Donnie Berkholz's Story of Data

Coastal Africa: an up-and-coming force in software

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As I was digging through Google Trends to check on some geographic trends related to my post ranking expressive languages, I came across intriguing data about Africa. It turns out that the eastern and western African coasts appear extremely interested in development, according to Google Trends. This is particularly true for Nigeria and Kenya in 2011–2012, as shown below for 2012.

If you look at a longer-term view of the full history of Google Trends from 2004 to present, other nearby countries show up as well, although lower-ranked: Uganda, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, and Ghana. It’s likely no surprise to anyone that, outside of East and West Africa, South Africa (the country) also makes a strong showing, and Egypt appears to a lesser extent, visible on some of the maps but not on the top 10 of the lists. Here are the results for the search terms I used, “software engineering,” “programming languages,” “computer programming,” and “software development”:



It’s further supported by Web-traffic data from Alexa showing programming popularity in parts of Africa, with GitHub being a popular site in both South Africa and Nigeria (the same goes for Stack Overflow).

As another proxy for interest in software development and its future directions, we can look at website traffic to It shows the top 10 highest-traffic countries in Africa since 2009 as:

  1. South Africa
  2. Egypt
  3. Kenya
  4. Nigeria
  5. Morocco
  6. Tunisia
  7. Ghana
  8. Algeria
  9. Mauritius
  10. Uganda

South Africa and Egypt alone account for more than half of the traffic, however, so the rest appear behind in this respect. Comparing 2012 with 2010, we’ve seen a 13% increase in the proportion of our traffic coming from Africa, and none of that increase comes from Northern Africa (i.e. Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria) — it’s spread across the remaining regions. However, African traffic remains a quite small proportion of our overall traffic, hovering around 1% compared with our top 3 continents since 2009 at 50%, 32%, and 13%, so they won’t be taking over anytime soon. It’s roughly equivalent to the traffic from the #10-ranked US state.

If we look at another metric, that of LinkedIn members in any of the above African countries who match the job titles “software developer” or “software engineer,” we see very similar results (showing all countries with ≥50 results):

  1. Egypt: 4080
  2. South Africa: 2714
  3. Kenya: 688
  4. Nigeria: 597
  5. Tunisia: 370
  6. Mauritius: 231
  7. Morocco: 167
  8. Ghana: 176
  9. Uganda: 153
  10. Ethiopia: 144
  11. Tanzania: 81
  12. Zimbabwe: 80
  13. Sudan: 70

While those numbers will be smaller than the true developer population, an estimate in IEEE Spectrum suggested roughly 200 full-time programmers in Ghana in 2005 compared to 176 on LinkedIn today, which suggests it’s not a completely unreasonable number. The correlation with hits to suggests that these numbers, while perhaps not correct on an absolute scale, do reflect relative differences across Africa.

From these two lists, we can see that African software development extends somewhat more broadly than merely eastern and western Africa to include a broader group of generally stable, coastal African countries, be it north, south, east, or west.

What are they writing?

Language-specific searches of all RedMonk’s tier 1 and tier 2 languages on Google Trends with the pattern “$LANGUAGE programming” showed that Java and C/C++ were the primary languages in use. In fact, they were the only ones to show any meaningful population on searches. C/C++ shows up in Kenya and South Africa, while Java shows up strongly in Kenya and Nigeria, more weakly in South Africa, and finally weakest in Egypt.

The country-level popularity above shows an interesting correlation with entries to a World Bank software contest on global development, a domain in which many Africans have a keen interest in because it’s directly relevant to their lives (unlike many apps popular in San Francisco). The top submissions, in order, came from Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, South Africa, Niger, and Rwanda. Most interestingly, Africa had more submissions than any other continent.

I would also expect that as the living standards and cost of living in places like China and India continue to increase, we may see more outsourcing move to Africa.


Minnesota, Colorado, and Virginia are peers to Africa on the basis of traffic, and most software companies don’t ignore them. If you aren’t thinking about Africa, it’s time to start. It’s already as significant as a top-10 US state, and it’s just going to get bigger from here.

Update (4/1/13): Joel Martin pointed out that this data also shows a reasonable correlation with Internet users in Africa.

Disclosure: World Bank is not a client.


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