Facebook, Google and Connectivity in Africa

Before I visited his country, a colleague from Nigeria described to me how an up-and-coming Nigerian youth shared the same interests as youngsters in developed countries: they want to have i-pads, use social networks, and so on – as everybody else. Yes, I’m aware that this is just one part of the Nigerian society. Not everybody has access to Facebook, Google, or the like because not everybody has connectivity in Africa.

Actually, according to Internet World Stats Internet users in Africa represent only 9.3% of the total users in the world, despite being 16.2% of the world population. What’s more, Internet penetration in Africa is only 28.7% of the total population, well below the rest of world (54.2%).

Acknowledging this important issue, a group of prominent leaders including Mark Zuckerberg, Bill and Melinda Gates, and Bono, agreed to implement the promise that universal internet access becomes a reality by 2020. They believe this is essential for achieving the Global Goals for Sustainable Development: to create equal opportunities all around the globe, to fight injustice, to share ideas, and to create more jobs.

Nigerians are connected
Nigerians are connected!

Facebook and Google have started unprecedented projects in order to make Internet accessible in Africa:

  • Facebook has launched the Free Basics App. This enables mobile users to access the site free of data charges. It’s available in 53 countries – 23 of which are African countries.
  • Google has implemented the Project Link. This brings faster and more reliable Internet by building a metro fiber network. It was first implemented in Kampala, Uganda with a 1,000 kilometer network, and the extended to Accra and two other cities in Ghana.

However, these projects are controversial. The risk of censorship in Africa may be high as many of Facebook’s mobile-provider partners are state-owned or highly influenced by the local government. Also, these projects generate the suspicion that Facebook and Google are looking to take over a rising and promising continent in order to multiply their potential profits.

Any views on the issue?

Nadim Elayan, Research Assistant at IESE Business School, collaborated in this article.



6 thoughts on “Facebook, Google and Connectivity in Africa

  1. I think that social media will have a healthy development in Africa as political regimes give freedom of speech and bring freedom and stability to the different countries. As an example of miscommunication, last October was held in Ethiopia, just over 20 miles southeast of Addis Ababa, the Oromo Irreecha festival. During the event the action of some protesters provoked that a government helicopter circling overhead had fired into panicking crowds. This information was coming from social media. Government declared the state of emergency. On the opposite side journalists at the scene reported soldiers shooting rubber bullets and possibly firing live ammunition into the air as a warning. As soon as the government considers no risk for this emergency situation mobile data will be permitted.

  2. Thanks Nadim & Africa!
    Social media has a potential and continues to shape the communication landscape across Africa. As expected, the youths across urban cities in Africa are well advanced in terms of using Facebook, google, Skype and more recently FaceTime. While those in rural places, the use of mobile phones and occasionally Facebook or Skype is common. Each country has its own Bill Act of Information that monitors/controls the use or misuse of this technology. Though most countries control this system, sometimes it may go out of hand … e.g. get more political.

    Personally, I do not see Google or Facebook projects as controversial. Rather, I see them as penetrating new markets where other competitive providers are already there from China, India or South Africa, for example. While suspicion might be inevitable, I believe a healthy delivery services to potential customers would be good for the continent. Plus, it would open new local IT business ventures and skills …


    1. I tend to agree with you, Aloys. The more connected Africans are, the more opportunities to create new business models that help surpass deficit of other types of insfrastructure.

  3. Hi guys
    I just stumbled upon your informative site. Greetings from Nairobi. Social media has already won the acceptance of african youth so much so that a youth missing on whatsapp, facebook, and instagram(for ladies especially) is termed a “weirdo”. These social media apps are welcome although some are serious distractors and time wasters. In our continent where there is so much to be done yet, our youth would not need merely interesting apps. An app should come with an inbuilt feature of economic or educational importance. Facebook has seen an astronomical rise in use of its selling groups. Whatsapp has led to savings, due to lower costs of chatting. However, the western companies are not yet tuning themselves to the needs of our people. For instance, I have commissioned a tech youth group in one of our startup hubs to make a mobile mini-loans app for my startup. The loans shall be disbursed to applicants via mpesa. Now i want to pay facebook some premium for my page to be seen by as many as possible. Facebook does not accept mpesa payment. Here everything is mobile money, therefore doing business with these western sites is difficult. Actually any company that does not accept mobile money as a mode of payment is a “backward one” in the face of us Kenyans. Otherwise, social media can mostly help Africa if they can boost businesses and startups, otherwise they are serious distractors to our young population that needs to work overtime to speed up our journey to “developed” so that western people can stop looking down upon us.

    1. Hi Lameck, welcome to this blog site!
      What you share here is extremely interesting. One of my mantras in this blog is that Africa has the potential to leapfrog in so many areas. Mobile payments is one in which this has happened already: it’s clear that Western companies need to catch up!

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