BBG Research Series: Africa — On and Off the Data Highway

Behaviors and Opinions of Internet Users and Non-Users

Access to the Internet is affecting African civic engagement, corruption perceptions and focus on the welfare of its children, according to research released today by the BBG and Gallup.

The data examined Internet use in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire and Ethiopia and found that going online had measurable impact on the activities, attitudes and behaviors of people in those countries.

“We cannot underestimate the influence that the Internet is having on the communities we’ve surveyed,” said Sonja Gloeckle, Director of Research for the BBG. “And while we see disparities in the amount of access to the Internet in the different countries researched, we are seeing similar behaviors and attitudes among those who go online.”

Internet users in each of the countries surveyed are more likely to volunteer their time or provide assistance to others, as measured by Gallup’s Civic Engagement Index. In Ethiopia, for example, the score for those who have ever accessed the Internet is 45 (out of 100), while those who have not gone online scored 30. It is important to note that there is significant variation across countries: the aggregate score for Kenya is 52, while it is just 25 in Zimbabwe and 26 in Ivory Coast. In Nigeria and in Ethiopia, men and those with at least a secondary education tend to be more engaged in their communities.

Perception of corruption is already quite high in most sub-Saharan African countries, but those with access to the Internet tend to perceive corruption more than those who are offline. In Cote d’Ivoire the Corruption Index is 70 among those who have had access to news on the Internet, versus 55 among those who have not. In Ethiopia, the same 25-point spread is seen, with Internet users scoring 60, and non-users scoring 45.

Access to the Internet may also impact a community’s focus on the welfare of its children. Gallup’s Youth Development Index shows that the majority of people in the surveyed countries rate their communities positively, ranging from a score of 78 (out of 100) in Ethiopia to 55 in Nigeria. Youth Development Index scores tend to be fairly consistent across demographic groups. Those who are on-line tend to be slightly less positive about youth development in their countries than those who are offline. Nigeria showed the largest discrepancy between Internet users (51) and non-users (57), while those in Zimbabwe both scored 77.

Access to the Internet is increasing across the continent, but disparities still exist. Roughly one in five people in Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and Kenya have Internet access at home and slightly more use the Internet for news at least once a week. Ethiopia and Cote d’Ivoire, however, still have very low rates of Internet access or usage. Just 1% of Ethiopians and 5% of Ivorians have Internet access at home.

Across all countries surveyed, the mobile phone is the most used device to access the Internet. When online, Internet users are most likely to share videos, read blogs, and find out the latest news. Four percent of Ivorian Internet users have shared videos online the past week, as have 16% of Nigerian Internet users and 13% of Kenyan Internet users.

Internet users in Africa tend to be young, educated and in urban areas and are more likely to be male, but Internet usage patterns differ across gender and location. For example, while both men and women are likely to use the Internet, men are somewhat more likely to have gone online in the past seven days than women. In Nigeria, 34% of men have used the Internet in the past seven days, compared to 18% of women. In Zimbabwe, 25% went online in the past week, compared to 15% of women. One exception is Kenya, where men (24%) and women (20%) go online at very similar rates.

About the BBG

The Broadcasting Board of Governors is an independent federal agency supervising all U.S. government-supported, civilian international media. Its mission is to inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy. BBG networks include the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa), Radio Free Asia, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (Radio and TV Martí). BBG programming has a measured audience of 278 million in more than 100 countries and in 58 languages.