Internet access is expanding during a pandemic

Highlights of the story

  • Internet access has increased significantly in five sub-Saharan African countries
  • In South Africa, penetration increased from 52% to 66%
  • In Nigeria, penetration increased from 26% to 36%

WASHINGTON, DC — Sub-Saharan Africa remains one of the least connected places on the planet when it comes to internet access. Gallup polls show that five countries in the region are more connected today than before the COVID-19 pandemic, and that internet access has increased by 10 percentage points or more between 2019 and 2021.


The largest growth in Internet access occurred in South Africa, one of the largest economies in the region. Internet access in South Africa has increased from 52% in 2019 to 66% in 2021. In the same period, Senegal, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria had a 10-point increase.

Note that a 10-point increase in Nigeria, the subcontinent’s largest economy and most populated country, translates into more than 13 million adult internet users.

Enter most among Older, Employed and Female South Africans

Internet access increased from 2019 to 2021 among all major demographic groups in South Africa. However, the biggest increase — 20 points or more — was among those aged 30 and over, women and South Africans working for an employer.

Notably, a 20-point increase among South Africans in the 30-49 age group now brings their access to parity with the youngest South Africans. The oldest South Africans have seen similar growth in internet access, but they remain the least connected age group at 38%.

The increase in access for women to 65% now brings them closer to parity with men (67%) for the first time in Gallup’s nationwide trend.

Table. Internet access in South Africa, 2019 and 2021 surveys, key demographic groups including gender, age, city and employment status. Total penetration increased from 52% to 66%. In South Africa, the largest increase in entry by group between 2019 and 2021 – of at least 20 percentage points – was among women, those aged 30 and over and those working full-time for an employer. In 2021, women achieved parity in internet access with men (about two-thirds have access), 30-49 year olds and 15-29 year-olds (about three-quarters have access).

In Nigeria, Internet Access Increases Most for Men and Youth

In Nigeria, sub-Saharan Africa’s largest economy and most populous country, growth in internet access among key groups has been more uneven. Young people in the 15-29 age group saw the biggest jump, with penetration increasing by 17 points to 47% in 2021.

Among Nigerian men, penetration increased almost as much, rising 14 points from 31% to 45% in 2021. There is a significant difference in internet access between Nigerian men and women, 45% versus 27%. For women, the seven-point increase during this period was half that of men.

Table. Internet access in Nigeria, 2019 and 2021 surveys, by key demographic group, including gender, age, city and employment status. Overall penetration rose from 26% to 36% over the two years, with the biggest increases among men (from 31% to 45%) and 15-29 year olds (from 30% to 47%) . There are differences in access across all four demographic group categories.

Bottom line

The increase in Internet access in these five countries may reflect increased investment in telecommunications infrastructure from the public and private sectors.

In particular, the World Bank has invested $250 million in internet infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa in 2021, with a focus on South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya. And private industry has invested $1 billion to increase access to the continent.

While investments in telecommunications infrastructure have clearly paid dividends in increasing internet access for some in the region, there is significant room for growth, particularly among key groups where disparities remain.

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For full methodology and specific survey dates, see Gallup’s Country Dataset details.

Learn more about how the Gallup World Poll works.

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