Should Facebook have launched its Africa office in Nigeria?

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Last week, Facebook officially announced the opening of its first Africa office in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The announcement, which industry insiders were already aware of, didn’t attract much in the way of negative comment and was broadly welcomed by all. It’s a sales operation, with the sole purpose of getting more African businesses to spend money on the social network.

However, some stakeholders in the Nigerian tech sphere are extremely disappointed with the choice of South Africa over Nigeria.

“Everyone knows Nigeria is the present and future of Africa’s tech market, so why will Facebook decide to open in Johannesburg and not Lagos?” a visibly angry social media influencer – who didn’t want to be named – said to me earlier this week.

According to him, the tech industry in Nigeria is booming and the fact that large enterprises are springing up in the country confirms that Nigeria is now setting the pace in Africa’s tech space.

“Facebook is a social media company, so let’s look at the social media fact. Which country first held Social Media Week in Africa? It’s Nigeria. The world is noticing Nigeria already and it sounded neo-colonial to me that South Africa was chosen ahead of Nigeria,” he said.

But in its statement announcing the opening of its Johannesburg office, Facebook said the office is a key part of their strategy to expand investment and presence across the entire EMEA region.

“Our new African office will support our customers across the continent,” said Ari Kesisoglu, Regional Director, MEA at Facebook. We know that a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work when it comes to building products and solutions that address diverse needs on the continent, which is why we are committed to creating solutions tailored to people, businesses and specifically for African markets.”

News that the Johannesburg office was opening first leaked at the Mobile West Africa conference held in Lagos, Nigeria. Since then, the industry watchers had been trying to figure out how a Johannesburg-based HQ could oversee operations across the continent.

Despite the disappointment from the Nigeria’s tech sector, the fact that Facebook decided to launch in South Africa is unsurprising – nay, depressingly inevitable – given the pattern established by global multinationals of all flavours when they begin operations in Africa.

Both Apple and Samsung launched in South Africa before extending to other parts of the continent. All of the major business analysts the same. Off the top of my head, in the tech sector only IBM can say it first forayed onto the continent elsewhere – in Kenya, where it still has a strong presence today. Foreign companies see South Africa as a bridge into the African market as it boasts aspects of markets in the developed world and those of the African market – and despite talk of booming tech sectors elsewhere that perception hasn’t changed.

That having been said, Facebook is aware of the Nigerian market’s enormous potential. A personal conversation with a member of the Facebook Africa team revealed that the company’s officials frequent Nigeria a lot. It actually has a rep in Lagos and if the need arises, it could open an office in Nigeria – then Nairobi, Accra, Kigali, Cairo, Addis Ababa, Yaoundé, Tripoli and elsewhere .

But as to the question as to whether the Nigeria ought to have a Facebook’s office? The answer is yes – so does every other African country.



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