Mobile ownership

Given the lack of statistics from the national government, it is extremely difficult to offer reliable data about local mobile ownership and success (or the lack of it) in mediating the digital divide. Some have suggested that mobile ownership is around 58 percent (Statistica 2016) but the World Bank, which regularly tracks such data, does not provide this for Somalia. Part of the challenge of determining mobile ownership is that there are no reliable population censuses. Yet recent data, particularly in relation to mobile money, suggests that most adults have regular access to mobile phones and many enjoy low rates for calling and the Internet.

The most recent data relating to mobile phone use is on mobile money which gives some indication of use and of the digital divide. The World Bank notes that approximately 73 percent of the population uses mobile money with nearly 83 percent of urban dwellers using it, 72 percent of internally displaced and 55 percent of the rural population (World Bank, 2018). Like neighbouring Kenya, evidence seems to be suggesting that the digital divide is closing, partly driven by the integral role of mobile money to the economy.

Mobile phones are also becoming increasingly affordable with companies such as China’s phone-maker Tecno taking a leading role in the market, selling relatively inexpensive handsets. Like many African countries, there is a digital gender divide in Somalia. Again, given the lack of government statistics it is challenging to generalize about how deep or significant this divide is. Some recent data related to participation on call-in radios (with women using mobile phones to participate) suggests that between 44-46 percent of participants on some programmes may be female. This is higher than many other countries on the continent (neighbouring Kenya, for example, has no gender gap in access but men are more than twice as likely to participate on call-in radio programmes) (Africa’s Voices 2017).