National survey shows Kenyan Internet market heading towards “critical mass”

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The latest national survey from market research company Synovate shows Kenya’s Internet market is growing fast and on the basis of this growth will soon reach “critical mass”. The growth in users is coming from both urban and rural areas and is predominantly amongst the young and well educated. Russell Southwood pored over the results.

The total sample for this random survey was 1,500 people, with 500 of those in a boost sample from across the major districts of Kenya. Therefore the coverage is nationally representative of adults 15 and above and has a sampling margin of error of + or – 3%. It makes comparisons with a similar survey it carried out in 2007.

On the basis of this sample, Synovate estimates that there are now 3.5 million Internet users in Kenya. However, daily Internet use has grown from 2% of the respondents in 2007 to 5% in 2009 and weekly use from 5% to 12% over the same period. The daily use figure is the crucial one as it shows users who are finding that that they cannot do without Internet services.

If the weekly Internet use is broken down on an urban vs rural basis, urban use grew from 22% of respondents in 2007 to 30% in 2009. Rural use grew from 4% to 9% over the same period. These results confirm a lot of anecdotal evidence that has been reaching us about young people using the Government’s new Internet centres and cyber cafes in rural areas.

The lower income groups recorded a much more fast paced growth in internet access. However Internet penetration within middle class and below is still very low, making it the group with the highest growth potential. And following the expected drop in Internet costs LSM 4-10s should provide the highest growth in usage. At least half the non-users across all social categories said they would be interested in using the Internet if they had access.

In terms of age, 50% of the respondents using Internet were aged 15-34 with 21% in the 18-24 age bracket. The upcoming generation of Kenyans will be regular users of the Internet and it will form as much part of their lives as mobile phones. Over 56% of the Internet using respondents were college or University educated. Therefore those countries with better education levels in Africa will show markedly higher Internet penetration levels.

On average, the Internet users in the sample spent approximately 70 minutes on the Internet per visit. This level of media user is close to the average time spent on television on daily basis but does not challenge radio use which is much higher. This will inevitably impact on the media usage of key socio-demographic groups. Although the survey results did not include newspapers, it is likely to be them that suffer as younger generation make less use of the printed word in getting information.

The big shift in where sample respondents accessed the Internet between 2007 and 2009 has been a significant fall in the number of those using Internet cafes and a commensurate rise in the number using mobile phones. Strikingly, this trend – of using mobile phones for access – is more pronounced amongst the rural part of the sample. This is bad news for cyber-cafes for despite rising numbers of users they are not coming their way. But this is good news for mobile operators if they can get their mobile Internet offers cheap and pre-paid.

The five top uses of the Internet range between 40-50% of the sample users and were in descending order: entertainment; games and music; social networking and instant messaging; e-mails; general surfing; and job search. The pattern is very close to existing mobile usage (with the exception of job search) if you take SMS as the equivalent of e-mails.

Users are starting with what they know but will inevitably become more adventurous as more content and services are put on offer. Not surprisingly it is the young who are disproportionately more likely to be members of social networking sites but membership is more likely to be male than female. Facebook was by far the most popular site although You Tube (which features in the Top 10 sites used in Kenya according to does not feature. BBC, CNN and The Nation are the most used news sites.

The significance of these findings is that Kenya is both one of Africa’s largest mid-scale markets and is a bell-weather in terms of technology adoption. Crudely, what happens in Kenya will start to happen elsewhere. And as the uptake of M-Money services shows, this is not simply an urban, well-educated, middle class phenomenon.

Critical mass kicks in when the number of users starts to create networking effects. In other words, existing users start to draw in new users who don’t want to be left out. In Kenya, this is clearly already beginning starting to happen. And although the number of daily Internet users is smaller than the overall estimated total of 3.5 million, it is beginning to grow significant and will continue to do so as access prices fall and local content offers become more varied.