The Hidden Trap That is Killing The African Internet Entrepreneurs

TrapLow bandwidth and expensive access limit a lot what you can do with Internet in Africa. Therefore, if you want to build a successful web solution for African audience it should be lightweight using mostly text and a little bit of  images. It’s advised to avoid using voice or video.

Unfortunately, even if you are successful building this kind of lightweight website you’ll fail, because there is a hidden trap.

A text based Internet works very well in the western or eastern world because of 99% literacy rate. People can read and write. In Africa, there is no such thing. In many countries the illiterates made the majority of the population. They don’t know how to write and read. A text based website is of no use for them.

There is an additional group of people who are literate or semi-literate but don’t like to write or read. Like Steve Jobs said it “People don’t read anymore”, and when it comes to Africa the situation is even worse. My estimate is that these 2 groups of illiterates and people who don’t like to read would amount to more than 70% of African population.

That’s the trap. To reach a profitable audience in Africa you need to use voice and video. Unarguably, voice and video are the only certain ways to reach people in Africa. But, because of low bandwidth and expensive Internet access, you can’t use them. On the other hand if you build a text based solution, your audience is very limited (to city hipsters, and the African diaspora).

There is no audience for online business in Africa. The very people who will make you millionaire are not online.

Many African Internet entrepreneurs discover this sad truth only after spending lots of money and time building their online solutions.

There are numerous possible solutions to that trap, and it’s possible to work around them. However, we have to keep in mind that even a widespread, free, and unlimited access to Internet is not a solution, because it won’t solve the illiteracy issue.

There is a big market for literacy neutral platforms where people can communicate with each other using online images, icons, illustrations and voices, contrary to text-based social networks like Facebook or Twitter.

Entrepreneurs who will take on this challenge and execute it well will be rewarded with a highly scalable profitable business. As an example, my grandfather would listen to a voice commercial, and call me to go to the market to check out the product. It won’t happen with a text ad or a display copy!

European culture is based on the written word, while African culture is more oral and visual. African entrepreneurs who will avoid importing blindly European model to Africa, but leverage their unique knowledge of the African market will be rewarded with much more profitable business. Investing in voice and image enabled search are one of the several ways to go.


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About Mawuna KOUTONIN

Mawuna Koutonin is a world peace activist who relentlessly works to empower people to express their full potential and pursue their dreams, regardless of their background. He is the Editior of, Founder of, and Social activist for Africa Renaissance. Koutonin’s ultimate dream is to open a world-class human potential development school in Africa in 2017. If you are interested in learning more about this venture or Koutonin’s other projects, you can reach him directly by emailing at

6 Responses to “The Hidden Trap That is Killing The African Internet Entrepreneurs”

  1. David Okwii


    “To reach a profitable audience in Africa you need to use voice and video. Unarguably, voice and video are the only certain ways to reach people in Africa. But, because of low bandwidth and expensive Internet access, you can’t use them.”

    This is absolutely true. However, i disagree with the article in that it addresses the current state of affairs and discourages entrepreneurs from building for the future. If the problem is illiteracy, then entrepreneurs ought to solve that problem first which will then solve other problems that are frustrating their innovations. That’s better than saying, hey, here’s a problem and there’s nothing to do about it!

  2. mm Mawuna Remarque KOUTONIN

    Hey, David
    My purpose is not to discourage, but to challenge folks to be more creative within the current constraints. Folks have to use their head, instead of importing blindly models from overseas.
    IN General, entrepreneurship should be done within the limits of a current situation to be profitable.

  3. Alex


    On David’s point, won’t the demand for applications and platforms that are text centric incentivize people to improve their literacy – at least to a level where they can use the platform? When I look at my South Africa friends’ posts on Facebook and compare them to my American friends they’re using vastly different ways to spell the same words, and the grammar is completely different. Just like texting is creating a new language, won’t those Africans who use new media construct or join the language of that platform?

    I would press you on the needs for images or voice – 1. Because the same images mean different things to the vast cultures that we have on the continent. 2. Voice requires the person on the other end to speak the same language or dialect as the message – I would suggest that the linguistic diversity in Sub-Saharan Africa is higher than the literal diversity.

    I don’t disagree on this trap that you’ve identified, but I might suggest that it’s part of the growing pains of digital adoption, rather than a permanent state of African netizens.

    • mm Mawuna Remarque KOUTONIN

      Hey, Alex
      I don’t know if texting could be used to improve literacy. I really don’t know. Also, your remark about image would easily apply to text reading as well. Same text, two readers, two understandings. My point was about the ability to write and read, and also interact with the content.

      Do you know why images is most popular Facebook status update?
      Do you know why visual search engines like Pinterest became popular?
      Do know why Siri and other voice search/command apps are on the rise?
      Do you know why audiobooks are slowly dominating the book market?
      Even in the west with 99% of literacy the trends is toward “less text” or “no text”
      Reading and writing are only few centuries human experience for most of people. They are now returning to their elite status.
      If you are market trends analysts (not an opinionator), you understand those stuff as things that would affect many industries.

      Finally, regarding different languages, I don’t see that as a problem. This should be welcome. I don’t expect Africa to keep for eternity the colonial languages. if the seller and buyer speak the same language, I don’t see the issue.

  4. Sylvester Boyd

    I agree with Mawuna, he’s addressing the needs of market desires in the present, whether there is movement in Africa’s literacy levels or not, the commerce of Africa will still be addressing the needs of its citizens and the will need the vehicles to interact with it…

  5. iqbal

    “if the seller and buyer speak the same language, “explain all i see is green or bitcoin or silkroad or…………..


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