African Web Portals


The World Wide Web (WWW) has led to the advent of the information age. With increased demand for information from various quarters, the Web has turned out to be a veritable resource. Web surfers in the early days were frustrated by the delay in finding the information they needed. The first major leap for information retrieval came from the deployment of Web search engines such as Lycos, Excite, AltaVista, etc. The rapid growth in the popularity of the Web during the past few years has led to a precipitous pronouncement of death for the online services that preceded the Web in the wired world. Though everyone lauds the Web for offering unlimited opportunities to explore and discover new things, many still want someone else to aggregate a variety of interesting and useful content in one place instead of creating massive and unwieldy bookmark files in their browsers. These new online services are Web sites, which deliver the old formula of content, community, and core services, but in a new package and transformed as Web portals (Rao, 2001). Though these tools (Web portals) are not yet available everywhere in the developing world (in Africa particularly), they are spreading rapidly and present a unique opportunity for developing countries (like African countries) to benefit most from the current unfolding technological revolution (Denning, 2004). This article sets out to give an overview of African Web portals. After giving background information of Web portals, it goes further to briefly describe evolution of African Web portals, their roles, types/categories, problems of the continent’s portals, as well as future trends, then suggests strategies for enhancing portals development in the continent. The article intends to introduce readers to African Web portals and enable them to know where to access conglomerate information about the continent.


There are various definitions of a portal. Aportal is a derivative of the Latin word porta, which means a gate. Consequently, Daigle and Cuocco (2002) define a portal as “a gate, a door, or entrance” (p.109). The word portal refers to gateway, and in the context of the Web, a site that is, or proposes to be, a major starting site for users when they get connected to the Web or one that users tend to visit as an anchor site, which hosts content from multiple Web sites. Portals need not necessarily create content themselves, but host it by packaging content from third party providers, organize it to suit their target audience, and make revenue through advertisement (Rao, 2001). According to Georgick (2004), several sites that serve as a clearinghouse for a particular service or interest group call themselves portals, but can be more appropriately described as a collection of links; that in a stricter sense of the term, porter must integrate a mix of services and deliver to the end user as one seamless package.

Services must be more than discovery—more than just links. Portals need to provide integration of information sources for both searching and for the location and delivery of materials; this content (sources) may be located anywhere–within the site, other sites on the Web, inside or outside the organization, and may be in any format (Murray, 2002). A portal “provides personalized access to information, applications, business processes, and much more” (Microsoft Corporation, 2005 p. 1). Portals are generally content aggregators and provide Web users personalized access to personalized information. They provide search capabilities and allow users to customize the content of the aggregated information displayed in a single Web interface. There are various types of portals. There are information portals, enterprise portals, community portals, services portals, corporate portals, general portals, specialized portals, vertical portals, horizontal portals, regional portals, education portals, library portals, etc.


There has been tremendous growth in the diffusion and adoption of the Internet in the African continent in the past decade. For instance, in 1996 only 11 of the African countries were online, but by the end of 2000 all 54 countries had achieved permanent connectivity, although this is mainly confined to the capital cities with very few secondary towns and cities being connected (Gyapong, 2002). This growth has been mainly due to the proliferation of cyber cafes, which are used by those who have no other means of accessing the Internet (Adomi, Okiy, & Ruteyan, 2003; van Brakel & Chisenga, 2003).

African Internet user growth rate ranks first in the world (429.8%) (Internet World Stats, 2005). With the number of African Internet users growing steadily, there has been need for African portals (, 2000) to meet their needs.

Accordingly, Web portals have been spreading across Africa in large numbers offering diverse free information about the continent. Portals devoted to African continents have been on the increase for over a decade. Though there was only one known African Web portal—Mbendi ( founded by Mbendi Information Services, Cape Town, South Africa in 1995 to enable business people to access African business opportunities (Mbendi Information Services, 1995)— (2000) states that there are at present, tens of thousand of sites and home pages from Africa on the Internet.


African Web portals are intended to play some significant roles to the African and other Web users in various ways:

• Coping with the Mass of Web/Internet Resources around Africa: African portals are aimed at assisting Africans and everybody else interested inAfrica coping with the Internet and locating reliable information about the continent. This is more so as there are thousands of sites and home pages from and around Africa on the Net and there is steady stream of new sites from all parts of Africa. A portal helps the user find his or her way as it has links to the most basic places easily accessible and gathers, sorts out, and categorizes the information that is of interest and offers needed service (, 2000).

