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African Software Developers: Best Countries for Sourcing in 2021

African Software Developers: Best Countries for Sourcing in 2021

BY Ernesto Spruyt

Are you considering sourcing African software developers? Are you looking for reliable data on and insights in the African software development sector?

If so, this research article will provide you with plenty of background.

We cover a wide range of topics. For example, the level of African developer salaries. But also business climate, English proficiency and even the number of developers per software language per country.

Article overview

  1. Total number of software developers per African country
    • – Absolute number of developers per African country
    • – Relative number of developers per million population
    • – % of population on LinkedIn per African country
  2. English proficiency levels across the African continent
  3. Salary levels for software developers in Africa
    • – Range of salary levels from medium to high
    • – Salary levels vs size of developer pool
  4. The African tech ecosystem
    • – Business climate 2020 vs 2017
    • – Proliferation of tech hubs in African countries
    • – Innovation index 2020 vs 2018
  5. State of the ICT sector in African countries
    • – Computer software spending
    • – ICT services exports / outsourcing from Africa
  6. African software developer skills: languages and frameworks
    • – Software language skills of African developers
    • – Framework skills among African developers
  7. Conclusion: from frontrunners to late-bloomers 

Total number of software developers per African country

In this section we look at the size of the tech talent pool in African countries. We have cross referenced data from LinkedIn, Github and a recent IFC report on the African internet economy. As a result, we have been able to make a fairly consistent estimation of the total number of software developers per African country.

The top-17 countries in terms of absolute number of developers represent more than 90% of the entire African IT talent pool. Therefore have further focused our analysis on these countries.

Absolute number of developers per African country

There are an estimated 690,000 professional software programmers in Africa. More than half of these are from South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria. The top-17 software development countries in Africa consists of:

  1. South Africa – 133,195
  2. Egypt – 125,270
  3. Nigeria – 114,536
  4. Kenya – 58,866
  5. Morocco – 49,818
  6. Tunisia – 45,247
  7. Ghana – 20,551
  8. Algeria – 20,530
  9. Uganda – 13,113
  10. Ethiopia – 8,316
  11. Senegal – 8,113
  12. Tanzania – 8,065
  13. Cameroon – 7,748
  14. Mauritius – 6,879
  15. Zimbabwe – 6,588
  16. Rwanda – 6,412
  17. Ivory Coast – 5,165

Relative number of developers per million population

Obviously, the absolute number of developers in a country doesn’t paint the whole picture. In this article we will create a more detailed overview for these countries. Firstly, we will add the ranking for the relative size of the tech talent pool per country. Here’s the ranking based on the number of developers per million population:

  1. Mauritius – 5,454
  2. Tunisia – 4,120
  3. South Africa – 2,234
  4. Morocco – 1,345
  5. Egypt – 1,224
  6. Kenya – 1,095
  7. Ghana – 661
  8. Rwanda – 610
  9. Senegal – 565
  10. Nigeria – 556
  11. Zimbabwe – 504
  12. Algeria – 477
  13. Cameroon – 353
  14. Uganda – 287
  15. Ivory Coast – 228
  16. Tanzania – 135
  17. Ethiopia – 72

Clearly, a small country like Mauritius has a thriving tech talent pool. In comparison, Nigeria has a huge developer pool but still a relatively modest one in comparison to the entire population size. When we plot both relative and absolute numbers, we get the following picture:

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Please note the countries are plotted on a log scale, as this makes it more friendly to the eye. The powerhouses can be found at the right side of the chart, with a large talent pool. The higher up, the higher the relative size of the talent pool, which reflects a more robust IT sector. Top left there is Mauritius, which is clearly a unique country in the African landscape. In the bottom left there is a relatively large group of countries with a sizeable, but still relatively modest talent pool.

% of population on LinkedIn per African country

In addition to the relative size of the IT talent pool, one can take LinkedIn user numbers as a proxy. That is to say, the higher the proportion of people on LinkedIn in a certain country, the higher the overall professional standards can be assumed to be. The ranking of the percentage of people in African countries on LinkedIn is as follows:

  1. Mauritius – 19.0%
  2. South Africa – 10.1%
  3. Tunisia – 8.3%
  4. Zimbabwe – 3.4%
  5. Senegal – 3.3%
  6. Ghana – 3.2%
  7. Egypt – 2.9%
  8. Morocco – 2.7%
  9. Ivory Coast – 2.6%
  10. Cameroon – 2.3%
  11. Algeria – 2.3%
  12. Kenya – 1.9%
  13. Rwanda – 1.6%
  14. Nigeria – 1.5%
  15. Uganda – 1.2%
  16. Tanzania – 1.0%
  17. Ethiopia – 0.3%

When plotted together with the relative number of developers in a country, this results in the following chart:

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Firstly, it is noted that they correlate very nicely. Secondly, there is a clear group of front-runners: Mauritius, South Africa and Tunisia. And a clear set of countries lagging: Ethiopia and Tanzania. The rest is grouped together fairly closely.

