Deep Divisions in Internet Usage in the Middle East and Africa - eMarketer
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Deep Divisions in Internet Usage in the Middle East and Africa

Internet penetration is nearly twice as high in the Middle East and North Africa vs. sub-Saharan Africa

September 21, 2016 | Advertising & Marketing | Mobile

The internet audience in the Middle East and Africa will reach 301.6 million in 2016, representing just 20.7% of the region’s population, according to eMarketer’s latest forecast of internet users around the world. This means the Middle East and Africa has the lowest level of internet reach in the world, well behind the global penetration rate of 44.6%.

Internet User Penetration in the Middle East & Africa, by Region, 2015-2020 (% of population)

Since its Q1 forecast, eMarketer has adjusted its estimates of internet penetration in the region downard, due to newly available data on Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya and Burkina Faso indicating lower-than-expected internet usage. Overall, just 16.9% of residents of sub-Saharan Africa use the internet on a monthly basis.

In the rest of the Middle East and Africa, internet penetration is nearly twice as high. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), more than three-quarters of the population is already online, and by 2020, the share will be over 80%. In Saudi Arabia, similarly, more than two-thirds of the population will be internet users this year. Both countries are among the top 25 in the world for internet reach, despite the overall region’s low penetration rates.

Mobile Phone User Penetration in the Middle East & Africa, by Region, 2015-2020 (% of population)

The intra-regional disparity almost disappears when it comes to mobile phone usage, which is just below 30% in sub-Saharan Africa and just under 32% in the Middle East and North Africa.

eMarketer forecasting analyst Oscar Orozco said, “High rural density, underdeveloped infrastructure and low literacy rates, as well as the high cost of mobile phones and plans, have all contributed to low internet adoption rates in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, central governments have not managed to spur along cheap and easy access to the internet, and so growth will remain low in to the coming years.

“By contrast, the oil-rich countries in the Middle East tend to be smaller, have higher per-capita GDP, modernized infrastructure that the government has been able to afford, very high urban density and higher literacy rates, which have all contributed to much faster internet adoption rates, which will continue to grow in to the coming years.”

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