One of Zuckerberg’s key reasons for visiting the continent was, according to the man himself, to see how Facebook is used in Africa and to understand how to improve it. Facebook has an estimated 124 million users in Africa, out of an estimated 333 million internet users. That means it has plenty of room for growth, compared to Western markets that are approaching saturation.
Zuckerberg’s visits to entrepreneurial hubs got all the attention, but he did get about on some official Facebook business. His attendance at a developer workshop held by the company in Lagos, and the fact his visit coincided with news Facebook is launching Express Wi-Fi hotspots in Lagos, suggested Zuckerberg was very much there with a Facebook hat on.
Scaling up, and protecting, Free Basics
Through Facebook’s Internet.org initiative, one of Zuckerberg’s key goals is to get more people online (and therefore using Facebook). Free Basics is central to this, as it provides users with free access to certain services, offering a kind of first entry point to online services.
When the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative ploughed US$24 million in funding into African coding accelerator Andela earlier this year, many would have been forgiven the man himself would have little to do with the company. That perception was blown away by Zuckerberg making a point of visiting the company within a matter of weeks.
“Mark was certainly most impressed by the fellows at Andela. We set up an intimate discussion for a couple of our fellows and Mark, so that he could learn more about their experiences,” said Seni Sulyman, director of Andela Lagos.
The looks of joy on the faces of young entrepreneurs at CcHUB and iHub told us all we need to know about what it meant for the Facebook CEO to be in their office and hearing their stories. There could be no better way of inspiring young innovators, especially as Zuckerberg has already suggested that through the Andela investment, he is willing to back African companies. Erik Hersman, co-founder of the iHub and BRCK, said his visit was a strong message that Zuckerberg was interested in the internet, connectivity, and entrepreneurship in Africa.
Continuing the trend
Zuckerberg’s visit may have been the most high profile yet, but he is just the latest in a long line of celebrated US tech innovators and investors that have identified Africa as a land of opportunity. The likes of Bill Gates, Steve Case and Tim Draper have all dropped in recently, making investments along the way. What the arrival of Zuckerberg does is confirm the importance of Africa and its innovators on a global stage, not only for the likes of Gates and Case, who no longer run their companies, but people like Zuckerberg who are still actively involved at Fortune 500 firms.
Africa is growing, and people are taking notice.