anche in italiano



Data on internet activity in Africa

One of a series of analyses
by Giancarlo Livraghi

Updated February 29, 2012
Based on statistics up to December 2011

The next update will probably be here
in February or March 2013

In the first eight years of studying the worldwide development of the internet I never published an analysis of the situation in Africa. I tried several times to learn something from available data, but (except in the case of South Africa) numbers were too small to be meaningful. Only one dismal fact was clear: most of Africa was practically excluded from the development of the internet. Though some of the figures aren’t as tiny as they used to be, even now, in several cases, they are only marginally relevant. But there is growth in some parts of Africa – so, starting in 2004, this report is taking a closer look to what is happening in the continent with the lowest general level of internet activity.

Still now, most of the continent has a very low hostcount. And over 80 percent the total is in one country, South Africa, that has 5 percent of Africa’s population.

Growth in Africa, in recent years, has often been faster than the world average. In 2009 the increase was a remarkable 50 percent over a year earlier – and there was an even more suprising 70 percent growth in 2010 (but most of it was in one country, South Africa.)

(For a comparison see the “large areas” trends in worldwide data.)

Even excluding South Africa, there is fast growth only in a few countries. The fact is that, with 14 percent of the world’s population, Africa still has less than one percent of global actvity in the internet – with a total of five million hosts, as compared to 180 million in Europe, 114 in Asia and 60 in Latin America.

However, the situation isn’t static. There are changes and developents in different parts of the continent and there is considerable potential for further growth.

This graph shows the growth in South Africa compared to the entire continent.

Internet hosts in Africa and South Africa

Numbers in thousands

In this perspective the development in “the rest of Africa” appears almost flat. But actually it isn’t – as we see in the next graph.

Internet hosts in “the rest of Africa”

Numbers in thousands

The gray line is a “comparison index” based on percentages of growth worldwide

Though on a small scale, the hoscount in Africa is growing faster than the world average. But it will need greater acceleration to get closer to international levels.

This table shows the situation in the 32 African countries with over a thousand internet hosts (that have 99 percent of the total hostcount in Africa.)

  Number of hosts
December 2011
Per 1000
South Africa 4,834,779 96.7
Morocco 278,661 8.6
Egypt 200,336 2.5
Mozambique 82,804 3.7
Namibia 77,948 36.4
Kenya 69,914 1.7
Ghana 60,282 2.5
Mauritius 51,235 39.5
Uganda 33,082 1.0
Réunion 32,605 39.0
Madagascar 32,537 1.6
Zimbabwe 30,650 2.4
Tanzania 26,278 0.6
Angola 20,269 1.2
Libya 17,792 2.7
Zambia 16,372 1.3
Ivory Coast 9,862 0.5
Cameroon 9,553 0.5
Botswana 7,544 3.8
Rwanda 4,129 0.4
Congo (Kinshasa) 3,211 0.05
Swaziland 2,776 2.3
Congo (Brazzaville) 2,514 0.7
Nigeria 2,498 0.02
Burkina Faso 1,951 0.1
Gambia 1,685 1.0
São Tomé & Pr. 1,646 10.0
Lesotho 1,581 0.8
Eritrea 1,313 0.3
Benin 1,283 0.1
Togo 1,165 0.2
Malawi 1,092 0.08
Africa 5,900,000 5.8
excluding South Africa 1,000,000 1.1

If we exlude South Africa, in the rest of the continent
there are 1.1 hosts per thousand inhabitants.

As explained in international data, world average
density is 67 hosts per 1000 inhabitants.

In a general situation of very low internet activity there are relevant differences. In recent years a large change was in Morocco, that had strong growth in 2004-2005 (and, at that time, had higher density on population than any other African country, except South Africa) but development was slower in following years. In North Africa, there is also the evolution of Egypt, that after an apparently static period in 2003-2004 showed some growth in 2005-2007 – but less so in the last four years. There was an increase in Libya in 2009 and 2010, while in the rest of the area hostcount figures remain very small. Algeria has density as low as Nigeria, Tunisia isn’t doing much better.

In 2009 there was particularly fast development in Namibia (that also in previous years had higher online activity than most of Africa – and is continuing to grow.) In 2011, the fastest growth appears to be in Mozambique.

In the rest of Africa there are indications of growth in a few countries, such as Kenya and Tanzania – more recently Ghana, Madagascar and the Ivory Coast.

There is relatively high density, compared to most of the continent, in some “small” countries such as Namibia, Swaziland and Botswana (also Mauritius and other islands.)

In this “pie” graph we see the situation of the eight African countries with over 50,000 internet hosts (that have 96 percent of the total in the continent.)

8 African countries

8 countries

Over eighty percent of the hostcount in Africa remains concentrated in one country. In the first three it’s 90 percent.

If, for better readability of the chart, we remove South Africa and the two North African countries with (relatively) higher online activity, this is the picture in the other 16 countries in Africa with over five thousand internet hosts.

16 African countries

16 countries

The reliability of data is always doubtful, especially with small numbers, but the situation is evolving and it’s very likely that there will be more changes.

The “rest of Africa” in this graph includes over thirty countries with very low internet activity. The hostcout in Nigeria, with 140 million inhabitants, is a third of the number in Liechtenstein. And so in the “large” Congo – even worse in Sudan.

Ethiopia, with 80 million inhabitants, has 167 hosts (less than half the number in the St. Helena island, population four thousand people.) Only 113 hosts are found in Somalia, while there are more in Eritrea and Djbouti. The total hostcount in Africa is smaller than in Switzerland.

A new top level domain has been defined for a newly independent African country, but so far it isn’t working. “South Sudan” separated from Sudan on July 9, 2011 – and applied for the SS tld, facing the reasonable ojection that in Europe and other parts of the world it recalls nazism. Ignoring those concerns, South Sudan insisted and obtained the registration of this tld. But according to recent information (February 2012) it isn’t practically active.

In the next graph we see density (hosts per 1000 inhabitants) in 22 African countries with over two thousand internet hosts.

Internet hosts per 1000 inhabitants
in 22 African countries

22 countries
For better readability of the graph the size of South Africa is reduced by 45 percent

These graphs can’t be taken too seriously because (as pointed out at the beginning) figures are too small to be accurate. And these are only a few examples of the different, and complex, situations in many countries. But it’s clear that, even in a low-development environment such as Africa, local situations vary – and change over time. We are still in the early stages of an evoution that has a long way to go. Small as it is, it has large growth potential.

Let’s look at this picture also as a map.

Internet hosts per 1000 inhabitants


A small “dot” in the Gulf of Guinea shows density
in the São Tomé and Principe islands.
A “dark red” one would appear in the Indian Ocean
if this map included Mauritius – and blue for the Seychelles.
In the Atlantic there would be, in red, Saint Helena.
But other islands are in the “white” density level.

The case of Lesotho, that appears as a low-density “hole” surrounded by South Africa,
is an example of how there can be such differences also inside each country.
If we could trace maps in greater detail we would find,
more so in Africa than in other parts of the world, online activity
restricted to a few urban areas or near communication resources
with hardly any links to the rest of the environment.

Compared to the maps in four other documents in this section  (World, Europe, Asia and Latin America) the scale in this case is based on much lower density levels.

Also in other parts of the world it is noticeable that geographic “vicinity” has some influence – as in the case of countries close to South Africa (and French influence in Morocco.)  But the “somewhat better” developed areas are still a small part of Africa.

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