Twitter’s Growth in Africa is Just Beginning

Article  by  Dovilé DAVELUY  •  Published 15.02.2012  •  Updated 16.02.2012
[NEWS] A report released in January 2012 attests to the burgeoning African Twittersphere, with South Africa leading the way. Young people tweeting from mobile devices is the primary force driving the growth of Twitter on the continent.
Kenya-based consultancy firm Portland Communications and British media platform Tweetminster conducted the first comprehensive analysis of the African Twittersphere in the report, "How Africa Tweets," which analyzed 11.5 million geographically-pinpointed tweets over the last three months of 2011. The study also entailed a survey of the 500 most active African tweeters.

The report found that South Africa, the continent’s largest economy, has by far the most active Twitter users, with 5,030,226 tweets counted over the study period. Kenyans, with the second-most active Twitter population on the continent, wrote 2,476,800 tweets – half as few – over the same period. Nigeria, with a population of over 155 million, ranked third with 1,646,212 tweets, attesting to the relatively low Twitter usage rates in the country, even though it has 45 million Internet users, the most on the continent. Egypt, with 1,214,062, and Morocco, with 745, 620 tweets respectively, occupied the fourth and fifth places. Tunisia, where the Arab Spring social uprisings – at least partially driven by the active usage of social media, including Twitter – began, ranked eighth at 61,920 tweets. Finally, Ghana occupied the twentieth place with only 2,322 tweets, proving that significant differences in penetration of Twitter around the continent still exist.

Source: Portland and Tweetminister, How Africa Tweets, 2012

More than half of African tweeters are 21 to 29 years old (39 is the average age of Twitter users worldwide). They also actively use other social media platforms such as Facebook (94%), YouTube (69%) and Google+ (46%). The report also found that 57% of tweets originate from mobile devices, which is not surprising given that mobile broadband subscriptions greatly exceed fixed broadband subscriptions on the continent.

While in Africa, Twitter remains primarily a platform for social exchange with 81% of Africans using the microblogging platform to communicate with friends, it is also becoming an important source of information – 68% of users monitoring the news and 22% searching for jobs through Twitter. International news is the principal type of news followed on Twitter in Africa.

According to the data from ViralMS, in 2011, 37.6% of worldwide tweets were conversational in nature, 39.6% were qualified as “pointless babble,” and only 4% were news; globally, this seems to suggest that Twitter usage is still heavily centered on social exchange and informal communication.

The researchers noted that although more and more Africans are joining the Twittersphere, public figures are still reluctant to take advantage of it. Mark Flanagan, Portland’s partner for digital communications, said that one of the most surprising findings of their research was that “business and political leaders were largely absent from the debates playing out on Twitter across the continent.” He further added that this is likely to change in the near future, because, “as Twitter lifts off in Africa, governments, businesses and development agencies can really no longer afford to stay out of a new space where dialogue will increasingly be taking place.”

There are already quite a few notable exceptions. The Rwandan President Paul Kagame is now world-famous for his Twitter battle with the British journalist Ian Birrel regarding his rule and human rights record in the country. South African opposition leader Lindiwe Mazibuko regularly uses Twitter to solidify her supporter base by letting them in on more intimate details about her life, such as what she cooks for dinner. The New York Times recently ran several stories[+] NoteAnother article about this subject can be found here.X [1] documenting the Twitter usage of the Islamist insurgent group Al-Shabab in Somalia. According to the newspaper, the group was “firing off pithy Twitter messages referring to their attacks and taunting the Kenyan military.” The New York Times also reported that American officials were concerned that the Shabab might be using Twitter to reach potential Western recruits. The role that social media, specifically Twitter, played in Arab Spring uprisings is also widely acknowledged.

Although Twitter usage is growing on the African continent, it still lags behind when compared to other parts of the world. According to ViralMS, Africa and the Middle East combined represent only about 5% of the global Twitter market – it is otherwise rather equally divided between Asia and the Pacific at 27.1%, North America at 26.8%, Europe at 24.3%, and Latin America at 16.5%. Internet usage in general is lagging in Africa. Internet penetration on the continent, as of December 2011, was half the world average.

Even though Twitter seems to be gaining ground in Africa, there is still a lot of room for growth. As Beatrice Karanja, associate director and head of Portland Nairobi, suggested, “Africa’s Twitter revolution is really just beginning.”

Source: ViralMS, August 2011

Photo credits:
- The Next Web / Flickr

  • 1. Another article about this subject can be found here.
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