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April 29, 2020

Mobile first matters in Africa

For some time now, experts have touted the continent as the next stage of growth for mobile operators. There are a number of reasons why mobile is dominating Africa as the technology of choice, but for those of us working in the tech industry, there are also a number of reasons why developers should continue to prioritise a mobile-first approach for African consumers.

1. Mobile is growing in sub-Saharan Africa

Much research has been dedicated to the growth of the mobile market in Africa. While this is indeed the case, it’s important to bear in mind that many residents live in rural or underserviced areas, so while mobile grows, it is often in the form of feature phones, or inexpensive smartphones. 

A big hurdle to the proliferation of mobile tech is the cost of data on the continent. Data is expensive, costing more than 7% of a subscriber’s monthly income. But this is changing and there is increasing connectivity, as a study by GSMA notes, 3G coverage in 2019 was up to 62%, with 4G following swiftly, and a total of 120 4G networks already operating in sub-Saharan countries.

The same study indicated that within the next 5 years, there will be a smartphone adoption rate of 66% across the region. This is supported by an article on, which states that mobile internet users in sub-Saharan Africa have quadrupled over the last decade. Thus, despite the challenges presented by expensive data, mobile as an ideal platform for consumers on the continent, continues to grow. 

2. Young consumers are increasing in the mobile market

Africa, as a continent, has the youngest population across the globe. This means that upcoming consumers are not only youth, but they are also digital natives. According to a study by Pew Research Centre, much like Asia, Africa has leapfrogged the landline phase of development (with a near zero penetration rate in Africa) and gone straight to mobile devices. 

Besides the leap straight to mobile, a younger generation of mobile users will determine usage patterns for mobile devices going forward. The way they engage with mobile devices could also see the rise of the super app here in Africa, much like WeChat in Asia, where users can utilise one app to perform numerous functions, be that paying for services, communicating with friends or booking appointments at government offices. A super app also talks to the challenge of data usage and storage space on cheaper model feature phones. 

A third factor to consider with a young generation of users, is that phones are primarily used in this market to text and take pictures. Using an SMS or USSD service is still king on the continent, which any app developer wishing to gain traction in the African market needs to take into consideration.

3. Mobile is good for business
While mobile provides greater connectivity for African consumers, it also provides growth opportunities in rural and low revenue per user areas. With a growing youth consumer base, mobile generated 8.6% of GDP in the Southern African region in 2018, amounting to $144 billion. Even more interesting, according to the GSMA, is that it filled public sector coffers with $15.6bn in the same time frame, which is projected to increase to $185bn in the next three years.

This means that it is in both the public and private sectors’ interests to encourage the growth of mobile on the continent. 

When developing apps, youth, coverage and cost of data should be top of mind. For example, at Boxfusion our Smartgov for Citizens app, which has been designed to bridge the divide between the electorate and their municipal officials, comes with a USSD feature for those who may be less tech-literate, or who need to access municipal services with limited data or no airtime. 

Mobile is the next frontier in Africa. It is for those of us working on the continent and in the tech sector to offer users value and power through these ubiquitous devices.