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Digital oases in a digital desert – The heterogeneous spread of online service usage in Sub-Saharan Africa

Conference paper
Authors Robert Wentrup
Richard Nakamura
Patrik Ström
Published in Association of American Geographers. April 21-25 2015. Chicago, US.
Publication year 2015
Published at Department of Business Administration
Centre for International Business Studies
Department of Business Administration, Management & Organisation
Language en
Keywords Digital divide, Africa, online service providers, OSPs
Subject categories Economics and Business


The usage of online services is accelerating rapidly in contemporary society. Today there are more than 2.9 billion internet users on our planet. Unfortunately, the users are not evenly spread, and underrepresented on the African continent in particular. Although some African countries show impressive economic growth rates, as well as improving internet penetration, the gap to most geographical regions is still significant. But are we observing an increasing trend of internet penetration on the continent? By comparing the use of internet- and Facebook penetration with development indicators such as GDP per capita and literacy levels, this paper scrutinizes in a quantitative manner whether the use of internet services in Africa countries is catching up with the rest of the world or if the gap is widening. Online service usage is a central concept in the discourse of the 'digital divide' - an emblematic term for the inequality of information and communication technology access. Our findings suggest a heterogeneous pattern of the African internet usage. A few African countries are at European levels, whereas the majority countries show no signs of catching up. As expected, our paper confirms a strong correlation between GDP growth and internet penetration, but a surprisingly low correlation between internet penetration and Facebook penetration, particularly in the least developed African countries. The implications for policy makers and scholars is to avoid using uniform economic assumptions to all African states, but acknowledge instead a heterogeneous Africa, with different development pace and needs.

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