African nations on the fast track of development are getting the attention of tech giants such as Google and Facebook, with the latter expecting to open a facility to take advantage of the human capital in Nigeria. In late November, the social networking giant announced its intention of setting up a startup incubator and technology hub in the bustling city of Lagos. The intention is to offer digital skills training to thousands of Nigerians with the ultimate goal of fomenting tech startups that the company can later acquire.
Although Facebook’s main tech hub will be located in Lagos, the company plans to offer training at satellite locations around Nigeria. The proposed cities include Abuja, Calabar, Kaduna, and Port Harcourt. With this move, Facebook is clearly thinking about the potential benefits of actively extending its brand to a population of 180 million. As recently reported, Facebook has a significant digital footprint in Nigeria—22 million people are counted as active monthly users in that country, and most of them access the social network from smartphones.
Facebook’s main source of revenue is online advertising, which is not as attractive in countries such as Nigeria, where residents do not enjoy as much disposable income as in Europe and the Americas; nonetheless, the social network sees these countries as untapped sources of tech potential. When CEO Mark Zuckerberg visited Nigeria last year, he donated $24 million to an African charity that trains tech students to become mobile software developers. Months later, Zuckerberg opened a Facebook regional office in South Africa, and he plans on doing something similar in Kenya.
As someone who is passionate about information technology, Zuckerberg has expressed an interest in the “low tech” field of feature phones, those devices that are not advanced enough to run on the Android operating system. Africa is a significant market for feature phones, which are often designed to be rugged and affordable. Facebook has targeted the feature phone market with special apps such as Messenger, but Zuckerberg would like to take things a step further; he is reportedly fascinated by mobile platforms such as Kenya’s M-Pesa, which makes secure financial transactions possible by means of SMS. By supporting tech startups in Africa, Facebook may introduce the next M-Pesa in the Continent.
Facebook is hardly alone in targeting Africa, search engine giant Google intends to offer tech training to millions of Africans over the next few years. Google is also interested in the feature phone segment; the company recently introduced a special version of its Google Assistant app that is designed to work on certain feature phones that do not support Android.