Growth of Mobile use in Africa

The growth of mobile use is one of Africa’s resounding successes in recent years. From Nigeria to Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, the numbers are going up. Across every region of the continent, this upward trend is sustained though nuanced differences remain. GSMA estimates that by 2020, Sub-Saharan Africa alone will have more than half a billion mobile subscribers (GSMA Sub-Saharan Africa Report, 2017). When the attendant contribution to GDP is considered along with ancillary benefits such as broadband access, social inclusion, financial inclusion and political participation, it’s easy to see why many analysts rightly believe mobile technology can help Africa leap forward on the path to development.

This growth in mobile use is driven by improved access to a spectrum of mobile devices which are increasingly more affordable and highly functional. The youthful demographic of the continent has also contributed to the current and projected trend of mobile use on the continent. With this level of penetration, mobile devices are a viable means for collecting accurate and representative data about living conditions, public opinion, policy/program impact, demographic changes, and more in Africa.

SMS, USSD and data collection apps have already been deployed with varying degrees of success across the continent. The mobile data collection toolbox continues to expand as service providers like Survey54 introduce Voice Sentiment Analysis and Artificial Intelligence to scale the literacy challenge in remote areas and communicate with respondents in their own language.

With the reduced cost and adaptability afforded by mobile data collection methods, the only real limits to its applicability stem from the factors that inhibit the growth of mobile use and internet access on the continent. These include the relatively high cost of internet access for the average person, the lack of mobile masts in remote and underserved areas, and low digital literacy among older demographics. As companies and social innovators strategize to solve these problems, governments would do well to provide an enabling environment for positive results.