There was a time when the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) used to break down the internet usage stats they release in their sector reports. From that data, we found out that WhatsApp accounted for close to half of all internet usage in the country.
The dominance of WhatsApp is going to be hard to challenge. It started with Econet and now all three mobile network operators (MNOs) offer WhatsApp-specific data bundles. This has had a huge impact on how Zimbabweans use the internet.
In extreme cases, some equate the internet with WhatsApp. All they know to do is buy WhatsApp bundles and they get their news, entertainment and socialising needs met through the instant messaging app. Some understand the internet goes beyond WhatsApp but do not really have need for anything beyond WhatsApp.
This came to bite Econet, who started with the WhatsApp bundle, in the rear when they tried to launch their own WhatsApp competitor. Despite offering cheaper bundles for their app, Sasai, they could not get people to use it in any meaningful way.
At this point, they can’t discontinue the WhatsApp bundles, there would be an outcry. So, the bundle looks set to stay and funnel internet usage into this one particular service.
The problem with this for the MNOs is that there is only so much data one can use via WhatsApp. For data usage to really increase, Zimbabweans have to discover the many services on the net that will have them hooked. Video streaming sites would be great.
We said WhatsApp was taking up about half of internet usage in the country and we can work under the assumption that that hasn’t really changed in the years since that data was released.
So, what are Zimbabweans doing on the internet half the time when they are not on WhatsApp?
We can peer into this usage by looking at what people search for on the internet. In the DataReportal report we found out that Google Search has a 93% market share in this country. So, we shall look at Google Search trends only.
The top 20 search queries in January 2023 were:
|Search query||Index vs Top Query|
We can look past the top query and some others on the list. We do find that people are indeed looking to download stuff. Just what it is they are downloading, we don’t know.
We can see people need their news fix and for some reason, weather information. I guess the rainy season does that to people. The WhatsApp query makes sense, I imagine those are people looking to update their app.
Facebook is facebook and Google is self-explanatory but, these are Google searches, so why are people searching for ‘Google’ whilst on Google? I don’t know, maybe you know what that’s all about. Youtube is youtube.
Of the remaining 11 queries, only 3 have nothing to do with football.
Not everyone has Gmail in their bookmarks and so some just search ‘Gmail’ so they can get to the inbox.
MSU is the Midlands State University. I know that they have a large enrollment but I’m not sure what was going on in January for it to get that many queries.
WhatsApp Web is self-explanatory. Although, this shows just how popular WhatsApp is. These queries are for people looking to log in and so don’t include those who use the desktop app.
EPL stands for English Premier League. We have a few football teams from that league on the list.
Apparently, the most popular betting house is Moors World of Sports (MWOS) with 3 entries. Moors allows betting on a lot of things but football is the most popular.
So, it appears when people are not looking for news about their favourite soccer teams, they are busy betting via Moors. I am not a fan of this betting epidemic. You know how betting is, the house would not survive if it paid out more than it got in.
People are gambling their meagre earnings in the hope that they can win big. Unfortunately, 99% are only going to lose what little they already have.
So that’s it. That is what Zimbabweans search for on the internet. They love their football and their betting. Make of that what you will. If you can see a business opportunity from this then good on you. Go forth and conquer.