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Africa: Social Media Updates

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Feb 15, 2012 (120215)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

Although the #OccupyNigeria protests failed to gain a complete rollback of the price increase in petrol last month, they clearly had significant impact. In addition to a partial rollback in the price, they spurred the beginning of new government action against corruption in the oil sector, including the appointment of former anti-corruption official Nuhu Ribadu to head a task force focused on the sector. The outcome is of course uncertain, but the protests clearly mark the emergence of African social media to political prominence beyond North Africa.

A new report from Portland Communications in Nairobi highlights the rapid growth of Twitter, with the top five countries during the last quarter of 2011 being South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt, and Morocco, with a total of more than 11 million geo-located tweets during those three months.

In Nigeria, the protests against the fuel price increase also targeted President Goodluck Jonathan's Facebook page, which he had used actively in his presidential campaign last year.

But it's not just Twitter and Facebook that are driving new social media use in Africa. There are also new platforms taking off rapidly on the continent, with innovative uses particularly adapted to African markets.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains the press release from Portland Communications, and two articles from Balancing Act Africa, one on the growth of the new social media platform Eskimi and the other on new systems making it possible for low-coast internet communication to replace SMS messaging on low-end phones.

Of related interest: "Mobile Banking Takes Off in Nigeria" / direct URL:

Balancing Act Africa (, with regular updates on new ICT developments, in Africa, by e-mail and the web, also has a twitter feed and a youtube channel.

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on information and communication technology, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Africa: New Research Reveals How Africa Tweets

26 January 2012

Portland Communications

press release

For additional information, including link to download of powerpoint presentation, visit

In the first ever attempt to comprehensively map the use of Twitter in Africa, Portland Communications and Tweetminster analysed over 11.5 million geo-located Tweets originating on the continent during the last three months of 2011. This pan-African analysis of Twitter traffic was complemented by a survey of 500 of Africa's most active Tweeters.

How Africa Tweets found that:

  • South Africa is the continent's most active country by volume of geo-located Tweets, with over twice as many Tweets (5,030,226 during Q4 2011) as the next most active Kenya (2,476,800). Nigeria (1,646,212), Egypt (1,214,062) and Morocco (745,620) make up the remainder of the top five most active countries.
  • 57% of Tweets from Africa are sent from mobile devices.
  • 60% of Africa's most active Tweeters are aged 20-29.
  • Twitter in Africa is widely used for social conversation, with 81% of those polled saying that they mainly used it for communicating with friends.
  • Twitter is becoming an important source of information in Africa. 68% of those polled said that they use Twitter to monitor news. 22% use it to search for employment opportunities.
  • African Twitter users are active across a range of social media, including Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Mark Flanagan, Portland's Partner for Digital Communications, says: "One of the more surprising findings of this research is that more public figures have not joined Africa's burgeoning Twittersphere. With some notable exceptions, we found that business and political leaders were largely absent from the debates playing out on Twitter across the continent. As Twitter lifts off in Africa, governments, businesses and development agencies can really no longer afford to stay out of a new space where dialogue will increasingly be taking place."

How Africa Tweets found that Twitter is helping to form new links within Africa. The majority of those surveyed said that at least half of the Twitter accounts they follow are based on the continent.

Beatrice Karanja, Associate Director and head of Portland Nairobi, says: "We saw the pivotal role of Twitter in the events in North Africa last year, but it is clear that Africa's Twitter revolution is really just beginning. Twitter is helping Africa and Africans to connect in new ways and swap information and views. And for Africa -- as for the rest of the world -- that can only be good."

The key findings of How Africa Tweets and a high-resolution version of the infographic can be found at

Portland Communications hopes that this survey will serve as a benchmark for measuring the evolution of Twitter use in Africa, shedding new light on how Africa communicates nationally, regionally and internationally.

We welcome feedback and comments.

