x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Political tweeps still largely absent as Africa sees growth in Twitter users

Research analysed more than 11.5 million geographically pinpointed tweets originating on the continent, with South Africa the most active.

JOHANNESBURG // Young people tweeting from BlackBerrys and iPhones are driving the growth of Twitter in Africa, with South Africans by far the most vociferous, according to new research published last week.

Kenya-based Portland Communications and Tweetminster published findings on Thursday indicating Twitter in Africa is widely used for social conversation and is fast becoming an important source of information. More than 80 per cent of those polled said they mainly used it for communicating with friends, 68 per cent said they use it to monitor news and 22 per cent to search for jobs, the companies said.

The research analysed more than 11.5 million geographically pinpointed tweets originating on the continent during the last three months of 2011. That was complemented by a survey of 500 of Africa's most active tweeters.

South Africans, with the continent's biggest economy, were the most prolific with over twice as many tweets at 5 million than the next most active country of Kenya with 2.4 million tweets. Surprisingly, Africa's most populous nation, Nigeria, had only 1.6 million tweets from its more than 160 million people. It was followed by Egypt with 1.2 million and Morocco with 745,620 tweets.

African tweeters are young, averaging 20 to 29 years, compared to 39 worldwide, the report said. And some 57 per cent of analysed tweets were sent from mobile phones, mainly BlackBerrys and iPhones.

The researchers noted how few African business and political leaders were joining Africa's burgeoning Twittersphere.

"With some notable exceptions, we found that business and political leaders were largely absent from the debates playing out on Twitter across the continent," they said. "As Twitter lifts off in Africa, governments, businesses and development agencies can really no longer afford to stay out of a new space where dialogue will increasingly be taking place."

Among noted Twitter users are President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Mr Kagame got into an infamous Twitterspat last year with journalist Ian Birrell of The Guardian of London, with the two trading tweets about human rights and repression in the central African nation. The cyberconversation first was joined by Mr Kagame's foreign minister, and then went global.

While Kenyan soldiers and fighters of an extremist Somali Islamist group have been fighting each other, their spokesman have taken the battle onto Twitter, with taunts, accusations and insults being directly traded in a rare engagement on the internet.