Africa: Internet Status, 10/29/00

Africa: Internet Status, 10/29/00

Africa: Internet Status Date distributed (ymd): 001029 Document reposted by APIC

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Region: Continent-Wide Issue Areas: +economy/development+ Summary Contents: This posting contains excerpts from a September 2000 report by Mike Jensen on the status of the internet in Africa. Extensive additional details are available on the site on the topic maintained by Jensen: The full version of this report is at

Of related interest:

APIC Africa on the Internet Page

Has links to country-specific data and news.

Economic Commission for Africa National Information and Communications Infrastructure

Includes country-specific data on web sites and on information infrastructure

Virtual exhibitions on Africaserver

Innovative multilingual collaboration on art exhibits from Mozambique, Burkina Faso and other countries. Includes the striking Arms into Art sculpture exhibit from Nucleo de Arte in Maputo.

Results of Elections for at-large representatives to Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

Elected candidates include Nii Quaynor of Ghana for Africa, one of the civil society candidates recommended by the Association for Progressive Communications.

Recent Application for .africa top-level internet domain

Rathbawn Computers Limited, incorporated in Ireland and with contact addresses in Colorado and Australia, has applied for new top-level domains .africa and .afr for the African continent. Applications for new top-level domains (like the current .com, .org and two-letter country domains) are now being received by ICANN. While the company's application argues that it will provide low-cost services for Africa, there is no indication that it has any previous connection with the continent. Rathbawn is also applying for the .sex top-level domain.

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African Internet Status

Sept 2000

Mike Jensen -

The Internet has grown rapidly on the continent over the last few years. At the end of 1996 only 11 countries had Internet access, but by September this year all 54 countries and territories had achieved permanent connectivity. Liberia, however, currently has no local Internet services (Liberia was connected last year, but lost its link when the ISP failed to achieve commercial viability).

Despite the rapid growth of Internet access in Africa it has been largely confined to the capital cities, although a growing number of countries do have points of presence (POPs) in some of the secondary towns (currently 16 countries - Algeria, Angola, Botswana, DRC, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Tanzania, Tunisia, Zambia and Zimbabwe), and South Africa has POPs in about 100 cities and towns. However, in some countries the national telecom operators have made a special policy to provide local call Internet access across the whole country. ... so far only 15 of the 53 countries have adopted this strategy - Benin, Burkina Faso, Cap Vert, Ethiopia, Gabon, Malawi, Mali, Mauritius, Mauritania, Morocco, Senegal, Tchad, Togo, Tunisia, and Zimbabwe.

The total number of computers permanently connected to the Internet in Africa (excluding South Africa) finally broke the 10 000 mark at the beginning of 1999 and in Jan 2000 it stood at almost 12 000, an increase of 20% as measured by Network Wizards. The figure may actually be closer to 25 000 to 30 000 due to the measurement technique which cannot count hosts which are not referenced in domain name servers and those that are registered under the generic TLDs - .com, .net, .org. Nevertheless this still means Africa has about as many hosts on the Internet as a small Eastern European country such as Latvia, which only has a population of 2.5 million (compared to the 780m people in Africa's as estimated by Unicef 1998, about 13% of the total world population).

The recent opening up of the Nigerian Internet market is beginning to change this picture as the telecom regulator has licensed 38 ISPs to sell services and about 12 are currently active. With a fifth of Sub Sahara's population, Nigeria has been one of the slumbering giants of the African Internet world which until mid '98 only had a few dialup email providers and a couple of full ISPs operating on very low bandwidth links - few were able to afford the $130 000 a year for an international 9.6Kbps leased line. Nitel has now established a POP in Lagos with a 2MB link to Global One in the US and has put POPs in 4 other cities..

It is difficult to measure actual numbers of Internet users, but figures for the number of dialup subscriber accounts to ISPs are more readily available, for which it is estimated that there are now over 1 000 000 subscribers in Africa. Of these, North Africa is responsible for about 200 000 and South Africa for 650 000, leaving about 150 000 for the remaining 50 African countries. But each computer with an Internet or email connection supports an average of three users, a recent study by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) has found. This puts current estimates of the number of African Internet users at somewhere around 3 million in total, with about 1 million outside of South Africa. This works out at about one Internet user for every 250 people, compared to a world average of about one user for every 35 people, and a North American and European average of about one in every 3 people. ...

