Countries with Highest Mobile Penetration in Sub-Saharan Africa

Mobile Penetration in Sub-Saharan Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa may still be well short of the technological advancements of top western nations, but the region has experienced a fair degree of growth in the last decade.

Internet connectivity is generally better, financial inclusion is also on the increase, and perhaps most prominently, there has been a rapid rise in the number of mobile phone users in the region.

According to a report by the Global System for Mobile Communications, smartphone adoption in sub-Saharan Africa had reached 64% by the end of 2021, with the percentage of the population with mobile phone subscriptions pegged at 46%.

Those percentages are projected to reach 75% and 50%, respectively, in 2025.

But which countries are the main contributors to these impressive mobile phone numbers in sub-Saharan Africa?

Nigeria

Unsurprisingly, Africa’s most populous nation Nigeria leads the way. 

With well over 200 million people inhabiting the country, the west African heavyweights are always bound to feature very highly on these kinds of lists.

Nigeria’s chief communications body, the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) says Nigeria now has over 200 million mobile connections, which is just under the country’s population.

That is a stunning number, given that the mobile phone revolution only kicked off in Nigeria at the turn of the century.

Back in the early 2000s, mobile phone usage in Nigeria was a luxury reserved for high-class citizens, but these days, it has become an for the average Nigerian not to own a mobile phone.

South Africa

Based on the GSMA report in 2021, South Africa has 106 million cellular mobile connections (as at the start of 2022), which is more than 170% of the country’s population. This means that many South Africans have multiple mobile connections.

The fact that South Africa comes second on this list is hardly a surprise, considering that the country is arguably the most developed in the sub-Saharan region.

When mobile phones made their debut in South Africa in 1994, they were mainly reserved for the elite. But now, over 90% of people living in the country own at least one mobile phone.

Kenya

Dubbed the Silicon Savannah, Kenya has led the way in technological advancements in East Africa, and the continent in general.

According to the Communications Authority of Kenya, the number of active mobile subscriptions in the country stood at 65.08 million as of December 2021, which is again higher than the total population (54.99 million).

If you exclude multiple SIM ownership, Kenya has the highest mobile penetration in sub-Saharan Africa. 

This was revealed in a study by telecommunications giants Airtel, which puts the unique mobile phone penetration in Kenya at 34.94 (61% of the population).

The sharp growth in mobile phone ownership has had a direct positive effect on other sectors of the Kenyan economy.

Mobile penetration, along with the success of mobile money, has also made life significantly more convenient for Kenyans, with many now able to pay their bills by punching a few buttons on their mobile devices. Almost all Kenyan services, from the main power company to online betting sites in Kenya, have mobile money as their major payment option.

Ethiopia 

Ethiopia continues to experience a steady increase in the number of mobile phone users in the country, with an additional 9.4 million connections joining the party between 2021 and 2022.

Almost 50% of Ethiopians now use mobile phones, with the total connections put at 58.54 million (including multiple SIM ownership).

Tanzania

Rounding out our top 5 list is Tanzania. 

As of January 2021, there were 50.15 million mobile connections in Tanzania, but by the end of that year, the figure was closing in on 60 million.

GSMA’s report at the end of 2021 revealed that there were 53.81 million connections in the East African nation.

By the time the 2022 data is collated, Tanzania will have moved even closer to (if not surpassed) the 60 million mark for the first time.

That would put the number of mobile connections almost at par with the country’s population, which is currently just over 60 million.

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