Like mobile statistics, information on social media use can also be thin, said Asch Harwood and Melissa Bukuru who blog for the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Africa program. A communications firm, Portland, set out to address this deficit and measure just how prevalent Twitter is and how it is being used across Africa. According to the CFR, Portland (the communications firm) has 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. Now South Africa is the largest economy in Africa, Nigeria is the most populated country in Africa, Kenya’s economy is much smaller than both South Africa and Nigeria, and its population much much less than that of Nigeria – yet, Kenya came second.
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. According to CFR, 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]“). I also see a lot of inspirational Facebook comments and statuses from my friends in Tanzania. Someone would say an inspirational quote on how you should approach your day in the morning and end the day with a “never give up” kind of thing for those who did not have particularly great days.
So, not really the stuff of revolutions, but still, Erik Hersman, co-founder of the popular Ushahidi, a non-profit software company based in Kenya 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.” Indeed a few leaders in Africa have since joined including Jacob Zuma of South Africa and Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, and Paul Kagame of Rwanda.
That said, lacking from Portland’s analysis is the number of twitter accounts on the continent—a number that CFR was unable to find as Twitter is famously private about its user data.
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. 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 and 80% of Facebook users in the continent.
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.