English proficiency levels across the African continent

Now that we have a good impression of the distribution of African software developers over the various countries, it’s time to look further. For starters, we will look at English proficiency. For many companies looking to source African developers, English proficiency is a key requirement. Therefore, not only the size of the developer pool is important. But also the share of the pool that masters the English language.

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The above pie chart is largely based on the English Proficiency Index (EPI). However, not all African countries are included in the EPI. Therefore, we have made an additional assessment based on our own test results and experience. (At Tunga we have tested over 1,000 applicants from 24 African countries in 2020).

Some scores are not very surprising. For instance, the Arab and largely Francophone countries generally have a relatively low English proficiency score. More notable is that countries like Nigeria and Ghana only score moderately. This despite English being an official language in those countries.

It is important to realize these scores apply to the entire population. However, software professionals tend to be much more proficient than average. So the EPI score definitely gives an impression of the overall English proficiency in a country. But in a country with a large talent pool, it is likely there is a significant group that will be proficient in English.

Salary levels for software developers in Africa

Next up is salaries. Certainly, this is an important topic for many of our clients. (But quality is by far the most!)

Firstly, we have analyzed a variety of global, pan-African and local salary websites. Payscale, Wageindicator and Glassdoor being the key ones. In addition, we have cross-checked those with our own experiences. After that, we put it all together in the following chart. This chart shows the medium to high salary range. Most importantly, because narrowing the range gives a more meaningful impression and makes it easier to compare relevant salary levels between countries. Further, because it creates a more insightful visual image.

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The range of developer salaries is very wide. For instance, the medium monthly salary level in Ethiopia is only EUR 229,-. On the other hand, in South Africa it is almost eight times higher. And the upper band is even 15 times higher there.

Africa’s untapped tech talent pool

In the same vein, it’s interesting to see how salaries compare to the size of the talent pool. So we have plotted that in the following chart.

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Again, please note that we have used a log scale for a more clear reading of the chart. Firstly, on the top right you can find the countries with relatively high salaries and a large talent pool. This indicates these countries have a more mature IT sector. Consequently, the demand for developers has led to higher hiring costs.

Secondly, in the bottom right you find the countries with a large talent pool and still fairly low salaries. These are the real potential giants of Africa. That is to say, in terms of sourcing potential of software professionals. These include Nigeria, Egypt and Tunisia. But Ghana, Algeria and Uganda seem to also have a lot of untapped potential.

The African tech ecosystem

We continue to zoom in. The better the ecosystem, the more and better African software developers it breeds. So in this section we’ll dive into that. Therefore, we’ll first have a look at the overall business climate. After that, we analyze the spreading of tech hubs across Africa. And finally, we will present the Innovation Index scores of the various African countries in this research.

Business Climate in Africa

Each year the World Bank publishes its Doing Business ranking. This aims to qualify a country’s business climate. The ranking is determined by 5 factors:

  • – How easy is it to open a business?
  • – Are there many obstacles in getting a location?
  • – Is there enough access to finance?
  • – What problems are faced dealing with daily operations?
  • – How secure is the business environment?

In short, a country’s business climate forms the basis for any business or tech ecosystem. When deciding to do business in a certain country, the business climate index gives an important impression of how easy it is. And what obstacles you will face. In this chart, you can see how the various African countries score in 2020.

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Overall, African countries tend not to top the list. Mauritius and Rwanda are the only countries in the top-50. Cameroon, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Algeria can be found in the lowest regions of the ranking. Further, South Africa is somewhere in the middle. This is somewhat atypical for such a developed economy.

Further it is interesting to look at how countries are improving (or not) on their business climate. In the chart below, it is shown how many places countries have moved up or down compared to the 2017 ranking.

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Clearly, some countries have made notable progression the past few years. Kenya and Morocco are closing in on the top-50. And Nigeria, Egypt, Senegal, Zimbabwe and Ivory Coast have made an impressive leap on the list. Except for Algeria (9 places up), the countries at the bottom of the ranking have also shown little to no progress, or even a slight decrease.

Proliferation of tech hubs in African countries

Since 2016 GSMA (Global System for Mobile Communications) is mapping the number of tech hubs in Africa. As they put it, these hubs are “the backbone of Africa’s tech ecosystem”. Of all these hubs, roughly half are tech incubators or accelerators. In addition, 25% of the hubs are coworking spaces. The remaining 25% is “other tech hubs”.