There are now about 28 countries with 1000 or more dialup subscribers, but only about 11 countries with 5000 or more - Cote d'Ivoire, Egypt, Morocco, Kenya, Ghana, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Tunisia, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Clearly a number of countries such as those in North Africa and Southern Africa have more highly developed economies and better infrastructures which would naturally result in larger populations of Internet users. ...

Currently, the average total cost of using a local dialup Internet account for 5 hours a month in Africa is about $50/month (usage fees, telephone time included, but not telephone line rental). Nevertheless ISP charges vary greatly - between $10 and $100 a month, largely reflecting the different levels of maturity of the markets, the varying tariff policies of the telecom operators, and the different national policies on private wireless data services and on access to international telecommunications bandwidth. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in '97, 20 hours of Internet access in the U.S. cost $29, including telephone charges. Although European costs were higher ($74 in Germany, $52 in France, $65 in Britain, and $53 in Italy) these figures are for 4 times the amount of access, and all of these countries have per capita incomes which are at least 10 times greater than the African average.

Most African capitals now have more than one ISP and in early 2000 there were about 450 public ISPs across the region (excluding SA, where the market has consolidated into 2 major players with 90% of the market and 40-50 small players with the remainder). Seven countries had 10 or more ISPs - Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe - while 20 countries had only one ISP. Although Ethiopia and Mauritius are the only countries where a monopoly ISP is national policy (i.e. where private companies are barred from reselling Internet services), there are other countries in which this practice still continues, predominantly in the Sahel sub-region where markets are small.

In response to the high cost of full Internet based services and the slow speed of the web, and also because of the overriding importance of electronic mail, lower-cost email-only services have been launched by many ISPs and are continuing to attract subscribers. Similarly, because of the relatively high cost of local electronic mailbox services from African ISPs, a large proportion of African email users make use of the free Web-based services such as Hotmail, Yahoo or Excite, most of which are in the US. These services can be more costly and cumbersome than using standard email software, because extra online time is needed to maintain the connection to the remote site. But they do provide the added advantages of anonymity and perhaps greater perceived stability than a local ISP who may not be in business next year.

There is also a rapidly growing interest in kiosks, cybercafes and other forms of public Internet access, such as adding PCs to community phone-shops, schools, police stations and clinics which can share the cost of equipment and access amongst a larger number of users. Many existing 'phone shops' are now adding Internet access to their services, even in remote towns where it is a long-distance call to the nearest dialup access point. In addition a growing number of hotels and business centres provide a PC with Internet access.

The rapidity with which most African public telecom operators have moved into the Internet services market is also noteworthy. In the last three years PTOs have brought Internet services on stream in 31 countries and similar moves are afoot in three others (Liberia, Somalia and Tanzania). ...

In all the countries where the PTO has established the international Internet backbone, it is the sole International link provider except in Cote d'Ivoire, Nigeria, Mozambique, South Africa and Zambia where they compete with private sector international links. Usually the PTOs operate the international gateway and access to the national backbone, and leave the resale of end-user Internet access to the private sector. In a few countries the PTO also competes with the private sector in the provision of end-user dialup accounts, namely, Cameroun, South Africa and Zambia.

As far as the multinational ISPs are concerned, AfricaOnline (, is the largest operation. The group is consolidating its year of growth which saw local branches open in Namibia, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe, adding to its stable in Ghana, Kenya, and Cote d'Ivoire. AfricaOnline has plans to open up in additional countries over the coming months. ...

Due to high international tariffs and lack of circuit capacity, obtaining sufficient international bandwidth for delivering web pages over the Internet is still a major problem in most countries. Until recently few of the countries outside of South Africa had international Internet links larger than 64Kbps, but today 24 countries have 512Kps or more, and 15 countries have outgoing links of 1Mbps or more - Botswana, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Libya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania and Tunisia. Excluding South Africa, the total international outgoing Internet bandwidth installed in Africa is about 60Mbps. However this means that on average about 6 dialup users must share each 1Kbps of international bandwidth, making for slow connections to remote sites.

As a result, a growing number of African Internet sites are hosted on servers that are in Europe or the U.S. This is especially necessary for countries where ISPs operate their own independent international links without local interconnections (peering), such as in Kenya and Tanzania, which means that traffic between the subscribers of two ISPs in the same city must travel to the US or Europe and back. This makes it more efficient to host outside-country, and is also being encouraged because web hosting costs can be very high, while there are even a number of free hosting sites in the US and Europe. ...

