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Latest mobile phone statistics from Africa and what this means…

A few weeks ago, while doing some research for my HRSDC client, I came across a report entitled  Africa Mobile Fact Book 2008 , which opened my eyes to the rapidly evolving mobile landscape in Africa. This growth has been fueled in large part by the liberalization effort resulting in the formation of independent regulatory bodies and increased competition in the market. Combine this with numerous grassroots efforts to empower the poor (by providing access to knowledge through technology) and you have yourself the beginning of a true revolution, in an area that is typically disregarded in terms of technological growth for obvious reasons (i.e 800 million people going to bed hungry every day).

However, consider these stats:

  • The total African mobile subscriber base is roughly 280.7 million people (30% of total)
  • The total African mobile subscriber base is expected to reach 561 million (53.5%) by 2012 .
  • The mobile penetration rate in South Africa is 84%
  • South Africa, Nigeria, Morocco, Egypt, Algeria and Kenya constitute the key mobile markets in Africa in terms of potential growth.
  • At least 15 operators have already announced plans of introducing 3G voice and data services (including among others, Tanzania, Kenya and Nigeria)
  • SMS is being used in innovative ways such as pricing information for agricultural products, mobile banking (in more developed regions), and human rights abuse notifications.

Mobile Subscribers & Penetration Rates in Africa


Major Mobile Markets in Africa

African Mobile Markets

Put simply, mobile phone devices can now be manufactured at little cost. With the advent of data services, these mobile phones are essentially mini computers. Many Africans could never afford an actual laptop or desktop, however a mobile phone running on a non-profit cellular network is within reach for many.  Of course, numerous barriers still exist. The main ones being taxation, low-income groups and widespread illiteracy. This is where grassroots efforts to provide low-cost technology to the poor (those that have at least some basic supply of food, water and shelter) come into play. Us in the social media sphere often talk about “individual empowerment” as one of the key elements of the web 2.0 revolution.  This is where that empowerment has the potential to make a real “life or death” difference. Having done some work with CIDA and various other non-profit organizations working in regions such as Africa, I am quickly learning that social media’s real power and potential lies in the developing world.  We’re not there yet (the infrastructure needs to be put in place first), however once those basic levels of literacy are reached (through efforts like the Ink-Media computer project), and once mobile phone penetration rates start hitting those high numbers (50% +), then the aggregate “long-tail” of the world’s poor will suddenly have a tremendous, powerful voice.

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  1. Great post Mike. I had heard about the African mobile revolution explained mostly as a result of a lack of ability to lay landlines in remote areas. In terms of how cell phones were financially empowering Africans, I had heard how people in villages were becoming call centres by getting phones and charging people to use them. As for banking, I’ve read that mobile banking you mention is happening in Kenya and also in Afghanistan. Check out
    And it’s not just phones. A few years ago IDRC was funding a project to give African health care workers in remote areas PDAs to collect and share information…
    Years ago, a communications professor of mine was saying that places like Africa might jump right over the industrial age and go right from agricultural to information economies.
    Could this be happening?

  2. I think that’s exactly what is and has been happening very quickly over the last few years. Many people tend to think of developing countries as decades behind in technology, however as you point out, they are in the process of skipping a few steps.

  3. I recall a company who’s name escapes me now, but they were producing solar powered, highly durable laptops to that people in remote areas could have access to computers.

  4. Patrice Collin

    Great blog Mike, you are right about this being a sucess in large part because of the lack of a central governing body for regulations and restrictions to market/competition. I will try and find an article that I had read that made the correlation between Mobile phone market in North America vs Africa regarding growth and innovation.

    Robin: you read my mind….I was going to add the growth of the mobile market in africa and other developing nations actually has facilitated a lot of the Micro-financing initiatives and also is facilitating money transfers from family members outside of the country who acount for bringing wealth back into those countries.

    As we know many folks who leave their native country send back money to their family back home which is a vital source of revenue and I would argue this also one of the more tangible reasons that Mobile networks have flourished. The important part of this development will be to ensure that there is an effort to have some of these businesses be home grown to those developing counrty and not just have multi nationals coming in to fill the gap.

  5. Great post, Mike. Thank you. I was looking for mobile penetration stats like these on a global level… and you’ve helped a great deal. Any idea where I would get the same level of rigor for the rest of the world?

    What a great hope connectivity is for the future. And what challenges it will bring!

    Keep up the great blogging, Mike,


  6. Mike – you might want to peruse our website at We have been keeping track of mobile tech in social development for years now. The field is rapidly maturing and there are hundreds of development efforts that are utilizing mobile tech. We keep track of them on our site, together with a comprehensive database of case studies, tools, and relevant research.

    You should know, though, that 2008 numbers are completely outdated by now. Penetration rates in many African countries are reaching 50-80% – much ahead of the 2008 projections. The ITU data is typically a year or more behind – we get data directly from the GSMA.

    And yes, glad you are realizing that mobile tech is indeed revolutionizing the way all of us, no matter where, live, work, run businesses, and feed our children – even in the most remote or underdeveloped corners of the world.


    Katrin Verclas,

  7. Teklay

    Good start Mike, keep posting with latest trend of the topic.

    Business Strategist in Information Technology

  8. Hi Mike,

    You and your readers may be interested in checking out the Afrographique blog which is filled with great infographics regarding mobile, internet and social development in Africa.

    You’re welcome to visit and explore the data at our blog:

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