Google Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai on Thursday, July 27, visited Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital. During his visit, Mr. Pichai announced at a conference, plans by the internet giant to provide more than $3 million in equity-free funding and mentorship to more than 60 African start-ups over the next three years.
Mr. Pichai is the latest, in a list of Silicon Valley executives that have visited Africa in recent months. Earlier in July, Jack Ma, the CEO and founder of e-commerce company Ali Baba toured east Africa (Kenya and Rwanda) in what his close aides described as a mission to inspire young African IT entrepreneurs.
For many, Ma’s visit to Kenya, a regional hub for IT services highlighted Africa’s growing significance as an important player in the global tech revolution.
However, months before Ma’s visit, Facebook founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg stirred a media buzz with his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa by making an unannounced visit to Nigeria. Like Ma, Zuckerberg’s aides said he was in Nigeria to promote his non-profit, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, meet with software developers and learn about the local startup ecosystem.
On closer inspection however, the recent visits to Africa by the executives of some of the biggest companies in Silicon Valley should come as no surprise; Nigeria currently ranks as number one among Google users in Africa and number eight in the world, while Kenya is a world leader in mobile banking services with more than a third of the country’s population registered as users on the e-money platform M-pesa.
So regardless of how their PR teams decide to dress up these visits, they are a little more than an attempt by those companies to establish a firm foothold, in a mostly untapped market with near limitless potential for growth in the coming years.
With growth apparently leveling off in America and Europe, Africa is the logical next frontier for some of the world’s biggest tech companies. With a burgeoning middle-class, a youthful population and increased internet penetration, the continent presents a massive market with opportunities that can’t be found anywhere else.
For instance, Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy has a population of 180 million people. With 50 percent of that number aged less 30, it has 16 million monthly Facebook users (the largest in Africa).
In Kenya, East Africa’s largest economy, an estimated 88% of its 44 million people can access the internet through their phones and other mobile devices. Consequently, there has been an explosion in the number of e-commerce platforms leveraging on the widespread internet coverage.
Experts say as the IT sector in Africa continues to grow and evolve, the continent needs to position itself to exploit the opportunities and respond to the challenges that would come, as more Silicon Valley companies join the race to grab a share of a market that promises to be the future of IT.