Internet penetration across Africa: challenges and opportunities

According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), just over half of African countries had a National Broadband Plan in place in 2020 – however, internet penetration remains limited. ITU further indicates that only 40% of Africa’s population had access to the Internet as of 2022.


Many African countries have national broadband plans in place to increase internet penetration. For instance, Nigeria's National Broadband Plan aims to achieve 70% broadband penetration by 2025. Yet I, internet penetration across Africa faces significant challenges, many of which are intertwined with broader socio-economic and infrastructural issues.


One of the main challenges to expanding internet access is a lack of investment in telecommunications infrastructure. Many areas, especially rural and remote regions, lack the basic infrastructure needed for internet connectivity and in several countries, social instability or government policies and regulations can impede infrastructure development, internet access, and quality of service. Furthermore, people often cannot afford the devices needed to access available services or lack the required computer skills. In 2022, in the Least Developed Country (LDC) in the Americas, Internet use stood at 53%. In the 12 LDCs in APAC, this was 43%. In the 33 LDCs in Africa, however, the average was 28%.

Addressing these challenges requires coordinated efforts from governments, the private sector, international organizations, and local communities. Investments in infrastructure, policies to reduce costs, educational initiatives to improve digital literacy, and content development relevant to local contexts are essential steps towards increasing internet penetration in Africa. A wide variety of national and intra-national programmes have been launched across the continent.


The African Union’s Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa (2020-2030) is focusing on harnessing digital technologies and innovation to transform African societies and economies to promote Africa's integration, generate inclusive economic growth, stimulate job creation, and break the digital divide. Currently, the African Union is consulting on a ‘Data Policy and Governance Framework’, which should provide the foundation of the digital economy across Africa.

The Smart Africa Alliance initiative involves multiple African countries and aims to accelerate sustainable socioeconomic development through improved access to broadband and usage of ICT. The Alliance is working to digitize the economies and trade of 30 countries across Africa to create a single digital market. Member States are expected to adopt a Digital Economy Blueprint published by the Ministry of ICT Innovation and Youth Affairs of Kenya and develop country strategies.


Furthermore, Africa can benefit from several global projects. For example, the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), is working towards policy and regulatory reform to reduce the cost of internet access. The United Nations’ Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development focuses significantly on improving internet access in developing regions. Various African countries have launched projects to lay fiber to improve internet connectivity, often with support from international partners such as the World Bank. Examples include the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy) and the West African Cable System (WACS).

These initiatives are part of a larger effort to bridge the digital divide and foster economic growth and development across the African continent. Although the effectiveness and impact of these programs varies, they collectively contribute to increasing internet accessibility and digital literacy in the region. However, as ITU points out: ‘political buy-in and promotion of the topic by leaders is critical.’