Is Africa the new emerging tech capital of the world?

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Until recently, not many had heard about the small Yaba District of Lagos, Africa, and almost nobody had imagined that soon it would be getting attention from tech entrepreneurs and enthusiasts from all over the world. The reason? Facebook CEO and perhaps the most widely popular tech entrepreneur of his times, Mark Zuckerberg decided to pay a surprise visit to Nigeria and Kenya in August- September this year. Here he visited the Co-Creation Hub innovation center based in Lagos. Pictures from his visit spread on the internet like wildfire giving rise to curiosity and speculations from the global tech and business community alike.

Mark Zuckerberg’s visit has definitely put a spotlight on Africa’s emerging IT ecosystem and experts from across the world are now trying to gauge the potential of this region for the advancement of the global tech industry.

Viral photos from this visit, show Mark Zuckerberg meeting up with coders in the co-working space of the Co-Creation Hub innovation center as well as his talk with startup representatives from participating organizations hosted at the incubation unit of the facility. In attendance were officials from and LifeBank App.

A delighted Bosun Tijani, CEO, Co-Creation Hub innovation center, told the media that Mark Zuckerberg visited a software developer accelerator called Andela that received a generous USD 24 million as investment earlier this year from Mark and his wife, Priscilla Chan. He also toured the office of digital media startup Afrinolly where he caught up with entrepreneurs in creative industry technology.

But the highlight of his trip and the most awaited moment was Mark Zuckerberg hosting his famous Facebook town hall as well as a questions and answers session at the Co-Creation Hub innovation center.

Mark Zuckerberg, like Steve Jobs, is also widely popular for wearing a standard grey t-shirt and jeans, which he continued to do for the entire schedule of his trip. However, for his meeting with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, Mark Zuckerberg did change into a formal suit.

Mark Zuckerberg then moved on to Kenya where he visited various tech startups in diverse filed of operations. First, he visited the iHub innovation. Then, he met up with the folks at Gearbox prototyping startup and checked out some solar technology innovations. He then moved further to review the BRCK mobile Wifi device. For lunch, he had the company of Kenyan ICT Cabinet Secretary Joseph Mucheru. Finally, he met up with local tech leaders including Erik Hersman, Kamau Gachigi, and Juliana Rotich

For those following him closely, he even wrote a post on Facebook describing why he visited Nigeria and Kenya. “Next stop: Lagos! This is my first trip to sub-Saharan Africa. I'll be meeting with developers and entrepreneurs, and learning about the startup ecosystem in Nigeria. The energy here is amazing and I'm excited to learn as much as I can.

Our first stop is the Co-creation Hub Nigeria (CcHUB) in Yaba. I got to talk to kids at a summer coding camp and entrepreneurs who come to CcHub to build and launch their apps. I'm looking forward to meeting more people here!” he said in a Facebook post.

Setting speculations of acquisitions aside and in a more diplomatic manner, Facebook spokesperson Sally Aldous told media reporters that there were no commitments or acquisitions planned as far as the corporate office was concerned. “This is a trip about listening and learning and understanding the challenges,” she said.

What does Mark Zuckerberg, the most successful tech entrepreneur of his times, have to learn and understand from African startups, you ask? Well, there has been enough reasons to do both in each country that he visited. Nigeria is although struggling with various challenges as a nation, but has steadily become the continent’s most populated nation that also happens to be a launch pad for various tech startups and investment activities. In Lago’s Yaba District in Kenya, that was the first pit stop for Mark Zuckerberg; we have seen tech entrepreneurs, incubators and startups getting attracted from all over the world. It is no surprise then that three of the continent’s most popular e-commerce initiatives are headquartered in Lagos. Among these three is the newly set up Jumia Group which is being seen as some sort of unicorn for growth and is one of the best funded and well known tech startups of Africa.

If we look at East Africa, clearly Kenya is being hailed as the new tech capital of the region, also sometimes known as the ‘Silicon Savannah” by some tech enthusiasts. This is because of its stellar increase in mushrooming of tech incubators, digital finance, and region level innovative initiatives such as the BRCK as well as the Ushahidi platform for crowdsourcing. It is also the ground for the global success stories of Safaricom’s M-Pesa mobile currency which claims to be the most preferred digital wallet or money in the entire region.

Coming back to Facebook’s interest in the region, the platform has over 80 Million subscribers in Sub Saharan Africa. This incredible number happens to be over 17 million for Nigeria, over 14 million in South Africa and over 5 million in Kenya. This year itself, Facebook had launched its much controversial service called Free Basics program in 17 African countries. This allows users to access the internet services for free and makes the content providers pay for the same. Champions of internet democracy have hailed this services as discriminatory and demanded ‘net neutrality’ across the globe.

What all of us are now waiting to hear about is Facebook’s new announcements and initiatives for and in Africa. Since it is quite unbelievable that Mark Zuckerberg will take a long public trip to another continent without a business strategy up his sleeve. Internet penetration is still dismally low at around 30 percent, a particular strategic play could possibly be around improving it by forging new partnerships in the region and increasing internet connectivity across the continent. No prizes for guessing, what better internet connectivity could mean for Facebook’s ad revenues. Better connectivity essentially transpires to more sign ups and hence creates a way for Facebook to tap into Africa’s online advertising market. Since Africa’s digital commerce uptake is on the rise, its online advertising market is estimated to grow exponentially, reaching around USD 75 billion by the year 2025.

Ironically, while Mark Zuckerberg was on this trip to Africa, Facebook’s SpaceX rocket which was carrying the Amos-6 satellite, crashed pre-launch. We sincerely hope, his initiatives for Africa, see a better launch and life.