Silicon Valley eyes Africa as new tech frontier

July 15, 2018 by Stephanie Findlay
Lagos is attracting interest from global tech giants keen to tap into an emerging market of young, connected Africans

With its colourful hammocks and table tennis table, a new tech hub in the Lagos metropolis wouldn't look out of place among the start-ups on the other side of the world in Silicon Valley.

But the NG_Hub office is in the suburb of Yaba—the heart of Nigeria's burgeoning tech scene that is attracting interest from global giants keen to tap into an emerging market of young, connected Africans.

In May, both Google and Facebook launched initiatives nearby.

This week, Nigeria's Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo was in California to court US tech investors for what he said could herald a "fourth industrial revolution" back home.

But it isn't just Nigeria that is piquing the interest of tech giants.

Last month, Google said it would open Africa's first artificial intelligence lab in Ghana's capital, Accra.

Demographics are a key factor behind the drive: Africa's population is estimated to be 1.2 billion, 60 percent of them under 24. By 2050, the UN estimates the population will double to 2.4 billion.

"There's a clear opportunity for companies like Facebook and Google to really go in and put a pole in the sand," said Daniel Ives, a technology researcher at GBH Insights in New York.

"If you look at Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, where is a lot of that growth coming from? It's international," he told AFP.

Facebook is operating from the NG_Hub as it doesn't yet have a permanent office in Nigeria.

The company's Africa head of public policy, Ebele Okobi, said at the opening of the premises that the goal was to cultivate the nascent technology community.

The social network has pledged to train 50,000 people across the country to "give them the digital skills they need to succeed", she added.

Facebook and Google have both launched initiatives in Lagos

In exchange, Facebook, which currently has some 26 million users in Nigeria, gets more users and access to a massive market to test new products and strategies.

"We are invested in the ecosystem. Just the fact that they are engaging... that in of itself is a goal," she added.

Cyber colonialism?

Many African governments have given the tech titans an enthusiastic welcome.

In California, Osinbajo said the Nigerian government will "actively support" Google's "Next Billion Users" plan to "ensure greater digital access in Nigeria and around the world".

Few sectors in Africa inspire as much hope as technology, which has the potential to revolutionise everything from healthcare to farming.

Examples include Ubenwa, a Nigerian start-up that has been described as "Shazam for babies", after the application that identifies music and films from snippets.

Ubenwa analyses a baby's cry using AI to diagnose birth asphyxia, a major cause of death in Africa when babies don't get enough oxygen and nutrients before, during or immediately after birth.

Detecting the problem early could save thousands of lives.

"Africans should be responsible to come up with the solutions," said Tewodros Abebe, a doctoral student studying language technology at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia.

"Unless we are involved, no one can understand the existing problems in our continent."

Abebe dismissed fears that what Facebook and Google are doing represents a form of so-called cyber colonialism.

Some fear that the technological advances could deepen social inequality

"Working collaboratively I think is a good way of technology transfer for Africa," he said. "If they are only looking for business, that's colonisation."

'Epocalypse Now'

As Africa's technology sector grows, fuelled by growth in mobile phone use, so too does pressure on governments to protect its citizens' personal data.

Osinbajo told tech leaders Nigeria was keen to create the right environment for development, including for regulation.

But the debate over privacy is muted in many African countries, unlike in Europe, which recently passed tougher new data protection laws.

Facebook has also been at the centre of a storm for failing to protect user data in connection with claims of manipulation in the 2016 US presidential election and the Brexit referendum.

Global Justice Now, an anti-poverty group, fears tech companies are being given free rein to create a global surveillance state.

"We could find ourselves sleepwalking towards a world in which a handful of tech companies exercise monopoly control over whole swathes of the world economy, further exacerbating inequality between the global north and the global south," said the activist group in a May 2018 report titled "Epocalypse Now".

Renata Avila, from the World Wide Web Foundation in Geneva that campaigns for digital equality, said that has not come to fruition but there were pressing concerns.

"The message is that Africa needs investment and it needs to develop these industries, so usually it's a pro-business narrative," said Avila, a digital rights researcher.

"But there is little oversight," she added, warning that without regulation, people were vulnerable to exploitation.

