Africa is more connected than ever before. The continent’s fast-growing economies are becoming hotbeds of entrepreneurship despite lingering infrastructure challenges. Communication tools like WhatsApp are bridging those infrastructure gaps and connecting Africans with local businesses and services. Here’s how WhatsApp is helping reshape life in Africa.
Total Users & User Growth
WhatsApp is used by 191 million people across Africa, where internet penetration has exploded in recent years. Internet penetration on the continent has increased by 20% since January 2017 and countries like Benin have seen penetration double in that period. WhatsApp has helped drive that penetration and in some countries is responsible for half of all internet usage. It is currently the most popular messaging app in Africa, closely followed by Facebook Messenger. WhatsApp is helping Africa slowly but surely plug into the global economy.
How WhatsApp is used in Africa
WhatsApp has become the connective tissue of many African economies. The platform replaces traditional telecom infrastructure common in the West:
- Communication: Globally, almost 30 million WhatsApp messages are sent every minute. WhatsApp connects friends and families in Africa without regard for borders. The platform is used for day to day messaging as well as connecting migrant workers abroad with their families at home.
- News: WhatsApp is used to inform as well as socialize and Africans use WhatsApp to access the news. In countries such as Nigeria, locals rely on WhatsApp as a primary source of news. WhatsApp is especially important in rural areas that have no local news service.
- Services: WhatsApp already connects entire economies. That makes the platform an ideal place to sell goods and provide government services. For example, South Africans can use WhatsApp to renew their car licenses. In the private sector, firms use the WhatsApp For Business app to manage marketing and customer service operations.
Barriers To Future Growth
Africa has enjoyed explosive growth in internet penetration in recent years but that growth is likely to slow. The greatest growth has primarily been in coastal countries near major fiber cables. Landlocked countries in central Africa such as Uganda are far from those cables and have enjoyed slower growth. Greater internet penetration and WhatsApp adoption will require “plugging in” those Central African countries. That will require building new cable lines in countries that have been plagued by instability for decades. However, new technology may make it possible to reach those countries without building new infrastructure.
Macro Tech Trends In Africa
2019 was an impressive year for Africa tech startups. In April, ecommerce startup Jumia was the first VC-backed African tech firm to list on a global exchange. 2019 was also the year that Nigeria dethroned Kenya as the unofficial capital of African Fintech. Nigerian Fintech firms raised over $400 million in 2019, a third of all VC money raised across Africa in 2018. Other notable trends include:
- Ecommerce: Estimates suggest that there are 264 ecommerce startups across Africa that could create 3 million jobs by 2025. WhatsApp recently launched a new feature that allows companies to display their products and services within the app. This will likely help smaller businesses more easily acquire new customers.
- Payments: Local payment systems are being upgraded to meet international security standards. African fintech leader MFS Africa is working with Visa to modernize its digital payments infrastructure. The company plans to use Visa payment credentials for remittances and Ecommerce transactions. WhatsApp's payment offerings are also expected to grow in the coming years.
- Education: Digital tools are making education accessible to even the most disadvantaged students. In Kenya, the Tusome national literacy program is digitizing learning materials and offering a tablet-enabled teacher feedback system. These programs are being credited with boosting student performance and competitiveness.
African economies are enjoying an unprecedented digital revolution. WhatsApp and other tools are spurring growth despite poor infrastructure and political instability. Western companies are taking notice and committing themselves to this success story. African economies are evolving, one app download at a time.
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