• Solution to the Problem of Paucity of Local Content: Mutula (2004) laments that there is little African local content available and people therefore resort to content generated from outside Africa that is published and contains values that are peculiar to their cultural practices. African research is suffering because the means to publish research results have been lacking and the results on which to develop further research are not disseminated but indigenous publication is essential to the emergence of the African academic community enterprise (Rosenberg, 2002). However, the advent of electronic publishing over the Net has provided opportunity to improve distribution of accessibility to research from developing countries (Chan, Kirsop, Costa, & Arunachalam, 2005). African Web portals provide means for publishing the continent’s local contents/research and for making them accessible to the African and international community.

• Provision of Free Means of E-Communication to African Web Users: It has been discovered by Akin-seinde and Adomi (2004) that most technical education students in Nigerian universities have free Web-based e-mail addresses/accounts. Reasons adduced include that free Web-based e-mail services/accounts are accessible from any part of the world, they are free and can therefore be used without financial stress, they are more reliable than institutional/commercial based e-mail services, and that students do not even have access to institution e-mail services. Though this research is on students and conducted in Nigeria, the findings reflect other categories of Internet users in Africa. Since the Web portals include free e-mail services, most users take advantage of them in Africa and use them for communication purpose.


African Web portals can be categorized in two ways. The first category is based on geographical coverage while the second is based on content/subject coverage.

Geographical Coverage

There are three types in this category (, n.d.):

• General Portals: These are portals that focus on the whole of the African continent. Some of them are listed in Table 1.

• Regional Portals: These are portals that focus on regions of Africa. An example is Le Monde du Mahgreb, which is a portal for the Mahgreb (North Africa).

• Country/National Portals: African country/national portals devote their contents to the countries they originate from. Some country portals are depicted in Table 2.

content/Subject coverage

Two types exist in this category: General and specialized.

• General Portals: General subjectAfrican portals focus on different topics on Africa. That is general African information-politics, business, education, entertainment, free e-mail, forums, etc.

Examples include Warm Africa (, (, and Afrionline (

• SpecializedAfrican Portals: Specialized portal focus on an aspect of life, that is they restrict themselves to one subject coverage. Some examples are Mbenidi (, this portal is on African business opportunities and AfricanPoliticsOnline (, an Internet resource for African politics.

Table 1. Select list of African general portals



Africa. De

Portal and links to African Web sites.

Find Africa

An African resource portal with news, business, entertainment, and more.


Web portal, search engine, and Web sites directory promoting African information.

Warm Africa

African community portal, news, free e-mail, forums.


African politics, African portals.


Directory of African Internet resources.


African business Web site, coving miming, energy, and international trade Web sites.

Table 2. Select list of African country portals





Les Announces

Algerian portal and Internet directory.


Benin watch

Beninois portal and directory of Web site. Portal to the Benin Republic.


Online portal and community for Botswana.


A portal to Cameroun.

Central African Republic

Portal for the Central African Republic.


Internet Africa

Portal to Gabonese.

Ghana Homeview Ghana

Ghanaian portal and directory of the Internet. Ghanaian Internet portal.


Libya Online

Libyan portal.


Net Nigeria Nijacol

Portal and directory for Nigeria. Online portal for Nigerians by Nigerians.

South Africa

South African Online

South African portal and search directory.


Tanzania start

A Tanzanian portal.


Zimbabwean Web portal.


Key features of African Web portals are presented next:


• User profiles.

• Provision for subscribing to and un-subscribing from channels.

• User-defined interface.


• Inclusion of search engines to enable users to explore the site.

• Directory listing.


Free e-mail services/account. Contact information. Time. Calendars. Horoscopes.

Submission of content/document sharing. Planners. Chat. Forums.

Bulletin/message boards. Classification of content.

Information Management

• Bookmark managers.

• News and announcements.

• Information channels such as weather, horoscopes, sports, stock prices, etc.

Authentication and Security

• Login/sign in/Register.

• Time out.


• Free-home pages.

• Web-based administration.

These features enable the portal users to explore the sites and maximize the use of their contents.

Problems of African portals

Though the adoption and diffusion of Internet is growing in Africa, it cannot yet be said that Web portals have been widely/extensively adopted in the continent. This is due to some factors, which are enumerated next.

• Reluctance to Create Portals by Corporate Organizations: Companies are yet to commence creating employee portals. Rudnick (2004) states that employee portals are struggling and lag behind their commercial brethren not because of technical reasons but organizational; that disengagement at the top, insufficient innovations, changing user expectations, poor collaboration among stakeholders, inadequate focus on return on investment, and issues such as funding, navigation, and governance all hinder employee portal’s creation and success. Libraries have also not yet taken advantage of portals technology as they have not started creating portal sites. In Africa, some educational institutions (especially tertiary institutions) and corporate organizations have computers, but only few of these computers are connected to the Internet (Adomi et al., 2003); libraries have been very slow in establishing presence on the Web (Adomi, 2005). Reasons for slow pace/reluctance of organizational applications of the Web are high cost of connectivity and the poor state of and high telecommunication charges (Adomi et al., 2003), funding, limited skills, limited opportunities for training, and continuing education (Adomi, 2005a). The Web portals that are prevalent at present inAfrica are commercial portals, which mostly depend on advert placement for survival/sustenance.

