, videos and images taken by citizens were used to track down terrorist and in South Africa, the internet became a major tool to report the recent xenophobia and this led authorities to clamp down on perpetrators. There is good news though, there is more investment coming into this sector nut more needs to be done.