News & Insights


The number of internet users in Africa has risen sharply, according to new research. A recent global report produced by digital agencies We Are Social and Hootsuite shows that internet penetration across the continent has risen by 20% during the past twelve months.

In total, there are now an estimated 4bn+ people in the world online, with over 3bn using social media. Africa is the fastest growing internet population in the world, with the number of users on the continent having grown by 20% in the last year. Penetration rates across Northern Africa are now at 49% of the total population. In the West, internet penetration has risen to 39%, with certain countries such as Benin, Sierra Leone, and Niger having more than doubled their internet populations during the past twelve months.

In Nigeria, the majority of the population now believes that the opportunities being brought about by digital technologies outweigh the risks. Certainly, a growth in the online population represents good news for business, governmental, and social institutions, providing a wider audience and more powerful communications channels through which to reach them.

Key to successfully leveraging this growth is a greater understanding of how digital technologies are currently being used. There are now an estimated 435 million internet users in Africa. 191 million of them are actively using social media, of whom approximately 172 million (90%) are doing so through their phones.

Unlike areas such as the US or Europe, where mass internet behaviour began on the desktop and later transitioned to mobile, much current internet growth in Africa and indeed the rest of the world is being fuelled by increased mobile use. This, therefore, provides the opportunity for even greater, more regular engagement and a different type of communication, delivered through the mobile screen.

WhatsApp was found to be the most prominent messaging app across Africa, followed by Facebook Messenger. Interestingly, both apps are owned by Facebook, which remains the dominant public social media platform in the world with an estimated 2.2bn users. This standardisation is also interesting because it is indicative of a key global trend: 10 years ago the idea of a single, harmonised global platform sweeping up eyeballs across countries and continents would have been unthinkable. It is today a reality and provides even greater opportunities to tap into international audiences and work collaboratively with institutions around the world.

RDF expects internet usage across the continent to continue to expand rapidly over the next few years.  We provide corporate and stakeholder communications strategy to individuals and businesses across Nigeria, Africa, and around the world. Within this, we advise that the growing prominence of digital should be leveraged within an efficient and effective overarching engagement strategy. In doing so institutions can take a measured approach to digital media and capitalise on the growing online populations around the world.