Explore further: Mobile phones driving user growth in Africa: Facebook

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16 comments

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TeodAnonym738361
3.7 / 5 (3) Jul 15, 2018
This is great news.Please do not forget Lviv,it is also tech smart.
Gwelo62
1.8 / 5 (5) Jul 15, 2018
Dream on. Africa is more of a shambles today than it ever was. Without colonial masters there is no way it will happen.
Anonym748355
1.8 / 5 (5) Jul 15, 2018
Earth to Stephanie Findlay: To put it politely, this article stretches the bounds of credulity. You should run this exact same article in "The Onion" and get paid twice what phys.org paid you. I mean... this is exactly the tone and logic they are looking for... Africa? Have you completely lost it?! Where does one begin to rebut this absolute tripe? I'm gobsmacked...
thed0nald
2 / 5 (4) Jul 15, 2018
While there is an abundance of cheap labor to be had, there's the issue regarding the murder of white Afrikaner farmers in South Africa, Zimbabwe, etc. and the rape epidemic throughout the continent, including that of children.

Caution would be advised when investing in the "dark continent".
24volts
3 / 5 (2) Jul 15, 2018
They better put armed guards on the place or everything inside will be stolen within a month.
mickrussom
3 / 5 (2) Jul 15, 2018
talk about how to make the 1% look like the 0.001%. this is just exploitative at best. and to think companies in the USA are going to snub the willing workers here for the tird world is truly disgusting.
Herka
1 / 5 (4) Jul 16, 2018
They will just send white people there to work in a cheap environment, which will lead to price increases for the locals. WHITES OUT OF AFRICA.
IwinUlose
3 / 5 (6) Jul 16, 2018
Silicon Valley and Africa in the same headline. In some deplorable corner of the net red lights and sirens are going off and someone is going to crash his truck while trying to reply to this thread; or while trying to read his buddy's text to reply to this thread.

Don't Text and Drive.
IwinUlose
1 / 5 (3) Jul 16, 2018
moranity
3 / 5 (4) Jul 16, 2018
The human population of Africa has the greatest genetic diversity of any human population.
Therefore,
any trait influenced by genetics will show it's most extreme variation in the African population.
Therefore,
if intelligence is influenced by genetics, the most intelligent people will be in the African population.
Eat that, racists, hoisted on your own pitard.
rrwillsj
2.3 / 5 (3) Jul 16, 2018
Lots of cowardly bigots. Terrified that, one more time, they are going to be shown up as the inferior prats they are.

Hey stupes.... Every day is the first day of the future. If you are too inferior to compete honestly? You need to make way for your betters. i.e. the rest of the Human Race.

Oh mickrussom if only you could get your fat ass out of your mommy's basement to look for a job at your skill level. I understand that the trumpeting buffoon is going to import foreign workers for his golf clubs! Sounds to me to be the perfect opportunity for you and your skillful application of manure.

As every time a trumpquisling opens their mouth? Shit flows out!
Anonym239182
1 / 5 (3) Jul 16, 2018
OMG the jews lost their mind completely Afrikka ? what??? AI lab in AFRIKKA WOW. The Jew preparing another scam
Anonym239182
1 / 5 (3) Jul 16, 2018
wow and those Israeli cybersquads really work their asses in the comments here
Shakescene21
not rated yet Jul 18, 2018
WOW!
Africa has a lot of negatives, but the potential is vast. If the tech industry can turn even part of Africa around it would be one of the great stories of this generation.

I'm not sure that Lagos is the best place for the tech industry. Maybe a "Silicon Savannah" located in a less-dense area, where better infrastructure and amenities could be installed more easily.
rrwillsj
3 / 5 (2) Jul 19, 2018
Ss21, I basically agree with your sentiments. However this is not a monastery that is being established. Isolation would grossly increase the infrastructure costs but also isolate the installation from the very society it is suppose to reinvigorate.

Metropolitan areas offer a lot more resources, both physical and in personnel. A dynamic social and educational opportunity for many people. And all the supporting resources they need and want for themselves and their families.

Meanwhile, we can amuse ourselves reading the infantile tantrums of the stupid and ignorant racists. Violently seeking to disrupt any opportunity for a better life for others. The bigots who are too incompetent, too inferior, too cowardly to compete on a level-playing ground.

TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Jul 20, 2018
Lots of cowardly bigots. Terrified that, one more time, they are going to be shown up as the inferior prats they are.

Hey stupes.... Every day is the first day of the future. If you are too inferior to compete honestly? You need to make way for your betters. i.e. the rest of the Human Race.

Oh mickrussom if only you could get your fat ass out of your mommy's basement to look for a job at your skill level. I understand that the trumpeting buffoon is going to import foreign workers for his golf clubs! Sounds to me to be the perfect opportunity for you and your skillful application of manure.

As every time a trumpquisling opens their mouth? Shit flows out!
Nope, no content here as usual. Bile is no substitute for meaningful commentary, although some still want to reward this vandalous behavior. I wonder who that might be?

"rated by barakn"

Oh of course. Easy mark.

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