Kenya Can Haz Twitter?

Poor Kenyans. They are so poor and disconnected from the world that they don’t even have Twitter. Or at least that is the premise of Jimmy Kimmel’s bit where he has Kenyans read celebrity tweets. The tweets include Justin Bieber’s tweet, “Prepare for more purple outfits coming soon.”

Kimmel introduces the bit by joking that celebrities have important things to say on Twitter. He laments the misfortune of those who do not have Twitter. He continues by plugging his friend’s NGO in Kenya and says that Kenyans are missing out on the wonders of celebrity tweets because “what they don’t have over there is Twitter. Internet access is very limited.” Therefore the segment titled “Kenyan Read Celebrity Tweets.”

Kimmel and team must have missed the whole memo about mobile technology across Africa. They surely did not see projections that it is estimated that over 80% of people in the country will have access to a mobile phone. Twitter, unlike Facebook or other social networks, is a relatively low-bandwidth communication tool that can be accessed without a smartphone. Even still, some estimates say that nearly one in five phone owners in Africa have a smart phone.

A quick look at Twitter trends in Nairobi (that is the capital city in Kenya, Mr. Kimmel), shows active discussions on issues the raised tariffs announced by Safaricom on its mobile money platform MPESA. In other words, Kenyans are on Twitter commenting on increased fees by the nation’s largest telecoms operator to send money electronically. Kenya’s 3G coverage is above 90% for each of its three major providers. I learned about the story through the Kenyan lifestyle and entertainment website PressPlay.

There are a good amount of Kenyans who do not use Twitter. There are a lot of people around the world that don’t use it. However, it is just ignorant on Kimmel’s part to open the bit saying that Kenyans don’t have Twitter.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a Maine-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.