African Bits Per Capita [Updated]

(Attention Ethan Zuckerman! You might might have seen the map below, but just in case, I thought I’d call it to your attention.)

Update: Ethan wrote back — see the end of the post!

Yesterday, I found out about a map produced in 2002 by

Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

It’s titled The Internet: Out of Africa and shows a relatively new

metric of internet use: bits per capita. A smaller version is shown below; click it to see it at full size.

African bits per capita. Click the map to see it at full size.

The IDRC page introducing the map reads:

The size of the Internet in a country indicates an element of its

progress towards an information-based economy. International Internet

bandwidth provides a measure of Internet activity because many people

share accounts, or use corporate and academic networks along with cyber

cafes and business centers. Outgoing bandwidth also takes better

account of the wide range of possible use, from those who write a few

emails each week, to users who spend many hours a day on the net

browsing, transacting, streaming, and downloading. Because of this, the

often used ‘Number of Internet Users’ indicator may have less relevance

in the developing world than in other places.


a circle for each country; the size of the circle is proportional to

the outgoing bandwidth for that country. Each circle is a pie chart

showing the proportion of bandwidth destinations. For example, Seychelles

(the teeny island on the eastern end of the map) has way more outgoing

internet traffic than anywhere else in Africa, 50% of which is bound

for North America and the other 50% bound for Asia. Chad, among whose neighbours are the fun bunch of Niger, Libya and Sudan, has the least bits per capita.

Countries are colour-coded by GDP per capita. Clearly, I’m not up on Africa, as I would’ve guessed that Egypt’s (US$4,200 per capita in 2004) would’ve been higher than that of Libya (US$6,700 per capita in 2004) or Gabon

(US$5,900 per capita in 2004). I think the map is wrong when it comes

to South Africa; I’d have bet that even in 2002, its GDP per capita

would be the highest, as it was in 2004: US$11,000 per capita.

For comparison’s sake, Canada’s GDP per capita for 2004 was US$31,500, the United Kingdom’s was US$29,600 and the United States’ was US$41,000, about 10 times that of Egypt.

Update (Tuesday, August 9, 2005 — 2 p.m. EDT):

Ethan writes:

Thanks, Joey. It’s a very famous map, and

has been in almost everyone’s slide deck for ICT4D presentations for

the past couple of years. It’s wildly out of date, though, and more

than a little bit deceptive. It’s got a very strong bias for

fiber-based internet access and against satellite, which may be a

technically sound bias, but doesn’t reflect commercial reality on the

ground… It also doesn’t visualize Internet Exchange Points, either

countrywide or regional, which are a critical part of the Africa

connectivity picture. Still, it’s a very useful image for folks trying

to explain some of the challenges of connectivity on the continent. And

it’s interesting to see that a good map still gets circulated almost

four years after its creation…

Thanks for the info, Ethan!

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