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01 Mar. 2014

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This is the first of two articles that examine access to information and communications technology in sub-Saharan Africa.
Mobile telephone subscriptions have grown faster in Africa than in any other region in the world since 2003, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
The average mobile phone owner in the 17 sub-Saharan countries is more likely to be male (62%) than female (52%) and older than 18. Results are based on face-to-face interviews with 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted in 2010 in Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. In a few short years, the proliferation of mobile phone networks has transformed communications in sub-Saharan Africa. Cell phones have different uses for different people, but sending text messages and taking pictures or video are the most popular activities among mobile owners. These are among the main findings of a Pew Research Center survey in seven sub-Saharan African nations. Roughly a third of South Africans (34%) and about a quarter of Nigerians (27%) say that their device is a smartphone, i.e.
Cell phone and smartphone ownership is also more common among Africans with at least some English facility.
A median of 17% across the sub-Saharan African countries surveyed do not own a mobile phone.
Making or receiving payments on cell phones, also referred to as mobile money, is not as common as texting and taking pictures. With minor exceptions, most of the other cell phone activities tested in Africa are not as widespread. Accessing social networks on a phone is more popular in Nigeria (35%) and South Africa (31%) compared with the other African nations surveyed. Generally, young people, those with a higher education and Africans with the ability to read or speak English are more likely to participate in most of these mobile activities. While mobile networks in sub-Saharan Africa have spread rapidly, landline penetration in the seven countries surveyed is close to zero.
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The percentage of adults with mobile phones ranges from a high of 84% in South Africa to a low of 16% in Central African Republic, signaling the potential for tremendous growth in the industry on the sub-continent.
Mobile phone adoption rates have soared in countries such as South Africa, where Gallup surveys show more than 8 in 10 adults now say they personally have mobile phones. Those between the ages of 15 and 18, and arguably with the least spending power, are less likely to say they have mobile phones than older adults.
Across the 17 countries surveyed, 75% of those with at least nine years of formal education have a mobile phone, while 44% of those with up to eight years of formal education have a mobile phone. Sixty-nine percent of sub-Saharan Africans living in urban areas in the 17 countries surveyed have a mobile phone, while significantly fewer living in rural areas, 53%, do.

Those with a mobile phone report average per capita household incomes near $1,100 and those without a mobile phone report per capita household incomes lower than $740. At the same time, men, those with higher education levels, urban residents, and those with higher per capita household income generally are more likely to have mobile phones.
It has also allowed Africans to skip the landline stage of development and jump right to the digital age. The survey was conducted April 11 to June 5, 2014, among 7,052 respondents in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. Ownership is especially high in South Africa and Nigeria, where about nine-in-ten have a cell phone.
In 2002, only 8% of Ghanaians said they owned a mobile phone, while that figure stands at 83% today, a more than tenfold increase.
For instance, 93% of Ugandans with a secondary education or greater own a cell phone, compared with 61% of those with less education.
Three-quarters of Ugandans who speak or read at least some English own a mobile phone, while only about half (48%) of those with no English language skills own one.
About the same number of 18- to 34-year-olds and those 35 and older own cell phones in all but one of the African countries surveyed (Tanzania). However, this does not necessarily mean they do not have any access to cell phones; they may share one with someone else.
Overall, a median of 80% of mobile phone owners across the seven sub-Saharan countries surveyed say they do this with their phones. Medians of about two-in-ten or less of mobile owners say they get political news (21%), access social networking sites (19%), get information about health and medicine (17%), look or apply for a job (14%), or get consumer information such as prices and product availability (14%) on their phones.
Given that browsing social networks is more likely to be done on smartphones, the fact that smartphone penetration is higher in these two countries may drive this difference. For example, 65% of mobile owners ages 18 to 34 in Ghana say they use their device to send text messages, while only 34% of those 35 and older do this. Similar numbers of young (18-34 years old) and older people (35+) say they use their cell phones for making or receiving payments. But penetration still remains relatively low in several countries where adoption rates have been more sluggish, including Burkina Faso (19%), Niger (18%), and the Central African Republic (16%).
On average, 40% of 15- to 18-year-olds in these sub-Saharan African countries have mobile phones, but the percentage climbs to 63% among those aged 19 to 29 and remains higher than 60% for those between the ages of 30 and 45. The highest rate of mobile phone ownership at each education level occurs in South Africa, where 76% of those with up to eight years of formal education have cell phones and 91% with higher education do. However, in Ghana (urban 58%, rural 60%), Nigeria (urban 77%, rural 66%), South Africa (urban 82%, rural 86%), and Zimbabwe (urban 54%, rural 39%), urban and rural dwellers are statistically as likely to have mobile phones. This income pattern is present in all countries except Botswana, Ghana, Nigeria, and South Africa, where there is no statistical difference in per capita household income. The challenge for the mobile phone industry is to expand from this base to rural and poorer areas, where cost will likely remain an obstacle to growth.

Similar growth in mobile penetration is seen in all African countries where survey data are available. And in South Africa, 57% with a secondary education or more own a smartphone versus 13% with less education.
And one-third of English-speaking Nigerians own a smartphone, compared with 2% of Nigerians who do not have the ability to read or speak at least some English. While not as dramatic, significant gender gaps on mobile phone ownership appear in all the other African countries surveyed except South Africa, where equal numbers of men and women own cell phones.
In fact, in spring 2013, when Pew Research asked Kenyans who did not own a cell phone whether they shared one with someone else, 58% of those non-cell phone owners said yes. Using mobile devices for pictures and videos is most popular in South Africa (60% among cell owners) and Nigeria (57%).
And many people in neighboring Uganda (42%) and Tanzania (39%) also participate in this activity on their cell phones. Similarly, 62% of young, cell-owning Ghanaians say they take pictures or video with their phones, but only 33% among the older generations do.
Ownership drops off after that, with 51% of those 46 and older saying they have mobile phones.
The lowest rate of mobile phone ownership for those with lower levels of education is 10% in the Central African Republic and the lowest rate among those with at least nine years of education is 40% in Liberia.
Today, cell phones are as common in South Africa and Nigeria as they are in the United States. By comparison, as of December 2014, 89% of American adults owned a cell phone, up from 64% ownership in 2002. For instance, in South Africa, 41% of 18- to 34-year-olds own a smartphone, while only 27% of those 35 and older do.
In all the countries, at least half of cell phone owners say they send text messages with their devices.
Kenyan cell owners also use their phones to access information about politics (28%), access social networks (28%) and look or apply for jobs (26%). Smartphones (those that can access the internet and applications) are less widely used, though significant minorities own these devices in several nations, including 34% of South Africans.
Nevertheless, women, the less-educated and those who cannot read or speak English are less likely to have their own mobile phone.

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