What should we make of Mark Zuckerberg’s trips to Nigeria and Kenya?
Amidst the soft-focus photo ops, including a morning jog across one of Lagos’ main bridges, meetings with Nigeria’s President and Vice-President, as well as Kenya’s Secretary of Information and Communication, there was serious intent.
Mr Z announced a new partnership with local telephony providers to roll out internet access via mobile phones without the user having to pay for it – presumably advertisers will eventually foot the bill and more. He also took time to learn from several innovative local start-up companies such as Andela, a Nigerian business that trains and outsources software developers in Lagos and Nairobi, and Kenya’s M-Pesa which is the world’s largest mobile money platform.
So far, so PR-friendly. But there is a deeper point about the future drivers of African growth which is particularly pertinent at a time when the region’s upward momentum has stalled. This is partly because of falling prices of most of its key commodity exports, including crude oil and industrial metals such as copper and platinum.
Much of the current thinking rightly focuses on developing a solid and competitive African manufacturing sector, as critical to taking the continent to the next stage of economic development.
The idea is that instead of exporting raw materials cheaply and importing the expensive manufactured products that their own commodities help to make, nations could and should capture more of the economic value of their resources, while boosting much-needed local employment and skill development.
However, Zuckerberg’s trip – which follows a similar visit by Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt a few years ago – highlights the fact that despite huge obstacles, Africa is already competing nicely, and indeed leading the way, in many of the growth sectors of tomorrow.
TNT Global Connect