In the image below we’ve listed the results from their mid-2020 report versus their end of 2017 report.

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As you can see, the number of hubs per country nicely correlates with the total number of software developers. Further, for the first time Nigeria has surpassed South Africa. In addition, it can be seen that the 8 countries with the most hubs show impressive growth. This is reflective of Africa’s thriving tech scene.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia are lagging. And Uganda and Algeria even register a decrease in the number of tech hubs. Especially for Uganda, this is quite unexpected. We did not find a clear explanation for this.

The Innovation Index for African countries

The Innovation Index provides insight into the level of innovation in a certain country. It serves as a metric for how good the conditions are for tech businesses to thrive in. And by proxy, the conditions for software developers to thrive.

It is published each year by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The ranking is based on a complex research into a wide variety of factors. These include: Institutions, Human Capital & Research, Infrastructure, Market Sophistication, Business Sophistication, Knowledge & Technology Outputs and Creative Outputs.

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Please note that for 2018 there was no data available for Ethiopia and Ivory Coast. We already have seen that African countries were not in the top-50 in terms of business climate. Similarly, in this index the highest ranking country is Mauritius at number 52. After that, the ranking gradually tapers off in a similar fashion.

Overall tech business climate

Subsequently, we have combined business and innovation climate in the below chart. It provides great insight in the tech business climate in Africa. As we concluded before, Mauritius is a uniquely developed country in the African spectrum. After that, there are the advanced economies in Africa: South Africa, Tunisia, Morocco and Kenya. It’s probably not a coincidence that these are the countries with the highest salary levels for developers. That is to say, with the exception of Tunisia.

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At the other end of the spectrum there are Cameroon, Ethiopia and Algeria. They score poorly on both indexes. And also have no significant tech hub ecosystem, as we saw earlier. This reflects a really lagging tech business climate.

Meanwhile, Rwanda has a unique position in the chart. It has a really good business climate. But its innovation power is – though not bad – still limited.

Lastly, there is the last group in the lower middle of the range. Nigeria and Egypt combine a large talent pool with a major growth in the number of tech hubs. As a result, these countries can be considered the high potentials of this middle group.

State of the ICT sector in African countries

Next we would like to zoom in further into the ICT sector. There isn’t an awful lot of data available. But the amount of money spent on computer software nationally gives a clue. And so does the size of ICT services exports in a country. Both are provided in the form of a sub-ranking in the previously mentioned Innovation Index.

Computer software spending

The ranking on computer software spending is relative. In other words, it is measured as a percentage of GDP. It includes the total value of purchased or leased packaged software in a country. For example, operating systems, database systems, programming tools, utilities and applications. It excludes expenditures for internal software development and outsourced custom software development.

The ranking for these African countries is as follows:

  1. Egypt – #21
  2. Zimbabwe – #22
  3. Tunisia – #34
  4. Senegal – #40
  5. South Africa – #48
  6. Morocco – #59
  7. Mauritius – #73
  8. Cameroon – #76
  9. Kenya – #77
  10. Nigeria – #83
  11. Rwanda – #102
  12. Ivory Coast – #119
  13. Uganda – #121
  14. Algeria – #122
  15. Ghana – #123
  16. Tanzania – #124
  17. Ethiopia – #125

This figure gives an indication of the digitalization of the economy. Zimbabwe is somewhat surprisingly on rank #2. And Cameroon is also unexpectedly high in the list. Likewise, Kenya and Rwanda are perhaps lower in this ranking than you might expect. That is to say, based on their overall tech business climate.

In the bottom we find Ethiopia, Tanzania and Algeria. Together with Ghana, Uganda and Ivory Coast. All largely in line with the tech business climate ranking.

Outsourcing from African countries

The ranking for ICT services exports is also relative. It is based on the percentage of total trade per country. This metric gives a good indication whether a country is already seriously playing into the IT outsourcing trend.

The ranking for this metric is as follows:

  1. Senegal – #16
  2. Morocco – #24
  3. Kenya – #26
  4. Mauritius – #55
  5. Cameroon – #57
  6. Tunisia – #68
  7. Egypt – #77
  8. Ivory Coast – #78
  9. Rwanda – #86
  10. Uganda – #88
  11. Ethiopia – #93
  12. South Africa – #95
  13. Nigeria – #107
  14. Algeria – #109
  15. Zimbabwe – #114
  16. Tanzania – #118
  • Ghana – not available

This is a bit of a tricky metric. Since it is measured relative to total trade, a country with high trade volumes might end up lower while still having significant ICT exports. As a result, one would expect smaller economies to top the list. Senegal, Morocco, Kenya and Mauritius clearly have a relatively well developed IT outsourcing sector. Again, Cameroon ranks surprisingly high. That is to say, considering their low rankings on the overall tech business climate.