Suggested hashtag: #AfricaTweets

It came out of nowhere - Low-end, mobile social network Eskimi shoots to 2.5 million subscribers

Balancing Act Africa, Feb. 10, 2012 / direct URL -

The speed with which Facebook grew in Africa was startling but the story is now well-known. Latvian social network Eskimi is designed for low-end handset users and in a little over 18 months it has gone from nothing to 2.5 million users. Anyone who believes that mobile content is important has to understand why this has happened. Russell Southwood picks over the bones with VytasPaukstys, CEO, Eskimi and Nigerian Ayo Alli who has taken on the promotion of the site. [Correction Eskimi is Lithuanian, not Latvian]

There's a cycle of events before the content moment arrives. International fibre connections have to be in place: content and apps don't grow on satellite bandwidth. Wholesale bandwidth prices have to come down so that retail prices for the individual user come down: operators have to stop selling shortage. Then international brands like Google, Wikipedia, Facebook and Twitter begin to grow. From research we have done elsewhere, this is generally followed by local versions of the international brands, particularly in larger markets.

The Eskimi story is one of a social network that didn't come from the usual places and chose to break out in emerging markets rather than the crowded European and North American markets. Also as with the "iTunes for Africa" site, Spinlet (which formally launches at Mobile Web East Africa next week), this is a collaboration between a small European country and Nigeria. The trading centre of gravity in the world is slowly beginning to tip on its axis.

According to Vytas Paukstys, CEO, Eskimi:"We started experimenting in the Baltics and it went great there. So we decided to go international and do test marketing elsewhere in the world. We started in Asia and then went to Africa. We focused on four countries: South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana."

All this has taken it to the point where at the beginning of November 2011, 1.7 m of its 3 m global users were Nigerian. But also use at that point in other African countries was also growing: 250,000 registered users in Ghana, 35,000 users in Kenya and over 30,000 in Namibia. Now it has 5 million global users, of which half are in Nigeria. Overall, Africa now has 1 million users. In other words, it is gaining critical mass in Ghana and other places, making it more than a one-hit, one country wonder.

Eskimi is a low-end, mobile web product and it is building an Android app but it believes, it's too early for a smartphone application. The pattern of use must be reassuring for Nokia as in November 2011, 73% were using the Opera Mini browser which is most frequently found on its handsets. At this point, 90% of use is on Opera Mini or the proprietary browser on the handset. Critical mass needs a wide potential user base as not everyone who has the right phone will use the product or service.

So if there are say 1 million smartphone users, only 10-30% may use a particular service and only a smaller percentage use it regularly(see look and feel in graphic) Also this year, Eskimi will go out to local developers to develops to help create more services around the platform.

What are they all using it for? What a small number of them used to lurk in cyber-cafes and do: discovering new friends, messaging, public chat, fan boards, picture sharing and dating tools and games. In other words, flirting, dating, romance and much, much more. 86% of them in Nigeria are in the social category that moves technology change across Africa, 18-34 year olds. You can guess that these people are less deferential and probably more in a hurry than their parents. Usually these things are heavily focused on the capital or the main city but not Eskimi. Only 32% of its users are in Lagos, the majority of the rest being spread across seven cities.

Part of its growth phenomenon is down to how it was marketed. In the early days, it paid special attention to feedback from users, fine-tuning the product at that stage. And although it has spread throughout Africa, largely by word of mouth, it has offered incentives for users to write to their friends and connect with them, giving them some of the virtual currency available to users.

The business model for the site is two-fold: sale of virtual currency (purchased through operator and which it shares with them) and advertising. For the latter, the 18-34 year old audience is attractive and can be highly targeted. Where African media is researched, the methodology is often open to question and where it is not, who knows how many people actually listen to, watch or read it?

Eskimi knows enough about its list users to be able to target very precisely and it is getting a 20% response rate on those targeted lists. It can also trade its virtual currency to advertisers to use in competition promotion and for other incentives.

Elsewhere the breakdown of revenues has been half from virtual currency and half from advertising revenues. In Africa, this has been more like 20% virtual currency and 80% advertising. But Eskimi's Paukstys is not just chasing the traditional advertisers:"Africa's at the media creation stage. Classifieds, business listings, news portals, etc are all growing. Revenues will come from these media creation businesses." Media creation? Uh? Think people like Mocality and Jobberman who have to also get to critical mass for their businesses to succeed. Another source of revenue will be mobile money operators: there are ten licences in Nigeria, making their climb to critical mass a daunting task without a carefully focused marketing platform. It can also provide a platform to do the kind of research about media consumers that is currently sorely lacking.