With the exception of some ISPs in Southern Africa, almost all of the international Internet circuits in Africa connect to the USA, with a few to the United Kingdom, Italy and France. However, Internet Service Providers in countries with borders shared with South Africa benefit from the low tariff policies instituted by the South African telecom operator for international links to neighbouring countries. As a result South Africa acts as a hub for some of its neighbouring countries - Lesotho, Namibia, and Swaziland.

The major international Internet suppliers are AT&T, BT, Global One/Sprint, UUNET/AlterNet, MCI, NSN, BBN, Teleglobe, Verio and France Telecom/FCR. A number of other links are provided by PanamSat and Intelsat direct to private and PTO groundstations in the US and UK, circumventing local PTO infrastructure.

Aside from the South Africa/Lesotho/Swaziland network and a link between Mauritius and Madagascar, there are no other regional backbones or links between neighbouring countries. The main reason for this is that the high international tariffs charged by telecom operators discourages Internet Service Providers from establishing multiple international links. As a result ISPs are forced to consolidate all of their traffic over a single high cost international circuit.

Roaming dialup Internet access is now a reality for travellers to most African countries courtesy of SITA, the airline co-operative, which has by far the largest network in Africa. SITA's commercial division, SCITOR (recently renamed Equant), which was formed to service the non-airline market, now operates dialup points of presence in 40 African countries. Subscribers to Internet service providers who are members of IPASS (a group of ISPs, including SITA, who share their POPs) can access their home ISPs for about $0.22c a minute. See ...

The American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) has now taken over administration of Internet IP Address space for Africa (along with North America, South America, and the Caribbean). This means that address space is no longer free and until a local African Registry can be set up, networks will now be required to pay ARIN USD$2500 per year to obtain a Class-C address. A proposal for an Africa Network Information Centre (NIC) has been discussed for some years only now is progress being made, partly because of the lack of on-the-ground national networking associations to support it and the political difficulties of identifying the appropriate host country and organisation to operate it. ...

Evidence gathered by ECA suggests the average level of Internet use in Africa is about one incoming and one outgoing email per day, averaging 3 to 4 pages, in communications which are most often with people outside the continent. Surveys indicated that about 25 percent of the email is replacing faxes, while 10 percent are replacing phone calls and the other 65 percent are communications that would not have been made in the absence of an email system.

The highest number of users surveyed belonged to non-government organizations (NGOs), private companies and universities. The ratio of nationals to non-nationals varied between countries: 44 percent of users surveyed in Zambia were nationals as compared to 90 percent in Ghana. Most users were male: 86 percent in Ethiopia, 83 percent in Senegal, and 64 percent in Zambia. The large majority of users were well educated: 87 percent of users in Zambia and 98 percent in Ethiopia had a university degree. ...

Email is used for general correspondence and document exchange, technical advice, managing projects, arranging meetings, and exchanging research ideas, although its use is still limited for accessing formal information resources. Across the continent, users report that email has increased efficiency and reduced the cost of communication but as yet it is used almost exclusively for contacting individuals in other regions. The Web is still a relatively under-utilised resource, although 40 percent of Zambian users questioned had conducted literature searches on the web.

Universities were initially at the vanguard of Internet developments in Africa and most of them provide email services, however in early 1999 only about 20 countries had universities with full Internet connectivity. Because of the limited resources and high costs of providing computer facilities and bandwidth, full Internet access at the universities where it exists is usually restricted to staff. Post graduates are often able to obtain access but the general student population usually has no access.

In the area of Internet content development, the African web-space is expanding rapidly and almost all countries have some form of local or internationally hosted web server, unofficially or officially representing the country with varying degrees of comprehensiveness. However, there are still generally few institutions that are using the Web to deliver significant quantities of information. While increasing numbers of organisations have a Web site with basic descriptive and contact information, many are hosted by international development agency sites, and very few actually use the Web for their activities. This is partly explained by the limited number of local people that have access to the Internet (and thus the limited importance of a web presence to the institution), the limited skills available for digitising and coding pages, and also by the high costs of local web hosting services.

It can be observed that the French speaking countries have a far higher profile on the Web and greater institutional connectivity than the non-French speaking countries. This is largely due to the strong assistance provided by the various Francophone support agencies, and the Canadian and French governments, which are concerned about the dominance of English on the Internet. ...

Although there are a few notable official general government web sites, such as those of Angola, Egypt, Gabon, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Senegal, Togo, Tunisia and Zambia, there is as yet no discernible government use of the Internet for existing administrative purposes. ...


Message-Id: <> From: "APIC" <> Date: Sun, 29 Oct 2000 09:56:00 -0500 Subject: Africa: Internet Status

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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