The sweet and sour bits from the East African internet freedom report; where Kenya, Rwanda lead and Burundi trails

Mobile phone access rate in Kenya is 84%; Rwanda has developing world’s most affordable internet; and Burundi is in the dog house.

THE JUST released “State of Internet Freedom in East Africa 2015” survey, by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), has some brilliant data on ICT in East Africa. 

The research mostly covers developments in the period between May 2014 and August 2015 and includes; Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi and Uganda. 

One key finding, though not too surprising, was that internet access continues to rise, with penetration in Kenya standing at 69% of the population, Uganda 20%, Rwanda 31% and Tanzania 22%. The mobile phone access rate in Kenya stands at 84%, Rwanda 74%, Uganda 62%, Tanzania 71%, and Burundi 31%.

 M&G Africa extracted some of the juiciest pieces of information, key to understanding ICT development in the region: 

Regional round-up


There are 29.6 million internet users in Kenya, representing a 69% penetration rate, while mobile penetration stands at 84%. In 2014, the Kenya government launched the National Optic Fiber Backbone which has now connected 57 towns in 35 counties.


There are 3.5 million internet users in Rwanda. Mobile telephone subscriptions stood at 74% in July 2015. The Rwanda Universal Access Fund (UAF), financed by a 2% contribution from the annual turnover of licensed telecommunications operators, aims to accelerate the use of ICT. In November 2014, Rwanda rolled out the Fourth Generation (4G) broadband network in partnership with a South Korean telecom company, Korea Telecom. The high-speed wireless broadband technology builds on more than 3,000 kilometres of fiber optic cable that is rolled out countrywide. The 2015 Alliance for Affordable Internet report, ranked Rwanda as the top developing country with the most affordable internet. 


Burundi has the lowest ICT access figures among the five members of the East African Community. As of June 2014, the industry regulator known as L’Agence de Régulation et de Contrôle des Télécommunications (ARCT) reported 3.2 million mobile phone subscribers. This represented a 31% mobile penetration rate amongst the country’s population of 10 million. Burundi’s internet penetration as of 31 December 2014 was estimated to stand at 4.9%.


The government of Tanzania is working towards building nationwide high-speed data connections through construction of optical fibre cable all over the country. This, coupled with increasingly affordable smart phones, has enabled internet use to increase at a fast rate. Internet penetration rose from 3.5 million users in 2008 to 11.3 million users in 2014. There are 34 million fixed and mobile telephone subscriptions for the country’s population of 49 million which represents a tele-density of 71% 


There are 11.9 million internet users in Uganda, implying a 34% penetration rate. Telephone penetration stands at 62%. The entry of Vodafone into the sector in the first half of 2015 brought the total number of voice operators to seven. Through the national broadband Initiative, government has laid a total of 1,400 kms of fibre optic cable connecting major towns and government agencies.

Most regularly used communication technologies

Findings show that the most frequently used communication technology means was voice over mobile and landline, 77% of respondents use it daily. SMS came in second with 69% of respondents using it daily. Email, and the instant messaging application “WhatsApp”, were used daily by 64% and 57% of respondents, respectively. About 30% of respondents did not use the social networking platforms Twitter and Google Plus, and a similar percentage did not blog or use Viber.

Cyber Crime

The survey showed that instances of cybercrime such as cyber fraud, identity theft, website hacking, and online violence against women (including revenge porn) also seem to be on the rise - this provides governments a duty to protect citizens, private businesses and state interests. 

One country stepping up in this field in Rwanda. In March 2015, Rwanda approved the National Cyber Security Policy aimed at safeguarding data from cyber attacks, and the Rwanda National Police has set up a Cybercrime and Digital Forensics unit and in April 2015, the ICT ministry launched the “Stay Safe Online” campaign aimed at raising public and organisational awareness on the current cyber security threats and ways of preventing them.

When rating knowledge of privacy and security the levels were low with only 10% of the respondents indicating they had excellent knowledge. Almost an equal number (11%) had no knowledge at all, while 61% of those surveyed had between good and workable knowledge.

When looking at country data, none of the Burundi respondents had excellent knowledge although officials working for the media development authorities were the majority among the 40% who indicated they had a good level of knowledge. In Kenya, of the 20% of respondents who did not have any knowledge, the majority were from the media. 

As seen above, at country level the use of tools and technologies, intended to protect privacy and security online, was lowest in Rwanda and highest in Uganda.

Governments enact laws infringing on internet freedom 

The survey noted that as the number of internet users grows, so did the content questioning governments’ democratic and transparency credentials - this meant a knock on effect with governments enacting laws that threaten the right to freedom of expression, both online and offline.

READ: BE WARNED! East African states are smart and will kick over your internet freedom; here’s how they’re doing it

Uganda enacted its Interception of Communications Law in 2010, Rwanda in 2013, while 2013 amendments to Burundi’s Code of Criminal Procedure provides for interception of communications as does Kenya’s 2012 National Security Services Act.

More recently, Tanzania passed a Cybercrimes Act that leaves the door open for trampling internet rights, after ignoring civil society protests about the shortcomings of that law. The country also enacted a statistics law that drew civil society criticism for limiting citizens’ access to information. 

In Kenya, the government justified amendments to the security law, which restricts civic space and gives state agencies more powers over citizens’ digital communications, arguing that the country was at war with Somalia’s Al Shabaab militia and needed decisive measures to fight terrorism. The country also passed a Cybercrime and Computer related Crimes Bill (2014) which threatens free speech.

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