Africa’s Facebook explosion – user numbers double in many countries in just seven months

Facebook has become the single biggest non-mail client product in Africa. Over the last seven months user numbers have doubled in many countries and the smaller countries where it was barely visible, now have significant numbers of users. It is the number one or number two site in every African country. But as Christian Hernandez, Head of International Business Development, Facebook told Russell Southwood, this is really only the beginning of what the platform is setting out to do.

Internet user number have always been Africa’s most unreliable data currency. Anyone who provides these figures usually does so by multiplying the number of subscribers in a country by somewhere between five to ten times. The multiplier was on the basis that a single account might be used by between 5-10 people: for example, if it was a cyber-café or an office account. The reality is that these figures provide only the broadest order of magnitude in terms of users. The Facebook users figures below provide a much more interesting data proxy for Internet users because they are significantly more accurate and they are more likely to be daily users.

Amongst the 14 African countries analysed by, Facebook is listed as either number 1 or number 2 most used web site. And this is the pattern across the globe except in China and Russia.

Since August last, the level of Facebook usage has doubled in many of the countries listed below. For example, Senegal went from 229,340 users to 477,840. In many of the smaller countries where Facebook users were in the thousands in August 2010, they are now in the tens of thousands. Take-up has not always happened at the same speed. For example, although Tanzania has a larger population and bigger economy than Uganda, it is the latter that has the larger number of Facebook users.

Africa Total: 27.4 million

The Million Plus Club

Egypt              6.58 million
South Africa    3.8 million
Morocco          3.2 million
Nigeria            2.9 million
Tunisia            2.35 million
Algeria            1.39 million
Kenya             1.03 million
Ghana            906,540*

* It will soon pass into the million plus user zone.

The mid-field (100,000-999,000)

Senegal            447,840
Cameroon        355,860
Uganda            280,600
Tanzania          259,120
Mauritius          254,680
Angola             184,660
Madagascar      151,100
Ethiopia           146,020
Namibia           127,260
Zambia            117,520
Botswana         112,180
Mozambique    105,820

Lower tier (20,000-99,999)

Benin             96,720
Rwanda          84,800
Malawi           79,040
Burkina Faso  71,400
Af Rep            66,500
Gabon            64,000
Gambia          63,120
Mauritania      61,140
Togo              61,120
Cape Verde    54,220
Djibouti         52,660
Congo-B        49,320
Sierra Leone   34,100
Swaziland      28,960
Niger            27,300
Guinea         27,060
Seychelles    25,280
Somalia        21,580

Not yet started (0-19,999)

Lesotho       19,100
Burundi       18,000
Eritrea         16,000
Chad           12,740
Guinea         10,860
Comoros      9,080
Sao Tome &
Principe       2,640

Facebook has three objectives for the platform and these cover its development in Africa. Firstly, it wants to acquire more users. Secondly, it wants to monetize this use by attracting advertising: for example, it already has agents in African countries selling its online advertising space to ad agencies and clients. Thirdly, it wants to have developers write more services for the platform. For example, the latter already includes what it calls Social Widgets like the Top articles shared by friends button on It wants African developers and entrepreneurs who will use tools like its social widgets and APIs to create local products and services based on Facebook.

Currently Facebook has 500 million active monthly users, of which half use it from a mobile phone. Its research shows that the latter group of users are twice as engaged in terms of use as the PC users. As Christian Hernandez sees it:”We know mobile is an important tool to drive engagement and in developing countries we start with mobile.”

Indeed Facebook has put a lot of effort into making sure that it can reach the widest number of users on a mobile and not just smartphone users. It has a WAP platform, a stepped down HTML version, a App, and Snaptu, which allows access to feature-rich phones using Java. The latter is a product we’ve highlighted before that creates a smartphone like interface for feature-rich phones. Facebook liked the company so much that it recently bought it. It has also worked with Gemalto to build Facebook into an SMS structure using SSID menus so that users with basic phones can receive status updates from friends even when they can’t access the full site. Anecdotally it seems that “Facebook-ready” has become one of the key factors in choosing secondhand phones in places like Kenya.

One of the things about Facebook in Africa is that it provides an extremely fast route to getting a web page: you can have an online presence without needing to go through all the cost and hassle of having a web designer do it. For the individual, it becomes a combination of bulletin board and e-mail browser. It is probably one of the significant links between Africans on the continent and friends and family in the diaspora.

For the corporate, it’s potentially a much softer way of engaging with your audiences. For example, Coca Cola is no longer creating topic or campaign-specific web sites but using Facebook as a platform to play this role. Small African companies are using Facebook to attract interested users to their product. For as Hernandez notes:”It’s a self-selecting eco-system.” Hernandez pointed out from his experience in Latin American that almost all the billboards in El Salvador now have a Facebook logo on them. SMEs in Africa have been less quick to catch this wave.

Facebook also has location-based products like Places, which companies can use to offer individual users sales promotion coupons: for example, a user checks into a Place on Facebook like a Java Coffee Shop and as you open it up, the user is presented with a little yellow coupon giving a free cup of coffee.


New video clips on Balancing Act’s Web TV channel

Philip Sowah, Managing Director, Airtel Ghana on the importance of mobile data

Mark Davies, CEO, Esoko on agricultural pricing systems

Jonathan Tawiah, CEO, Ostec on providing managed services in West Africa

Alhassan Umar, ITES Director
, on Ghana’s plans to become a BPO hub

Ben Coleman, ICT Adviser, West Africa Trade Hub
on SME Exporters' use of ICT

George Babafemi, COO, eTranzact Ghana, an e-Payments solutions provider in seven African countries

Jacqui Moller Larsen, Country Director, Grameen Foundation Ghana on its
Mobile Technology for Community Health initiative

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