• Poor Data Transmission Quality Resulting from Low International Bandwidth: In Africa, high international tariffs make it difficult for Internet service providers (ISPs) to obtain adequate Internet bandwidth for delivering Web pages over the Internet (Adomi, Adogbeji, & Oduwole, 2005; Sonaike, 2004). The Internet industry in Africa is constrained by low international bandwidth and high dial-up tariffs as well as high cost of PCs (Mutula, 2003). For instance, African universities, outside of South Africa, are paying over $55,000 per month for 4Mbps inbound and 2Mbps outbound. This figure is about 100 times more expensive than their equivalent prices in North America or Europe (INASP, 2003).

• Limited/Poor Telecommunication Infrastructure: Internet/Web development and applications are greatly hampered by poor telecommunication infrastructure in the African continent (Adomi, 2005a, 2005b; Mutula, 2003; Sonarike, 2004). The poor status of the infrastructure in Africa is attributable to a number of factors. Most governments are still reluctant to completely free their communication services and some such as Morocco and Tunisia regulate access to the Internet. In Kenya, the government has been dragging its feet to issue licenses for VSAT connections that would enhance rollout of telecommunication services to rural areas even when UUNET (an Internet service provider) had offered to connect the schools. Information technology has not effectively been integrated in the development agenda of governments’ plans (Mutula, 2003). Low levels of Internet Literacy/Awareness: Low level of Internet literacy among Africans has been reported by some scholars (Adomi, 2005a, 2005b; Adomi et al., 2003; Rosenberg, 2005). Most of the management staff in organizations/firms/institutions are not ICT literate. As a result of this, they lack awareness of the benefits their organisations/firms/institutions can derive from adoption and applications of Web portals.

Frequent Electricity Failures: The electricity situation in Africa also hampers Internet/Web development and applications (Adomi, 2005b; Adomi et al., 2003; Rosenberg, 2005). When power cut occurs, a Web portal hosted in affected areas in Africa would normally be unavailable as the server would be shut down. In order to ensure that Web users are not disappointed by outages, most IT firms—ISPs, Web hosting firms, cybercafes, etc. acquire and install stand-by electricity generating plants, which are switched on as soon as power cuts occur (Adomi et al., 2003).


In the context of the World Wide Web, a portal is the next logical step in the evolution toward a digital culture (Daigle et al., 2002). Portal technology is still at the infancy stage in Africa. Though commercial portals are the prevalent ones in the continent, there is a likelihood that corporate organizations will, in large number, create Web portals for their employees/clients given the spiral growth in Internet usage in the continent. Creation of awareness through media campaign and over the Net on the values of portals and the need for their adoption is capable of making portals to be widely adopted and used in Africa. There is need for surveys on the extent of adoption and use of Web portals not only in Africa but other parts of the world, how Web portal technology adoption/application can be enhance and managed in the continent, sources of funding for African portals, strategies for making Africans more Internet literate among others.


Web portals are content aggregators, which provide users with personalized access to information. They act as a starting point for most users of the Web in need of information. Though portals are not available in every part of the African continent, they are however springing up rapidly. There are general, regional, and national. as well as general and specialized African portals, which are in existence to assist those interested in Africa cope with available information on the Net and to address the problem of paucity of local content. Problems of reluctance of organizations/institutions to create portals, low international bandwidth, limited/poor telecommunication infrastructure, low level of Internet literacy, and frequent electricity failures hamper widespread application and use of Web portals in Africa. However, frantic efforts on the part of corporate organization to create portals, expansion/improvement of telecommunication infrastructure, bandwidth, and electricity supply, as well as creation of awareness are likely to increase creation and use of portals in African continent.


Aggregators: Aggregators are sites on the Web that bring together contents from multiple Internet sources.

Browser: A program that allows a user to access information on the Web.

Cyber Cafes: Places where entrepreneurs provide Internet public access services for a fee.

Customization: Inbuilt functionality, which allows the user to manipulate the contents of a portal to suit his needs.

Local Contents: This has to do with the body of knowledge and research related to a particular locality/community.

Online: A device or something that is connected to or available via computer network(s).

Personalization: Inbuilt functionality in a Web portal that allows users to select and receive information relevant to their needs and roles.

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