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The swift rise of mobile use in Kenya

While mobile phone penetration is led by countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, African countries are slowly but surely catching up. Kenya, along with the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, has led the world’s mobile growth in the past few years.

Among its tech advances, the region is currently trialling 5G technology, while GSMA estimates that seven million new mobile subscribers are expected to be active on the various networks by 2025.

According to, Kenya saw an increase of 5.9 million mobile subscriptions between January 2020 and January 2021. This year, the number of mobile subscriptions equates to 108.9% of the total population, due to many people having more than one mobile connection.

The evolution of mobile

It’s hard to believe that the mobile phone – close to how we know it today – has only been around for 20 years. That’s a short time for something that today feels impossible to live without.

Alas, when Ireland had 77 mobile phones for every 100 people in 2002, Kenya had just two for every 100, making mobile phones seem exclusive to just the middle- and higher-class consumers. A lot has changed since then.

Multinational mobile providers started to see opportunities to provide access to basic and cheap handsets in even the most remote areas, leading to an increase in ownership of mobile phones.

The fuel behind the rise – mobile money transfer services

Between 2002 and 2006, mobile phones grew in number from one million to 10 million, with M-Pesa entering the industry and leading in Kenya as the largest mobile money transfer service.

With millions of Kenyans previously resorting to inconvenient means of sending money home, such as via minibus taxis, M-Pesa offered safe and reliable transfers by mobile phone with just a few clicks of a button. M-Pesa forever changed the old way of banking, paving the way for accessible mobile money. In 2017, M-Pesa had an estimated 20 million users in Kenya.

The impact of Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic has added to Kenya’s rising mobile use. As many employees were forced to work from home, much of the increase in penetration is due to consumers seeking cheaper data offers from various mobile network providers.

With individuals urged to stay home to curb the spread of the virus, users could turn to their mobile phones to shop online for necessities more than ever before, or entertain themselves with online betting at the tip of their fingers. As a leading African country in online gambling, Kenyans have become accustomed to playing casino games online – quite the big development when compared to previous years that were dominated by the lottery.

The ability to access such pleasurable pastimes, food and clothing, and communicate with both loved ones and work colleagues without having to leave home has reshaped the world as we knew it.

Easier access to smartphones

The rise in mobile use has hastened the emergence of cheaper smartphones. According to a 2017 study conducted by Pew Research, 80% of adults in Kenya reported owning a mobile phone, with 30% owning a smartphone and 50% owning a basic phone.

Consumers have been able to obtain smartphones much easier, thanks to a financial model allowing for low-income earners to pay in instalments on new devices.

According to the World Bank and African Development Bank, there are 650 million mobile users in Africa, surpassing the United States or Europe. Some African countries have more people owning or accessing mobile phones than have access to clean water, a bank account or electricity. Young people account for the majority of these numbers, with subscribers in sub-Saharan Africa paying an average of between $5 and $8 for their monthly cell phone expenses.

This clearly highlights that mobile connectivity is an unmatched priority for young people.

What the future holds for mobile use in Kenya

The use of mobile phones has become essential not only for communication but to manage one’s banking, services, access to opportunities and much more.

The fast-growing mobile use in Kenya paints a positive picture of the future of the country. As more people obtain mobile phones, information becomes more accessible, thus increasing employment rates, as demonstrated over the past few years.

As of January 2021, 21.75 million people use the internet in Kenya, and 97% of all internet users in Kenya access the internet through their mobile phones. As efforts to bridge the digital divide remain at the forefront, the future of Kenya seems as bright as can be.

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