Mobile Powering Economic Growth in West Africa

10 May 2019

West Africa’s mobile ecosystem generated more than $50 billion (R722bn) in economic value last year – equivalent to 8.7% of the region’s GDP, according to a GSMA study.

The study finds that rising mobile phone ownership and the ongoing migration to mobile broadband networks and services across the region will see the mobile ecosystem’s economic contribution continue to increase over the coming years, forecast to reach almost $70 billion (R1.011tr) by 2023.

“Today’s report underlines the vital role the mobile ecosystem is playing in contributing to economic growth, social development and job creation across West Africa,” said Akinwale Goodluck, Head of Sub-Saharan Africa at the GSMA. “To harness the power of a new generation of mobile users and mobile networks, we urge governments and policymakers in West Africa to develop regulatory frameworks that encourage innovation and investment in the sector, enabling the provision of mobile-powered digital services to citizens across the region.”

The report reveals that:

The number of unique mobile subscribers across West Africa reached 185 million at the end of 2018, equivalent to 48% of the region’s population. This number is forecast to rise to 248 million by 2025, 54% of the population.

Future subscriber growth will largely be driven by young consumers owning a mobile phone for the first time; more than 40% of the region’s population are under 18 years old, according to the report.

3G will overtake 2G to become the leading mobile technology in West Africa this year, supporting about half of the region’s mobile connections. 4G momentum is also building: ten new 4G networks have recently launched in West Africa, including the first ever 4G networks in Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone and Togo.

Local mobile operators are increasing investment in their networks and are expected to spend $8.5 billion (R122bn) on network infrastructure and services over the next two years (2019/2020).

West Africa’s mobile ecosystem directly employs around 200,000 people, supports 800,000 jobs in the informal employment sector, and a further 600,000 jobs across the wider economy.

Mobile is the primary platform for accessing the internet in West Africa; at the end of 2018, there were around 100 million mobile internet users in the region, up almost 20 million year-on-year.