Kenya leads East Africa in Surge of online use in wake of Coronavirus

Internet, social media use and e-commerce on upward trajectory in Kenya 

Kenya recorded the highest number of new internet users in East Africa between 2019 and January 2020, and as more people work from home and turn to e-commerce retailing and social media to connect with each other in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, internet use in the country is reaching new heights and e-commerce is on an upward trajectory. 

The 2020 Digital Report, published on 30th January 2020 revealed that the number of new internet users in Kenya increased by 3.2 million, surpassing its neighbors – Rwanda, Burundi Uganda and Tanzania by over 1.9 million people. 

According to the report, compiled by We Are Social in partnership with Hootsuite, the four countries had a total of 1.254 million new internet users combined. 

The report which examines how people around the world use the internet, mobile devices, social media and e-commerce also revealed that Kenya had the highest number of internet users in East Africa, at 22.86 million – just 6.99 million lower than the total number in it’s four neighbors in the region.

In total, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and Tanzania had 29.85 million people using the internet in January 2020. 

The data also shows there are more people using social media in Kenya than elsewhere in East Africa. The country had 8.8 million social media users, 660,000 more than in its four neighbors combined. 

In total,  Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and Tanzania had 8.14 million people using social media in January 2020. 

Globally, the report established that the number of internet users increased to 4.54 billion while social media users increased by 321 million to reach 3.8 billion people. 

While noting that close to 60 percent of the world’s population was already using the internet, the report concluded that more than half of the world’s total population will use social media by June 2020. 

And that number could go well past the estimate due to measures put in place by governments to contain COVID -19. A survey published by the Pew Research Center on April 1, 2020 showed that internet use has increased around the world as countries impose lockdowns, curfews and other social distancing measures to curb the spread of the virus. 

According to the survey conducted in 34 countries, 36 percent of Kenyans own a smartphone while 43 percent use social media, and 48 percent use the internet. 

But these numbers are improving really fast given that more people are connecting with each other online as they practice social distancing. 

To begin with, Kenyans can now file court cases electronically and hearings conducted via video link, The Daily Nation reports. 

According to the report, only matters certified as urgent are being heard virtually through Skype and Zoom and orders are sent to the applicants via email. 

Secondly, the government has stepped up digital lessons for the 15 million primary and secondary school students in the country to learn from home as schools remain closed, reports Capital FM

To add to this, telecom operators in the country are making it easier for learners to study from home. Airtel Kenya, for instance, is offering free access to the Longhorn e-platform where learning material can be accessed on Windows mobile platforms, Android and SMS, Capital FM reports. 

Interestingly, despite the economic fallout from the pandemic, internet providers are recording double profits. 

A report by Soko Directory revealed that Kenyans were spending at least 5 million hours of continuous viewing on data powered by Safaricom, Kenyan’s largest telecom company. 

According to the report, the number of Facebook users is at its highest, with at least 100,000 Kenyans using Facebook Live. 

The report quoted Safaricom’s CEO as saying that the company had “recorded double-digital growth in data volumes” as more Kenyans study and work from home. 

Growth in e commerce as virus spreads

Kenya recorded its first coronavirus case on 12th March 2020. As of Wednesday 15 April 2020, the number of cases stood at 225 with 10 deaths and 53 recoveries. 

The government has since banned travel in and out of the worst affected regions – the capital Nairobi and the counties of Kwale and Kilifi and Mombasa. 

The good news is that e-commerce retailers are reporting a rise in the number of people visiting their platforms, according to a TechTrends report. 

The report quoted Sam Chappatte, the Jumia Kenya MD as saying that the company had “seen a shift in sales” because “customer behavior has changed” making the company record “high sales in hand sanitisers, masks and household cleaning products.”

Prioritizing Digital Payments Over Cash

Following the government’s move to encourage digital payments to prevent the spread of the virus through the physical exchange of cash, Safaricom, waived fees for M-pesa (the country’s largest digital money transfer service, with over 20 million customers) transactions below 1,000 Kenya shillings ($100) – for three months, beginning 17 March, 2020, The East African reports.

Besides the fee waiver, the company increased the daily M-Pesa transaction limit for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) from 70,000 Kenyan shillings ($700)  to 150,000 Kenyan shillings ($1500), the transaction limit from 140,000 shillings ($1,400) to 300,000 shillings ($3,000) and the amount of money individuals can hold in their M-Pesa wallets to 300,000 Kenya shillings ($3,000). 

As of January, Kenyan’s internet and social media penetration was 43 percent and 17 percent respectively, the highest in East Africa, according to the 2020 Digital report. 

The country is the region’s internet giant, and as the world grapples with COVID-19, the number of Kenyans using the internet and social media are increasing significantly. And as to whether the high numbers will be maintained post the epidemic remains to be seen.  

CountryInternet usersIncrease in internet users% increase in internet usersSocial media usersIncrease in social media users
Kenya22.86 M3.2M168.8M1M
Tanzania 14.72 M428K34.5M514K

Internet and social media numbers in East Africa between 2019 and January 2020. Source – Digital 2020 Report.

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