In 2016, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg visited Nigeria in what was his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa.
While the attraction to the budding tech ecosystem which was already producing some of Africa’s best known startups was obvious, there was also the underlying influence of Facebook’s pool of high-ranking Nigerian-American executives.
Four years later, that influence may be yielding more results as Facebook is set to open its second Africa office in Lagos in the second half of 2021. The office will house a cross-section of Facebook teams from sales, policy, and communications to engineering. It is the company’s latest commitment to Nigeria—Africa’s largest internet market, after it opened a hub space in partnership with Co-Creation Hub, a leading Nigerian startup accelerator, in 2018.
But to be clear, the driving factors for this move extend well beyond a team of Nigerians at Facebook pulling strings.
It is essentially a major play for talent and proximity to an important, fast-growing market—and it is not happening in isolation: Google and Microsoft have grown their local presence in Nigeria over the past decade. In fact, Microsoft’s moves have included a $100 million commitment to build software development centers on the continent and employ 500 African developers by 2023.
With more Nigerians using Facebook than anywhere else on the continent and the suite of high-ranking executives at Facebook’s global being a ringing endorsement, Facebook is moving closer to where the talent is. Nigeria ranked among the fastest growing developer communities in Africa last year.
Yet, it’s not just about talent.
A more hands-on operation in Nigeria, and across Africa, means global tech giants like Facebook and Google are in the business of serving and monetizing eyeballs, so being closer to the world’s fastest-growing population of young people is a shrewd move. Africa’s population, already the youngest in the world, is expected to triple by 2100 while the rest of the world shrinks. And Nigeria will play a key role in that growth spurt by becoming the second most populous country in the world, ahead of China.
There are other key trends that support the deepening interest of global tech giants. The continent’s adoption of digital innovations and solutions, including mobile money, has been boosted by the increasing availability of smartphones. With companies like Chinese-owned Transsion making billion-dollar bets by exclusively focusing on African users, the average costs of smartphones are being driven down and are, in turn, more affordable for a broader demographic. In fact, more than half of all smartphones sold in Africa in the fourth quarter of 2019 cost the owner less than $100.
While there’s the possibility of internet access and speeds being mitigating factors, there are signs of progress on those fronts too. With public policy starting to slowly catch up, the odds of internet costs dropping while speed levels increase are high.
But, as it turns out, Facebook and Google are not leaving that to chance: the company’s plans include developing 2Africa, the world’s largest sub-sea cable project, which will circle the continent and deliver internet connectivity with landings on multiple coasts.