• How to characterize the telecommunications sector in Africa?

  • How did the African telecommunications sector develop over time?

  • Who invests in the African telecommunications sector?


This story describes the African telecommunications sector and reflects on the implications for individual access to internet services.

Africa is the least connected region in the world. As of January 2021, Eastern and Middle Africa recorded the lowest rates of internet penetration: 24 percent and 26 percent, respectively. The majority of web traffic originates from mobile devices; only around 15 percent of the households have fixed broadband access at home. Access to the internet tends to be extremely costly, compared to European standards.

In Africa, as in most other parts in the world, the telecommunications sector was traditionally regulated by state-controlled monopolies. Today, internet service providers (ISPs) are owned by a variety of different shareholders.

In several countries, notably Djibouti, Eritrea and Ethiopia, the government has always been the only shareholder of the only ISP operating in the country. In Senegal,, in turn, the state never owned a majority-share in any ISP. In Uganda, ISPs have largely been owned by foreign-private companies from different continents, including the French Orange, Indian Bharti Airtel, or South-African MTN.

In view of the political and economic sensitivities associated with infrastructure ownership, privatized and/or foreign ownership provides a “barometer of states' willingness to share authority with others” (Doh et al. 2004:234). If the state holds itself shares in the company, the corporate management is likely to favor compliance with political requests, such as manipulating access to internet service or sharing consumer data, in contrast to a privately-owned company committed to corporate social responsibility principles.


Information technology adoption and political regimes. International Studies Quarterly 50(4): 911-933.

This study of the determinants of technology adoption across states finds a complex relationship between political liberties and internet adoption. It also addresses the subject of the digital divide.

DOH, J., TEEGEN, H. & MUDAMBI, R. 2004. Balancing Private and State Ownership in Emerging Markets' Telecommunications Infrastructure: Country, Industry, and Firm Influences. Journal of International Business Studies 35(3): 233-250.

This study looks at determinants of state versus private investment in telecommunications projects in developing countries. Private investment in telecommunications turns out to depend on financial incentives and state policies. 

FREYBURG, T., GARBE, L. & WAVRE, V. 2021. The Political Power of Internet Business: A Comprehensive Dataset of Telecommunications Ownership and Control (TOSCO). Manuscript. University of St.Gallen.

Presentation of the Telecommunications Ownership and Control (TOSCO) dataset that provides detailed information about the shareholders and their exact shares of all ISPs across 49 African mainland countries (plus Madagascar) since 2000s until today. 

MOYO, D. & MUNORIYARWA, A. 2021. ‘Data must fall’: mobile data pricing, regulatory paralysis and citizen action in South Africa, Information, Communication & Society 24(3): 365-380.

Taking the example of South Africa, this study demonstrates how an oligopolistic ISP landscape and regulatory strategies can lead to an overpricing of (mobile) data. High data costs are a problem in many African countries, as exemplified by the #DataMustFall movement. 

ROBERTS, H., LAROCHELLE, D., FARIS, R., & PALFREY, J. 2011. Mapping Local Internet Control. IEEE Computer Society, Computer Communications Workshop, Hyannis (CA).

Mapping of national networks of autonomous systems, for identifying a small set of autonomous systems that act as points of control for each national network, and for measuring the complexity of the networks of autonomous systems within each country. Those autonomous systems are the ISPs and other large organizations that are responsible for routing traffic and as such act as points of technical and political control of the internet.

STRANGE, R. 2018. Corporate Ownership and the Theory of the Multinational Enterprise. International Business Review 27(6): 1229-37.

This contribution researches why firms undertake foreign direct investment (FDI) rather than alternative strategies. Focusing on the role of shareholdings and their corporate control, it suggests enriching traditional theories of the (multinational) firms with insights about corporate ownership (and other governance dimensions).   


Véronique Wavre
Lisa Garbe @LaserGabi
Tina Freyburg @TFreyburg

University of St.Gallen IPW-SEPS
Müller-Friedbergstrasse 8
CH - 9000 St.Gallen

Pia Valaer

Flüelastrasse 16
CH - 8048 Zürich

To request additional educational material (e.g. posters, postcards, printed version), please contact Tina Freyburg:

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