There were many things to admire about Mark Zuckerberg’s visits to Nigeria and Kenya this week. First was the element of surprise. It caught a lot of very well-placed and well-sourced people off guard. It probably was why we were saved from the ‘traditional’ dancers on airport tarmacs and other African photo ops that should have gone with the 20th century.
Then there was the focus on his actual area of expertise in technology. (Not a borehole in sight!). His visit centered around meeting and inspiring startup and tech leaders in Lagos and Nairobi along with young coders just at the beginning of their journey.
Zuckerberg has, of course, put his money where his mouth is and backed developer training and outsourcing company Andela. He supports the idea young Africans have an important role to play in the future of global technology.
Frankly, this was all great. His advisors—especially the folks we’re fondly calling Facebook’s “Nigerian mafia”—did a great job. However, because you’re expecting it, here’s that touch of cynicism.
Facebook and Zuckerberg learned some hard lessons from the mishap in India with Free Basics, the zero-rated internet program which Indian regulators blocked in February. Being prevented from offering some version of free internet in one of the world’s biggest markets, prompted an almost churlish response from Zuckerberg and there was some backlash. One imagines Facebook doesn’t want this to happen again.
His charm offensive this time started with the influential players in the local tech communities in Lagos and Nairobi. (Side note: Facebook’s only Africa office is Johannesburg). Specifically for Nigeria, a country where the government probably has more influence on a citizen’s daily affairs than it should, Zuckerberg made sure to stop over and meet with ‘Oga’ in Abuja.