What Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter has in store for Africa

Wednesday May 04 2022
Musk pic

A phone screen displays the Twitter account of Elon Musk with a photo of him shown in the background, in Washington, DC on April 14, 2022. PHOTO/ AFP

By Sam Wambugu

Twitter has become a trending topic following the announcement that Elon Musk, a South African-born American billionaire, would acquire the platform.

Musk has reportedly bought Twitter for $44 billion, making him the owner of one of the loudest megaphones in the world.

Musk’s primary motivation for purchasing Twitter is to promote free speech.

But how will Musk’s ownership of Twitter impact Africa? Since Twitter runs on the Internet, it’s important to review some numbers for context. There are still many barriers to accessing the Internet in Africa. More than 60 per cent of the continent is without the Internet.

In sub-Saharan Africa, mobile social media penetration is dismal, at 11 per cent. Twitter ranks sixth among most African countries in terms of usage after WhatsApp, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Facebook Messenger. Kenyans are among the most active Twitter users on the continent.

Musk wants the Internet to be available to all Africans. He has invested billions in making this happen. He intends to use satellites in space to accomplish this.

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In the coming years, Musk plans to launch more than 1,000 satellites for low-cost internet access in remote parts of Africa via his Starlink satellite network. Governments on the continent have also expressed their willingness to join in on this wave. More than 20 countries, including Kenya, have increased satellite-based Internet investment.

Twitter is showing interest in Africa. It opened its first office in Africa last year in Ghana and is planning to open more in the future.

Despite being less popular than other social media platforms, Twitter’s importance in political discourse cannot be overlooked. As long as you have a Twitter account, you can share your thoughts with the world, regardless of your social or political status, which bothers some political leaders.

Many African political leaders interpret the words “free speech”, especially from western countries, as an implicit encouragement for citizens to engage in unfettered and sometimes uncomfortable political discussions that rub leaders the wrong way.


Free speech

Not everyone will be singing Kumbaya as Twitter access becomes available through various initiatives, including Musk’s Starlink and the promotion of free speech. A few may be on the fence. Others may turn their backs on Twitter.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta quit Twitter not long ago after being upset by a spirited Twitter army not shy to tweet their feelings about the country’s leadership. The President left behind his three million followers, terming Twitter a “useless platform full of insults”.

Election season is often the testiest time on Twitter. Politicians and citizens of diverse political views aggressively engage, sometimes leading to the government cutting off the Internet and social media.

Whatever the reason for Elon Musk’s Twitter, whether it is to promote free speech or cash in on the growing social media advertisement dollars, the platform will write an interesting treatise for Africa.