So in the cycle of events described at the beginning of this article, things are still largely at the stage of the arrival of international brands. Brands like Flickr and Tumblr have yet to make a noticeable impact on the continent. But local entrepreneurs - particularly in the larger markets need to think about what will work (probably in a vernacular language) that is not just a "me-too" product and developers who are all hyped up about smartphone apps need to think about whether they might be doing something more responsive to the market (most likely on feature phones) in the short to medium term.

To follow the exchanges about this news, you need to be on Twitter. Follow us on @BalancingActAfr

This week on Balancing Act's You Tube channel:

Nigerian digital entrepreneur Ayo Alli on the rise of social network Eskimi in Nigeria. It has 2.5 m subscribers and the secret to its success is that it works on low-end handsets

Also to understand how social media is used in Africa: Nigerian digital entrepreneur Ayo Alli on social media and the Occupy Nigeria protest

The beginning of Africa's long, slow transition away from SMS - new browser kids on the block making mobile Internet access easier

Balancing Act Africa / direct URL:

Issue no 589 27th January 2012

At the end of 2011, there were the first signs of smartphone use on SMS: for the first time in some countries, rather than the volume of SMS growing inexorably, it declined for the first time. Russell Southwood looks at how wider use of mobile Internet may affect SMS volumes in Africa and at two of the new generation of interfaces designed to make it easier for Africans to use the mobile Internet.

You don't need to be a rocket scientist to know that the number of smart phones and feature phones in African countries will increase. With this increase, many users will go from an unvaried diet of voice and SMS messages (with a soupcon of paid services) to a much more varied diet of use. It is not hard to envisage the day when the number of smart phone and feature phone users may make up as much as 40-60% of all subscribers

SMS is simply e-mail in "short trousers": it's easy to use but it's significantly more restricted and more expensive than sending an e-mail. You can't use it to share things like photos with friends unless you can use even more expensive MMS's. But although price is one of the single biggest factors affecting consumer's decisions on the continent, the other big factor is habit. The change of use requires not just a person to send an e-mail but someone to understand how to receive it.

This is where the new generation of browsers come into play. If both of those sending and receiving are on Facebook, then it solves that problem: they both understand how to do it. The widespread use of MXit on Blackberry in South Africa as an Instant Messaging tool to avoid SMS costs is another illustration of how this works. What starts with 15-24 year olds, slowly cascades across the age groups.

So whilst this may not have a short-term impact, there will come a point over the next 5 years where one or more African countries will reach "peak SMS": the point at which growth will slowly flat-line and then decline gently for many years.

There are two things that affect this scenario. Firstly, increased numbers of subscribers will mean more SMS users enter the pool. But even now some African countries are approaching their "peak subscriber" moment, where the number of people who are still to subscribe is not enormous. The second thing that might affects SMS use is literacy, both of the simple "can this person read?" kind but also of functional literacy; can this person understand the tasks required to perform sending an SMS? Now the latter is more a brake than might first be understood: in Ghana only around 40% of all mobile subscribers use SMS.

If you take a clutch of the bottom end literacy rates from the UNDP Development Report 2011, the limit on certain countries growing SMS or mobile Internet beyond a certain point become obvious. Going from low to only slightly lower, the problem becomes obvious: South Sudan (27%), Mali (26.2%), Chad (33.6%) and Sierra Leone (40.9%). Now these figures have been improving but generally not dramatically: for example, Chad was at 26% a few years ago. There may be a sudden improvement in education levels in some African countries but it would be hard to predict this will happen in most African countries based on past performance.

But the transition that is occurring is that users are beginning to find browsers or interfaces that will allow them to not only send e-mails (with attachments) but also to use a far more varied diet of content beyond the 160 character boundary of SMS: a diet of content that will include audio, pictures and video. An analysis we did for a client last year of SMS content in one major African market showed that there was almost no difference between the different services offered by operators. Indeed many were simply sourced from the same content providers.

