Most sub-Saharan Africans feel positively about the role the internet plays in their countries, a new Pew Research Center report finds, but long-standing digital divides between internet haves and have-nots persist in the region.
Sub-Saharan Africa has experienced dramatic gains in internet use in recent years. With this rapid growth in connectivity have come a host of potential problems, including fake news, political targeting and manipulation and financial scams, among others. Still, large majorities say the increasing use of the internet has had a good influence on education in their country, and half or more say the same about the economy, personal relationships and politics.
Only when it comes to the issue of morality are sub-Saharan Africans somewhat more divided about the role the internet is playing. Across the six major nations surveyed in the region, a median of 45% say the internet has had a positive impact on morality, while 39% say it is has been negative. These views vary substantially by country. For example, a majority of Nigerians (57%) believe the internet is having a good influence on morality, while more than half of Senegalese (54%) say the opposite.
Higher-income, more-educated and younger people in the region are also consistently more likely to use the internet, own a smartphone and engage in social networking, the survey finds. And while sub-Saharan Africans primarily use the internet and their mobile phones for social and entertainment purposes, they are more likely to engage in nearly all these activities – even basic ones like texting – if they have smartphones, suggesting the emergence of a new digital divide based on phone type.
These are among the major findings of a Pew Research Center survey conducted in six sub-Saharan African countries – Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania – from Feb. 21 to April 28, 2017, among 6,795 respondents. Additional key findings in the report include:
More now see the internet’s impacts as positive: In four of the countries surveyed, the number of people saying the internet has positively impacted education has risen since 2014, when the question was last asked. For example, while 81% of South Africans now say internet use has had a positive effect on education, just 68% said the same back in 2014. People’s opinions on how the internet impacts politics have also improved substantially since 2014 in Nigeria (up 21 points), South Africa (14 points) and Senegal (11 points). The percentage of people saying the internet has provided economic benefits has also risen by 8 points or more in four of the six countries surveyed since 2014. In Ghana and Nigeria, opinions of the internet’s impact on morality have improved by 13 points and 7 points, respectively.
Internet use up across sub-Saharan Africa; share with a smartphone doubles: While internet use among many of the world’s advanced economies has plateaued in recent years, it has increased in Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa since 2013, and in Tanzania since 2014. For example, 26% of Ghanaians reported using the internet in 2013, compared with 39% in 2017. Smartphone ownership has also increased. In 2014, 15% of sub-Saharan Africans owned a smartphone, compared with 33% who own one today.
Ownership and usage gaps for smartphones are pronounced: In all six sub-Saharan African countries surveyed, people with more education are more likely to own any type of mobile phone, including smartphones. People with higher incomes are much more likely than those with lower incomes to own smartphones. The ownership gap between richer and poorer is highest in South Africa, where 67% of higher-income people own a smartphone, compared with just 37% of lower-income people.