Mobile phones on the rise in Africa


Seven in ten Africans own their own mobile phones, with access essentially universal in Algeria and Senegal, according to Afrobarometer findings from across 34 countries.

Africa’s mobile subscriptions reached 781-million (image credit:

The report, based on face-to-face interviews with more than 51,000 people, reveals that 84% use cell phones at least occasionally, a higher level of access than reported previously by the United Nations. Internet use is less common – with only 18% using it at least monthly.

These technological trends are detailed in Afrobarometer’s report, “The Partnership of Free Speech and Good Governance in Africa,” released today at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Nairobi.

Written by Winnie Mitullah and Paul Kamau at IDS, the report identifies the countries with the highest and lowest use of information and communications technologies.

Key Findings

– 72% of respondents report owning their own phone, and another 9% report access to a mobile phone in their household; only about 16% of the population reports never using a mobile phone.

– Access to mobile phones is essentially universal in Algeria and Senegal (98% each), followed by South Africa, Cote d’Ivoire and Kenya (93% each).

Fourteen countries report access rates above 90%. In sharp contrast, Madagascar (44%) and Burundi (49%) both fall below 50%.

– Across the 20 countries for which data is available since Afrobarometer Round 4 (2008-2009), average rates of usage climbed by one third, from 63% of the population with access in 2008, to 83% today.

– Frequency of use has also increased: 44% in 16 countries reported daily use in 2008, compared to 65% in those same countries in Round 5.

– Countries experiencing the largest gains in access from 2008 levels were Burkina Faso, which saw an increase from 46% in 2008 to 90% in 2013, and Zimbabwe, where access increased 40 percentage points, from 51% to 91%, in the same period.

– Only Malagasy report no change; access there remained essentially stagnant at 44%, leaving the country in a distant last place among the 34 countries studied.

– Fifty-nine percent of respondents report using mobile phones to send or receive text messages, and 16% use them to send or receive money or pay bills.

– Kenya’s status as a global leader in innovative uses of mobile phones to transfer funds and make payments is confirmed: 71% report using their phones to move money, far surpassing the next closest countries: Tanzania (40%), Liberia (39%), and Sudan (38%).

– Access to the internet is growing much more slowly. In the 20 countries where this question has been asked since 2008, access at least monthly has increased only 4 points, from 11% to 15%.

Staff writer