The dilemma for mobile operators is do you let your subscribers simply wander away from the rather limited content, black and white offers in your existing walled garden or do you go with them on the journey into the technicolor world of the Internet? As you will have judged from the way the question is put, there is only one answer to it otherwise as an operator, you risk losing the connection and loyalty of your customers.

At the high-end of the handset pyramid, the choices are easy for the customer: there are several smart phone browsers and you take your choice: iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows and other lesser variants. But for feature phones and low end phones, there are not many alternatives. So imagine a group of young African sitting in a bar with their phones on the table: 1 of the 5 can afford a smart phone but the others can't yet. You need browsers and interfaces that will allow them to keep up with the people who've got the smart phones and get that more varied content diet. Of the two examples below, one operates using the Internet and the other using SMS outputs.

Australia's biNu is a Java-based browser targeted at feature phones set up by Gour Lentell who grew up in Zimbabwe. It operates out of the cloud on a highly compressed, thin client. According to Lentell, it offers: "a ten times faster browsing experience than other browser, using a tenth of the bandwidth." The latter has to be something that operators must be interested in as data volumes continue to grow.

Only made available in January 2011, it has grown in 12 months to 466,510 biNu users in Africa, out of a total global user base of 1.97 million. The table below shows the relationship between users and usage levels.

These numbers may seem modest but they have been achieved without any marketing and no relationship with operators: "It's been viral growth." The app has been available through places like GetJar and the Ovi Store.

The content currently available includes books (from the Guttenberg Project), dictionaries, news, sport, entertainment, financial news and foreign exchange data and last but not least, the all-important Facebook and Twitter. It has also signed a recent MoU with World Reader.

biNu is keen to talk to mobile operators and can offer a "white label" version that allows the operator to brand it as their own.

Mobile XL has been created by a company of the same name run by Guy Kamgaing and creates an interesting route for more low-end phone users to "get a taste of the Internet." Once the consumer has downloaded the XL Browser, he or she will get immediate access to social media, local and national news, music updates and even access email:"It will allow something of the same experience for the user as the highend phone and enable them to access relevant content. The billing is clear and it's available on all devices."

So for a user with a basic Nokia, Alcatel or Chinese phone, it will allow them to check their Facebook page and read email with the only requirement being a GPRS connection. With or without a connection, you can go into the available applications which are all on a single platform.

This is a client side app that connects to the cloud: "We have a connection into Facebook's APIs to get the content. When delivered to the user, it looks like a regular SMS." Because it puts together 3-4 SMSs, it enables you to read up to 600 characters of an e-mail.

Two years ago it did small pilots with Orange Cameroon, Safaricom and MTN Ghana for a year. Then it was approached by Vodafone in India (145 m subscribers and IDEA Cellular (95 m subscribers) and it will launch with both early in 2012: "We have gone from Africa to India, which is the reverse of what usually happens." It will be launching with all the three African operators above in Q1, 2012. The pilot attracted 100,000 users across all three operators.

The early adopters used Facebook a lot but there were also interested in sport and local news: "In Cameroon it was possible to offer a local job search. Local content will drive usage."

In terms of pricing, in India, they were allowed to introduce an unlimited bundle (to mirror the way the Internet is used) for 30 rupees a month (US59 cents a month). Safaricom is going to offer it for KS5 a day (US5.7 cents) or KS30 a month (34.7 cents) a month. In Cameroon, it will be 1,000 CFA a month (US$1.95): "It becomes like the Internet but it's way cheaper." The revenue share is 40-50% to Mobike XL depending on the size of the market.

It's done deal with Alcatel and Nokia and MiFone looks likely to offer a MyXL handset in 2012.

These two offer different routes to giving users access to the Internet. In the long run, users will want the technicolor internet rather than the black and white world of SMS. So it's time for operators to get on the bus before it leaves.

To follow the exchanges about this news, you need to be on Twitter. Follow us on @BalancingActAfr

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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