ICT sector landscape in Africa

Combining the two metrics gives an indication of the ICT sector landscape in Africa.

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The countries in the bottom left can be expected to have relatively an advanced IT outsourcing sector. In the bottom right, the ICT sector can be assumed to be turned towards the needs of the local economy. On the other hand, in the top right, one can find the African countries with the least developed ICT sectors (out of the top-17).

African software developer skills: languages and frameworks

So far we have focused on where to find African software developers. Now our final zoom is into what software skills are actually available on the market.

Software language skills of African developers

We have calculated the number of developers per skill per (top-17) country. To do so, we have cross-referenced data from LinkedIn, Github and the IFC report that we mentioned before. We have counted the times that people listed a certain language as a skill they possess. It is likely that many people have left out skills. For example, because they don’t consider it a key skill for them. In other words, a developer might know Javascript, but leave it out of his LinkedIn profile as he is focusing mostly on another language in real life.

So should be remembered these are estimations with limitations. But they give a reliable clue as to how many developers are active on the continent. And what type of skills they have.

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Firstly, it can be seen that most popular software languages are in substantial supply in Africa. However, there is a sharp drop-off where it concerns the smaller languages. Also, Swift and Objective C – pure programming languages for iOS – are not very popular in Africa. This testifies to the fact that iOS has a very small market share in Africa.

Framework skills among African software developers

Similarly, we have looked at software frameworks. Comparable conclusions can be drawn here.

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.NET tops the list, followed by Android and the mostly used Javascript frameworks. Then the most popular frameworks for Java, PHP and Django. In addition, it should be noted that iOS is more popular among frameworks than one would expect based on the underlying languages. This is because of the increasing popularity of cross platform technologies. In short, the mostly used contemporary frameworks are in significant supply on the African market.

Conclusion: from frontrunners to late-bloomers

To sum it up, we can divide the top-17 African countries into 4 groups: the Frontrunners, the Awakening giants, the Promising outsiders and the Late-bloomers.

The Frontrunners

Mauritius, South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia and Kenya.

  • – High number of developers per million population
  • – Good English (Mauritius, South Africa, Kenya) or French (Morocco and Tunisia) proficiency
  • – Relatively high salary levels, with the exception of Tunisia
  • – Attractive tech business climate

These countries are attractive for sourcing software programmers in Africa if you prefer the most risk-averse approach. And are willing to pay the extra price for it.

The Awakening Giants

Nigeria and Egypt.

Both countries with an enormous population. And as a result, a very large talent pool. In Nigeria, English proficiency is a plus. Salary levels in both countries are still very moderate. The (tech) business climate is less than ideal. But it is improving rapidly. And so is the tech (hub) scene, which is growing hugely in both countries.

These countries is where it’s happening the coming years in Africa.

The Promising Outsiders

Ghana, Senegal, Uganda, Rwanda, Cameroon.

This group of countries have something going for them. But not per se the same things.

  • – Ghana & Uganda. Substantial developer population, good English proficiency, moderate salary levels.
  • – Senegal & Cameroon. Relatively well developed ICT sector, French proficiency, moderate salary levels. However, Cameroon’s business climate is a major worry.
  • – Rwanda. Small country, but with an exceptionally good business climate. Moderate salary levels.

The Late-Bloomers

Ethiopia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast, Algeria.

Affectionately called late-bloomers. To clarify, this is because they certainly have potential. But don’t seem to have been able to unlock it at scale yet.

  • – Ethiopia. Has an enormous population size. And as a result, in theory an enormous human capital. However, it still score low on almost all parameters we looked at.
  • – Tanzania & Zimbabwe. A relatively small but significant developer pool and good English proficiency. On the other hand, salary levels are on the higher end compared to other countries where the tech business climate scores much better.
  • – Ivory Coast & Algeria. What they have in common is very low English proficiency, but of course high in French. Algeria has a sizeable developer pool and low salaries. In Ivory Coast, the pool is still significant but quite lower in size. And salaries are on the higher end. However, it’s business climate is much better than Algeria’s, which is in the bottom of the range.

No one best way

To sum it up, Africa is a relatively undiscovered and fastly growing breeding ground for software developers. All popular skills and frameworks are available in the African tech talent pool. There are different approaches to tapping into that pool. This research article can help you determine your strategy.

 

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