SMS, Facebook dominate mobile activity in 5 of Africa’s biggest economies

Africa Mobile

Africa Mobile

People speak about Africa as “the mobile continent” so frequently that it’s become a cliche. People throw the phrase around as if it explains everything, without ever really interrogating exactly what it is Africans do with their mobile devices.

One attempt to change that comes courtesy of technology research outfit World Wide Worx, which has published the results of its survey of 3 500 mobile phone users in five of Africa’s major markets, namely South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and Uganda.

The survey reveals somewhat unsurprisingly, that there’s been a rise of internet access via phones, the potential demise of Nokia and, a little more surprisingly, the continued appeal of BlackBerry.

According to World Wide Worx, internet browsing via phones now stands at 40% across all five markets, with 51% of respondents in Ghana and 47% in Nigeria reporting that they use their phones to access the internet. South Africa lags behind at 40%, and Kenya (34%) and Uganda (29%) are slowest on the uptake.

Despite a smaller percentage of its people using their mobile devices to access the internet, South Africans lead the way when it comes to app downloads, suggesting higher levels of smartphone ownership. Thirty-four percent of the South African phone users surveyed make downloads from app stores. This compares to 31% in Ghana, 28% in Nigeria, 19% in Kenya and 18% in Uganda.

World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck, says this number may also be an indication that of better and more stable mobile broadband infrastructure in South Africa “despite anecdotal reports of the Internet being used more actively in Nigeria and Kenya.”

“Internet use is far greater in some of these countries in terms of number of people,” he says, “but substantially lower in terms of intensity of use.”

The most popular activities among African mobile users though are Facebook and SMS.

African mobile activity

The survey also confirms a widely held view that Nokia remains the single biggest phone brand in the major African markets. That said, its market share is plummeting fast.

While almost half of respondents — 46% — reported owning a Nokia as their previous phone, only 34% own one now. And only half of those — 18% — intend buying a Nokia next. The big winner is Samsung, which is currently owned by 17% of respondents, up marginally from 14% ownership previously. When asked what phone will be bought next, the Samsung proportion shot up to 26% – more than a quarter of phone users.

Read more: Kenya’s internet access continues to experience growth

Perhaps the most surprising finding from the survey though was that BlackBerry, which has held steady at six percent penetration for current and previous phones, is expected to rise to 16%. While this flies in the face of international trends, it reveals a hidden dynamic of the aspirations of new smartphone users.

Matt Angus-Hammond, Business Development Lead for GeoPoll in Southern Africa, explains one reason for the possible surge in Blackberry adoption: “BlackBerry introduced most of Africa to the idea of a smartphone, and for the first few years was the flagship brand for the category. They initially hit the market through companies who got contracts for their executives, but as new models were introduced the old Blackberries have entered the mass market, and are still regarded as a status symbol in much of Africa.”

The hand-me-down effect suggests BlackBerry will retain its position as the third most popular phone brand in major African markets for now. However, brands that will challenge both BlackBerry and Nokia in the near future include Apple (2% currently, expected to rise to 11%), Huawei (3%, expected to go to 9%), Sony (2% to 5%) and LG (3% to 5%).

Read more: M-Pesa users can now send money between Kenya and Tanzania

Current phone usage varies dramatically by country, with Nokia dominance ranging from a high 43% in Nigeria, 36% in South Africa and 34% in Uganda to 32% in Kenya and 28% in Ghana. In each of the five countries, however, the data shows it will drop to below 25% when the next phone is acquired, with Kenya least loyal to the brand: only 14% of Kenyans surveyed say they expect to buy a Nokia as their next phone.

Samsung finds its strongest current markets in Ghana (29%) and South Africa (21%), but is expected to rise in most other countries when the next phone is purchased. While it will remain at a similar level in South Africa and Ghana, it will rise from 18% to 39% in Kenya, and to 28% in Uganda, where it currently stands at only 10%. Nigeria market share will double, from 8% to 16%.

Apple is the surprise challenger for third place, with 16% of respondents in Ghana, 15% of Nigerians and 14% of South Africans indicating they would buy one next. Uganda at 8% and Kenya at 5% also show surprisingly strong intentions to buy the high-cost iPhone next.

In all these cases though, a strong caveat needs to be added: intent to purchase and ability to purchase are two very different things. You may for instance intend to buy a luxury German sedan as your next car. Your economic circumstances may however force you into buying a more affordable hatchback.

Read more: Huge number of women still don’t have access to mobile devices

The data collected in the survey tends to contradict formal retail data, as these questions ask about future purchases from those who are not yet in the market for a new phone. The survey was conducted through GeoPoll’s SMS survey platform, and the sample size of 700 per country gives a margin of error of 3.7% for each country.

“By reaching respondents across Africa through the mobile phone, GeoPoll is able to provide consumer data faster than ever before, and in addition we can collect data around intended purchases and brand affinity which is not represented by straightforward retail data,” Angus-Hammond explains.

Image: Ken Banks via



Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights. sign up

Welcome to Memeburn

Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights.