John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Guest Post: New Figures on Facebook and Twitter in Africa

by John Campbell
February 16, 2012

Nairobi University students study with computers during the launch of Facebook in Nairobi March 27, 2008. (Antony Njuguna/Courtesy Reuters )


This is a guest post by Asch Harwood and Melissa Bukuru. Asch is the CFR Africa program research associate. Follow him on Twitter at @aschlfod. Melissa is the CFR Africa program intern.

Like mobile statistics (which Asch wrote about yesterday), information on social media use can also be thin. A communications firm, Portland, has set out to address this deficit and measure just how prevalent Twitter and how it is being used across Africa. They analyzed about 11.5 million geolocated tweets across the continent (including North Africa).

Unsurprisingly, South Africa dominated the African Twitter landscape with over five million geo-located tweets (not users) in a three month period. Nigeria came in third, with just over 1.6 million tweets in the same period, putting it behind South Africa and Kenya.

While the 140-character missives have been lauded for their role in building social movements, in Kenya, tweets are being used for a smaller but also important impact. Francis Kariuki (@chiefkariuki), the administrative chief of a Western village in Kenya uses the medium to warn the area’s residents about crime and other happenings in the area. The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that the tech-savvy chief once tweeted about a robbery in progress at 4am, and “within minutes residents in this village of stone houses gathered outside the home, and the thugs fled.”

Chief Kariuki also uses Twitter for more optimistic purposes by tweeting the residents inspirational quotes (“We’ve been destined to live in victory, destined to overcome, destined to leave a mark on this generation”) or encouragement to get involved in government proceedings (“Our MP is coming today at 2:00pm to issue cheques to some CDF projecst [sic] at DO office Gathioro. U R WELCOMED [sic]”).

So, not really the stuff of revolutions, but still, Erik Hersman, founder of the popular Ushahidi, a non-profit software company based in Kenya (which our own Nigeria Security Tracker uses) concluded from Kariuki’s tweeting that “if a chief in upcountry Kenya is able to use and have an impact with his constituents by using tools like Twitter, it’s not too long before we see a massive movement in the country with these types of social media.”

That said, lacking from Portland’s analysis is the number of twitter accounts on the continent—a number that we were unable to find as Twitter is famously private about its user data. (If anyone has any good estimates, please send them our way.) We do know that many users surveyed in the study said that at least half of the accounts they follow are based in Africa. This might plant the grains for what Hersman is alluding to.

Facebook statistics, on the other hand, are more abundant. The continent boasts over 38 million users, but North Africa accounts for more than fifty percent of those users. And Egypt is by far the dominant user with almost ten million users.

Add Nigeria’s four million users and South Africa’s five million users with North Africa’s usership, and you can account for 80 percent of all Facebook accounts on the Africa continent. (North Africa plus Nigeria and South Africa account for about 37 percent of the continent’s billion plus population.)

If we look at per capita, Tunisia tops the entire continent with 30 percent, followed by Egypt with about 12.5 percent, and South Africa at about 10 percent. While Nigerians compromise the greatest absolute number of Facebook users in sub-Saharan Africa, its gigantic population means that only about 2.5 percent of Nigerians are using it.

Nevertheless, as these tools become more entrenched, as access to mobile phones and internet improves, and Africans become more aware of their potential, we think we will continue to see continued rapid adoption across the continent.

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  • Posted by Kenya fan

    Kenya is a clear leader in Africa when it comes to Social Media and ICT adoption when compared to countries with a higher population (Nigeria). It’s a testament to what focused pro-growth government policies (with respect to the ICT sector) can achieve. More can be achieved in Kenya and the rest of Africa with the right mix of government policies (or at the very least guarantees of government non-interference).

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