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Twitter and Africa: A difficult relationship to track

October 18, 2009  »  Web2 Comments

According to one source, only a handful of African countries had Twitter users in mid-2007, whereas all but three (Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City) European nations had registered users on the site. Most African users were from either South Africa or Egypt, a statistic that mirrors Internet penetration rates across the continent. Of course, much has changed in the past 2+ years, but according to many current statistics, the numbers have not changed significantly. In reality, however, every African country is represented on Twitter. It’s just a matter of unintentional “Africa blindness” in the studies, since it’s up to the user to enter his or her location. Twitter users can enter a city, state, region, or nation, making geographic tracing quite difficult and time consuming. No one feels like spending the time searching for every possible town in every possible country, so the automatically retrieved data is incomplete.

Some interesting African Twitter findings from over the years:

  • In 2008, an official Twitter blog post didn’t even include Africa in the international traffic statistics. However, the folks at Twitter acknowledged that the data was only compiled from web traffic and not SMS data.
  • In the early days of Twitter, Africans utilized the service for its SMS capabilities. In fact, a blog post written by ‘Soyapi’ shortly after the launch of Twitter addresses this issue:

    So the launching of Twitter provides a good alternative considering that the use of mobile phones is much higher than that of computers. In Malawi for example, there are about 50,000 Internet users against about 700,000 mobile phone users out of a population of about 12 million. Twitter allows users to post a small update via SMS, instant messaging client and the web. Anyone who chooses to follow you will get that update on the Twitter home page, or their mobile phone of they choose to. Unlike most mobile phone web services, you can update via SMS from anywhere in the world and from virtually any handset.

    However, the nature of Twitter drastically changed for Africans in 2008 when the SMS feature was dropped. Even now, SMS mobile devices are more popular than IP-based access (and advanced phones with data plans) due to the relatively cheap cost of an SMS versus an ISP subscription. Africans who had relied on the SMS feature of Twitter had to find an alternative.

  • A recent (Sept. 09)  list of “Top 10 Twitter Users of Each Country in the World” on only includes Egypt and South Africa from the African continent although numerous users exist in the other 50+ nations.’s Top Users by Location includes a few more African nations (19 to be exact), but again, is far from complete:

    Rank Country Name # of Twitter Users AVG Followers per user AVG Updates per user
    20 South Africa 302 1211 1671
    55 Egypt 29 1081 2754
    65 Morocco 24 248 1149
    71 Somalia 19 632 1143
    72 Kenya 13 3167 2129
    73 Nigeria 14 1145 1331
    74 Tunisia 12 3214 1011
    92 Ghana 5 2143 4825
    98 Tanzania 4 650 951
    99 Algeria 5 92 227
    103 Namibia 3 571 896
    105 Seychelles 2 1256 3944
    106 Sudan 3 701 2742
    109 Senegal 2 1076 377
    110 The Dem Rep of the Congo 2 322 1604
    111 Zimbabwe 3 45 248
    114 Ethiopia 1 240 1746
    118 Malawi 1 114 896
    119 Botswana 2 23 126
  • In June 2009, Sysomos determined that 0.85% of Twitter users are located in South Africa. However, only 17 nations were included in the final report.

The outlook for Twitter in Africa is certain positive, since it can be used with either personal computer or mobile device and requires minimal data transfer to function. Even worldwide, most Twitter updates are made from mobile device – certainly a promising statistic for Africa. Additionally, the simplicity of the site prevents a language barrier from deterring potential users.